#Hackgate: An inquiry would go to the detail no one else wants

I honestly thought we’d seen the last of the (or as Dizzy puts it, the unhacked stupidity of individual politicians) #hackgate scandal last summer… According to a lengthy New York Times piece, apparently not.

That said, apart from the onset of a judicial review, apart from evidence from ‘unnamed sources’, I cannot see what distinguishes the current situation from the way it was left last summer.

The shabby dealings and evasions of News International are the same now as then… But on the face of it, the judicial review could be little more than an organised ‘fishing trip’ on the part of Coulson’s/Murdoch’s rivals…

If it turns something up, Labour politicians will sing from the rooftops that they knew all along there was wrongdoing… If they fail to find anything against News International or the Metropolitan Police they’ll be able to say, well at least that’s clear now…

It’s not a bad mode of attack for a still leaderless Labour party… But nor is it necessarily a reason for turning down a further inquiry…

In fact there’s a weird consonance here with Mr Murdoch’s counter ‘fishing trips’ looking for dirt on politicians…  And, the FT gives it serious treatment in their leader column

The widening of the affair makes the need for a deeper inquiry more pressing. While the idea of a News-Met axis is implausible, it is troubling that the police may have dropped a valid investigation. As a first step, there should be an independent review of why this decision was taken. The conduct of News International also merits scrutiny.

The New York Times article alleges that the group made big out-of-court settlements to other individuals whose phones were hacked. This was while its executives maintained to parliament that only one journalist was involved in hacking. News International’s directors should explain why these payments were made.

The prime minister seems determined to stand by Mr Coulson. That instinct must not lead him to block investigation of the affair. Even if Mr Cameron behaves correctly, the affair still raises questions about his judgment. Was he not reckless to have employed Mr Coulson given the murkiness of the allegations surrounding the News of the World?

William Hague has been lambasted for his poor judgment in sharing a bedroom with an adviser. Compared with the Coulson affair, this seems trivial. (Emphasis added)

Indeed the media show trial of the British Foreign Secretary seems a type cast political assassination so popular with all wings of the press

Yet few in the mainstream media mention the access to broadcast spectrum that Mr Murdoch’s BSkyB has gained without a concomitant obligation to make programmes, which is in blatant contravention of the EU’s 1989 TV Without Frontiers (TVWF) directive… (Dog doesn’t eat dog, it seems…)

But at base, rather than being a single party political issue, Mr Murdoch has evinced this powerful exception from both Labour and Conservative governments…

So perhaps a public enquiry is the right place to begin? An opportunity to get it all out on the table, and let some of this new transparency shine into the dealings of government with private vested interests?

I agree with those Tory commentators who argue that unnamed sources stirring it with the NYT, without having the courage to come out and name names, dates, times and places, is not enough to kick start a judicial review or public enquiry.

But, as Brian noted last summer, we could (at the very least) do with someone going through the detail:

Yates’ conclusions seem to me to be pretty complacent. He, a self-proclaimed fresh investigator, reached his conclusions in less than 24 hours after the Guardian story broke. This is only viable if you believe that the Information Commissioner’s dossier of “thousands” of examples of data protection breaches did not amount to thousands of crimes.

Someone should try to get to the detail in a way that both the press and the police seem either unable or unwilling to do. And, hopefully, clear the air…

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  • Remind me were does Yates mentor at the yard now work?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I can understand why Press and Police are unable or unwilling to follow up.
    If as we are led to believe the practice was much more widespread than we were initially assured ……..with private detectives having a lot of numbers and a lot of initials beside them, journalists could actually end up going to jail……..and no journalist is gonna grass up a fellow member of the NUJ.
    Initially the “story” was about journalists.
    Last year the story was about Leader of the Oppositions Special Advisor Coulsen,
    This year the story is about Prime Minister David Camerons Special Advisor.

    That makes it about…politicians …who are fair game for journalists in a way that fellow journalists are not fair game.
    Plus the broader issue of Press Freedom versus Privacy and that whole can of worms which could lead us…….as the Journalists fear and the public demand….a Privacy Law.

    There are “Journalists” and there are “Journalists”.
    Sadly the Guardian investigative reporter of issues of genuine public interest are tarred with the same brush as the News of the world hack investigating such matters of public concern as Premiership footballers and minor members of the Windsor family.
    Alas the tabloid hack hides behind the serious journalist.
    And the serious journalist facilitates the hack.
    A welcome development would be serious journos disentangling themselves from the grubbier end of Fleet Street.
    Sadly the two types of journo are in it together.

    The Plice. Well Knacker does not want to be further political than he already is. Alan Johnson (2010) is in opposition but alan johnson in 2009 was happy enough. What changed.
    The New York story. The Government.
    Likewise its in Teresa Mays interest to lock the story down.

    Ultimately …its not very important.

  • I’d have dived in here, feet-first.

    Except Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy says it so much better.

    Curious how the Met Police’s story (at least as it was being represented on the BBC news web-site) changed between the early hours and the late editions being propped on the marmalade jar. In all the ‘teccy fiction I read, that’s suspicious.

    Funny how, just yesterday, the Met was maintaining there was no new evidence, so no need for further action. Yet, it is now common ground between the Met and the NY Times that, since the story went on-line last Wednesday, the Met asked “several times” for just that evidence. Particularly so, since the NYT story is that the Met has the dope in full but is studiously hiding it. Again, in crime-fiction such dissimulating double-talk is a dead give-away.

    Could one of the professional journalists who infest this quarter explain the Mulcaire/Prescott invoice? Was Mulcaire a specialist in phone-tapping (as we have been led to believe up to now, and as his index of 4,500 names might imply)? Or did he spread his talents wider?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Thats just the kinda thing that a good investigative journalist would want to find out……but as it might lead to the journalistic “profession” looking as dodgy as the poiticians they investigate……I dont think the wider freemasonry of journalism with be rutlessly investigating.
    They are not going to provide the very evidence to show the need for a privacy law.

  • Mick Fealty


    Don’t put yourself out by reading the original post, or anything…

  • I accept I may have got the wrong drift, but I read the original post as, in large part, an acceptance of (if not a defence of) “fishing trips”.

    The problem here is when “fishing trips” were in contravention of the Criminal Law Act of 1977 (under which Goodman and Mulcaire were originally charged, and to which – as I recall – Goodman pleaded guilty) and the more recent Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 (under which Mulcaire was condemned).

    Harking back to that trial, the NoW paid Mulcaire £100,000+ above-the-counter and a further £12,300 in unattributable cash. If I coughed that amount of moolah to a jobbing builder, he and I would stand a fair chance of being collared by the Revenue. Certainly, that amount of money coming over the bank counter would need explanation. The way Coulson ran his operations, apparently it was fair enough. A further irony is the Information Commissioner had then to justify the Data Protection Act, which wasn’t in question.

    Nicholas Jones is a member of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. Last year he put up a serious comment on the Goodman/Mulcaire affair in Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs. A summary of his thesis starts:

    When searching for news and checking facts reporters often have to bend the rules and possibly break the law. But through its purchase of confidential mobile phone messages the “News of the World” has blackened the reputation of British journalism.

    In a true democracy journalists have to be free to investigate without the constant fear of falling foul of the state or of being hounded by the police and the courts. Indeed principled journalists are ready to go to jail rather than reveal their sources.

    But there is a huge difference between a justified breach of personal privacy in support of investigative journalism and a blatant fishing trip for private and confidential information. [My emphasis]

    He continues by raising the problem of buying information:

    So great is the competition for exclusive stories that increasingly British newspapers and magazines have had fewer and fewer scruples when it comes to purchasing confidential information, whether it was leaked, stolen or gained through unauthorised access.

    For example, every week the “Sun” and the “News of the World” offer their readers cash in return for exclusive stories and pictures. When there is money on offer, the temptation can be too great.

    There are numerous cases where some of those who were responsible for safeguarding confidential information and data have abused their position. Police officers, tax inspectors, bank staff and a host of other workers who gave access to personal and private data have been accused of passing on information to journalists.

    At peril of Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies being invoked, I venture to suggest there are not many fag-papers of difference between the Stasi suborning informers by fear, and the red-tops by filthy lucre.

  • Dave

    Am I missing something here or is this very, very small beer?

    Journo’s hacked into politico’s voicemail, and listened to there messages, OK it’s wrong but it’s not the most pressing issue facing the country today.

    So what’s the story?

    Police crap at investigating crimes, hold the front page. oh hang on 2 folk went down for it (which is a lot more than the police normally manage!)

    Journo use sharp practice that sometimes falls outside the law? next you’ll be telling me they make up stories!!

    And who complaining most, Prescott, and why were they listening to his texts, cause he was pumping his secretary at the time! (remind me did he resign).

    It’s smacks of desperation.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Fealty,
    As you know I very rarely if ever put myself out.
    But its good to know that a serious journalist like yourself cannot disagree with my comment.

  • You are definitely missing something.

    To reprise:

    The original raid on Mulcaire turned up: dozens of notebooks and two computers containing 2,978 complete or partial mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes; at least three names of other News of the World journalists; and 30 tape recordings.

    We are talking about senior police (possibly) being compromised.

    We are talking about criminal investigations being curtailed because the Scotland Yard press office intervened: ‘Wait a minute — let’s talk about this.’ The “talk about this” referred to the Met’s long-term relationship with News International.

    We are talking about the Met raid on the NoW involving just one reporters’ desk, while the rest of the office safely carted out bin bags of (allegedly) similar evidence.

    We are talking about c charade of News International executives before a Parliamentary committee.

    We are talking about you making comments here without bothering to read the NYT report, which is where you can find the rest.

    Expect to be taking seriously? Not a chance.

  • edgeoftheunion


    Look at another way:

    If the previous Govt had been hacking your phone would you have been so sanguine. Is it ok because it is being done by ‘Nice Mr Murdoch’?

  • Cynic

    The problem seems to be that the only new evidence is from a former hack with big personal problems whom Coulson sacked. Said hack refuses to speak to the Police but did speak to the NYT – after all US libel laws ar5e much weaker, We also don’t know if he was paid by NYT.

    Interestingly Labour are all hot and bothered about this while Alan Johnston as Home Secretary wasn’t at the time. Perhaps he was asleep or perhaps he knows it’s all nonsense.

  • Dave

    If a journo had hacked my voicemail I’d be amazed. After that I’d be annoyed. But considerabley less so than if someone had either assaulted me or burgled my house. Both of which crimes would have recieved far less police resources than this voicemail hacking has done.

    Also 2,978 complete or partial numbers (WTF is a partial number 078?) and 91 pins that had been changed (oh 3% they’re criminal masterminds) What did they change ther pins to 1234? 9999?

    The was some Labour woman (former minister?) on 5Live last night explaining how outrageous it was as once she went to a friends for dinner and a Times photographer was waiting and asked for a photo. Oh the scandal.

    Also, as cynic ponits out, a NOTW hack (no doubt a figure of the highest integrity) who was sacked by Coulson (no agenda there then) reports it (several years later) to the NYT (who are commerical rivals to Murdoch) but not the police. Quick get the boys down the crimelab back on this one.

    The original investigation happened under Labour and was done and dusted with 2 people going to jail. If Coulson wasn’t an in politics this would never had resurfaced.

    That’s why it’s small beer, IMO.

    Admittedly I can see why Labour, Guardian and the BBC are shouting from the rooftops. I also see why the police dont want to piss off major newspaper. What, next you’ll be telling me who the police are never influenced by the importance/ influence of the person that they are investigating?

    Funnily enough, some of this stories legs have grown because of a leaked memo from the Home Office, surely the police should be preparing dawn raids to find the source of this leak immediately.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    This is of course true but whistleblowing is often about disaffected employees as much as about a grand moral stand.
    Coulson was always a dangerous appointment and Cameron made the decision very early on to stand by his man so he is stuck with him……and he probably hoped there was a reasonable chance that he could ride it out.
    But you can be sure Cameron wishes he had picked someone else less controversial.

    And lets be honest…..the Tories would be just as happy at revelations which damage Labour (Mandelsons book…Blairs book…..Gordon Browns temper) regardless of the principled or unprincipled nature of the source.
    And likewise professional journalists (fearing Privacy Laws) want to discrdit the reformed hack as unreliable……..meanwhile the hooker (oops I mean escort) who voluntarily and without thought of money….approached the papers about Wayne Rooney is reliable?
    Journalists have more important things to consider…entrapping some cricketers or Duchess Fergie perhaps.

  • FJH

    Not sure the appointment of Coulson being dangerous, I would guess he was appointed by Cameron to send out a clear message to Murdoch that I am your man. You can trust me, just as I trust you by employing your tout in my office.

    It is impossible not to conclude this, as apart from his Murdoch connection, Coulson brought nothing to Cameron’s table beyond being an expert on celebrities, title tattle and smear, oh and knowing the phone number of people who have the ability to hack into peoples mobile phone voice mail.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Dangerous” in the sense that there was already ongoing investigations when Cameron appointed him and Id expect there were discussions within Camerons office a year ago….on whether he should be cast adrift.
    Im surmising that Cameron would have been re-assured that there were no damaging revelations in the pipeline and Id further think that last year Cameron believed he would be forming a single party government.
    He would also hav factored in journalistic “omerta” and no journalist would grass up another (except in Private Eye)
    Coalition changes the dynamic….Coulson wont be loved by the Lib Dems and they wont be rallying to him in the same way a single party Tory government backbenchers would be doing.
    Indeed the Home Affairs Select Committee will be looking at it….and clearly Lib Dems, Labour and others will outnumber Conservative loyalists.