Phone Hacking Inquiry Overview

Monday was the first day that evidence was taken in the Leveson Enquiry into phone hacking by the “News of the World” (and other excesses by British tabloid newspapers).

For much of the summer Britain was convulsed by a series of allegations about tabloid newspapers. This culminated in Rupert Murdochs decision to close down “News of the World” because its brand was so toxic.

Essentially the scandal began when Clive Goodman, the “Royal” reporter for “News of the World” was jailed for four months (2007) for information received from hacking into the phones of members of the “Royal Household” Also jailed was Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator.

The “News of the World” and its parent company News International had peddled the line that phone hacking was the work of a single “rogue reporter” but curiously Goodman received £200,000 from his former employer for wrongful dismissal and Mulcaire also received moneys from News International after his imprisonment.

Increasingly the “rogue reporter” line was not tenable. The Scandal went “political” when Andy Coulson, former editor of the “News of the World” became Press Secretary to Britains Opposition Leader and later Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron had seemingly ignored advice not to hire Coulson because of the Scandal. Coulson resigned as Camerons Press Secretary and has subsequently been questioned by Police.

Police did in fact investigate the wider implications of the Scandal some years ago but quickly (rather too quickly) came to the conclusion that it was not worth further investigation.

Under pressure from solicitors acting for “celebrites” who had been stung by tabloids, the Police started releasing the names (to solicitors) of people whose names had appeared on notebooks owned by Mulcaire, the private detective.

When it became clear that “News of the World” was reaching private settlements with celebrities for hacking their phones, the police were forced to admit that their original investigation had been inadequate…….and routinely notified those (hundreds) on the list that they had potentially been hacked.

Some celebrities went public…demanding Privacy legislation and the line held by the Murdoch News Empire……….a single rogue reporter…..some bad apples……crumbled. Especially as the arrests of reporters and executives multiplied.

The Debate between Public Interest….ie exposing major wrong-doing and of Interest to the Public ie stories about celebrity love affairs ..has been ongoing for years. The staple diet of British newspapers is lurid stories about Premiership football players and the girls they bed. And of course soaps and reality TV “stars”. There is on occasion a certain pact between the tabloids and the “celebs”. There are people seemingly famous for being famous and others who sell their privacy.

The fate of the “News of the World” was sealed NOT by intrusion into the lives of celebrities but rather the intrusion into the lives of innocent civilians. Notably the family of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler.

Millie Dowler was a 13 year old schoolgirl, who went missing…….abducted and murdered in March 2002. Her disappearance received a lot of publicity. Her body was not discovered for several months. Her distraught family tried to contact her on her cell phone but her message box was full. Some of her messages were deleted and her family eventually were able to leave messages and this gave the family hope that Millie had deleted the messages herself and was still alive. Millie was actually already dead.

Millie’s phone details were found by Police in the notebook of Glenn Mulcaire during their 2007 investigation. But this was only notified to the Dowler family recently. Mulcaire himself denies deleting the messages.

The Public were disgusted. Celebrity gossip is one thing. Damaging a police murder enquiry and invading the privacy of a grieving family is quite another. This led directly to the closure of “The News of the World”. And the setting up of an Inquiry……it will last years, headed by “Lord” Leveson to look at British Media Ethics……..and the relationship between Press and Police, Police and Politicians and Police and the Public.

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