AS NEWS of the verdicts filtered through from the Old Bailey at the end of the eight-month phone-hacking trial, various interested parties were quick to give their take on events...
“THE Rebekah Brooks verdict is a triumph for British justice and two fingers to the baying mob,” opined the Sun the morning after its former editor was cleared of all charges.
“The CPS and police now have obvious questions to answer over the weakness of much of their case after such a long and costly trial… How can we afford to keep blowing millions on high-profile trials destined to fail?”
It is a fair enough question from the person who has so far blown by far the most millions – Rupert Murdoch’s bills are currently running at roughly ten times the cost to the public purse, with News Corp reporting more than £270m in legal costs arising from phone hacking so far. But the Sun has another reason for trumpeting the clearing of Brooks so loudly.
Vast phalanx of hacks
One of the lower-profile charges on which she was found not guilty was conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office – in plain English, agreeing to pay public officials – while she was editing the Sun. The failure to get a conviction makes it possible that cases against the vast phalanx of Sun hacks arrested for the same offence (and, to be fair, one or two from other papers as well) will not be brought to trial at all.
The need to establish a precedent also explains the CPS’s determination to stage a retrial of Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman after the jury failed to reach a verdict on the same charge against them at the News of the World.
THE EX-HOME SECRETARY
FIRST out of the traps to comment on the verdict, thanks to a pre-recorded interview with BBC News, was former Labour cabinet minister David Blunkett.
He told the BBC that having his messages to Kimberly Quinn intercepted by the News of the World forced him “as close as anyone could ever come to having a breakdown without actually having one… People have said to me ‘why aren’t you bitter?’ The reason is you can’t send bitterness like an email. It erodes you from inside. And the only way of dealing with this then and now was to pick yourself up and get on with life.”
And that, lest we forget, is exactly what he did: agreeing, on the very day in 2005 that he resigned from cabinet in disgrace for the second time in a year, to an offer from his close friend Rebekah Brooks to take a job as a columnist on the Sun on an annual fee of £150,000.
When her successor Dominic Mohan declined to continue with his services, Blunkett was instead contracted as an adviser to News International on “corporate and social responsibility (volunteering and education)”, a position in which he remained until June last year, just before the phone hacking trial began, trousering nearly £100,000 a year on top of his MP’s salary. All this in addition to the damages paid “to close members of my family in July 2011” which resulted from the hacking of his associates’ mailboxes (it was made clear in court that Blunkett’s own phone was never hacked).
At the time that particular settlement emerged, Blunkett was far less eager to air his views in the media, telling the Observer that any questions about the settlement “constitute harassment” and were “blinding hypocrisy”. Which is, of course, nothing like the behaviour of the man heard in court on recordings of voicemails from 2005 berating the “hyenas” and “bastards” of the press, and hoping they would “rot in hell”!
PERHAPS the most ubiquitous figure in the media in the days following the verdicts was former tabloid top dog Neil Wallis, who has very effectively established himself in the public eye as the face of honourable and innocent tabloid journalism.
He popped up on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Radio 4’s Today and The Media Show, the BBC News Channel and even the Question Time panel to hammer home his view, endlessly reiterated on his Twitter account, that the entire trial had been a disastrous waste of time and money. As he contemptuously told one media outlet: "This has been a state show trial. The intention of that has been to emasculate, to attempt to emasculate the very lively, very combative media in this country.”
Wallis describes himself as a “survivor of Operation Weeting”, having been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking in 2011, told he would not face charges but then questioned again under caution by police last October.
He was Andy Coulson’s deputy during the whole time he edited the News of the World. He remained with the paper as executive editor until 2009, before famously going to work for the Metropolitan Police. The Eye will be the first to bring you any news of future developments in Wallis’s career!
- To read Adam Macqueen’s special report on the phone-hacking scandal, Trial and Error, in full, buy the latest edition of Private Eye.