Hackgate: In partial defence of the Police

The Hackgate affair has exposed some sordid goings on at the heart of the establishment with the Murdoch press, politicians and police all guilty of, at best, some very poor judgements.

As far as I am concerned News Corp richly deserves the opprobrium heaped on it.  Companies invariably reflect the values of their leadership – as the saying goes “a fish rots from the head”.  Those values have clearly been sadly lacking and the crisis in which they find themselves is simply karma.   Rupert Murdoch may be a media visionary with talent far beyond his contemporaries or he may be merely a slick operator who discovered early in his career that the way to get ahead in media was to go relentlessly down-market and to have as many politicians in his pay as possible and to terrorise the rest.

But I do have some sympathy for the position the police find themselves in.   Some of the things they investigate are clearly priorities even in a world of limited resources.  Murder is the obvious example.  But what about the grey areas?   What happens when it’s not clear that what has happened is actually a crime or where the evidence is lacking or where it is undoubtedly a crime but is too trivial to prosecute?

The answer is, of course, that someone has to make a judgement call but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.   It must depend on what the boss thinks is/is not important – and for a senior policeman than means key politicians, people like the Mayor of London (given that this is the Met), the Prime Minister and the House of Commons generally.

Well, we know what the mayor thought about hacking; his view was unequivocally that it was “politically motivated codswallop”.  And the PM?  Well, he was having Murdoch senior round for tea, visiting with Rebekah Brooks and employing Andy Coulson despite his having left News of the World under a cloud and multiple warnings.   Rebekah Brooks told the House of Commons Media Committee in 2003 that payments had been made to the police which is illegal and they chose not to follow it up.  Only when the whole affair blew up did they sanctimoniously ask Murdoch why he hadn’t pursued it.  Presumably only the fact that he was in “humble” mode prevented them getting the same question flung back at them.

So, with the whole political establishment lined up to support News Corp even when it strayed a bit (and perhaps a lot) over the line into illegality, what can a policeman to do?   Probably not a lot is the honest answer but don’t expect the Media Committee to agree with that view.  They look pretty foolish themselves and a fall-guy is needed.

My defence of the police is, however, limited by the fact that senior officers who should have known better were far too ready to take the Murdoch shilling as columnists, to dine with editors supposedly under investigation and to be willfully blind when reviewing evidence.

The politicians should redeem themselves by breaking up the News Corp empire in Britain.



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