-Prez, The Wire: Season 4, ep 4
The resurfacing of the Andy Coulson/News of the World phone hacking allegations is a right royal mess (if you'll excuse the pun) and it's one where I'm finding it surprisingly hard to take sides.
Tip: always set your
voicemail PIN code!
Tip: always set your
voicemail PIN code!
We know some phones were "hacked" (ie. voicemail accessed) - two were caught practically red-handed and served jail time.
And I personally believe it's highly likely that many more phones were "hacked", but I'm not overly concerned that police didn't pursue further cases and, in the absence of actual evidence beyond rumour and speculation I don't think failure to act is necessarily indicative of a conspiracy between the Met police and News International.
A few years ago I had a couple of my credit cards skimmed, on two separate occasions. Thanks to a vigilant old man in Chiswick the police identified the actual machine where my card was copied and linked the theft of over a thousand pounds from my account to a gang using cash machines in Belgium.
In fact the trail was hot and the evidence was mounting. I had regular updates from a keen Detective Sergeant and I personally contacted the Belgium police via the Belgian Embassy because at the time there was no practical official protocol for quickly exchanging info between UK and Belgian police forces. I passed on messages and actually introduced the two detectives from either side of the channel to each other.
Then the investigation ended abruptly. The detective on my case was re-assigned due to resource limitations and a lady from the Met's victim support team explained financial crimes were low priority since nobody got hurt and my bank had already refunded all my money given the weight of evidence for fraud. A "victimless crime". Which of course it isn't since we're all paying in some way through higher bank charges.
But I accept that any police force has to focus their limited resources. I can accept that whilst some see the invasion of privacy rightly as a serious crime, the simple fact is there are even more serious crimes to investigate. Just like I accept that my keen DS had to drop my case to work on a more pressing London crime.
I'm writing this as a digital rights activist and some time privacy campaigner, and I don't feel my stance here is duplicitous - because I feel there are worse invasions of privacy going on unnoticed everyday. Invasions that potentially affect more of us and to a greater extent.
I see how the police may have come to the conclusion that the prosecution of Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire may act as a deterrent to others without the need to follow half-leads in the accused's notes or suspicions of other celebrities or politicians.
I remember being satisfied at the time that the prosecution, which received a great deal of media coverage, raised the profile of privacy issues in general.
But now Coulson's job as David Cameron's press secretary brings substantial political overtones. No fewer than four Labour heavyweights have made statements in the past few days calling for an enquiry. Forgive me a dose of cynicism here but this affair exploded under Labour's watch back in 2006.
The party political activity alerted my defences to the possibility of heavy spin from all sides.
The only ground I'm sure about is if - and I do mean if - there's a suspicion that police officers of any rank were involved, either in the supply of personal or privileged information to reporters, or in any subsequent cover up; then this must be vigorously pursued with an impartial and independent investigation.
Of course I've seen no proof to support this, and therein lies a bit of a Catch-22, but the spectre of possible police corruption must never become a pawn in a party-political game. I've seen at close quarters how police corruption can wreck communities and rooting out anyone who puts personal profit before the rule of law must surely be a priority for all politicians, whatever their party.