Even now, despite the long trial and the conviction, it is difficult to grasp the fact that Lord Black of Crossharbour, the former proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, one of the great papers of the world, is going to spend six-and-a-half years in an American prison.
Perhaps it is so hard to believe because it is not the sort of thing that happens to media tycoons in real life. In fact, it has never happened before. Some former proprietors one can think of have taken some daring short cuts, but none of them has finished up in jail.
Maybe one is influenced by Black's continuing fulminations of innocence, the last of which we heard not long ago on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and which evidently did not delight the American prosecuting authorities. But the truth is that he was always destined for prison, having been found guilty by a Chicago court in July on three fraud charges and on one of obstructing justice, while escaping a serious charge of racketeering.
It was decent of his former friends and admirers to write to Judge Amy St Eve urging leniency, but all the intercessions in the world could not have kept Black out of jail with such convictions. He could in theory have faced a much longer sentence than the one he has received.
No doubt one should feel glad that justice has been done. I find it difficult though not to feel a little sorry for Black. When you have written a column for a newspaper owned by a man, dined and been to parties at his house, and known and liked him well, it is perhaps natural to feel for him, and to wonder how, at the age of 62, he will cope with all the privations of prison. Nor can I forget that he was a good newspaper proprietor for whom, on the whole, journalists liked working.
Strangers will say, however, that he has got his just deserts, and they are doubtless right. This is not a "victimless" crime, as some have suggested. Though you may not care too much for them, there were shareholders who were defrauded.
Black continues to assert that there has been no crime, but the weight of evidence is against him. Whether he will try to lodge an appeal remains to be seen.
We can be sure that, whatever happens, Black will continue to protest his innocence until and beyond the date of his release. There is something magnificent about this, but I am afraid there will be very few people who will any longer believe him.Reuse content