Stephen Glover: If it really wasn't Mulcaire, then who did delete Milly's messages?
Media Studies: What had been seen as a discreditable saga was turned into a disgraceful scandal
Monday 28 November 2011
What a dismal week for the Press! Accusation followed accusation, and the net was cast much wider than just phone hacking. I expect that by Friday Lord Justice Leveson would have cheerfully introduced statutory press regulation, and dispatched journalists to the Tower. Some witnesses celebrated at a party organised by the "Hacked Off" campaign. In PR terms this was a triumphant week for them.
But a lot of ink has already been spent on all that, so let me concentrate on another aspect which has attracted scarcely any interest.
Last Monday Glenn Mulcaire – the private investigator employed by the News of the World – told the BBC that he did not delete messages from the mobile phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. His solicitor said in a statement that Mr Mulcaire "did not delete messages and had no reason to do so". To which many will respond: well, he would say that, wouldn't he?
The sensational allegation that the News of the World had deleted messages was first made in a Guardian story written by Nick Davies and Amelia Hill on 4 July 2011. Mr Mulcaire's name did not appear until paragraph five, where it was mentioned that the Metropolitan Police's Operation Weeting (the source of several Guardian phone hacking exclusives) had "found evidence of the targeting of the Dowlers in a collection of 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World".
This story changed everything. There was uproar. What had previously been seen as a highly discreditable saga involving the hacking of myriad celebrities by the News of the World was suddenly transformed into a disgraceful scandal. The deletion of messages had given Milly's parents the fleeting hope that she was still alive.
On 6 July David Cameron announced the Leveson Inquiry. On 7 July Rupert and James Murdoch closed the News of the World. On 13 July they pulled the plug on their attempt to acquire the whole of BSkyB. On 15 July Rupert's favourite, Rebekah Brooks, resigned. On 19 July he told a Commons committee that he was humbled by the allegation that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked. The Murdochs' reaction suggests they believed their organisation was responsible. It is certainly possible that Mr Mulcaire was being untruthful in his denial last week. It is equally possible, if he was telling the truth, that News of the World journalists did the deleting themselves, or even that it was done by another private investigator. Is it also possible that the deleting of messages was done for perfectly proper reasons by the police?
At the moment there is no proof. We have the leak from Operation Weeting, and we have a statement made on 20 October by Mark Rowley, the chief constable of the Surrey police (the investigating force), that it knew in 2002 that Milly's phone had been hacked by the News of the World. I'm sure he is being straightforward. But can he be certain that messages were not deleted by a police officer? It has been suggested that Mr Mulcaire was trying to create space in a full mailbox in case someone left a message that would cast light on Milly's whereabouts. The police would have had at least as good a reason – and every right – to have done exactly the same.
The Surrey police have recently undertaken to release relevant documents concerning voicemail interception of Milly Dowler's mobile phone. Let's hope their evidence is conclusive. At the moment we have a plausible assertion on their part but no proof – and Mr Mulcaire's denial.
As things have turned out, it would make little difference to the long charge sheet against the News of the World and the rest of the tabloid press if Mr Mulcaire or the paper's journalists were shown to be innocent of this particular crime. The caravan is unstoppable now. But it would be an extraordinary irony if the "fact" that electrified the drama, and led directly to the Leveson Inquiry, turned out to be mistaken.
Journalists making the move should warn us
When journalists reach a certain age, usually around their middle 40s, they have a choice. Keep going for another 20 years. Take to drink. Or join a PR company. Certain permutations are feasible. You can keep going and drink quite a lot, though not too much. You can become a PR person and drink a good deal. What you can't do is combine journalism with PR.
Andrew Porter, the Daily Telegraph's public policy editor and until recently its political editor, is flying the coop to join Brunswick, a City PR company that has absorbed many journalists over the years. Good luck to him, of course. But his translation raises some important issues.
I have never met Mr Porter but have no doubt he is as straight as a die. All the same, one can't help wondering how long he has known he was defecting to Brunswick, and whether this knowledge might have affected the way he wrote about issues affecting his future clients. All journalists carry baggage but most of it is visible. As soon as they feel the lure of PR, hacks should hoist some sort of warning flag.
Lack of pretension can be a celebrity asset
The Duchess of Cornwall has achieved one of the smartest ever media turnarounds. Once she was the adulterous usurper of Diana who should never be allowed to marry Prince Charles, much less become Queen. Now she has stepped into shoes left empty since the death of the Queen Mother nearly ten years ago.
On Saturday the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph carried friendly pieces about the Duchess of Cornwall's visit to rehearsals of Strictly Come Dancing. She was pictured smiling and being a general all-round sport. And that, I think, explains her rehabilitation. The press has realised that, whatever she may have done in the past, she is an unpompous good egg who enjoys having fun. Some lessons here, perhaps, for celebrities who want to burnish tarnished reputations.
Guardian's inbetweener decision looking costly
Do you know anyone who might be interested in buying some unwanted Berliner newspaper presses? In 2005 the Guardian spent £80m on specialised presses at its plant in east London to print a new continental format, unique in this country.
As sales have dwindled, so the spanking new presses have lain idle for longer and longer periods. And as no other publisher in Britain uses the same format, the Guardian has been unable to find contract work to take up the slack.
Now its management is considering asking Trinity Mirror, as a cost saving measure, to print the paper on Berliner presses moved from the Guardian's plant. I recall questioning the original decision to spend £80m on these presses. Will anyone ever carry the can?
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