Hust when you thought the phone-hacking story was dead and buried, up pop a handful of lawyers with some remarkable news. Just last month, the Crown Prosecution Service announced, to the relief of the great and the not so great, that there would be no more criminal prosecutions against journalists over phone hacking. Nor would proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s company face any charges for overall responsibility for what had gone on.
A line had been drawn, and maybe after the closure of the News of the World, the imprisonment of Andy Coulson, former NOTW editor and the Prime Minister’s press secretary, the conviction of eight senior people in the pay of the paper, the resignation of some of the country’s top police officers and the expenditure of millions of public money on police investigations and the Leveson inquiry, enough was enough.
Think again. It seems, a third phase has begun. The Sun, another Murdoch paper, escaped scrutiny, but now that is changing. Last week, the High Court heard that 16 civil claims by alleged phone-hacking victims are in the offing, with a possible 25 to follow. Five of the initial 16 are against The Sun. The sense of there being a serious case of unfinished business is palpable.
It is a feeling shared by Glenn Mulcaire, whose extensive tasking notes enabled police to bring prosecutions, and allowed many phone-hacking victims a chance to bring civil claims against the NOTW. Mulcaire worked under Greg Miskiw, an executive for a shadowy branch of the paper called the Covert Intelligence Unit (CIU), and was sent to prison for intercepting voicemails in 2007.
Though most of his work appeared in the NOTW, he has now revealed in his statement that at least four stories derived from intercepting phone messages, including a story about footballer Wayne Rooney visiting a brothel, also appeared in The Sun between 2004-6. There is no suggestion that The Sun commissioned the hacking or was aware of it, but it remains a significant development.
Stuart Hoare, brother of former NOTW reporter Sean Hoare, who died in 2012, told The Independent on Sunday that even though several people went to prison, the prosecutions were insufficient: “The CPS was pathetic on the whole Leveson thing. They never had the front to see it through. I gave a statement for these cases because I felt personally that if I, [personally], could do someone a favour to make sure the truth came out, then I would. But I’m not sure if it will ever happen. I think about it a lot and feel personally very let down. There’s one law for some and one law for others. I just hope the truth comes out one day.”
And Glenn Mulcaire told The IoS: My position hasn’t changed in the past 10 years. Having been uniquely charged and convicted twice, the drip-feeding of new evidence is not as effective as meticulously joining the dots together from the testimonies of everyone involved. The whole is, after all, greater than the sum of the parts. The convenient narrative is not an accurate one, and as an investigator, I am driven by the facts not the story. To date, I have not yet had the opportunity to speak out freely and openly about the CIU and am keen to ensure that an accurate account regarding this whole saga is available to all, especially those whose lives had been impacted by it.”
Former NOTW reporter Paul McMullan maintains that much of what went on was justifiable in the public interest, even if it sometimes involved breaking the law. “[Rebekah] Brooks, Coulson and indeed Murdoch could have been the heroes of British journalism by standing up for their reporters. Instead, they are scum because they threw them to the wolves. And it’s like the general blaming his soldiers and not taking responsibility. We had a reunion about three months ago … a group of about 10 former NOTW reporters and a few executives – and not one of us had a job … and these are the finest journalists in Britain.”
A spokesperson for News Group said: “Following many years of investigation, there were no charges against The Sun or its employees for voicemail interception. Certain claimants seeking financial settlements arising from activities at the News of the World have made unsubstantiated claims against The Sun. If the [High] Court permits such claims to proceed, The Sun will defend them vigorously.”
Legal experts expect the judge will allow the civil cases against The Sun to go ahead. There is surely an irony in the fact that if News Group does have to settle the civil claims, in effect it will be Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun, who was cleared of all charges relating to the phone hacking by the NOTW, and now chief executive of News UK, who will be signing the cheques.