Leading article: At last, hacking charges will be tested in court

The anguish caused makes it desirable that all the evidence be examined openly

Share
Related Topics

Five years ago, News International claimed that phone-hacking was confined to one rogue reporter.

Three years ago, the Metropolitan Police took a single day to dismiss a Guardian report that the News of the World had hacked more than 3,000 phones. How different was the tone struck yesterday, when the Crown Prosecution Service announced that eight people would face charges of conspiracy to intercept communications without lawful authority. The name of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, features prominently in the charges, along with celebrities and politicians; according to the CPS, there are more than 600 victims.

The list of those charged was headed, by accident of the alphabet, by two former News of the World editors – Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Ms Brooks and her husband have already been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Given her position as Rupert Murdoch's one-time right-hand woman in Britain and someone also on jovial text-messaging terms with the Prime Minister, the charges convey a particular message about prominence and connections having no bearing on equality before the law. Whatever the outcome, that is no bad thing.

Something similar could be said of the decision to charge Andy Coulson. But the implications here could be more far-reaching. For Mr Coulson is not just a former News of the World editor, but former communications chief to David Cameron, when he was Leader of the Opposition and after he became Prime Minister. As with Ms Brooks and all the others charged yesterday, it must be stressed that Mr Coulson is innocent until proven otherwise.

His close ties with the Prime Minister, however, make it inevitable that there will be fall-out in the political arena. Mr Cameron has insisted that he asked Mr Coulson about any skeletons he might have in his closet before he appointed him, and was satisfied with his response. Whether the interview was quite so thorough as to absolve Mr Cameron of all charges of questionable judgement, however, is another matter. And even if it was, the impending trial cannot but cast a shadow for as long as the judicial process takes.

However punctiliously the sub judice provisions are observed, the wheels of justice tend not to turn fast, and the awareness that the Prime Minister's former communications chief faces trial on criminal charges will become part of the bigger political context. For many reasons, Mr Cameron has been losing some of his lustre. Lingering questions about Mr Coulson are just what he does not need.

The CPS defended its decision on the merits of the evidence as its lawyers see it – which of course is the only legitimate justification. But there is another reason why it is better, on balance, that the individuals concerned stand trial. The anguish caused, especially by the Milly Dowler case, makes it highly desirable that all the evidence be examined openly and in court. All those charged deserve the opportunity to clear their name or to know that they have been convicted according to due process, rather than in the court of public opinion. And while fast-tracking is hardly an option, there are human and political reasons why these cases are handled with the utmost dispatch.

When all is said and done, there will be those who interpret the charges announced yesterday, whatever ensues, as corroboration for their view about the excesses and general depravity of the British press. But those same people should also consider that, without the revelations about Milly Dowler's phone and the public outcry it caused, the police might have left their investigations on the backburner. And how did those revelations reach the public, but on the pages of the British press?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Recruitment Genius: Accounting Technician

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Between the covers: Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, opposite Colin Firth's Mr Darcy, in the acclaimed 1995 BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'  

To talk about 'liking' a character may be a literary faux pas, but I don't care

Memphis Barker
Hinkley Point A to the right of development land where the reactors of Hinkley C nuclear power station are due to be built  

Should the UK really be putting its money into nuclear power in 2015?

Chris Green Chris Green
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen