Leading article: Hacking avoids its day in court


It is not hard to understand why many of the celebrities and politicians who had their phones hacked by journalists from News International have accepted out-of-court damages payments from Rupert Murdoch. It has saved them the time, money and stress that would have been involved in court hearings, from which details – lurid or otherwise – would have been laid bare for all to read.

When their legal actions began, the civil courts seemed the only recourse. The police had seemed alarmingly uninterested in their complaints – an attitude the Metropolitan Police now admits was a mistake. Then early compensation deals left the impression that the Murdoch organisation would be successful in burying the scandal. The whole thing, or most of it, would be swept under the carpet, and the extent of News International's misdeeds would never be known.

The Leveson Inquiry changed all that, providing the victims with a platform from which to air their grievances. And yesterday's settlements, in which the comedian Steve Coogan and the former footballer Paul Gascoigne were among those who agreed compensation, mean that the vast majority of the first wave of complaints against the Murdochs have now been dealt with.

News International will no doubt be pleased that a potential spate of court cases will not now bring more bad publicity and preoccupy its executives. Only the lawyers will be disappointed, as the prospect of more fat fees vanishes. But Mr Murdoch and his organisation have not escaped unharmed. The reputational damage is considerable, even if, as it appears, the pay-outs come in below £1m in total.

It must nonetheless be a cause for regret that the tasteless, immoral and downright criminal activities of the Murdoch journalistic culture will not be exposed in the same detail that they might have been before a court. Some of the hacking victims were, as Steve Coogan put it, "ordinary members of the public, sometimes vulnerable people with the most tenuous connection to news". They will not now get their day in court.