Rupert Murdoch should bear some responsibility for the crimes that the phone-hacking trial uncovered

The focus now turns to the man whose company owned the News of the World

Share

Rupert Murdoch may find himself vulnerable following the verdicts in the phone-hacking trial. He was a director of News International, the company that owned the News of the World at the time when phone hacking was rife. Indeed he has owned the newspaper since the late 1960s.

Under the phone-hacking legislation (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000), Section 79 describes “the criminal liability of directors” where an offence “under any provision of this Act … is committed by a body corporate and is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate”. The key word here is “neglect”. It means that it is not a defence to say that “I didn’t know what was going on”.

Now four of Mr. Murdoch’s then employees have been found guilty of phone hacking charges. At the start of the trial at the Old Bailey, the jury was told that three former senior News of the World journalists had pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack phones. They were Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter, Greg Miskiw, a former news editor at the paper, and James Weatherup, a former senior reporter on the Sunday tabloid. Now added to this list is former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, who was found guilty today.

In fact Mr. Murdoch resigned from the board of News International in July 2012 just at the time when Rebekah Brooks and Mr. Coulson were being charged. In addition, the Department of Culture select committee had stated on 1 May 2012 that Mr. Murdoch "exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications", and stated that he was "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company".

Now I subscribe to the view that everything good and everything bad that organisations do originates from the way the people at the top conduct themselves. So I shall be watching with interest to see whether the crimes committed by the staff employed by Mr. Murdoch are finally laid at his door. The public interest demands that we can understand whether his role was truly innocent or not.

READ MORE: Hacking trial: David Cameron issues 'full and frank apology' after Andy Coulson guilty verdict completes rise and fall of PM's trusted adviser
Hacking trial: Piers Morgan and Louise Mensch declare support for Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks following verdict  

Tabloid newspapers had added phone hacking to their traditional methods of invading privacy. These newspapers caused widespread trauma, misery and distress. In most cases there was not a shred of “public interest” that could justify their intrusion.

The scale of it was well brought out by Lord Leveson. His report gives many examples. Sienna Miller, not knowing that her phone was being hacked, was led falsely to accuse close family members and friends of leaking stories to the press. Max Mosley expressed the belief that the constant, unflattering and unpleasant coverage of him was a contributing factor in the suicide of his son. In a similar case, Margaret Watson set out her conclusion that inaccurate and partial reporting of the murder of her daughter, Diane, contributed significantly to the suicide of her son, Alan, who was unable to cope with the unsubstantiated allegations leveled at his dead sister.

Then there are the notorious incidents involving the Dowlers, the McCanns and the wrongly arrested Christopher Jeffries. Of the McCanns the Leveson report observed: “They had become a news item, a commodity, almost a piece of public property where the public’s right to know possessed few if any boundaries”. The completely innocent Christopher Jefferies told Lord Leveson that “the tabloid press had decided that I was guilty of murder and seemed determined to persuade the public of my guilt”.

Cruel pressure was put on News of the World reporters. After joining the tabloid, Dan Evans was told he “might as well jump off a cliff” if he could not produce a front-page story, the court was told. Mr. Evans described how he systematically targeted scores of celebrities and public figures in a desperate search for exclusive stories. He explained how he had a long list of names and numbers that he used on a daily basis to attempt to intercept the voicemails of famous people. Phone-hacking had become a sort of mania.

Casually wrecking people’s lives without a shred of justification was, unfortunately, not the end of it so far as the News of the World was concerned. As Lord Leveson said of the tabloid press in general: “The press are in a unique position as they carry a very large megaphone; if people cooperate, that megaphone can be used to enhance careers: for those who complain or challenge titles, the megaphone can be used to destroy them.”

Politicians were particularly vulnerable to this pressure. Tom Watson MP had his suspicions when the Department of Culture select committee turned to phone-hacking. He said that “we were not able to establish the extent to which committee members were the targets of private investigators or journalists trying to collect information in order to either smear or influence…The committee did not have the time to act on these new allegations but I think they are so serious they warrant an inquiry by the Committee of Standards and Privileges for a potential contempt of Parliament.”

Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie leave the Old Bailey this afternoon Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie leave the Old Bailey this afternoon after she was found not guilty of charges relating to the phone-hacking scandal

In his summing up at the end of the phone-hacking trial, Mr. Justice Saunders referred to a further example of News International’s disregard of society’s norms. When the News of the World hacked Millie’s Dowler’s phone and intercepted a message that seemed to indicate that the 13-year-old was alive and, improbably, working at a computer factory in Telford, the paper didn’t immediately contact the police who were searching for her, but instead sent a six-strong team of reporters and photographers to check out the story. The police would have to wait until the reporters had done their work.

Mr. Andrew Edis QC, senior prosecuting counsel, said that at the heart of the case was the question of whether it was possible that Mr. Coulson, his predecessor as editor, Rebekah Brooks, and other senior figures could possibly not have known what was going on. After all, it wasn’t suggested that Mr Coulson and Ms. Brooks had themselves mastered and used the techniques of accessing other people’s voicemail messages. Rather they were charged with "conspiring to intercept communications without lawful authority”. In other words, the charge was not that they had done it but that they had organised it.

In turn the two former editors’ defence was essentially that they hadn’t known that their reporters, whether staff or freelance, had been hacking phones to obtain stories. Mr. Coulson told the court that he had been aware in vague terms that phone hacking existed and he accepted that he did know about the source of the Blunkett story. He claimed he did not realise at the time that hacking was a crime.  He said: “I would have thought it was intrusive, a breach of privacy and lazy journalism.”

In the event, the jury accepted Ms. Brooks’ denials but found against Mr. Coulson. So justice was done.

READ NEXT
Grace Dent's latest top World Cup moments
As the daughter of a billionaire, I know Sting is right not to give his children any money
What happens when Western fighters for Isis return home?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high