Irish Times published Roy Greenslade on “The Sun”

The Irish Times – Saturday, March 3, 2012
Sordid saga exposes triangle of elite power and privilege
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THE LEVESON inquiry into the phone hacking scandal took a much more
sinister and serious turn this week. It was transformed from an
exploration of newspaper ethics into a full-frontal assault on the
conduct of Britain’s police.

Over four days, evidence emerged that called into question the way in
which the Metropolitan police handled its original investigation into
hacking and, just as significantly, its five-year denial of there
being anything worth investigating.

Along the way we discovered the intensely close relationship between
senior journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s UK publishing company, News
International, and high-ranking officers from Scotland Yard. The links
were cemented through lunches, dinners, drinks, including the quaffing
of champagne, and visits to football matches. And, most bizarre of
all, there was the case of the retired police horse lent to the
company’s former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

Moreover, British prime minister David Cameron was yesterday forced to
admit that he had ridden the said horse, Raisa. He had done so, he
explained, in the company of Brooks’s husband, Charlie, one of his
Eton contemporaries.

There could not have been a clearer indication of the establishment
nexus that Murdoch has made a career of scorning. The triangle of
elite privilege and power has been exposed. The country’s most
powerful newspaper publisher was connected to the head of its
government and to the top brass of its leading police force.

Yet it was this police force that was in possession of documentary
proof of illegality by that same publisher, namely the hacking of
hundreds of people, including the deputy prime minister, other senior
politicians, scores of celebrities, a murdered schoolgirl and the
bereaved relatives of the victims of other murders, of war and acts of
terrorism. The vast majority were never informed of that fact.

All the while, Metropolitan police assistant commissioners were being
wined and dined by the News of the World. One of them, Andy Hayman,
had dinners with the paper’s former editor Andy Coulson, his deputy
editor Neil Wallis and the crime editor, Lucy Panton.

Four months after leaving the Met in April 2008, he started work as a
columnist on another News International paper, the Times .

John Yates – Britain’s most senior counterterrorism officer at the
time – regularly enjoyed meals at expensive restaurants with Wallis.
He also dined at the exclusive Ivy Club with the editor who succeeded
Coulson, Colin Myler, and Panton, noting in Scotland Yard’s
hospitality register that its purpose was “to improve understanding of
each other’s operational environment”.

Panton, it should be noted, also happened to be married to a serving
Metropolitan police officer.

Lord Justice Leveson, after watching Yates answer questions for three
hours, observed: “Do you think, looking back on this, Mr Yates, that
at the very least there is a perception of improper inference on your
judgment by your contacts with News International?”

Yates would have none of it. “My conscience is clear,” he replied.

This was a remarkably sanguine response given what happened in July
2009. That month, the Guardian ran a series of allegations that
exposed to ridicule the News of the World’ s long-held claim that
phone hacking went no further than “one rogue reporter”.

Yates was asked to look into the allegations and within a day appeared
in front of the cameras to announce that there was nothing to the
Guardian’s article, so there was no need to reopen the investigation.

It was another two years before the Met was forced to do just that
after the Guardian’s astonishing disclosure that the voicemail
messages of murdered girl Milly Dowler had been intercepted.

Now the reinvestigation is in full swing, with 30 arrests so far, and
inquiries have moved beyond phone hacking into computer hacking and,
more recently, to bribery – the alleged illegal payments by
journalists at the Sun to public officials, including police officers.

That led to one of the most jaw-dropping moments at the Leveson
inquiry, when the woman who is now leading the Yard investigation,
deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers, told of the Sun having
established a “network of corrupted officials” and created a “culture
of illegal payments”.

She told the inquiry there had been “multiple payments” by the paper
to public officials, involving thousands of pounds. One individual had
received £80,000 (€96,000) over a number of years, and one Sun
journalist had drawn more than £150,000 over the years to pay sources.

Akers’s intervention was a direct rebuttal of criticism by Sun staff
who had complained about the arrests of 10 of its executives and
reporters. An 11th was detained on Thursday.

Akers was also eager to deny that this money had been paid out to
obtain public interest stories, stating that it had resulted instead
in the publication of “salacious gossip”.

Jaws dropped further still at other revelations. An internal email
came to light that showed News International executives were told
about phone hacking in 2006, which contrasted with their public
statements of ignorance. That note, written by the News of the World’s
former legal manager, Tom Crone, informed Coulson and Brooks that the
police had the paper’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, and its contracted
private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, “bang to rights” on the illegal
interception of voicemails of Buckingham Palace staff. But crucially,
it added that the police had also discovered a list of “100-110

Yet all three, though aware of the extent of hacking, went on to
maintain for the following five years that hacking was restricted only
to Goodman, the rogue reporter.

As if that isn’t enough, there is another ticking time-bomb that is
haunting proceedings. Court documents filed by hacking victims – a
source of many disclosures over the past seven months – have revealed
the existence of an explosive email. It shows that there was an
attempt at a cover-up at News International.

In July 2010, an as yet unnamed senior executive asked for a progress
report on the “email deletion policy”. It said: “How come we still
haven’t done the email deletion policy discussed and approved six
months ago?”

When that person’s name emerges in public, there is bound to be
another furore. As old Fleet Street journalists were once fond of
saying about stories, this one will run and run and run. Our jaws are
aching because they keep dropping so often. But there is little to
laugh about. It is a sordid saga that besmirches our trade.
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