So a Private Investigator retained by the Whore’s Gazette listened into the Voice-mail messages. This included Slebs: (meh), Politicians (double Meh… indeed this is the very definition of “investigative journalism”). However they did not stick to people in the public eye who should know better; They listened into the voice mails of the (then) missing schoolgirl, Milli Dowler and some of the victims of the 7/7 Bombings, which is pretty despicable, especially as in the former case, it appeared the fact the messages were being opened misled the police and gave sadly false hope to the Dowler family. It goes without saying that this is pretty appalling behaviour, against a number of data-protection & misuse of information laws. It’s also potentially perverting the course of justice. This doesn’t need any extra legislation, or even an emergency debate in parliament (politicians’ phones were involved… they’re pissed off. Sod ’em) Just enforce the laws against the individual PI involved. As for Milliband Minor’s ridiculous demand for an enquiry into “media ethics” – I find the sight of people jumping onto a bandwaggon to serve their partisan interests at the cost of dealing with some real underlying issues, distasteful.
It’s worth pointing out though: This isn’t “HACKING” which involves listening to conversations, something a family member of a Tube-bombing victim openly implied this morning on the ‘Today’ program, without being corrected. If you don’t have a PIN number on your inbox, spend a couple of minutes NOW and put one on. Bingo: the News of the World can’t get at your messages.
It’s not just politicians milking this for all it’s worth. There are two factors at play. This is being given wall to wall coverage on the BBC (but not SKY), and all the papers (except News International titles) because the BBC and fleet-street want to bash their competitors, and especially don’t want News International to buy the portion of BSkyB it doesn’t already own. This is a brute commercial consideration: Newspapers are barely profitable, and struggling. Hurting a competitor might help a bit & sell some papers in the process. For the BBC, it’s defending it’s patch against an increasingly influential and aggressive SKY news. The DG has even put his name to a letter opposing the purchase, which rather put his organisation’s cards face-up on the table. The BBC is even alleging that Murdoch is not “fit & proper”, something which isn’t in the scope of the decision to allow SKY to buy BSkyB. It’s an abuse of its position for the tax (the license fee is a tax in all but name) funded BBC to report in such a self-serving way in a story with a such clear conflict of interest.
There is also a residual leftism of the organisation which would love to make the most of the resignation of Andy Coulson from David Cameron’s team. If you listened to the BBC this morning, you’d think he was still there spinning for the Government, instead of having already fallen on his sword over this issue five months ago. The guy’s already gone. It’s a non-issue for the Prime-Minister.
Finally, this is being run in the media together with the issue of the treatment of the Dowler family at the hands of the defence barrister, and of the issues this story raises, this is the most dangerous. “Victim’s justice” isn’t justice at all. I’m the first to call the police, and the entire criminal justice system “useless” but the fact remains a standard defence in court is “I didn’t do it” and therefore the implication is that someone else did. By introducing reasonable doubt, certainly guilty people have got off. But I’d rather 10 guilty men go free (and they do) than one innocent man go to gaol because the police were allowed to fix the usual suspects up, or the defence had its’s hands tied by laws which prevented relevant questions being asked. As far as sentencing goes the people who should have NO say in the punishment are the victims. The only people I can think of who are worse are politicians. Sentencing should be for the Judge who’s seen the evidence acting according to law and precedent.
This rush to protect victims in court is going to lead (rightly) to challenges by guilty people on the basis that their defence was hamstrung and may lead to MORE guilty people getting away with it. This is nothing more than an assault on the presumption of innocence. If you’re in court, and expect to see a criminal put away for a long time, expect him to fight – there’s a chance the man in the dock DIDN’T do it. It’s up to the prosecution to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. Lazy investigations, sloppy legal work and all the hallmarks of state-run ANYTHING: time-serving incompetence, are responsible for more miscarriages of justice than overzealous defence barristers who remain a mere scapegoat for incompetent prosecutions.
Hard cases make bad law. One horrible case with a vile defendant should not remove the rights of people to defend themselves vigorously in court, and be presumed innocent until they’re proven guilty.