The question of whether the Metropolitan Police investigated the News of the World phone-hacking allegations thoroughly enough was the issue of the day yesterday in this ever more complicated tale.
The question of whether the Met Police did enough in 2006 – and subsequently – is getting Labour MPs energised, but it seems to me that it is an irrelevant side-show.
In 2006 the police investigated the phone-hack allegations and brought sufficient evidence for two men to be sent to jail. They used a spread of five public figures to bring the case, reasoning that it would be a waste of police time to endlessly investigate the case further.
I would argue that the prison terms for Clive Goodman and GlenMulcaire were unnecessarily harsh. They were jailed for intercepting phone messages under an obscure piece of legislation- the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – and were first-time offenders. Their victims were no-doubt upset by the invasion of privacy – but it was only invasion of privacy and something which should really have been dealt with as a civil matter (as in the case of Max Mosley).
Violent criminals, burglars and conmen who commit life-destroying crimes walk free every day.
But the two NoW employees were made an example of – they did the crime, they paid a heavy price, and the editor (Andy Coulson) did the right thing and fell on his sword for, at the very least, losing control of his ship in a pretty serious way.
Are the Met’s critics really suggesting that police should have spent limitless resources on an open-ended inquiry into phone-hacking at the NoW? Because if that is the case, why stop there? We know from numerous sources, and as Press Gazette reported in 2006, that phone-hacking – or screwing – was rife across Fleet Street.
This issue has legs if:
1. The New York Times allegations are correct and former editor Andy Coulson did know more about phone-hacking than he has been letting on. If it is proven that he lied to Parliament during those select committee hearings then he will have to go from his new job as Downing Street head of communications.
2. It can be proven that phone-hacking has continued at the News of the World post 2007 . The NoW has now admitted that it has suspended a reporter pending an investigation into a new allegation of phone-hacking earlier this year. If that charge stands up the NoW has said it will sack the individual for gross misconduct, but it would nonetheless be a big blow to the credibility of a paper which says it has cleaned up its act on this issue.