“If this was happening in Zimbabwe, China or North Korea, there would be a shitstorm of opposition here – protests outside the embassies, the NUJ would be on its high horse, all that. But if it’s British redtop journalists working for Rupert Murdoch? Naa, fuck ‘em."
So said one of the 21-plus Sun journalists arrested by the Met Police over the last two years to Spiked editor-at-large Mick Hume.
Sun journalists clearly feel strongly aggrieved at the way they have been treated in the fallout of the hacking scandal.
In the wake of the closure of the News of the World in July 2011, News Corp created a Management and Standards Committee to go through all the company’s newspapers and ensure they were squeaky clean.
After dredging through millions of emails going back many years the MSC handed evidence over to the police which has seen at least 21 Sun journalists arrested so far along with, in many cases, their sources. So far 10 have been charged and nine will face trial over involvement in alleged payments to contacts which include prison, police and army employees.
Sun staffers feel are they are being uniquely punished for a practice which was widespread across Fleet Street. There have only been handful of arrests of journalists outside the News UK stable so far.
As one arrested journalist told Rupert Murdoch back in March (Exaro Rupert Murdoch tape), the police weren’t interested in The Sun until the MSC handed over “mountains and mountains of evidence”. Something which Murdoch now admits was a "mistake".
Sun crime editor Mike Sullivan (like Murdoch) feels the heavy-handed police tacts are politically motivated.
He told Hume: “They had to do a Rolls Royce job on all of us to make up for the mess they made of the hacking investigation.’
“It was political’. They were making a statement, putting on a show. The Met publicised the arrests. They claimed they sent so many officers to make the searches quicker. But we are talking about alleged white collar crime with no threat of violence.
“In the biggest fraud cases involving the biggest houses, people who know say they would never send more than four officers. There were about 10 of them at my house."
Sullivan spent 14 months on police bail before being told that the charges were dropped: "The CPS said well, we haven’t had a file. After 14 months they didn’t even have a file on me."
So far at least 59 journalists have been arrested as a result of police investigations into phone and computer hacking and payments which are expected to have a combined cost of £40m.
The extent to which police arrests of journalists in dawn raids have been largely fishing expeditions appears to be proven by the fact that 11 journalists, so far, have been cleared – in many cases after lengthy periods on police bail.
We will only really know whether this huge police investigation can be justified when the trials start later this year and the public interest defences of journalists are aired.
But in the meantime one has to wonder whether the punishments already meted out to arrested Sun journalists aren’t already heavier than their alleged crimes. That toll is eloquently spelled out in the letter read out by Deirdre Sanders from the wife of a Sun staffer to Rupert Murdoch.
One Sun staffer told Hume that arrests have also badly damaged UK tabloid journalism:
“It will never be the same again. The rumbustiousness, the publish-and-be-damned mentality, which was a great British thing, has gone now. That is a terrible shame, and Britain is a less free country for it."