Moment that mattered: Rebekah Brooks is cleared of all charges in the phone hacking trial
“I had our journalist Adam Macqueen at the trial every day and we’d been waiting for this verdict for a long time. I was in my office at Private Eye when it came through. My initial reaction was one of disbelief and disappointment that the iconic figure in the phone hacking investigation, Rebekah Brooks, had been found innocent. I couldn’t believe that Andy Coulson had been found guilty and Brooks innocent. It seemed to me like a verdict that couldn’t possibly be reached.
We’d prepared a special phone hacking supplement – because of the restrictions on court reporting, Adam couldn’t write about everything he saw at the time – and we had to junk that and start from scratch as it had been done on the basis of a conviction which didn’t happen.
So my initial reaction was one of great disappointment. But subsequently, as the dust settled, I realised that the fact that the prime minister’s former director of communications is now, unbelievably, behind bars (joining a whole load of other journalists who are already in the slammer) is a fantastic result for justice. That triangle of the Murdoch press, political power and the police which made reporters feel invulnerable and in which everyone behaved dreadfully has been exposed. The Murdoch empire has been badly shaken and I don’t think it will ever again have quite the same swaggering, world-striding confidence again. I’d like to have seen it kicked even harder obviously – but you make do with what you get.
Our ‘Street of Shame’ section in the magazine has spent 30 years saying that Murdoch’s appalling and the way he runs his papers is appalling. But I think what’s new now is that as a journalist you might end up with a knock on the door and you might be arrested. You’re never going to stop competitiveness or callousness in tabloid journalism, which is often critical, rude and unempathetic. That’s quite difficult to legislate against. But grotesque, illegal behaviour won’t be tolerated.
I have been surprised that David Cameron hasn’t faced a bigger political setback in the months after the trial for bringing Andy Coulson so close to the heart of power. Had Rebekah Brooks been found guilty I think it would have been more personal and therefore even more damaging because of the friendship between the two of them. But then again, all British prime ministers have sucked up to Murdoch – Gordon Brown was equally bad and Tony Blair was worst of all. It’s hard for Ed Miliband to take Cameron to task when his former boss organised sleepover parties for Wendi Deng.
When it comes to the argument over press regulation brought up by phone hacking, supporters of both sides have claimed the trial result justifies their position. The Hacked Off lot say ‘look at how appalling this is, we must have the Royal Charter now’ and the other side says ‘This is marvellous, it shows what you actually need is the law to take effect, and a regulatory body or a new code wouldn’t have stopped any of this criminal behaviour.’ That’s where I stand: phone hacking is against the law and the law has now reacted.
Ultimately as I saw it the position of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson boiled down to whether they knew about the phone hacking and were guilty or didn’t and were clueless. So ‘I am either a criminal or I am an idiot’ was effectively the choice the jury had to make. On that basis they decided one of them was a criminal and the other one was an idiot.
‘Trial and Error’, Private Eye’s report on the phone hacking trial, is available from the ‘Special Reports’ section of private-eye.co.uk at £5
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