It is a curiously unsatisfactory end to a protracted saga: is this how the phone hacking scandal finishes, with a lengthy statement from the Crown Prosecution Service? Four-and-a-half years after a storm erupted over allegations that the phone messages of a murdered girl had been intercepted by a tabloid newspaper, the CPS has announced there is no “realistic prospect of a conviction” in two long-running investigations related to the hacking of voicemails.
The decision follows a review of evidence collected in two police operations, Weeting and Golding. It concluded there is insufficient evidence to bring corporate charges against Rupert Murdoch’s company, News UK (formerly News International), or criminal cases against 10 individuals at Mirror Group Newspapers.
The CPS has been savaged for some of its charging decisions in another police operation, Elveden, in which a number of journalists were cleared in corruption cases while their sources were convicted. But its latest statement, while not unexpected, leaves victims of hacking in the dark about important aspects of the scandal.
No one doubts that a culture of intrusion, symbolised by industrial-scale hacking of voicemails, was rife in some newsrooms. Mirror Group Newspapers is appealing against £1.2m damagesawarded to eight victims of phone hacking in May this year. The CPS decision means that while some victims know they were targeted by Mirror titles, they are unlikely to find out how it came about.
All of this leaves unanswered questions: how did the practice of phone hacking take root in newsrooms? And why did no one blow the whistle on it? Even when the NoW’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, and Mulcaire were convicted in 2007 for intercepting voicemails, it didn’t start alarm bells ringing. Corporate governance isn’t a subject that exercises the public, but it’s vital to restoring confidence in institutions that appear to have failed to notice a scandal that was staring them in the face. When two police officers from Operation Weeting showed me evidence in 2011 that my voicemails had been hacked by the NoW, it had been in their possession for almost five years.
Part of the problem, for victims of hacking, is that the scandal has had so many twists and turns. It’s hard to recall now that it all seemed relatively straightforward in the summer of 2011, when the Guardian revealed suspicions about the NoW’s behaviour after the disappearance of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002. Milly was later found murdered and the suggestion on the Guardian’s front page on 4 July 2011 that someone acting for the tabloid had hacked into her voicemails caused a sensation.
Everything seemed to happen very fast at first. The then leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, called on Brooks, by then chief executive of News International, to consider her position. A pressure group, Hacked Off, was created with the specific aim of demanding a public inquiry. Murdoch panicked and announced the closure of the NoW. David Cameron appointed a judge, Lord Justice Leveson, to chair an inquiry.
The inquiry opened in November 2011. Leveson’s report, a 2,000-page doorstopper, was published a year later. Yet more than three years later, most of the press is still regulating itselfwithout independent scrutiny, Brooks has got her job back and the scandal is fading from public memory.