HACKGATE DAY 82: Newscorp tragedy-hacking revealed as Parliamentary pressure for tough action grows

Prescott weighs in with demand for wide-ranging enquiry

Some weeks back, rumours began circulating about the Sun having tapped the phones of the Soham double-murder parents. It now transpires that mobiles involved in this and other cases were in fact hacked, although it’s unclear how many Nationals were involved. Reading the prurient sanctimony of those Newscorp pieces on the archive site today was not a pleasant experience.

Today the Guardian has secured an interview with tragi-comic TV actress Leslie Ash, who had botox side effects and then MRSA a few years back. It seems the list of Murdoch intrusions on this occasion included phone numbers for her GP, bank, and a teacher at her sons’ school. Quite apart from the morality of all this, financial and health hacking are particularly serious offences – two of the last areas of life where even the privacy-revealing yobs and blobs of Cruel Britannia would object to other people knowing their affairs.

“The police were actually withholding evidence,” Ash told the Grauniad, “I’ve been brought up to trust the police. It’s not a good time for the police at the moment.” She says that messages left on mobile phones belonging to her and her children at that time were used without any concern for propriety by tabloids. “That really came home to me because that is not in the public interest,” she said. “The most painful things had been said, while I was in hospital, to my kids, to my husband [along with] things really, really personal to my agent – who wasn’t just my agent, she was my friend.”

This is the way it works: the media, global business and governments have the right to pry into all our most secret areas, but we can very easily go to prison for looking into stuff about them. The law seems wholly unbalanced on the subject. And this is a point The Independent picks up on in its Hackgate coverage this morning, as it points up the growing demand among legislators for press regulation.

Part of me is glad, but more of me isn’t. Right from the start of serious blogging six years ago, I said that before too long the tabloid media would give the Establishment’s control freaks one too many excuses to curtail their rights in the end; so it is beginning to seem now. The Indie notes that ‘the thorny question of formal regulation of newspapers, long resisted by the industry as a threat to press freedom, was put forward a day after the release on police bail of the chief reporter and a former senior executive of the NOTW following their arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept the mobile phone voicemails of public figures…..Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Government spokesman responding to the debate, said ministers recognised a need to answer concerns about the failure to prevent the phone-hacking scandal, indicating that an independent inquiry could be set up once criminal investigations are complete….’

One of the hundreds of reasons that have led me to become an implacable opponent of all things Murdochian over the last thirty years is the bloke’s unerring ability to destroy so many good things about being British – soccer, the Royal Family, press freedom, diffidence, and general standards of decency. Now the man who pioneered page-three tits and £120,000 a week footballers has blundered headlong into the press freedom issue, and may be about to undermine that too. It’s exactly the same as banking regulation: in the end, crooks get the laws they deserve….even if we don’t.

A bully himself at heart, Lord Prescott is now bouncing from one TV studio to the next, arguing the case for reining in the press. Were he to succeed, I would feel that the revelation of Newscorp’s innate evil had been gained at a very heavy price indeed. But in truth, he has only latterly hijacked a far more courageous and principled stand by Labour MP Chris Bryant, a man who must frequently wonder how far he can trust his leader Ed Miliband – given that he too has the statutory Murdoch spy Tom Baldwin in his midst.

In the meantime, it is gradually dawning on a wider audience (often confused by the whole saga) that both the nature and practice of phone hacking and pc-blagging are about far more than simply collecting news stories. The increasing illumination of shadowy anti-terrorist cop Andy Hayman’s role in the affair is probably what has got Prescott most animated. In which case, Two-Jags should tread carefully: The Slog’s footslogging research into Mr Hayman suggests a man who was rather closer to the Blair ‘sexing up’ culture in 2005 than most people realise. A man who, dare I suggest, might have come in useful as a way of controlling one especially truculent Blair colleague.

Hayman himself has been consistently (and rudely) dismissive of Prescott’s complaints as “nothing more than a rant”. As much as I find the defence of Lord Compleat-Barsteward a difficult task, Andy Hayman’s insulting precis of the former bulimic’s observations is risible.

In the background, meanwhile, the rumbling, growling dispute between Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and John Yates, the Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has again put Scotland Yard’s handling of the original investigation into phone-hacking under the spotlight. The former Met police assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, who was in charge of the original inquiry, claimed there were only “a handful” of victims. The Met’s acting assistant commissioner John Yates, who reviewed new evidence unearthed by the Guardian in July 2009 before concluding there were no grounds for a new inquiry, has said on several occasions that the number of people targeted was low – and has latterly suggested that his figure was based on the DPP’s narrow definition of what ‘hacking’ is. Starmer flatly refutes this version of events.

The overall impression one gains from Hackgate is of rotten apples fermenting to produce a barrel of cultural scrumpy. And as The Slog insists ad nauseam, this is indeed how cultures turn from being fruitful to embracing an enthusiasm for self-harm. This was the most striking message I took from Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film The Changeling – a brilliant (and true) examination of how one department’s perverted desire for political results led to a labyrinthine network of Califronia State-wide corruption in the 1930s. Eastwood movies nearly always contrast the capacity for systemic evil with the ethical individual’s ability to defeat it. I would urge anyone trying to understand Hackgate to see the film.

Anyway, stay tuned – The Slog’s excavation of the life and times of Andy Hayman continues. Every day, in every way, events keep overtaking it. But that’s no bad thing.

 

 

13 thoughts on “HACKGATE DAY 82: Newscorp tragedy-hacking revealed as Parliamentary pressure for tough action grows

  1. I noticed in your blog Wardy, that you are ignoring the fact that any development associated with the Hackgate scandal is almost being ignored by both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph on an almost daily basis.

    In a recent blog i asked you to illuminate some more on this rather odd state of behaviour by two national newspapers.

    Not scared of Dacre or those ex-Mail journos now at the Telegraph are we?

    Surely they won’t tap into your phone will they? Or maybe they will, I hear they’ve done it before.

    Come on old boy you can do it.

    O’D

    • This will undoubtedly inspire a virulent and JUSTIFIED rebuke from the ‘old boy’ . . . you prat. You are obviously new to the site, otherwise you would not have made such a supercilious obsevation.

    • How about you go and read some of the previous posts or use the search function, the reasons have been stated many a time why the telegraph is keeping quiet.

  2. As you say, John, balancing press freedom while keeping the buggers honest seems a tricky thing. But it shouldn’t be.
    If they break the bleedin’ law they should go to bloody jail – and very quickly please DCI Knacker. There is sufficient law to give them a considerable kicking. Their jail sentences should be double or triple bubble, too – because we should expect high standards.
    But maybe we need further legislation? If the police and the CPS did their jobs properly with the current laws and weren’t in the pay of the media so often we wouldn’t need it. But given that they are – and this Hackgate case seems to provide the most evidence of it, then maybe we do need to bring in legislative reform.
    I suggest three possibilities:
    1. Legislation
    The current voluntary press regulation code could be passed into law. The voluntary code is pretty reasonable but the press is piss-poor at delivering on it. In fact we all know some considerable chunks of the media who just wave two fingers at it.
    The current code consists of 16 clauses, on accuracy, the opportunity for reply, respect for privacy, harassment, intrusion into shock or grief, the interests of children, the protection of children in sex cases, entry into hospitals, the reporting of crime, the use of clandestine devices and subterfuge, the protection of victims of sexual assault, discrimination, financial journalism, the protection of confidential sources, payment for information relating to criminal trials and payments to criminals.
    I know, I know, turning this lot into law would be a lawyer’s dream. But better lawyers make a few million bob from the public prosecuting the media, than than the media goes on as recklessly as it does.
    Or maybe a press ombudsman to implement the same code. But an “OFFPRESS” with real balls and very sharp teeth capable of dishing out mega fines.
    2. Ownership.
    NO print or broadcast media should have a controlling interest by people or companies who are neither UK citizens nor pay UK tax. Such people should be qualified BOTH ways. France gets away with it. I don’t know how this is feasible within the EU but hey! – let’s do it as well. Keep pillocks like the Digger out at the least – and most of the rest of the press ownership!!
    3. Transparency.
    The Freedom of Information Act should be strengthened. We just shouldn’t NEED Wikileaks. OK so ‘Diplomats’ can’t conduct all their exploratory talks in public view. But there’s just so much further to go than what we have.

    That’s my shout. Anyone else with an opinion?

  3. Well, I’ve said it before …the real scandal in this (outside of Rupe’s tabloid behaviour) is the police and Hayman is in it up to his neck. There is surely an urgent need to investigate widespread corruption/collusion within the police force. We all know they’re corrupt, it’s now time to call a halt to it and perhaps pass a few laws to control them.

    Whether police corruption is due to their political agendas, personal reward or whatever we don’t know but it needs investigating. I suspect that both Blairs have much to answer on this.

    I can’t see how there’s a need for more press regulation: we already have a law which prohibits phone hacking. And as for Prescoot: I have little sympathy for him …he was a fat part of the New/Old Labour Govt which had an obsession about RIPA and of stealing OUR private information and requiring us to pay money to get an ID Card, which few people wanted.

  4. I too was brought up to trust the Police.

    However, I soon saw through that. The only reason I would ever tell them anything is because my insurers wouldn’t pay a claim if I did not!

    “A smart man only believes half of what he hears, a wise man knows which half.”
    Jeff Cooper

    • I thought this blogpost about Andy Hayman was very curious-
      Tesco still censoring “The Terrorist Hunters” by Andy Hayman
      By wtwuon January 30, 2010 4:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
      Andy Hayman QPM CBE “held the rank of Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary and Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at London’s Metropolitan Police, the highest ranking officer responsible for counter-terrorism in the United Kingdom.”

      In 2005, Spy Blog spent some time and effort in transcribing and deconstructing his controversial Letter, the anonymous annex to which provided spurious arguments for the NuLabour government’s “internment without trial” plans:

      Asst. Met Commissioner Andy Hayman’s letter trying to justify 90 days detention without charge

      Now retired, after some questions over expenses and personal life, he has written a book entitled Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (“COBRA”) emergency crisis committee, when faced with serious terrorist plots such as the July 2005 bombings, attempted bombings, killing of the innocent Jean Charles de Menzes by the police, the radioactive Polonium-210 murder of Alexander Litvinenko[ in 2006 and the incompetent terrorist self-immolation attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007.

      The mention of a forthcoming terrorism trial, seemed to be used as justification for a temporary legal injunction against the publication of this book, back in July 2009, but this has now lapsed, and – a paperback version of the book was published in October 2009, without any redaction or censorship of the text in question.

      Why then, was the £12 hardback edition of this book available yesterday on the shelves of a large Tesco supermarket:However, when it came to pay for the book at the checkout, the Tesco computer system flashed up a big Legal Warning – Do Not Sell This Book – Remove It From The Shelves Immediately panic messageand they refused to sell it.

      Has there been Yet Another Legal Injunction against this book, or is the Tesco stock control computer system not really as efficient as it could be ?

      If there is some sort of computerised ban or recall on a product line, how can it make it out of the warehouse, where, presumably the barcode is also checked, and onto the supermarket shelves ? In our mind, this raises serious potential health and safety worries.about Tesco.

      It also illustrates a fundamental feature of banning / censorship lists – once you are on one, it is difficult or impossible to be removed in the future, even when the orginal circumstances no longer apply.

  5. This is also quite a thought provoking news article:
    Andy Hayman: I deeply regret not challenging Ian Blair on de Menezes
    David Cohen
    25 Jun 2009

    The Met’s former anti-terror chief Andy Hayman talks frankly of his fears, frustrations and failings…

    If Andy Hayman is absolutely frank with himself, there is one thing he could have done, he admits, that would have changed the course of history. In the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings and the mistaken shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the man who then led the country’s defence against terrorism failed to assert himself in the subsequent tumultuous press conference with his Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

    As Blair went “off-piste”, as former Assistant Commissioner Hayman puts it, and told the media that the shooting was “directly linked to the ongoing anti-terrorist operation” and that “the man was challenged and refused to obey” police orders, Hayman made an error of judgment.

    It was an oversight that would later be blown up out of all proportion, he says, and lead to allegations of a deliberate cover-up as well as damage the reputation of the Met and blight his career and that of his Commissioner.

    “I could have gone to Blair immediately after the briefing and challenged him directly on his facts but instead I said nothing,” says Hayman. “I could have brought him up to speed with what we knew at that moment – which was that we couldn’t say for sure either way but it was looking more and more like an innocent man had been shot.

    “But in the fog of the most complex operation ever undertaken by the Met, I decided to play it safe and leave it for others to speculate. It created a big void that was deeply damaging and I regret that.

    “I am absolutely content that I did not intentionally mislead or misinform anyone, but if I could rewind the clock, I would have been bolder. It would have saved myself, Sir Ian, the Met and the de Menezes family a lot of grief.”

    Hayman’s candid admission, made to the Evening Standard in his first interview following the serialisation of his new book The Terrorist Hunters, is one that, ironically, does not appear explicitly in any of its 334 pages.
    In his book, he gives a blow-by-blow account of events as they unfolded and robustly defends himself against the charge by the Independent Police Complaints Commission that he misled Blair but he skirts around the central question: why did he not have the guts and sheer presence of mind simply to put his boss right?

    Was it because there existed a culture of fear? “No, on the contrary, Blair was very inclusive,” he insists. “But the biggest lesson that came out of 7/7 was that overall our internal communication was an utter shambles.”

    Hayman says he wrote the book after retiring last year after 30 years in the force because he “wanted to write a true inside account of the aftermath of the July bombings – the drama, the complexity, the turmoil, and the mistakes. A vivid contemporary history that historians could refer to and from which lessons could be learned”.

    The Essex-born father of two was only months into his appointment as anti-terror chief when the suicide bombers struck. He would later be praised for the skilful operation that led to the capture of the copycat 21/7 bombers and pilloried by the IPCC for his part in the de Menezes shooting.

    But on 7/7, his record was mixed: his stellar performance was undermined by the fact that one suicide bomber, Sadique Khan, had cropped up in surveillance before slipping through the net. Does he feel he let Londoners down?

    “No, because after reviewing the evidence, it’s clear there is nothing we could have done to prevent the attacks,” he says. “You can’t follow everyone because you spread yourself too thin. I also feel proud that since then, we have foiled 15 terrorist plots and averted further bloodshed.”

    But the fact that 52 innocent Londoners died on his watch is something that’s haunted him, he confesses. “I’ve had lots of restless nights, tossing and turning, challenging myself and wondering if there was something we missed, something we could have done differently.”

    The weight of the job has taken a physical toll, too, and Hayman looks gaunt and, if truth be told, about a decade older than his 49 years. He describes the punishing 14-hour days of his £180,000-a-year job that meant he hardly saw his wife, Jane, and two daughters, aged 12 and 10, but says it was a job he “loved and was totally committed to”. The abiding image of Hayman in 2005 – flanked by a phalanx of uniformed officers appearing implacably in control – contrasts with the unmistakable sense of pathos about him today.

    Poignantly, while posing for photographs on the fourth-floor balcony of his publishers with panoramic views of London, Hayman begins to look increasingly pale and surprises me by suddenly reaching for my hand and saying: “I have a terrible fear of heights. Feel how clammy my hands have gone.
    “I regard myself as a tough character,” he grins sheepishly, as we head indoors, “but chuck height at me and I go weak at the knees. During my time at Scotland Yard, my office was on the fifth floor but when I visited colleagues on the upper floors, they had to draw the drapes. There were some meetings I couldn’t handle because they were too high up and I had to leave. Even bridges give me panic attacks: I cannot drive myself over the Dartford Bridge.”

    It’s an endearing if unexpected admission of vulnerability, especially from the man once charged with securing the safety of Londoners. Chillingly, he thinks the terrorist threat has not receded since 2005 and that “the probability of an attempted spectacular terror attack by al Qaeda on the London 2012 Olympics is high”.

    “Not a year has gone by since 2003 without an attack or a thwarted attack by Al Qaeda. It will be up to our intelligence agencies to stop them. Having been in that role until last year, I can say that there is a good security plan but what worries me is that the budget is under-funded by a huge amount.”

    Interestingly, Hayman uses his book to suggest a direct link between the sudden escalation of teenage knife crime in recent years and petty infighting, allied to poor strategic choices, within upper echelons at the Met.

    He describes how Blair, supported by his top team (including himself), rode roughshod over the advice of the UK’s highest-ranking Muslim officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, and inadvertently set knife and gun crime soaring in the capital.

    “Blair wanted to tackle gang culture through ward-based policing and this meant taking detectives away from Ghaffur’s centralised Specialist Crime Directorate and putting them on the beat. Ghaffur vehemently argued it was a mistake, that the grip we had on street gangs would be dissipated if we dispersed the cops too widely.

    “I wholeheartedly supported Blair’s ward-based policing plan, siding against Ghaffur, but with hindsight I regret it. I should have bowed to Tarique’s specialist knowledge. After that, Tarique was moved sideways, and knife and gun crime surged in London.”

    The relationship between Blair and Ghaffur would never recover and this had wider implications for public safety, says Hayman. “Just when we needed Ghaffur to bring on side moderate Muslims to help tackle extremism, he and Blair had fallen out.”

    It would also lead to claims that the Met is racist. Does Ha yman believe this to be true?

    “I never personally saw racism against Ghaffur, though the sheer number of officers who have brought testimonies seems to indicate a systemic problem that the Met needs to address. I don’t think we got to the bottom of whether racism in the Met is real, or whether it’s perceived and used by ethnic-minority officers who play the race card to advance.”

    Some say that Hayman is not the person to assess racism in the Met. He had been in charge of Operation Helios, the three-year investigation into the probity of the controversial Iranian officer Ali Dizaei. When Dizaei was later cleared at the Old Bailey of wrongdoing, the Helios team was attacked as being “motivated by racism”.

    Hayman admits that Helios was not his finest hour. “The investigation was disproportionate, we went too far, we wasted a lot of money, and lessons have been learned,” he says. But they were not racist, he insists: “We would have gone down the same route if Dizaei had been white.”

    One thing Hayman rails against in his book is the creeping politicisation of policing, especially the “unhelpful interference of politicians” in the Government’s emergency crisis committee known as Cobra. So what did he make of Boris Johnson sacking Blair?

    “Ah, that’s a tough one,” he muses. “I should be against it but on balance I think it was the right decision because Blair had become gaffe-prone and you can’t have a Commissioner who the Mayor has no confidence in.”

    Hayman and Blair, the son of a carpenter with O-levels and the erudite Oxford graduate, had once made an improbably happy team but by the end, there was no love lost between them.

    In April last year, amid allegations that Hayman had been cavalier with his expenses and had enjoyed an improper liaison with a female member of the IPCC, he retired. An internal inquiry would later clear him of wrongdoing, but what stung was the failure of Blair to support him and the leaks of his expenses by colleagues who had become his enemies.

    Some officers, such as Dizaei, used their books to settle old scores. Was Hayman tempted? “No, it’s not in my nature,” he says. “All my life I’ve known nothing but the police force.

    “But now,” he smiles, “my life is more balanced. I do media consulting, I attend my daughters’ school plays, I spend time with my wife. It’s fabulous. When I look back, I feel a deep sadness about 7/7. My book is my way of addressing that but also of moving on.”

    The Terrorist Hunters by Andy Hayman with Margaret Gilmore is published on 2 July by Bantam Press at £18.99.

    • Whether Hayman had brought Blair up to speed or not, it won’t change the fact that the CPS covered up the unlawful killing of de Menezes by not bringing charges against the policeman who killed him (despite that he was found to have lied in the inquiry) nor against Ian Blair himself for signing off a police policy which was so obviously seriously flawed and which led to the killing.
      Incidents like that add weight to the view that the police, CPS and whole judicial system is utterly corrupt and closes ranks when threatened.

  6. Ooopps….

    Sorry regulars, it does seem I am behind the times. Was also brought up to date with past blogs by the Wardy himself. (John’s an old work colleague who didn’t feel he had to call me names for my lack ignorance.)

    Will now know to reseach ‘Slog’ blogs before making a comment.

    Special apologies goes to P_James and especially Robert Montyford who obviously felt most aggrieved by my lack of diligence.

    “I am so sorry Robert” Feel better Bob? or just as supercilious as myself and why call me a “prat?” Who told you?

    O’D

    • John O’D,
      I can vouch that you are not a prat.

      In the 80s/90s I worked for a video facility company and was involved with a lot of your work. There were many very arrogant prats in the business at the time but I do remember that the agencies you were with had a good down to earth reputation in dealings with creative and technical suppliers and contractors.

      Those were the days!

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