Silver-tongued Michael

More bizarre Newscorp defences to try the limited patience of Mr Justice Vos

Sienna Miller, the multiply-hacked victim of Newscorp criminality, has indicated that she wishes full disclosure of the News of the World’s heinous invasions of her privacy to be made public. She has, she declares, more interest in displaying a social evil than getting a shedload of hush-money. This thought clearly didn’t occur to either Gordon Taylor or Max Clifford, but it seems to have occurred to Sienna.

Such impure thoughts disturb Michael Silverleaf QC, the barrister acting on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s incarnation in Mammon, Newscorp. For this is the last thing his client wants. And so, just as NotW lawyers tried to argue that phones had rung themselves in people’s pockets 37 times, Silverleaf’s argument to stop Ms Miller consists largely of  “like, this is so unfair.” This is not a difficult defence to unravel.

Let’s start with money, this being the only issue of any import these days. Mr Silverleaf told Justice Vos yesterday that the £100,000 offer on the table for Miller should be seen in the light of “the maximum of £25,000 he believed Ms Miller would win by continuing her case”. This seems an extraordinary conclusion to reach, given the publicist Max Clifford got £750,000 for not going to Court at all. But probably – on Silverleaf’s scale of costs – there is an inverse correlation between the amount of publicity generated, and the award on offer. The ethical logic perhaps runs like this: “The less duty to society you perform, and the less care you display for the liberty of others less fortunate than yourself, the more we will punish you”. I suppose that works for some people, but I’m not sure it’s the basis for a decent and fair legal system.

As to the attempt at this stage to stop the legal process from going any further – and thus block the release of any further details of the wicked, wicked ways of the News of the World – Murdoch’s head legal eagle bluntly asserted that the newspaper will seek to have Sienna’s case thrown out of court if she fails to accept the financial offer. The strategic reason for this (in case you missed it, it’s easy enough to do) is that when it comes to email blagging by the NotW, Sienna Miller alleges that email hacking took place in December 2008 – a full two years outside the Murdoch Inclusion Zone. If such a case proceeds – and Miller wins – then of course the “it only happened for two years” line of Newscorp’s ever-shrinking torres vedras is blown to smithereens. (I can now disclose that the newspaper threatened by Newscorp for the very same ‘offence’ last Monday was The Independent. The paper has since taken its Sunday piece about alleged hacking of Princess Eugenie in 2009 down from the online edition).

However, the legal basis for seeking to throw it out seems distinctly sticky to me. Silverleaf argued that “civil litigation does not exist for people to vent their feelings, it exists to provide remedy”. Were I Justice Vos, I might be minded to suggest that the two motives, if justified, are one and the same. Of course, were I Miller’s brief, I might also plead public interest – a defence that would be a deliciously cold and ironic vengeance, given the lame excuses offered over the years for yelling into celebrity letter-boxes.

Michael Silverleaf wound up his argument by declaring, “any attempt to pursue the proceedings would be an abuse of process”. Actually Mikey, it’d be a full-frontal attack on your wall of silence: whether that’s abuse or not will be for Justice Vos to decide. I like the cut of Vos’s jib: he has alreadu shown that he is not a man to suffer bollocks gladly.


To the neutral’s eye, it remains very hard to spot any moral dimension to the Newscorp request for nothing further to be known about their illegal invasions of privacy. If there is nothing unpleasant to hide, then why not let nature take its course? If Sienna Miller chooses to be silly and lose £75,000, then why not rejoice and have a decent spot of luncheon on the proceeds?

But to any neutral listener, what Silverleaf’s argument sounds like is a threat. The same bullying tone, I’d imagine, that made the Indie back down earlier in the week. The tone one might adopt having read Miller’s recent admission to the media that “yes, the amount of money this is costing is scary”. The tone one might, thinking hypothetically, adopt with individuals on a Parliamentary Committee who persist in asking a lot of awkwardly impertinent questions. In this sense, some might see Mr Silverleaf as a gunslinger hired by the ranchers keen to run them pesky sodbusters outta town. I wouldn’t, as I see no evidence at all that Newscorp’s top QC is a violent man: he is merely defending a client – in return for, presumably, a great deal of money.

Two defences of the tabloid way of doing things came from odd quarters over the last 48 hours. In the Dacre Mail, Littlejohn pumped himself up into a paroxysm of illogic before observing that ‘…I don’t condone what went on, although we’re not talking Watergate here. But nor do I understand what the difference is between the Screws listening to Sienna Miller’s tittle-tattle, and the self-righteous Guardian publishing leaked emails from national security agencies….’

Poor old Littlebrain: he has never been able to separate the bigotry from the big issue, has he?

The other attack on all things anti-hack came in the shape of a blog in the Daily Telegraph from Brendan O’Neill. Unlike Littlejohn, O’Neill doesn’t have the cerebral condition enabling a degree of sympathy for the Mail’s chief ranter. He thus has no excuse for writing this piece of unutterable moral negligence:

‘To me, the sight of police officers taking a journalist in for questioning over the alleged methods he used to get a story is infinitely more shocking than the fact that Sienna Miller or Tessa Jowell had their voicemail messages listened to.’

Well Bren, if that’s what you feel – ‘my media right or wrong’ – them I’m sorry for you. I just find it sad that a basically good egg like O’Neill can’t see beyond the grubby Murdoch way of the world towards the real issue here: wholesale police corruption, judicially tentative law officers, security services abuse – and a massive case of political cover-up to save several senior Cabinet careers past and present.

Still, if nothing else the blog has broken the almost tangible silence we’ve had from Tony Gallagher’s Torygraph columns since this massive affair – sorry, Littlejohn, but this is the British Watergate – got going. Perhaps (like the nudity of Newscorp CEO Rebekah’s plea to Keith Vaz) Brendan gave something away when he began the piece, “I can’t be the only journalist in Britain who feels increasingly uncomfortable with the investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World.” Too right, chum.

The other thing missed by both journalists is the naked bullying involved here. Most bullying is a symptom of fear. I detect a very strong smell of fear among the  Wapping Fibs at the moment. A third former member of the Fourth Estate wrote to me yesterday, warning that ‘these people are not like you and I – they will lash out, and it will hurt. Be careful’. I don’t have delusions of grandeur, but I do keep my current location very quiet: to do anything else would be silly. Whatever happens to any of the people circling the Murdochs – and whatever their agenda – the one thing on their side is that our culture needs to not just seek out wrongdoers: it needs to push and push again until the Might is Right stormtroopers are pinned down in one final Bunker. And then watch them all hang themselves, one by one.