Saturday, 25 August 2012

A Battle Royal - Murdoch vs Monarchy

From a regular contributor:

In the Battle of Harry's Bum, defiance of Leveson's 'chilling effect' in defence of freedom of speech is a mere distraction.  Whilst it may allow a public tussle for the high moral ground - with megaphones brandished in addition to pitchforks - one of its objectives may be to set up Lord Justice Leveson as a sitting target. Polarised debate simply allows the agenda to be hijacked and seen only as 'champions of freedom of expression' v 'authoritarian hand of the state'.

But from another perspective this skirmish has less to do with Leveson and more to do with targeting the Royal family itself - however that is dressed up.  Lest it be forgotten, it was News International that hacked Harry's phone. And it would be a mistake to think that act had one sole motivation because it had several layers.  At one level was a reporter's need for a scoop, at the next level there was an overbearing, over-competitive editorial culture. Add to that, News International's corporate profit-driven motives, plus, at the top level, a motivation to please a proprietor well known for his hatred of class deference, the British Establishment, and blue-blood, inherited privilege.

The predictable Establishment response to Goodman's actions was to circle the wagons of Royal protection.  Arguably, the Metropolitan Police Service (MET) has had a patchy history in that respect. They have been dogged by scandals from Southern Investigations being overheard discussing a story of a Palace fire-arms officer, through News of the World's Sophie Wessex sting, 'Harry's drug shame' story, to the arrest of a female senior Royal Protection officer by Operation ELVEDON. 

The MET response to the Royal household' suspicions of phone hacking needed to be seen to be decisive - and diplomatic.  So a decision was made which would have unforeseen consequences for monarchy, MET and Murdoch.

An investigative strategy was chosen which would give the Royal princes deferential and preferential treatment over all other victims. The prime motivator was to prevent any Royal having to appear as a witness in court, and avoidance of any charges which might reveal the content of any voicemails which might cause embarassment. Rather than data protection, computer misuse or conspiracy offences, a very narrow interpretation of RIPA dictated investigation parameters

Naturally, the Crown - the CROWN - Prosecution Service agreed.  With voicemail content 'out of court', proving illegal process was top priority.  The whole impetus for investigation, resources and prosecution had to be zeroed in on technical data. Employees in the Royal household complied with a covert sting, mobile service providers were enlisted to provide technical assistance  - anything to spare Royal blushes.  Of course, News of the World counsel would have used any princely court appearance to their advantage.  Yet, it could be argued that the princes were denied the opportunity to stand up in court and face down a tabloid.  That might have had more of a chilling effect on press 'dark arts' than any judicial inquiry.

The determination to keep the phone hacking prosecutions so tightly drawn rebounded. As the scandal grew wider, the MET response narrowed. Only four categories of thousands in the Mulcaire notebooks were deemed important enough to notify - police, security, senior politicians and of course, Royal.  Royal priority and privilege therefore enabled victims such as the Dowler family, parents of the murdered Soham girls, 7/7 bombings, service personnel killed on active duty in Afghanistan to be overlooked.  They simply weren't as important as protecting Royal from embarassment.  The whole point was to filter out 'extraneous matters'.

John Yates later argued that it just hadn't occurred to the MET that there could have been another category of phone hack targets - victims of crime. Though, debatably, you are only going to find what you go looking for.  The princes themselves were spared a court appearance, spared publicising of their private lives, and spared the opportunity to be treated by the MET as any other victim of phone hacking. In the event, not even the Royal employees had to give evidence in court as Goodman and Mulcaire both pleaded guilty.

And all because Murdoch capos were behaving too as adjuncts to a dynasty above the law.  No doubt Royal household and MET exchanged self-congratulatory sentiments after the convictions - perhaps shook hands, job well done, case closed.  News International retreated behind their 'one rogue reporter' fiction.

House of Windsor, House of Murdoch - neither could possibly have predicted the ensuing combat zone which has led to Harry's arse on the front page of The Sun.

Related Posts
Hackgate for Beginners
Some Intriguing Hackgate "Known Unknowns"
The Milly Dowler Hacking - Part 1: Questions Still Unanswered

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at

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