Monday, 1 April 2013

Hackgate - Springwatch

A summary of recent events and what to watch out for from my regular contributor.

1  Kavanagh's replacement?

No, not Trevor.  As discussed here back in January, all Hackgate investigations were quietly migrated back to the home of their troubled and stuttering genesis in Specialist Operations under Assistant Commissioner (AC) Cressida Dick.  After Sue Akers' retirement, responsibility for Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta had passed to Deputy AC Steve Kavangh. Kavanagh promptly applied for the post of Chief Constable of Essex Police and was confirmed in his new post in February.  Meanwhile, no news has emerged of who now has operational command of Operations Weeting, Elveden, Tuleta as DAC Kavanagh's designated replacement.

That leaves AC Cressida Dick holding the Hackgate baby, having to act as spokeswoman in defending those dawn raids and arrests of journalists (see here), at the same time as justifying why Counter Terrorism should remain within her Metropolitan Police (MET) command and not be transferred to the new National Crime Agency.  It would be interesting - and in the public interest - to see some clear up-to-date statement from the MET on the chain of command of the Hackgate investigations. Perhaps Chair of Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz MP might ask?

2  Craig Denholm and the IPCC

Still waiting for any sign of that Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report following the investigation into aspects of the Milly Dowler phone hacking in 2002.  (for background see here)

Surrey's Deputy Chief Constable Craig Denholm and Det Sup Maria Woodall were referred for IPCC conduct investigation in June 2012.  By November 2012, it was reported (Guardian) that the IPCC report was "almost complete" and due to be submitted to Surrey Police by the beginning of December.  Denholm then applied unsuccessfully for the post of Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall.  Despite suspicions that the report would be delayed for 18 months or more (here) whilst Denholm would be allowed to retire from Surrey, in January 2013 the IPCC
said it has completed its file on Craig Denholm, the senior police officer who allegedly knew the News of the World had hacked the phone but took no action.  Speaking to the BBC, chief constable Lynne Owens described the police watchdog’s report as “thorough” and said Surrey Police will decide what action to take in the wake of ongoing criminal investigations.
The IPCC has said it is now awaiting chief constable Owens response to the file.
3  Media Plurality

Debates on the Royal Charter and press regulation have taken centre stage, allowing key issues of media ownership to be overshadowed. A News Corporation re-newed bid for BSkyB has even been rumoured.

In the US though, Rupert Murdoch is not yet getting his own way in expecting a waiver to laws designed to prevent market dominance in Los Angeles and elsewhere.  Similar pan-European legislation is also being mooted (here) through a recognised European Citizens' Initiative.  Meanwhile in the UK, ownership concentration is back on the Parliamentary agenda - with a focus on safeguarding plurality particularly in news provision across media platforms.

On March 28th, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications announced its new inquiry into Media Plurality.  It aims to give its recommendations in Autumn 2013.  Its call for evidence says
Achieving a workable approach to plurality, particularly in provision of news and current affairs, is generally considered fundamental to a well-functioning democratic society, ensuring as far as possible informed citizens and a media without any single set of views or individuals wielding too much influence over the political process. Any consideration of plurality is, of course, heavily tied in with the wider context of the future of news provision more generally, particularly of newspapers....issues surrounding media plurality are once again under the policy spotlight, prompted by concerns raised about the proposed (and then dropped) acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation; Ofcom’s report on Measuring Media Plurality; Lord Justice Leveson’s report; the report by the European Commission’s High Level Media Group on Media Freedom & Plurality; and the recently-launched European citizens’ initiative for media pluralism.

4  The ICO and Data Protection Act

Published in March, 'The Functions, Powers and Resources of the Information Commissioner' is the latest, and timely, report from the Justice Select Committee.
The phone hacking scandal and the subsequent inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson into the ethics, practice and culture of the press drew attention to the past failings of the ICO during Operation Motorman. It also showed the importance of data protection and the need for a regulator with the ability to take effective action.
The Data Protection Act, with its controversial Section 55 applicable to press intrusion, came back under the Justice Committee scrutiny.  Surprisingly, it appears that a conviction under Section 55 does not currently result in a criminal record.  The ICO
argued that criminal records, which are a matter of both deterrence and of assisting detection, were essential in reflecting the seriousness of the offence. At present the offence of unlawful obtaining etc is not a recordable offence. It is not therefore recorded on the Police National Computer. Fingerprint impressions, DNA samples and descriptive details are not currently taken from those individuals who are prosecuted by the ICO for the section 55 offence 
Unsurprisingly, the Justice Committee wishes to see Section 55 breaches recordable.  As for triggering legislation to include custodial sentences (up to 2 yrs, subject to public interest defence), the Report strongly recommends
Introduction of the option of custodial sentences for section 55 offences would emphasise their seriousness. We call on the Government to adopt our previous recommendation, as well as that of the Home Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill and the Leveson Inquiry, and commence sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to allow for custodial sentences for breach of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
5  Operation Elveden conviction

There have so far been four convictions in Operation Elveden for the offence of Misconduct in Public Office.  Yet each individual sentence has been different. April Casburn received 15 months imprisonment. She had pleaded not guilty so did not have her sentence reduced on conviction

The defendant does not have the benefit of the mitigation that would have accompanied a guilty plea.
Without the important complicating factor [ongoing child adoption process]..., the sentence would have been 3 years imprisonment.
On March 27th, three others were sentenced for misconduct offences for which each had pleaded guilty.  Alan Tierney, former Surrey police officer, received 10 months and 6 months (concurrently) for two offences, whilst former prison officer Richard Trunkfield was sentenced to 16 months for a single offence.  Another police officer (un-named for legal reasons) was given a term of 2 years.  He was told
the offence warranted a sentence of three years, but because of his early guilty plea he was reducing the sentence by a third. 
What seem at first sight to be discrepancies in sentences are explained by each individual sentence being increased or decreased for a variety of specific aggravating / mitigating factors.  These can include an early guilty plea or - as in Trunkfield's case - the extreme sensitivity of the identity of the prisoner about whom he leaked information.  There are guidelines, but Judge's discretion is exercised in applying sentence reductions.

Those charged with similar offences may well pause for thought - the only factor common to all four convictions is that emergent 'baseline' of three years.

6  Business as usual?

Midsummer '11 was a tectonic shift for the UK press.  Ably traced by News International seismographer Peter Jukes' book 'The Fall of the House of Murdoch', the 'fourteen days that ended a media dynasty' shook the fourth estate and toppled the News of the World.

On June 20th, Operation Elveden commenced - the new investigation into alleged bribery of police and public officials.  This marked a widening of the scope of alleged Hackgate offences, and was to be supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).  On 13th July, the Leveson Inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister.

Yet evidence is now emerging that that seismic 'moment' of summer '11 may not have brought malpractice to a juddering halt.  The recent resurgence of Elveden charges and convictions warrant some analysis, particularly the date ranges of alleged offences. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charging decisions have been accompanied by CPS statements (here)
made in the interests of transparency and accountability to explain the decisions reached in respect of cases arising from Operation Elveden, which is the Metropolitan Police Service investigation into allegations involving the unlawful provision of information by public officials to journalists.

  • CPS Statement dated 15/05/2012  details News International-related charges for alleged offences up to July 19 2011.
  • CPS Statement dated 20/03/2013, News International-related charges alleged offences up to August 2011.
  • CPS Statement dated 22/01/2013, News International-related charges alleged offences up to September 2011.
  • CPS Statement dated 20/11/2012, News International-related charges alleged offences up January 2012. 

These are in addition to Sue Akers' evidence to the Leveson Inquiry (paras 22-24)

  • Trinity Mirror-related alleged offences up to January 2012
  • Express Newspapers-related alleged offences up to February 2012
In each instance, the alleged offences took place AFTER the start fo Operation Elveden and the announcement of the Leveson Inquiry.

Hardly evidence of a cryogenic 'chilling effect' -  if proven, some might call this sheer hubris.

7  Farewell to Vos and Fulford
Judges presiding over phone hacking cases elevated to higher office - Mr Justices Vos and Fulford to become lord justices of appeal, and will not handle trials of former News International staff.
Both Vos and Fulford have made their individual marks on Hackgate, laying foundations in key civil and criminal cases for their respective successors.

Most memorable quote from Justice Vos:
They [News International] are to be treated as deliberate destroyers of evidence.
Most memorable quote about Justice Fulford:
At last members of the jury, we have a decent judge! 
8  Sun solidarity 
Sun staff show support as deputy editor appears in court
This is an interesting and thoughtful development, brought about by watching news footage of a fellow reporter's lone walk into court. It accompanies a new site, Call to Arms Now (here).  It is an informal invite to journalists to show dignified support for each other at each court appearance because "we as journalists have been sitting back watching colleagues we know and respect having their lives turned upside down for simply doing their job."  This quiet demonstration of solidarity could certainly be an opportunity to demonstrate their genuine strength of feeling.

But demonstrate that depth of feeling to who, exactly?  The Met for the dawn arrests?  CPS for the charging decisions? Courts? Hacked Off?

Or even perhaps Rupert Murdoch?

It certainly has the potential to demonstrate quiet determination to News Corporation. The Sun journalists should have no illusions about the veneer of loyalty shown them by their employer whilst it suits News Corp, or the speed at which it will disappear if it becomes inconvenient. Given the hostility towards the Management and Standards Committee (MSC), hacks seem in no mood to be hung out to dry should favoured senior executives not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the dock.

If I were Murdoch I would be keeping a watchful eye open for where this new-found journalist solidarity might lead.

Related Articles
Hackgate - Elveden: Murdoch Or King Cnut?
Hackgate - Elveden - Murdoch's Catch 22
Hackgate - "Snakes And Ladders" At The Met
Hackgate - April Casburn's Conviction - Myths And Misconceptions
Hackgate - Varec Revisited - Dissent In The Ranks
Hackgate - Sue Akers' Swansong
Hackgate - "Newsdesk Here, Kelvin Speaking..."

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1 comment:

  1. These videos are crazy I can't believe this is going on in the world this needs to stop spread peace not war