Allegations of phone hacking have led to an unprecedented public spending spree by police and the Crown Prosecution Service contributing to the £100m overall cost of the investigation and trial. Despite the allegations being comparatively minor: listening to celebrity’s voicemails, the cost of ‘Operation Weeting’ along with the other legal fees and investigations around phone hacking have made it the most expensive trial in history, according to the Daily Mail.
It was triggered by allegations, now disproved, that the News of the World hacked into the phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler. The Guardian newspaper wrongly claimed that the paper listened to and deleted messages, so when the family called the mailbox it was no longer full, giving them false hope she was alive.
The trial descended into farce on occasions as the prosecution even called an expert from the restaurant chain Pizza Hut to explain how long it takes for a pizza to cook. He was contributing to a line of questioning about the hiding and then retrieval of some laptops by Charlie Brooks, the husband of Rebekah Brooks, the former Chief Executive of News International. They claimed Brooks had used the pizza delivery to disguise the retrieval of the computers.
Mr Brooks was accused of hiding evidence by moving the laptops. He said he did not want police to find them as they contained pornography and he was embarrassed about that. When the laptops were recovered an analysis of them showed the contained no evidence at all and that they did have a stash of pornography on them. Despite this catastrophic hole in the case both Brooks’ were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, along with some of their staff.
At the outset of the trial Mr Justice Saunders expressed his desire that the Old Bailey would not become the scene of a “celebrity chat show” he continued “I am quite keen for people like Jude Law not to come.” Mr Law was called in the end and he helped contribute to the mass of evidence that was so large it had a 304-page index.
In fact so much evidence was produced that Peter Jukes, who was live tweeting the trial, had used 481,029 words by the end of the summing up.
Ultimately Mr and Mrs Brooks were cleared of all charges, along with her PA, security chief and another former News of the World executive. Andy Coulson, Mrs Brooks’s successor as Editor at the News of the World, was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones, and the jury was discharged after failing to agree on two further charges against him and the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman.
On Coulson, the Labour Party and the Guardian Newspaper do have a stick to beat the government with, although as reported on Breitbart London Ed Miliband did fail to land any blows at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time. The reason the Coulson conviction has traction is because David Cameron “gave him a second chance” and took into Downing Street as Communications Director after he was forced to resign from the News of the World.
Political embarrassment is all good fun but the cost to the taxpayer in this case appears disproportionate to what has been achieved. The Metropolitan Police admit that since 2011 it has spent almost £33 million on investigations into journalists’ activities, or supporting the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking: which itself cost more than £5 million.
This brings the total taxpayer outlay for phone hacking to £40 million and rising. It includes 195 officers who worked full time for years on the case. This compares to the 900 officers at the Metropolitan Police Homicide Command who deal with 100 murders a year. Under the strict rules on ‘proportionality’ the police are not supposed to spend huge amounts of resources on minor crime, yet phone hacking was given far more money and manpower than even the most serious murders.
Today there are still 130 officers working on the case and related inquiries including Operation Elveden into computer hacking. They plan to continue until 2015 and are famed in Scotland Yard for having the best job, with lots of overtime, foreign travel and meetings with celebrities. A total of 215 people, mostly journalists, have been arrested so far with most of them expected to wait nearly four years to stand trial. Campaigners have called for a reduction in these enormous waiting times, as reported by Breitbart London.
If the current case is anything to go by many of these suspects will be found not guilty, but only after having spent years awaiting their fate. Unable to move forward with their lives, and potentially being shunned by friends and work contacts.
The news of these enormous costs, along with the £50m defence bill, will anger the public as they dwarf the resources given to investigating fraud of the parliamentary expenses scheme by members of the House of Commons and Lords. Despite widespread abuse the police appeared reluctant to fully investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
One estimate put the number of politicians who could have been prosecuted, given the appropriate level of resources, at 60. A former senior murder squad officer told the Mail: “If the same evidential standards, energy and resources were applied to Weeting and Elveden as to investigating the parliamentary expenses scandal, very few journalists would have been charged.”
So as this mammoth case rolls on, as costs top £100m, as over 200 journalists remain on police bail, and the Metropolitan Police keep around 130 officers on the case, the public may well begin to ask itself whether this was all worth it.
Compared to murder, rape, and terrorism this is a minor offence admittedly committed against a large number of people who have the profile and the wealth to fight back.
Intercepting communications is illegal, but it is not only the News of the World that is accused of doing it. Most Western governments are accused of spending vast sums on surveillance that is of dubious legality.
Which must lead us to wonder who ran the bigger hacking operation: Andy Coulson’s first employer, the News of the World or his second, the British government?