By Alice Watkins
This week, after years of denials that phone hacking occurred at the Daily Mail, a series of claims alleging unlawful activity have been lodged against the paper’s publisher.
The claimants include Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racially aggravated attack in 1993.
Prince Harry, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, Sadie Frost and Elizabeth Hurley also allege that they are victims of illegal acts, including phone hacking, by the newspaper.
Former editor Paul Dacre has always championed the newspaper’s role in bringing Stephen Lawrence’s murderers to justice, citing the paper’s coverage as evidence that the Mail is a newspaper which serves the interests of the public.
But the unlawful conduct alleged in these claims would have occurred over the period Paul Dacre was editor.
In particular, the claim lodged on behalf of Baroness Lawrence raises the possibility that, while publicly applauding themselves as the defenders of the family’s interests, the paper was actively listening on their phone calls, and spying on them, in pursuit of new stories.
These claims come ten years on from the Leveson Inquiry, triggered by the phone hacking scandal.
The Mail have issued a statement, in which they have referred to the fact that some of the alleged conduct occurred many years ago; seeking to imply, perhaps, that phone hacking is “old news”. Others have tried to argue it is ‘just about celebrities.’
But as Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University, has said,
From what we know of the history of phone hacking, only a minority of victims are well-known. It is a cruel but simple fact that the less famous you are the less likely you are to be able to prove it.
Armies of people were targeted by papers and three-quarters of them were probably ordinary men and women you have never heard of. The bereaved, victims of crime, friends of the famous, police officers, people in witness protection.
He points out,
If famous people had not sued we would never have known about all this. The News of the World would not have been nailed. Nor the Mirror papers. And the Sun would not now be paying out settlements while maintaining a front of denial.
In 2012, Hugh Grant reported his suspicions that the Daily Mail had hacked his phone to the Leveson Inquiry. In the years since, successive governments have been repeatedly warned about the prospect of further evidence and allegations.
Not least by Hacked Off supporters, who have written to hundreds of MPs and signed several petitions over the years making these points and urging Leveson Part Two – the Inquiry to examine evidence of further corruption and wrongdoing in the press, police, and among politicians – to go ahead.
But The Mail accused Grant of lying, and Government Ministers ignored the views of thousands of their own constituents on the issue. They cancelled the inquiry after fierce lobbying from the Mail and other newspapers.
That decision was a tacit endorsement of criminality and corruption across the newspaper industry and the police, which would be the subjects of investigation under Leveson Part Two.
These claims come in the same week that The Telegraph has reported that the Mail’s former editor, Paul Dacre, is among the list of new (governing party-affiliated) peers – further evidence, if any were needed, of unhealthy relationships between the press and politicians. No Prime Minister should be appointing his or her supporters in the media to the House of Lords. No journalist or editor who sincerely believed in the independence of the media and the government would accept such an appointment.
And if phone hacking did occur at Mail titles, and Paul Dacre is found to have been aware of it, he would have knowingly misled the Leveson Inquiry on oath.
Any plans to give Dacre a seat in the House of Lords should be suspended until the conclusion of these claims and any subsequent investigations.
The Government has put the interests of the individuals running our national newspapers above the public for far too long.
Enough – the Government must re-establish Leveson Part Two without any further delay.