Until yesterday, the News of the World phone-hacking fiasco had failed to truly enter the national consciousness. The majority of print media in Britain were keen to avoid reporting on it, and most of the ‘victims’ were celebrities whose regular publicity-seeking appearances in newspapers and magazines can sometimes be seen as a rejection of their own privacy rights . The revelation that the mobile phone of the kidnapped teenager Milly Dowler could have been hacked has changed the situation dramatically.
What is alleged to have happened goes beyond the basic issues of privacy. By deleting messages from her mobile, those responsible for the hacking were effectively destroying evidence and tampering with an investigation, with the sole purpose of finding a story to sell papers and further their career.
Police always monitor voice messages left on victims’ phones as they can be vital for an investigation. Perpetrators can sometimes leave messages of concern to try and exonerate themselves. Deleting them just to make space for more messages and therefore the possibility of more stories could have meant the murderer escaping capture.
When a child goes missing, parents and family will cling to any possibility of hope or any hint of life. Milly Dowler’s parents believed their daughter must have been alive when they discovered messages had been deleted, even going so far as to describe their remote feelings of optimism to, in a macabre irony, the News of the World.
Someone at the paper involved in the hacking must have known it removed this possibility, yet they did nothing to inform the family about this, allowing the pain and suffering to continue unabated.
The lawyer for the Dowler family has released the following statement:
“It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time. The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable.”
At the time, Surrey police were suspicious of the information the media were receiving with regards to the case, however they were more concerned with finding the missing girl so these suspicions were never followed up on.
This is clearly not a case of one rogue reporter acting on their own, this level of espionage must have been authorised by someone with a high level of responsibility. The police investigation will seek to determine quite how far up the hierarchy this conspiracy went.
This entire fiasco began primarily as political point scoring between the British print media. The Guardian, initially seeing the phone-hacking scandal as a perfect opportunity to attack Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire, have now uncovered something far more important than the idiosyncrasies of Sienna Miller’s love life, or whatever messages Andy Gray ever received from Richard Keys. The Sun and the News of the World are still attempting to bury it today in the hope that it will disappear, but public feeling has become vociferous overnight, and if any of these allegations are proved to be true, they will be forced into one of the most grovelling apologies ever witnessed.
If elements of the British media are willing to stoop so low as to hack into the messages of a kidnapped teenager for profit then there is clearly the possibility that something similar has occurred before. Whatever the results of the investigation are, it seems unlikely the British media will be the same afterwards.
Frank Manning tweets at @BillyManning