Amanda Jane “Millie” Dowler (13) went missing and was murdered on or around March 21st 2002 close to London, England.
Her killer, Levi Bellfield would not be convicted, and given a “whole life” sentence until June 2011, although he was already serving life imprisonment for previous murders.
Mr and Mrs Dowler giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry
During the police investigation of this appalling crime, a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, in the employ of the NOTW “hacked” the voicemail of the cell phone owned by Millie. He did this by the simple expedient of entering generic passcodes into the voicemail setting, a common tactic which works because so many people fail to change the default codes. This was not a James Bond-esque technical marvel, it was rather more prosaic. It was also highly illegal. It is worth stating here that the UK press does not have the Constitutional protections afforded to journalists in the United States.
What they do have is a broad legal framework covering the protection of sources. They also have available a “public interest” defense in subsequent civil court proceedings. What journalists do not have is any protection against criminal charges, should a crime be committed while researching a story. This is a matter that is being addressed in a number of ways, most recently by the Crown Prosecution Service ruling that it was not “in the public interest” to file charges in some instances.
Unfortunately for the tabloid journalists this is not the same as” information that the public is interested in”. A fine distinction, yet an important one. It is not lawful, nor is it defensible to access the voicemail of celebrities, or other private citizens, simply to trawl for gossip. In comparison one might consider Watergate. In that case clearly the exposure of corruption in the highest public office would justify the use of an otherwise illegal wire-tap, or recording of conversations without the required disclosure. Here too it is worth a brief mention of Wikileaks.
This organization clearly receives information that some would prefer to remain private. Following their own protocols, Wikileaks makes the information they receive as public as possible. It is not illegal to receive information, merely to procure it and Wikileaks have long insisted that they did not conspire with Bradley Manning to disclose classified information. What they argue is that wikileaks makes it possible for such a disclosure to take place. The legality of that has yet to be tested. The questions that arise are whether or not Wikileaks is entitled to 1st Amendment protections as part of the “Press”, and the added complication that some of the information was classified, bringing national security into the complex equation.
While Julian Assange is subject of a Grand Jury Investigation and probably a sealed indictment, the New York Times that received and transmitted the same information, is not. Were Assange and Wikileaks ever to face trial in the US, any government witnesses are going to have a tricky time explaining the differences between Wikileaks and the NYT in this matter. I mention this case simply as background that we may gain a better understanding of the issues that arise out of investigative journalism.To underline the above points, and further emphasise the depths to which the NOTW stooped we need to draw the parallels. Woodward and Bernstein were following the commission of a crime that started in the Oval Office. Wikileaks brought us news, and pictures, of the mass killing of civilians in Iraq. Consider the public interest implications of that, then compare and contrast those folk with the NOTW, who were illegally accessing the voicemail of a thirteen year old murder victim, and taking similar actions against celebrities of all kinds. Members of the British Royal Family, sportspeople, actors, and anyone else they thought might produce some form of titillation for their readers.
This activity, and the associated crimes of police corruption and the links to UK newspapers was reported in The Guardian as early as 2002. The timeline of what followed next describes police and prosecution service corruption and/or incompetence. Wholesale lawlessness and cover-up by a Who’s Who of British politics and media personalities, and the desperate attempts of Rupert Murdoch to shore up a media empire that is crashing down around him, embroiling as it does not only the NOTW but also The Sun, another of his flagship newspapers. The added irony is that this timeline, is published by a rival newspaper, The Telegraph, an organ best known for its uncritical support of the UK establishment.
Daily Kos contributors began to really pay attention to this story in 2011. With the first in a series of articles that lay the whole sorry mess bare, Brit had this to say:
“I know many journalists, and when news of phone hacking of the phones of the Royal Family was investigated by police in 2006, I was told the practice was rife and this was just the tip of an iceberg. The Metropolitan police closed down the enquiry with only two convictions, though it was common knowledge that many police officers had (illegally) received thousands of pounds in illegal payments from News International, and particularly its tabloid sunday The News of the World.
The officer who opened and closed down that investigation was Andy Hayman, who went on to a lucrative op-ed column spot on Murdoch's Sunday Times.
"Now, thanks to Operation Weeting, those original files have been reopened. Bear in mind it's just the notebooks of one investigator, Greg Mulcaire, but his notes record not only hacking details, payroll and SSI numbers for celebrities, sports men and women, and senior politicians. They also show that the phones of murder victims were hacked, the parents of murdered children, the victims of the 7/7 London Bombing, and the families of soldiers killed in action”After some initial fretting over what constitutes “hacking” (well we are liberals, we worry about this stuff), MBNYC weighed in with a comment that pierced the heart of the matter:
“Rupert Murdoch is a cancer on the entire English-speaking world. Good on Britain, good on the Commons to take him on. The mother country has to do what our political class is too enfeebled to do, and more power to you.”Two kossacks, Brit and ericlewis0 (Animal Nuz) have followed this story and reported in detail. The Diary Series mentioned above, together with the contributions from our favourite cartoonist paint a complete and graphic picture of systematic abuse and criminality.
From these beginnings the dam burst, and a cold wave of arrests and criminal charges reaches right to the upper echelons of News International, the UK end of News Corporation. It appears that the Brits do indeed have the stomach for this, and News International is not regarded as “too big to fail”.
Returning to The Telegraph for a graphic description of how quickly the winds of change can sweep through the corridors of power:
“This was the day MPs stopped being frightened of Rupert Murdoch. Timid reticence about the misdeeds of his company, News International, gave way to total condemnation of its behaviour.More arrests have followed including the well-documented tribulations of Rebekah Brooks and Andrew Coulson, both senior executives with News International whose futures are yet to be decided by the courts. Andrew Coulson also causes a problem for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Even with considerable clouds circling above Coulson’s head, Cameron appointed him as a special advisor in Downing Street, apparently at the behest of … Rebekah Brooks. Those “clouds” have since risen to the stratosphere, and carry a tornado warning. Cameron cannot claim that he wasn’t warned.
Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) led the charge. His most contemptuous swipe at Mr Murdoch, who lives in the United States, was perhaps: “At least Berlusconi lives in Italy.”
But while Mr Bryant used to be a lone voice, now everyone rushes to agree with him about “the complete moral failure” which has taken place. There is something faintly ignoble about the way in which MPs who until a few days ago were terrified of annoying Mr Murdoch are now terrified of saying anything that might be construed as support for him.”
The wheesl of justice are turning, slowly, it has to be said, yet even this week there have been more arrests as this case refuses to go away and simply gets bigger with ericlewis0 reporting the arrest of two more.
Bob Bird, former editor of the Scottish edition of News of the World is charged with “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice” and 28-year-old journalist was arrested in connection with the illegal accessing of emails:
“The arrest was at dawn by the Metropolitan Police “Operation Tuleta” team investigating alleged computer hacking by newspapers, and the person arrested is the former Times reporter Patrick Foster. He was arrested for both suspected offences under Computer Misuse Act and suspected conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.”In the comments, glitterscale reminded us that Nightjack, a separate investigation into computer hacking could well yield more results than the phone hacking scandal:
Operation Tuleta is a Metropolitan Police investigation into computer hacking:
“Operation Tuleta is the Met investigation into alleged computer hacking and other criminal breaches of privacy not covered by the two other parallel probes, Operation Weeting, into phone hacking, and Operation Elveden, into illegal payments to public officials.”
“The phone-hacking scandal could be eclipsed by Rupert Murdoch’s unexploded bomb of computer hacking,” Labour Party lawmaker Tom Watson, who sat on a committee probing News Corp., said in an e-mail today. “It’s infecting all his U.K. titles already and the investigation has only really just begun.” .. Bloomberg.The clamour grew too loud for the government to ignore. The list of those affected was growing, and they were people in the public eye. Individuals with an audience, and the resources to make a great deal of noise. The ordinary victims, those folk who had their privacy invaded couldn’t have hoped to move the Prime Minister into a place where he had no choice but to take decisive action.
Accordingly, in July 2011 the Leveson Inquiry began with a wide remit to investigate all aspects of the media. When Lord Justice Leveson reports it will herald the greatest change in the workings of the media, and the law that applies to that work, that Britain, and the world, has ever seen. With luck Leveson will get it right, and create a model that restores the reputation of British journalism, although it should be pointed out that the reporting of this story has seen some of the finest of the journalistic traditions in decades.
People have long complained of press intrusion. Often those complaints are entirely without merit, the complainants regularly are public figures seeking to hide an embarrassing episode. Except in specific circumstances there is no right to privacy, either in the UK or in the US. There are regular calls for privacy laws, again these usually come from people who wish not to be caught in whatever tawdry business they happen to be engaged.
In reality, the rich and famous are treated with a respect rarely afforded the ordinary citizen whose life becomes newsworthy. They don’t have expensive lawyers, or access to redress and they are, as were the family of Millie Dowler and so many before her, treated very shabbily.
The tragic death of this young girl broke open a can of worms that knows no national boundaries. The revulsion felt by the British people forced a reluctant government and police service to act. Such was the out-pouring of disgust at the hacking of Millie’s phone even the Prime Minister could not ignore it.
It will come as little comfort to the family and friends of Millie Dowler but if her death results in justice, that an entire industry built on a callous disregard for the law, is brought to heel, and brought to book; then that might be a fitting memorial.
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This Diary is mine :) It appears here not in exactly the same way as in the App, because that version is edited to tighten the writing by someone who is, quite