Brooks Coulson Charges

November 21, 2012 by  

Brooks Coulson Charges, As Lord Justice Leveson hammers at the keyboard, composing the final pages of his report on press standards and regulation, the additional charges made against Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks on Tuesday morning set an altered context for the judge and his political supporters, who until recently had been on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism from a largely hostile press.

Two weeks ago, the Daily Telegraph attacked Conservative MPs who had criticised proposals to reform the Press Complaints Commission put together by Lord Black, who is also an executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. Then, last Friday’s Daily Mail featured an extraordinary 12-page tirade directed against the Leveson inquiry and, in particular, one of the advisers, the mild-mannered do-gooder Sir David Bell, who was no one’s idea of an eminence grise.

Now, though, there is a reminder how far criminal investigations into News International have spread. For the first time, criminal charges go beyond the News of the World and touch the Sun: with the former editor Brooks and veteran chief reporter John Kay in the frame. Significantly, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the charges against the two for alleged misconduct in a public office cover 2004 to as recently as 2011 – when £100,000 of payments to an MoD official are alleged to have been made.

Their timing is far later than the phone-hacking period. Hacking charges laid by the CPS against Brooks, Coulson and others range from October 2000 to August 2006, before James Murdoch arrived at Wapping as executive chairman in December 2007. Now there is scope for more “who knew what, when” questions for News Corporation – in particular what did James and his father Rupert know of alleged corrupt payments at the Sun – although the two can also point to the recent work of the company’s in-house management and standards committee which provided the evidence which led to the arrest of 21 Sun journalists as part of the police’s Operation Elveden.

The question for Leveson is what does the widening of the criminal charges say about the culture of News International or Fleet Street as a whole. There have been plenty of lively arguments about whether paying sources in the public sector for information would represent legitimate public-interest journalism, and they will re-emerge now. However, the CPS has a duty to make its own public interest assessment. After so doing, it chose to prosecute both Brooks and Kay.

Ahead looms the theoretical possibility of corporate charges against News International, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, or the Data Protection Act, both understood to be being considered by the Met. But, of course, the police have not taken that step. What is guaranteed is a long-running court battle not least because Brooks and Coulson deny the charges against them. Given that the duo have both been charged with hacking offences – which they also deny – the legal process is likely to take far longer to conclude than September 2013, when phone-hacking trials are currently scheduled.

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