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TUESDAY 16 JULY  2024

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DRONE INVESTIGATION

Starmer’s election victory is a bitter pill for journalists

So the Son of a Toolmaker is Britain’s new prime minister. Sir Keir Starmer, KC, moves into No.10 with a record Labour majority having trounced the threadbare Tory Party.


A cause for celebration, right? 


Hardly. Starmer may have just disproved the allegation that he rose without trace. But never, ever, ever forget that there really is less to him than meets the eye.


If you’re a journalist, a seeker after truth, a righter of wrongs, his victory is a bitter pill.


For the man who rarely misses the opportunity to remind us that ‘before I was a politician I was the Director of Public Prosecutions’ has no time for the Fourth Estate. 


It was he, during his time as DPP, who launched a witch hunt which resulted in dawn raids on journalists, the harassment of their families, restrictive and drawn-out police bail lasting years and intimidating trials at crown court.


For three years they were held on such savage bail terms that the then Home Secretary Theresa May intervened.


And it was he who dug up an obscure 13th century Act to persecute and prosecute the journalists.


Unsurprisingly, the CPS took a hammering through all this. At one point the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, rebuked its QC for having ‘failed to consider the freedom of the Press’.


This was all carried out against the background of phone hacking (a separate and indefensible activity) and the Leveson inquiry. All, it could be argued, were triggered by MPs’ fury and embarrassment at being outed in the Press over the 2009 scandal of their dodgy expenses.


And few believed Met assistant commissioner Patricia Gallan when she protested: ‘Elveden was certainly not an attack on journalists or a free media.’


The five-year police inquiry costing nearly £15 million became the most expensive in history: some 12,000 exhibits were seized and 200,000 emails scanned. Ninety people were arrested and 34 convicted. They were mainly ‘public servants’: police officers, prison wardens and the like.


But of the 29 journalists charged, only one was convicted at trial and he was soon cleared on appeal.


Sir Keir Starmer has always refused to apologise or comment on his role. In 2016 he did say: ‘Most of the prosecutions took place when I ceased to be DPP. I’m not the DPP, I didn’t handle those cases and it’s really not for me to comment on them.’


But regular readers will recall that Sir Keir was also ‘not informed’ when a CPS investigator decided to drop a case against Jimmy Savile in 2009, despite the fact he led the organisation at the time.


Now he’s in Downing Street. In charge of our future. Be afraid.


Our man was arrested in a Dawn Raid as police searched his house

The sound of cars was the first sign that it wasn’t a typical 7am start to a Saturday in late January, 2012. A senior Sun executive peered out of his suburban bedroom window. People were walking briskly up the drive.

It was that cops and robbers cliché, the Dawn Raid. Our man answered loud knocking at the front door. He was immediately arrested and asked to get dressed.


Within minutes, an unmarked car took him to a police station 15 miles away. The last he heard as the front door closed was the sound of one of his children being sick on the hall floor.


Then his wife and the kids watched as unsmiling, silent, hatchet-faced detectives searched for what they said was ‘evidence’. 


Cupboards and drawers were opened; computers, tablets and note

books were seized and sealed in polythene bags.


At one point a woman detective asked to see the double garage. Typically, it was a chaotic jumble of exercise kit, garden furniture, old carpets and all the other detritus of suburban life.


She took one look, muttered ‘Oh, no’, quickly shut the door and moved on. How did she know that an incriminating piece of ‘evidence’ wasn’t secreted in the grass box of the lawnmower in the corner? 


At one point another of them was heard to say: ‘Come on. Hurry up — we’ve got to be at the other place by 11.’


How did they know that, by searching for another hour, they wouldn’t find the bang-to-rights ‘evidence’ they were seeking? 


On another raid there was the infamous account of teenage girls being woken and having to stand outside their bedroom as the Met’s hairy-arsed finest rummaged through their knickers drawers looking for the elusive ‘evidence’.


The police should have been ashamed of themselves. Maybe they were but we all know that ‘I was only obeying orders’ doesn’t wash any more. 


Why all this chilling, sinister drama, more like the Stasi than the Sweeney? Why not arrange a mutually convenient interview at a police station? Ah, to carry out an immediate search for ‘evidence’ the police had to make an arrest under Section 32 of PACE.


Meanwhile, the Sun exec had been banged up since 8am, sans belt and shoelaces, in the custody suite of the nick.


At 4pm, accompanied by a lawyer, summoned by the Sun, he was called for an interview with two detectives  He spent the rest of the day replying ‘No comment’ to all questions.


At about 11pm he was released on police bail and turned out on to the street. Luckily, he had enough cash to get a cab home.


When he arrived, there was a television camera crew to film the event. Had they been alerted by a tip-off from a copper willing ‘to commit misconduct in public office’? Surely not…


It was the end of the first day of an ordeal that was to last another three years and three months before he was cleared without a stain on his character.


And as for the ‘evidence’: they never did find that, did they?


The things lawyers say…

Scene. Sharp-suited lawyers in conference at 102 Petty France, home of the Crown Prosecution Service. It’s been a long week…


Lawyer One: Now, lads, thanks to the boss, we’ve cunningly charged these Sun hacks, under a Medieval Act, with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. That carries a maximum sentence of life. How do we think that’s going to play? Will we get convictions?


Lawyer Two: Not a chance. Can you honestly see juries bringing in guilty verdicts? Will they even think the hacks have actually done anything wrong by paying informants for stories?


Lawyer Three (newly qualified): Yes, the Sun actually invites its readers to send in information for payment. So best forget it, then?


Lawyer One: Forget it? Get with the programme. These miscreants will be in limbo (sorry, on bail) for three years. Their lives will be disrupted. They and their families face all sorts of irritating, worrying restrictions.


Lawyer Two: And for the first year we won’t even contact them. They’ll think it has all gone away. Then we’ll crank it up. Court appearances will follow, including putting them in the dock in No. 1 court at the Old Bailey.


Lawyer Three: No. 1 court? Isn’t that the iconic British court room where the most serious murder, espionage and treason trials have taken place? Isn’t that rather OTT?


Lawyer One: Too right. It’ll scare the shit out of them. They’ll realise we mean business.


Lawyer Two: Then we’ll fix a trial date and book a courtroom. 


Lawyer Three: Best make it central London so it’s easy to get to. After all, it’s likely to be a three-month trial.


Lawyer One: Oh, lad. You’ve got a lot to learn. What about Kingston Crown Court in leafy Surrey?


Lawyer Two: Master stroke. They won’t risk driving the 60-odd miles in rush hour so I reckon that will involve a car journey to the station, a train, a Tube, another train, a bus and then a walk to the court. And back again at night after a long day in court. Ha, ha.


Lawyer One: Oh dear, oh dear. Poor things.


Lawyer Two: Then, when we get them there we’ll put them in a dock behind a bullet-proof glass screen. And then — wait for it — we’ll lock ‘em in like terrorists or child rapists. That’ll teach ‘em.

 

Lawyer Three: Why are we doing all this, especially when we don’t think we’ll get convictions after due process? After all, the ‘evidence’ is pretty thin.


Lawyer One: Due process? Convictions? Evidence? We’re not really bothered. These tabloid hacks deserve to be punished so don’t you realise that’s what we’ll be doing to them.  All those years, all that worry, all those indignities. Forget convictions: we’re just using the process.


And the Process is the Punishment.


Exeunt omnes in pursuit of a beer.



9 July 2024