Prince Harry hacking scandal is a nauseating tale of secrets and lies | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

You need a strong stomach to read Mr Justice Fancourt’s devastating 386-page judgment, published in the High Court yesterday. It is a nauseating catalogue of intrusion, lies, concealment and dishonesty by the very people we rely on to tell us the truth.

It is, in short, a bleak moment for journalism, a trade already beleaguered, distrusted and economically enfeebled.

In a world of information chaos, we need honest witnesses to shine a light into darkness. Instead of which, piece by painful piece, the murky truth about influential sections of the British newspaper industry has been revealed. And the truth is, they don’t much care about the truth—at least when it comes to themselves.

We now know beyond any doubt that a vast number of people in the public eye for two decades were unlawfully tracked, trailed, blagged, hacked and spied on.

We now know that a sizeable industry of private investigators was employed by at least two newspaper groups to do the dirty work. Deniability was all.

We know the dark arts didn’t stop when the Information Commissioner exposed it more than 20 years ago. They didn’t even stop when a News of the World journalist was arrested in 2006. They didn’t stop when the Guardian revealed a Murdoch Inc boardroom cover-up over payments to victims in 2009. They didn’t even stop with the Leveson Inquiry in 2011.

We know that newspaper managements at two of our biggest media companies have consistently concealed and denied the truth about what went on. They have issued dishonest statements and have lied to parliament, the stock exchange, to other journalists, to regulators and even the Leveson Inquiry, set up to establish the truth. And now some have been caught telling porkies in court.

Two companies—Murdoch Inc and the Mirror Group—have shelled out more than £1bn in costs and damages, while continuing to deny or admit the truth of what went on. Sadly, millions of emails and documents that might have cast light on the truth have gone missing.

In some cases the same people are in charge today as were running the company at the height of the scandal, which somehow they failed to notice. Take a bow, Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK and a former editor of the Sun and News of the World.

And take a further bow, Piers Morgan, now a star TV presenter for Murdoch Inc and editor of the Daily Mirror for nine years while phone hacking was raging. His newspaper was shelling out hundreds of thousands a year on private investigators using unlawful means to target people in public life, but he somehow failed to notice.

Two judges have now found that unlawful information gathering at the Mirror was “extensive and habitual.” Morgan says—albeit in guardedly narrow terms—he’s innocent. Mr Justice Fancourt begs to differ.

That this grim picture of intrusion, lies and cover-up is finally emerging is down to a handful of decent journalists, among them the Guardian’s Nick Davies—but also a few poachers-turned-gamekeepers who decided enough was enough.

It’s down to some determined lawyers and some forensically rigorous judges. It’s down to an ever-growing roll of brave victims of intrusion who have been queuing to receive out of court settlements.

And it’s down to Prince Harry, who has shown quite remarkable courage in pursuing this case to court, and submitting to cross examination—unlike the media executives who hacked and tormented him for so much of his life.

Since launching his legal action Harry—together with Meghan—has been subjected to an ugly and unremitting barrage of denigration by three newspaper groups he’s suing. I’ve not once seen a single declaration of the evident conflict of interest involved in trying to discredit him. Criticise him, by all means, but be honest about the context.

The Guardian’s revelations about phone-hacking were initially met with outright lies by Murdoch Inc, as well as a refusal by the police or regulator to act.

The New York Times joined in—and eventually the revelation that murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked led to the Leveson Inquiry, which was supposed to be in two parts.

In announcing the inquiry the then prime minister, David Cameron, said the first part would look into broad questions to do with the ethics and culture of newsrooms. Part two—designed to run once the civil actions were exhausted—would look forensically at the extent of unlawful news gathering in the industry.

Guess what? Fleet Street wasn’t keen on part two, for reasons that become apparent every time Murdoch Inc pays off a new group of victims; and which leap out from every single page of Mr Justice Fancourt’s 386-page text.

We can only imagine the backroom pressure applied on a weak Conservative government before the hapless then culture secretary, Matt Hancock, announced in March 2018 that Leveson 2 would be shelved.

“Today marks a great victory for a free and fair press,” chirped Mr Hancock—to cries of “shame”—as he buried the inquiry Cameron had promised.

It was a close run thing. The House of Lords rejected the axing of the Inquiry. Leveson himself protested strongly. But the government eventually won the day by a narrow margin on a second vote in May 2018.

How ironic that it took a prince living in exile to drag out the evidence that the newspaper managers thought they had buried along with the inquiry.

Will he get any credit for it? Dream on. Within hours of the judgment Morgan was raucously attacking Harry’s credibility.

It’s up to us who to believe.


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