SO LET’S imagine that you find a mobile phone on a bus. You pick it up and take it home, where you scroll through the numbers and messages looking for a clue as to who owns it. After a couple of calls you track down the owner and return it to them. Good deed of the day done.
Two years later you’re fast asleep at home, cosily ensconced in a dream featuring Kelly Brook and a tub of cookie dough ice cream, when there’s a hammering at the front door. Cursing because it’s only half past six, you stagger downstairs to be greeted by the sight of six policemen crowded in your doorway.
You are arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods and are carted off to a police station on the other side of town for questioning. The police then spend three hours searching your house while your wife tries to calm your children, aged 6 and 2. They search through your family’s belongings and take away notebooks, diaries, mobile phones, a laptop and other computer gear from your house. Ten hours later you’re ejected back onto the street, dazed and confused and on police bail.
You then spend months trying to make sense of what has happened to you. Will you go to court? Will you go to jail? What about your wife and children? What about your job? What about the mortgage…?
Eventually, more than a year later, your solicitor is informed that there won’t be any action taken against you. The life-changing limbo has come to an end – even if the cops are still hanging on to all your stuff.
Oh, and that “handling stolen goods” business? It relates to the mobile phone that you found on the bus and returned to the owner. The good deed had gone wrong.
Now obviously this would never happen to Joe Public, would it? The Press would be up in arms, questions would be asked in the House and an Amnesty International mob would be kettled in your driveway.
But all above the above did happen, and the reason it happened is that the man involved, Rhodri Phillips, was a reporter on the The Sun and the phone involved belonged to an MP. Details of the incident were amongst bucketloads of emails handed over to the Metropolitan Police by News Corp’s dreaded Management and Standards Committee, which was set up to grass on its own journalists in the eye of the phone-hacking storm. Bizarrely, Phillips had never even seen the offending mobile, but had simply been handed a transcript of information that was on it and asked to assess whether or not there was a ‘security breach’ story. He decided that there wasn’t, no story ever appeared and the phone was returned to its owner.
You have to ask, would any other member of the public have been treated in this way? Would they have been deemed worthy of a dawn raid, rather than a more civilised arranged interview? Would they seriously have been accused of handling stolen goods? Would they have been left stewing on bail for 13 months? Of course not.
I’ve said here before that the misguided Leveson Inquiry has, in the eyes of the police, made every journalist a sitting target. And now those fuckwits at the Guardian are finding out that it’s not just tabloid hacks who are considered fair game. I could stomach their bleating about State interference when it comes to their own writers if they hadn’t been so keen to embrace State interference on behalf of everyone else’s just a few months ago.
TWITTER responded with predictably pompous outrage to a comment one reader posted beneath the Daily Mail’s story and picture of the silly girls who have been nicked for alleged cocaine smuggling in Peru.
“This is going to sound awful, but does anyone know where the dark haired ones jacket is from?”
Glorious, brilliant.. a perfect reminder that while we’re getting all indignant about really important things like Press freedom and the abuse of the law, the punters – the people who really matter, after all – have an entirely different set of personal priorities.
And I’m glad to inform you that the lady in question did indeed track down the jacket and ordered it from the Zara website. Who says that the Mail is a malevolent force?
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan