As far as I can tell the defence the police are making for their failure to pursue the original hacking enquiry is that the branch of the police charged with investigating the matter was inundated with what it felt was more important work, namely its anti terrorist investigations.
This excuse grossly underestimates the seriousness of the crimes that are being alleged. Industrial scale hacking of people’s private messages and conversations is or should be a very serious matter. When this is being done for financial profit, as it obviously was in this case, it is more serious still. If the branch of the police that had conduct of the case was unable to accord it sufficient resources then the correct response should have been not to close the enquiry down but to transfer its conduct to a different branch of the police or even to call for help from other police forces. Besides this excuse does not explain why, given the constant flow of revelations, the police stubbornly refused to reopen the enquiry for so many years after they originally closed it down.
There are two other important points I want to make.
The first is that this affair has exposed an extremely ugly form of inverted snobbery in British life. It seems that the police, most of the press and a large section of the public believe that breaking into someone’s private correspondence and conversations is fine so long as they are rich and famous but unacceptable if they are “ordinary people”. I am not usually someone who defends the rich and famous but I am unable to see why the fact that someone is rich and famous should make that person fair game or excuse criminal acts of which they are the victims.
Secondly, the claim that it was the press that exposed the story is untrue. Though the Guardian and its reporter Nick Davies deserve credit for keeping the story alive, the true hero of this affair is John Prescott who successfully brought a judicial review against the police and their failure to take the hacking of his phone seriously. From my personal knowledge I know how very difficult it is to get the High Court even to issue claims against the police and how reluctant the High Court is to meddle in the police’s work. Bringing proceedings against the police in the knowledge that behind the police stood Rupert Murdoch and his newspapers required considerable courage and Prescott (who has been the object of press attacks on many occasions and who must therefore have known what he was potentially letting himself in for) on this occasion showed it. Once the High Court found in Prescott’s favour and the police became obliged to conduct a proper investigation of the matter it was only a question of time before the truth came out.