Reading what Rebekah Brooks says

What today's statement says and does not say.

The statement by Rebekah Brooks on phone hacking is fascinating reading and deserves to be read closely.

Dear All,

When I wrote to you last week updating you on a number of business issues I did not anticipate having to do so again so soon.

However, I wanted to address the company as a matter of urgency in light of the new claims against the News of the World.

We were all appalled and shocked when we heard about these allegations yesterday.

These are not new claims. They have been current in journalistic and media law circles for some time. For example they were mentioned in the recorded conversation between Hugh Grant and Paul McMullan, and they were put to John Yates by the Parliamentary Select Committee. It also appears from Nick Davies and Amelia Hill's report that the News of the World had already freely told the local police.

Note she does not state which "allegations" are appalling and shocking. This will be the major flaw in the statement: it is never clear what facts or allegations are being discussed at any point in what follows.

I have to tell you that I am sickened that these events are alleged to have happened.

Here we have the combination of the legally cautious "alleged" and the emotional "sickened". Again, she does not specify what the alleged "events" are which sicken her.

Not just because I was editor of the News of the World at the time, but if the accusations are true, the devastating effect on Milly Dowler's family is unforgivable.

Now she is combining her editorial responsibility with an appeal to Milly Dowler's family's sensibilities. It is interesting that she cannot even bring herself to devote one entire sentence to her editorial responsibility without trying to deflect attention. Again, the actual "accusations" are not stated.

Our first priority must be to establish the full facts behind these claims. I have written to Mr and Mrs Dowler this morning to assure them News International will vigorously pursue the truth and that they will be the first to be informed of the outcome of our investigation.

More deflection. The intention may be to make it look like News International is "doing something". However, what is glaring is a lack of any denial at all.

Our lawyers have also written to their solicitor Mark Lewis to ask him to show us any of the evidence he has so we can swiftly take the appropriate action.

This is a red herring. It is not for Mark Lewis to provide evidence of wrongdoing at this stage of the claim which the Dowlers are reported to be bringing. One notes that it is not denied that News International has the evidence itself.

At the moment we only know what we have read.

A wonderfully vague statement, which carefully avoids saying that what they read was actually news to them.

Since 2006, when the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) seized the documentation from the private investigator Glen Mulcaire, News International has had no visibility on the evidence available.

The process of discovery is complicated. The MPS first present relevant documents to potential victims. We only see the evidence much later during the legal process.

This all means the documentary and witness "evidence available" of other parties. This statement cannot logically mean any documentary and witness evidence possessed by News International.

This morning, in our regular Operation Weeting meeting, we have offered the MPS our full co-operation to establish the veracity of these fresh allegations.

I have also written to the chief constable of Surrey police. Although their nine year investigation is now complete, I want to offer our co-operation should they intend to discuss this matter with us.

I am determined that News International does everything it can to co-operate fully and pro-actively with the MPS, as we have been doing for some time, to verify the facts so we can respond in a robust and proper way.

This is again send a positive signal that they are "doing something". Again, the lack of a denial is glaring. One can also note that the "robust" phraseology is evocative of previous internal investigations.

It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way.

Mulcaire was sufficiently closely employed by News of the World to sign a settlement agreement in respect of any employment claims. This is not consistent with the strained label of "freelance inquiry agent". Note the reference to "working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff" and not "working on behalf of the News of the World".

If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour.

At what stage will the allegations be "proved to be true"? News International is closing down the civil litigation claims with generous pay outs. The allegations may never be proved in a way to trigger the "strongest possible action". She also does not offer to resign, even though the allegations are about conduct under her "watch". One will recall that Coulson resigned when the allegations were about conduct on his "watch".

I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew, or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.

This is a formulation of almost Clintonesque proportions; but it is not a denial. Also, of course, one does not "sanction" allegations: presumably she means the hacking.

I am proud of the many successful newspaper campaigns at the Sun and the News of the World under my editorship.

In particular, the 10-year fight for Sarah's Law is especially personal to me.

The battle for better protection of children from paedophiles and better rights for the families and the victims of these crimes defined my editorships.

More deflection; this time it is a crass appeal that won't anyone think of the children.

Although these difficult times will continue for many months ahead, I want you to know that News International will pursue the facts with vigour and integrity.

I am aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues.

Even though the allegations are not "proved" and that News International wants to see "evidence", she has prejudged the situation as meaning that there could be no conceivable proof and evidence which would make this a resigning matter.

We will face up to the mistakes and wrongdoing of the past and we will do our utmost to see that justice is done and those culpable will be punished.

We will see. Note how "mistakes" are added to "wrongdoing". And note how the word "culpable" is used instead of the word "responsible". Those responsible will not be punished, only the culpable.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.