Who cares about Rebekah Brooks when we can talk about Andrew Marr?

The News International chief is accused of lying to parliament – but the press just cares about some

So we can finally talk about Andrew Marr. Hooray for us. What a victory for democracy and freedom of speech that we can write without fear about someone having sex with someone else. High-fives all round.

Meanwhile, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, has been accused of lying to parliament. It's a story that slipped under the radar while the hyenas descended on the corpse of Andrew Marr's superinjunction, but it happened all the same: the MP Chris Bryant used parliamentary privilege to accuse Brooks of misleading the House.

He said: "Rebekah Brooks, who on March 11 2003 said she had paid police officers for information, wrote to the select committee a couple of weeks ago to say what she really meant was that other newspapers had done so. That is a blatant lie. This House should no longer put up with being lied to."

That is all very well for Bryant to say. But how can he expect anyone to be interested in such a story? Accusing a hugely powerful chief executive of a multimillion-pound corporation of lying to parliament is one thing; but did they lie to their spouse? If not, how can anyone even be bothered to fire up a laptop to write about it?

We're not interested in tales of lies to parliament; we want to know about celebrities and what they do with their genitalia. If the papers simply came out with this truth and admitted it, then I don't think there would be a problem.

"Look," they could say. "You know and I know that we're not really holding the rich and powerful to account. You just want to know which people are having a bit on the side with someone else. So here it is, not in any public interest, but simply to satisfy your craving for titbits about famous people's infidelities, because it shines a little glow of prurient happiness in your otherwise worthless little lives."

But no. We have to go through the pantomime of pretending that the reason everyone is fighting these superinjunctions is in the brave battle for truth against those naughty folk who've been caught with their pants down and are using their children as a human shield to protect their public profiles.

Even if that were true, that's not why it's happening. It's happening because celebrity-shagging flogs papers and people like to read about it – more than they like to read about evidence given to select committees, for example.

The rich and powerful are trying to use their wealth to pay for gags, the newspapers bleat. If only we could tell you about sex in hotel rooms, they whine. If only we could reveal details about who did what with whom and when, they grumble, then we could really hold these people to account.

Meanwhile, the rich, and really powerful, like Rebekah Brooks, just carry on, without fear of scrutiny from a large section of the press.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform