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5 July 2011

Reading what Rebekah Brooks says

What today's statement says and does not say.

By David Allen Green

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.

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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