OPERATION ELEVDEN COLLAPSES - IS THIS THE ULTIMATE FAILURE OF LEVESON?
This is quite complex if you've not being following the fallout from the Leveson Commission. Aside from the recommendation for a new regulator with a Royal Charter status (and the vague threat of statutory regulation if this failed), which has essentially failed (IPSO doesn't really match up), Leveson was also tasked with investigating the relationships between press and politicians, plus press and police (and public bodies more widely).
In an explosive statement made to the Leveson inquiry in the middle of the police investigation, Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, gave details of the operation, claiming her officers had uncovered a “network of corrupted officials” and a “culture of illegal payments”Operation Elevden was the (Met) Police response to this, a £20m investigation with 20 journalists charged. The press was quite uniformly condemnatory of this, likening it to McCarthyism and seeing it at least partially as organisations (the Met and CPS, Crown Prosecution Service) whose reputations were damaged by Leveson, playing politics with criminal prosecutions.
Elevden now lies in tatters after a none too impressed senior judge threw out most of the cases, forcing the CPS to withdraw several prosecutions.
KEY POINT: GOVERNMENT HAVE PLENTY OF STATUTORY POWERS OVER PRESS!!!
Okay, so we have a moderate-at-best self-regulator, which may give the picture of the press operating with near-complete impunity ... but, Operation Elevden and (ab)use of the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) [Wiki; Greenslade on RIPA, Feb 2015] to access journalists' notes and sources, paint a different picture. Alongside the recently reformed but still troubling libel laws and other government powers which are rarely mentioned (such as the DA-Notice system [see Guardian articles] to censor media publishing material harmful to national interests), and the example of the government's long battle to prevent the Guardian accessing Prince Charles' 'black spider memos' (corporations likewise abuse legal appeals to intimidate media operations with costs they can't really afford), the government has plenty of powers to interfere in our 'free press'.
The director of public prosecutions is abandoning future prosecutions of Andy Coulson and eight other journalists who were facing trial over leaks from public officials.
In a devastating blow to Operation Elveden, the £20m investigation into journalists and their sources that began three years ago, Alison Saunders, the DPP, is throwing in the towel on nine future cases against reporters.
The Crown Prosecution Service will now be offering no evidence in the case of nine journalists, who include Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, and the paper’s former royal editor, Clive Goodman, who were awaiting trial.
The prosecution of a further three journalists will continue. These are Chris Pharo, head of news at the Sun, and district reporter Jamie Pyatt, both of whom face a retrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict earlier this year, and Anthony France, the paper’s crime correspondent.
The decision came after a review forced on the CPS by an appeal court ruling last month that questioned prosecutors’ use of the charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office – an ancient common-law offence – to pursue journalists. [Laville, Davies and Rozenberg, 2015, Guardian: Operation Elveden: Andy Coulson and eight other cases dropped by DPP.]
Coulson faced two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office in relation to the alleged purchase of confidential royal phone directories in 2005. Goodman was charged in relation to the same offence.
Both were told on Friday they no longer faced trial. Coulson was jailed for 18 months for conspiring to intercept voicemails at the now-defunct News of the World. He was released from prison in November last year after serving nearly five months.
The high-profile Elveden inquiry began in the wake of the revelations of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World. News International, the owner of the Sun and the News of the World, handed documents relating to its staff, including 300m emails to the police. From this information, detectives were given details of journalists and their sources and began a series of raids.
In an explosive statement made to the Leveson inquiry in the middle of the police investigation, Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, gave details of the operation, claiming her officers had uncovered a “network of corrupted officials” and a “culture of illegal payments”.
The journalists arrested were left on bail in some cases for two or more years. The vast majority were cleared, with only two convictions out of 29 charged.
Among those acquitted were the Sun’s former editor Rebekah Brooks, the deputy editor Geoff Webster, the royal editor Duncan Larcombe, the executive editor Fergus Shanahan and the chief reporter John Kay.
Kay successfully argued that the leaks, which included revelations about shortages of equipment for British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bullying at Deepcut barracks, where four soldiers took their own lives, were in the public interest.