The 86 days of hearings have been tedious on one level and extraordinary on another. The prime minister and chancellor, chief constables, billionaire newspaper owners and their editors have been called to account, laying bare a world not just of corruption and cover up but of routine collusion, of “country suppers” and “Yes we Cam” (former News International boss Rebekah Brooks’ congratulatory text to Cameron). We now know, for example, how many times Cameron met executives at News International over a period (59).
The establishment has nothing to fear from Leveson himself, of course. But even education secretary Michael Gove, a former Times journalist and the man who aims to reintroduce overt class division to school exams, claimed the inquiry was having a “chilling atmosphere” on free speech.
Gove is a confidant of News Corp chief Joel Klein who heads the Murdochs’ internal Management and Standards Committee at News International which passes information to the police. Leveson has had the opposite of a chilling effect, but Gove’s concern is for his class and not freedom to expose it.
Unfortunately, for Gove, the Murdochs, Cameron and their clan, the end of the inquiry – ordered by Cameron last July at the height of the furore over phone hacking – does not mean the end of the process or, rather, processes.
Rebekah Brooks, whom Murdoch embraced and declared his “priority” a year ago, appears likely to face charges for attempting to pervert the course of justice and perhaps for a role in making payments to police officers (of which she has admitted knowledge). Former Cameron spin doctor and News of the World editor Andy Coulson faces a likely trial for perjury.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has so far survived revelations of his role as “minister for BSkyB” but may well go after the Olympics.
Cameron faces three minefields: his relationship with Brooks, his employment of Coulson and his promotion of Hunt to a quasi-judicial role in overseeing Murdoch’s BSkyB bid. Any one of these could explode and force him out. His obvious replacement, Osborne, is equally tied to Coulson and Hunt, having championed both.
Meanwhile, there are the police investigations moving quite separately to Leveson. It seems inconceivable, given the previous history of police cover-up, these won’t result in court cases and potentially lead to fresh revelations.
Operation Weeting into phone hacking has left prosecutors considering charges against 11 journalists. Operation Elvedon into corrupt payments to public officials has brought a growing number of arrests and produced probably the most extraordinary moment at Leveson in February when Metropolitan police deputy-assistant commissioner Sue Ackers described a “culture of illegal payments” by The Sun to a “network of corrupt officials”.
Leveson went no further in exploring this while Ackers investigates. A third investigation, into computer hacking is ongoing. Indeed, who knows when the next revelation of celebrity hacking or arrest or piece of testimony or investigative reporting might turn the screw?
There is an argument that Leveson has provided a sideshow: a chattering-class soap opera beyond the concerns of most. But that is to miss the point. For all their power, Rupert, Rebekah and David don’t know where it will end.
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