Murdoch latest: Police 'fold' when probed by vengeful politicians

Keith Vaz, British Labour politician, at a mar...


Self-righteous MPs on the British parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee led by Labour MP Keith Vaz, pictured, quizzed past and present Metropolitan police chiefs yesterday over the hacking-gate scandal that has dogged the UK media for more than a week.

Those under the spotlight from the Metropolitan Police side did not give a good account of themselves, accept for Sue Akers, the Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner newly tasked with investigating the débâcle. Her team of 45 officers is having to sift through some 4,000 claims of alleged hacking and so far has contacted just 170 victims, she candidly admitted.

It's fair to say that the MPs did not exactly put on a great show either. In fact, it was a miraculous display of ex-coppers folding under MPs' questioning.

The gloating face of Vaz, a Labourite who enjoys the spotlight when he can, was very harsh and dogged when reading the Assistant Commissioner John Yates, (who must have felt like he had entered a local police station to be quizzed under arrest) his rights about what he could and could not do at the hearing.

Lawyer Vaz, a rather ferocious beast of the Westminster committee, warned Yates at the end that he may be called back for further questioning as he did not believe what the top cop had been saying. "You're free  to go, for now", he was humiliatingly told by committee Chair Vaz.

Ex-police chief Peter Clarke was given a slightly more respectful welcome by the committee, and was able to make the damning point that press baron Rupert Murdoch's News International had possibly "lied" in the original investigation of five years ago. He said that this so called obstruction meant that the coppers on trial would have not been "here today," without it hindering their investigation. 

The most comical part of the session involved the ex-copper Andy Hayman who, after his time in the Met, decided he wanted to be a hack, (a boyhood dream - we all have those Andy) and was given a job at The Times as a columnist. He insisted that he was not on the Murdoch payroll and had never taken a bribe in his life - he waved his hands menacingly at Vaz almost saying "come on Mr Chairman, do something, you are out of order. (Who are we to not believe him?). 

While the so-called "Inspector Cluseos were being interviewed by the so- called "Inspector Columbos" (a joke at of Vaz's which rather should be reversed the other way around) news was breaking that the former PM Gordon Brown had also allegedly had some extremely personal details hacked.

However, The Sun, which stood accused of hacking into the medical records of Brown's baby son, bounced back and stated that the story published on it front page had been in the "public interest". It was about Gordon's son Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis. The Sun claimed that a member of the public had willingly passed the info onto the red top tabloid newspaper, as the person wanted to keep the issue of the terrible illness in the news. (As it happens, I also know someone who suffers from the illness, so can understand them wanting to keep people aware of it.)

Now, more importantly, why has Gordon Brown, for the last few months not even been anywhere in the spotlight, and now pops up venomously against News International's flag ship paper ahead of a vote in the Commons on Wednesday over whether or not Rupert Murdoch should be able to own all the shares in BskyB. MPs of the ruling Conservative and opposition parties, stung by press exposure of them fiddling of their parliamentary expenses and other misdemeanours, have decided that it is right and proper to stir up some trouble.

While, I do not agree with the monopoly of British newspapers, and indeed, British broadcasting being in the hands of one man, the Labour Party and its top guns need to also face some serious questions. After all, they are not the principled bunch they want to make themselves out to be. Previously poor performing Labour leader Ed Miliband may have put himself back on track this week by cannily forcing the government into supporting a cross-party onslaught on the Murdoch empire, which erupts like a volcano daily. But:

1) Why did the Labour Party not investigate in 2006, when prime minister Gordon Brown was allegedly advised by the Cabinet Office to not bother with asking questions over the stories that are now being slowly dripped fed to the public? Because the Labour Party were, like the Tories, "vying" for Murdoch's support. 

2) Miliband made a big thing about prime minister David Cameron's decision to employ ex-Editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson, and yet, he too let into his team a former News International employee Tom Baldwin. Coulson, who resigned from the newspaper post after his royal editor was jailed for phone hacking, was given "a second chance" by David Cameron and that's how he ended up as the Conservative Party's communications boss.

3) The Labour Party were not making a big song and dance of this at the time. Clearly, surely the same committee of MPs who had interviewed News Int employees all those years ago, would have smelt something fishy? Why? Seemingly, as Vaz is such a competent and high and mighty character (not without his own much reported alleged misdemeanours), he would have realised something was not quite right over the evidence given at the same Home Affairs Select Committee three or so years ago.

At last our British politicians have decided, (or at least for now) to "declare war on Rupert Murdoch" - and old former Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable must be laughing in his GlenMorangie bottle), as his self-fulfilling phrophecy has indeed come true. MPs have indeed now declared war on the Murdoch empire that has monopolised the British media for too long. Perhaps too MPs will be feeling a little quake in their shoes if the boot comes back on the other foot, and Murdoch decides to declare war on the British establishment? As they say in chess: "It's your move, what ya gonna do?"

Ousted former BBC Director General Greg Dyke said, while doing the rounds of the television studios to talk about the scandal: "What can be worse than what has happened in the last seven days?"

Having a free press isn't the same as our press being free. There's always a new Mr Murdoch that could come along and take the gauntlet of megalomania. Rather like the gangster underworld, you get rid of one, and another emerges. You can take the press out of politics, but you can never take politics out of the press.