I’ve always thought the fact that neither Keith Schilling nor David Price has voicemail was a slightly overzealous response to the antics of the tabloids. But as has become clear in the past week, it is entirely proportionate.
Now I’m more than slightly wary of commenting on a breaking situation that last Monday (4 July) saw the Milly Dowler hacking revelations, Tuesday a special House of Commons debate, Thursday the closure of the News of the World (NoW) and Friday the arrest of former editor Andy Coulson and the news that thousands of potentially incriminating emails had been deliberately deleted.
It is laughable that an organisation that is linked with corrupt payments to the Met and with misrepresenting the truth to a select committee could have seriously proposed that its own chief executive run an internal investigation.
News International (NI) also appears to have kept its own lawyers in the dark; according to The Guardian last week, Farrer & Co partner Julian Pike had to tell the court in March that when he stated that emails in the Tommy Sheridan case could not be retrieved he had been misinformed by NoW’s in-house lawyer Tom Crone, who told him that he had also been misled.
Olswang, which last week was brought in to help draw up a code of conduct, is also thought to be advising on the phone-hacking allegations.
So is the firm investigating NI independently, or is it there as a corporate defender? We can only speculate, as Olswang has declined to comment on the scope of its role.
If NI is to salvage anything from this – particularly since Ofcom indicated on Friday that it would be in favour of reviewing whether it would be a fit and proper owner of BSkyB – then it will first have to admit that it has a continuing problem that cannot be solved by sacking the footsoldiers. And that requires a legal response that specifically addresses governance.
NI might, then, take a tip from other organisations that have had to deal with serious allegations of corruption. Appoint an external monitor, just as Balfour Beatty and BAE Systems did, the latter bringing in Lord Woolf and David Gold. Compared with that, a weedy code of conduct hardly cuts it.