Phone hacking is out. Other kinds of illegal information gathering - reverse phone number searches, Police National Computer access via bent coppers and Police civilians, NHS records and more - arouse suspicion. Surveillance is expensive and also can fall foul of the law. So what’s a tabloid paper to do if it wants to stay ahead of the game?
Many in and around the news media may be asking that question this morning as they join the dots and fill in the blanks from the Guardian’s unduly reticent article reporting the disquiet of George Michael’s relatives over the apparent leaking of the transcript of the 999 call made on Christmas Day morning by the singer’s partner Fadi Fawaz.
That article, “George Michael's family demand investigation into 999 call leak”, goes on to tell “Lawyers for family of singer, who died in December, say they are appalled that recording and transcript were made public …Members of George Michael’s family are demanding a full investigation into the apparent leak of a 999 call made after the singer’s death … A statement issued by solicitors acting on their behalf said Michael’s loved ones are ‘truly appalled’ that the audio recording was made public”. There is more.
The family said in a statement “George’s family and friends are extremely upset and truly appalled that such a personal, painful and clearly confidential recording has been leaked … we will be ensuring that a full investigation takes place to establish how this material was made available … We firmly believe that anyone contacting the emergency authorities in situations such as this should be entitled to expect that recordings will not be released to the media”. But the Guardian does not name the paper concerned. So I will.
The contents of the 999 call were carried, as an exclusive, by the Murdoch Sun last Saturday, trailed on the front page with characteristic lack of subtlety: “EXCLUSIVE: GEORGE MICHAEL 999 TAPE … I’ve tried to wake him for an hour … he’s gone, he’s blue … LOVER FADI’S FRANTIC CALL”. So how did they get the tape?
This is where it gets potentially very bad for the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker. Unless Fadi Fawaz taped his end of the conversation - highly unlikely, given the urgency of the situation and his state at the time - the Sun’s source has to have been the emergency services - either directly or indirectly. And that begs another question.
If the Sun got the tape from the emergency services - by whatever means and by whatever route - was it handed to them merely as some kind of gesture of public-spiritedness by those concerned? Or did some - as yet undisclosed - sum of money change hands? The public interest in the leaked information is not unadjacent to zero, and so that defence would be a non-starter. And a corrupt payment could mean big trouble.
Not only is this a potential candidate for use of the Bribery Act, but it is also a powerful reminder of the need for that second part of the Leveson Inquiry that the Government now seems so keen to kick into the long grass.
Of course, the questions could all be answered if Sun editor Tony Gallagher were to come clean and tell the world how his paper came by the recording. In your own time, Tone.