The aftermath of Phonehackgate rumbles on with the news that former Screws executive Neil “Wolfman” Wallis, who was arrested around 21 months ago and bailed since then, will not be charged. This was one of two decisions revealed this morning. Wallis, to no surprise, has been relieved, and wants anyone who is listening to know that he is angry.
Well, Wallis will know what he needs to do, and who to see about it, when it comes to seeking redress, and that is his business and no-one else’s. On that I make no further comment. Where I certainly do make further comment is on the assumption made – not by Wallis, I should add – that his case automatically undermines the actions against others previously arrested.
That’s one very significant logic leap, particularly as Wallis was never charged with any specific offence. Moreover, out of the thirteen arrested “in relation to allegations of conspiracy to intercept voicemail communication”, eight have already been charged. Wallis and his former colleague Dan Evans both being acquitted leaves three still officially in limbo.
Nor does any of this help the case of the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, who in any case has already been committed for trial on hacking and a further offence, that of attempting to pervert the course of justice, which, as those following the Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce case will know, is likely on conviction to lead to a custodial sentence.
What Wallis’ acquittal really means is that the authorities will no longer be distracted by whether to wait for charging decisions, and can press on with the cases where charges have already been laid. So for a majority of those nicked, it’s not likely to be good news at all – unless they’re looking forward to being put on trial and have access to a crystal ball that says they’ll get off.
But coming back to Neil Wallis, one further point has to be addressed, that which he made most forcefully in a post for the HuffPost UK last August. He asked “what about "innocent until proven guilty"? What about those who turn out to be completely innocent? What about proportionality?”, and I agree with him. All who are arrested should not instantly be assumed to be guilty.
The problem which then enters, of course, is that the reason sympathy for the arrested journalists has been in such short supply is the impression constantly given by the Fourth Estate that those about whom they write are indeed guilty before coming to trial: Colin Stagg, Winston Silcott, any number of those being Irish, Catholic and of republican sympathy, and most recently Christopher Jefferies.
If only the hacks had asked Wallis’ questions themselves. But they never did.