There is no more sick-making sight than the assembled whingeing of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet trying to offload their abject failure on someone – anyone but them. Now that the name of Rolf Harris has finally been pitched as being interviewed as part of Operation Yewtree, the almost five month delay has to be explained, however lamely.
That Harris had been talking to the Police was notified on November 29 by Mark Williams-Thomas via Twitter. There was no subterfuge, no ambiguity, and there was no rebuke of any kind from those acting for the veteran entertainer, let alone the commencement of legal action. There was nothing to stop the press from making their own enquiries and publishing.
Harris’ lawyers, Harbottle and Lewis, then pressured the press into keeping schtum. That they quoted the report from the Leveson Inquiry has meant that, once again, every pundit is trotting out the keyword “chilling”. But the big beasts of the media jungle could quite easily have cited a public interest defence and gone ahead anyway. That they did not tells you two things.
One, that they were dealing with someone in his 80s in declining health meant the possibility of public backlash, had the Fourth Estate gone after their quarry the way they did with Christopher Jefferies. And two, it was in their interest to go along with the lawyers, so they could at a later date use the story as a stick to beat anyone who had the temerity to support a new system of press regulation.
The attempt to deflect onto Leveson is typified by the latest rent-a-rant by Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, who dutifully tells of “a chilling effect on free speech” and accuses others of “bullying”, while not mentioning the litany of cases over the years where the paper in which she writes – the Daily Mail – has not given a stuff about what their targets’ lawyers have said.
This ability to use the legal profession to its own advantage is what dissuaded the Information Commissioner’s Office from pursuing papers like the Mail over Operation Motorman, and all the illegal information gathering organised by Steve Whittamore. Yet now the same paper bleats that it is defending “our free society and the public’s right to know”. Cue hollow laughter.
What the likes of Paul Dacre calls “the public’s right to know” is the right of his paper to tell its readers what he decrees they should be told. Had he believed there was an advantage to be gained in naming Harris, he would have gone ahead and ordered his hacks over the top. The attempt to smear Leveson by suggesting that the Mail was gagged, when it could have done otherwise, will not wash.
The press is once again protesting a little bit too much. No change there, then.