It was the moment when the phone hacking scandal, which had been coming to the boil for the previous two years, finally burst open and showed the public the sheer unprincipled nastiness of the tabloid press: Milly Dowler, abducted and brutally murdered by Levi Bellfield, had had her phone hacked by the now-defunct Murdoch Screws. Moreover, the Police knew they had done it - but took no action as a result.
Part of the public revulsion was the realisation that the press were more than happy to prey on schoolgirls and their friends in order to flog a few more papers. There were, it seems, no limits to the intrusion that hacks would make, and that their editors would countenance. The thought entered that the Dowler killing would put an end to that sort of thing. And that thought would have been sorely misplaced.
We know this because after 16-year-old Leonne Weeks was found dead on a footpath in the small South Yorkshire town of Dinnington, where her family lived, the press descended and were soon up to their old habits. Social media accounts were scoured for anything about the dead girl that could be recycled as cheap and easy copy - it’s in the public domain, so none of that having to pay to use photos.
That much was bad enough for grieving friends and relatives. But then, the school that Leonne Weeks had attended until very recently put out a Facebook post warning “Please can we suggest parents and carers talk with their children about contact through social media. Some members of the press have been contacting students this way to try to get photos and information”. That is bang out of order.
Not only that, it is a clear breach of the IPSO Editor’s Code of Conduct. So where is the stern warning on the IPSO website this morning, given Dinnington High School sent its warning out yesterday? But you know the answer: the headline items have more to do with whining about Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and Leveson Part 2.
So who is behind this intrusion? We cannot be certain. But my Occam’s Razor is pointing at just one of The Usual Suspects, because of their tendency to draw attention to themselves rather than lying low and keeping Schtum. And, to no surprise at all, that suspect is the Murdoch Sun, which has published a piece titled “MAJOR INVESTIGATION What happened to Leonne Weeks? Teenage girl found dead in Dinnington – here’s what we know so far”. And so we have another echo of the Dowler killing.
The Screws waded in to that case as if they were part of the investigating team. Now the Sun gives every impression of doing the same thing again, using headlines like “What happened to Leonne Weeks?” and most tellingly “What do her friends think?” In another Sun article, social media accounts have been trawled to get comments.
Whoever prompted Dinnington High School to send out its warning, the journalists concerned know they have overstepped the line. They can also be confident that sham press regulator IPSO will wipe their backsides for them. Not much has changed in the five and a half years since the Screws crashed and burned over Milly Dowler.
The press never learns. That is why we need properly effective press regulation.