As reported in The Mail on Sunday;
“End rough justice for hacking suspects says Attorney General as investigation leaves journalists in ‘legal limbo’
The Attorney General has made a dramatic intervention in the phone hacking saga by expressing concern for dozens of journalists left in ‘limbo’ by the police investigation.
Dominic Grieve, the country’s most senior law officer, said he was worried about the ‘stress’ caused to suspects who have seen their careers – and in some cases their health – collapse while they wait to hear if they will be charged.
Mr Grieve’s remarks, made privately to a senior politician, will add to growing concerns that many of the journalists caught up in the two-year inquiry have been the victims of ‘rough justice’.
Out of 32 arrests made under Operation Weeting, the original investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, just 15 have been charged.
On Friday, the paper’s former executive editor Neil Wallis was told he would not face any charges, after what he described as ‘21 months of hell’ since his arrest and bailing in July 2011.
Mr Grieve told the political figure that ‘the problem with these cases is that no one knows where they stand . . . everyone is in a legal limbo’, before saying he was worried about the personal toll the cases were taking. Mr Grieve said it raised issues over ‘the mechanics of justice’ – such as placing newspapers in a difficult position over what they are able to report without prejudicing potential future trials – and the effect on the individuals concerned.
Last night, a spokeswoman for Mr Grieve admitted he had made ‘general comments’ that ‘long investigations are inevitably stressful’, but stressed the nature of his responsibilities meant he would never comment on ongoing specific criminal investigations or proceedings.
She added: ‘The AG did not, and would not, comment on live criminal proceedings. That does not stop him making general observations.’
Last night Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said Mr Grieve’s opinions were ‘significant’. He said: ‘The police are spending an awful lot of money on this and they need to be sure they are spending it as wisely as possible, while limiting the amount of distress it causes to individuals.’
And leading human rights lawyer Lord Lester QC said: ‘If people are going to be placed under investigation, it must be carried out with efficiency and speed.’
Mr Grieve’s intervention comes amid growing disquiet at Westminster over the scale of the police investigations and the slow pace of their inquiries.
In total, 107 people have been arrested as part of Scot-land Yard’s wider inquiries into Fleet Street’s activities since the scandal first erupted, which also include Operation Elveden, covering illegal payments made to public officials, and Operation Tuleta, looking at computer hacking and privacy breaches.
Of the 107, only one person has been convicted, while 73 have been released on police bail, some for more than 18 months. The Metropolitan Police has devoted 185 officers and civilian staff to the investigations – 96 on Weeting, 70 on Elveden and 19 on Tuleta – and the work is expected to continue at least until 2015, at a cost of more than £40million.
Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said last night he was worried the investigations were becoming ‘a hammer with which to beat the press’. He said: ‘Some of the activities going on were undoubtedly egregious, but these investigations seem to be taking a long time and consuming a lot of resources when police budgets are under strain.’
The investigations have also raised concerns about the protection of whistleblowers. Earlier this month, Det Chief Insp April Casburn, an anti-terrorist detective, was jailed for 15 months for telling a news-paper about the progress of the phone hacking investigation, even though no money changed hands.
A second senior police officer, Chief Superintendent Andy Rowell, has been arrested on suspicion of passing information to a journalist, again even though no money is alleged to have changed hands, by detectives from Operation Elveden, originally set up to investigate allegations of bribes paid to police officers and other public officials.
Scotland Yard has confirmed it has escalated the Elveden inquiry to include non-financial contacts between journalists and officers. It comes as the House of Lords prepares to debate a Bill tomorrow which will create draconian penalties for newspapers that do not sign up to a new complaints arbiter.
Under an amendment to the Defamation Bill, newspapers that did not join could be punished by ruinous damages and costs.
The press might also be subject to exemplary damages if they failed to get prior approval on running contentious stories.
Three leading barristers, Lord Pannick, Desmond Browne and Antony White, argued last week that the threat of exemplary damages would violate Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
No 10 sources have indicated they ‘do not intend to allow the proposal to enter the statute book’ when the Bill returns to the Commons.”