15 May 2012

Rebekah Brooks and the lessons of Watergate

Not the hacking of Millie Dowler‘s phone. Not even the allegation that someone may even have deleted several of her messages. No, today’s charges by the CPS against Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, the current head of security at News International, and others, are allegations of cover-up.

The charges are about an alleged conspiracy last year to remove or conceal documents, computers and so on – not the vast ramifications of the alleged hacking crimes that have so filled the web, the newscasts and the papers for the past several years. Obviously, legal proceedings will now take their course, and the Brooks have already released a statement deploring the “weak and unjust” action by the CPS.

As a general point, it is interesting, isn’t it, that it can be what happened after a legal issue is raised that then triggers consequences as significant, if not more so, than the original allegation.

I am minded of what may be learned from the lessons of Watergate, one of the most extreme examples. A small break-in at an apartment in Washington’s Watergate complex, orchestrated by Republican operatives. The fundamentals of the case were not about trying to steal the Democrat’s secrets, but about the cover-up that followed.

Alas the man who might have talked about it all most eloquently was Chuck Colson, one of the conspirators, and the “hatchet man” for Richard Nixon. But I’m afraid he died last month. Colson? Sounds familiar? Where have we heard that name before? Ah, that’s Coulson… Quite another story.

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