Those of you reading The Slog’s intermittent comments about Judge Saunders, juries taking an inordinate amount of time to reach an obvious decision, and trials running three months overdue will have detected my emerging worries about what the verdict might be. Four days ago I wrote, ‘given a vast number of realities and obvious conclusions point very strongly to one particular verdict, it is hard to see why (for example) it took the Prosecution eight days to sum up, and the Defence eleven. Either way, judge John Saunders summing up – itself a week-long marathon – seems to have succeeded in confusing the Jury somewhat, because eleven days on white smoke is nowhere to be seen.’
But the headline to that piece – ‘Those who are above the law are rarely likely to ride in the Tumbril’ – turned out to be more apt than I could possibly have imagined.
So having given yesterday’s verdict the overnight, this morning I sit here in my motor home expressing a simple point of view: the verdict clearing Rebekah Brooks of all charges demonstrates one of four things: Either she’s innocent or British jurors can’t discern anything about anyone any more or the jury was sticking two fingers up to authority or the jury was nobbled. That seems to cover the full gamut of possibilities.
I don’t know Rebekah Brooks, but I know quite a few people who did at one time or another. Over the last five years I’ve spoken either over the phone or in person or on Skype to a selection of former employees, boyfriends, and folks who once counted her as a friend. I have also spoken to a policeman and one other person about her dealings with Boris Johnson. On that basis, there is no doubt in my mind that Ms Brooks is a very clever and focused person whose networking was far more organised and efficient than that of Andy Coulson. The best thing I can say about her involvement in phone hacking (if any) was that, it seems, on this occasion she must have acted completely out of character.
One thing I can assert, however, is that Ms Brooks is on video during a Parliamentary enquiry in I think 2008 openly admitting that she routinely corrupted policemen by offering them money for information. In that same sequence we see Coulson hastily intervening to cut her off from saying anything further of an incriminating nature. Draw the conclusions of your own ears and eyes…and then ask yourself if the jury was shown this tape.
As for Charlie Brooks, his defence bordered on one of insanity – and given his alleged attempt to drink copious amounts of poison for fun, I’m inclined to believe that the jury accepted this. That and his seeming obsessive compulsive disorder in relation to throwing laptops into wheelie-bins probably makes it a sound decision by the jury: the man is clearly unbalanced.
The second possibility strikes me as worthy of inclusion as a hypothesis, but it must remain that: you cannot prove either way whether twelve people know which way is up, or the difference between disappearing filing cabinets and pizza delivery boys. I favour this conclusion as having played a considerable role in the outcome, however, because I have witnessed the insouciant naivety of the average Brit so many times over the last decade, it is impossible to imagine any jury not containing at least one person fresh off the good ship Lollipop. However, we have to leave it at that fine old Scottish verdict Not Proven: juries are and always have been a lottery, but they are a necessary one. Far more distressing to me is the fact that these vegetables have the right to vote….but that’s another issue for another day.
The third observation – two fingers up to authority – is one favoured by close friends I have in three countries, but I don’t buy it. It’s possible of course that somehow someone found a dozen people equipped with common sense, a liking for pranks and a talent for satire, but that seems to me very doubtful. I think it reflects perhaps what most of my friends would’ve done had they been selected to the jury, but not much else.
The thing that stands against The Satirical Dozen conclusion is the nature of the verdicts, both in terms of their diametric character and selectivity. If you want to poke Cameron in the eye, you don’t clear one of his best mates. If you want to put a finger up the CPS’s nasal area, you don’t find the main defendant guilty. If you’re fed up of Newscorp-inspired plans to finger the BBC as a den of paedophile filth, you don’t clear the one person accused on several occasions in the past as having been a party to such plans. In this context, I think it will be interesting to see what the Rolf Harris verdict is. But I don’t think the jury was making an anti-Establishment point at the Old Bailey.
Finally, jury-nobbling. Newscorp has committed crimes far worse than that in the past (just ask the FBI), but even for these players the risks involved in jury-tampering would be too great for anyone of sound mind to consider. I agree we have already established that Charlie Brooks is potty, but I sincerely doubt whether such a peripheral player would have been invited to join any club that had such a course of action in mind, as he would pose not so much a risk as a certainty of discovery.
However, when it comes to this Cabinet and its contacts – and Rupert Murdoch in particular – nothing should be thought of as off-limits. Nobbling a jury is one thing: choosing it is another, planting provocateurs within it another still. No doubt various hacks on the liberal end of the media spectrum are investigating these possibilities as we speak. If I was to entertain anything like such an idea, my money would be on people protecting the risk to the Met police and the Conservative Party’s big beasts rather than any threat to the Murdoch empire.
As always, of course, you can judge people quite well by the company they seek. Louise Mensch is, we hear, “So happy for my friends Rebekah and Charlie, so sad for my friend Andy”. Ms Mensch (another example of a chancer one can see coming a mile off) is unique in political life because she not only cut short her singularly undemocratic career through selfishness, but also had the opposite reaction to yesterday’s partly-played out Old Bailey verdict when compared to every decent thinking Briton. Such latter folks would very probably have said ‘So disgusted that Rebekah and Charlie got off….so happy that Coulson will have to do a stretch”.
Piers Morgan and various other reptiles were quick to offer their congratulations. They must tonight be wondering joyfully if any jury now would convict them. In the case of the Romping Arse himself, only Paul McCartney holds the key to that one….but he has been less than forthcoming about what he knows.
Ultimately, the jury’s verdict is the jury’s verdict: the Brooks couple innocent, Coulson guilty. Man Rupert Murdoch no longer cares about guilty, woman with whom he is besotted and who knows key political burial sites innocent. It’s a hard one to figure out, and no mistake. But what’s done’s durned done: onward to the next dragon.