Real-life hacks beware: police hope to press charges soon

But with the welter of celebrity evidence and now a TV satire, can anyone hope for a fair trial?

Column LAST UPDATED AT 07:39 ON Tue 3 Jan 2012

CHARGES could be laid early this year over the hacking scandal at News International, despite fears that the plethora of investigations into the journalistic law-breaking threaten to cause long delays in the justice system.

Sixteen executives and journalists with links to News International have been arrested by the Met investigation team codenamed Operation Weeting. Charges were expected to be made in the autumn but as more scandals were uncovered, progress was delayed.

Word has reached the Mole from sources at the Met that despite the delays, progress in pressing charges against some of those involved may soon be resumed. "We believe we will be able to proceed with charges in the New Year," said a police source.

Those arrested so far include Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor and spin doctor in chief to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Stuart Kuttner, the former NotW managing editor.

There are three other separate investigations into phone hacking in addition to Operation Weeting: the Commons culture committee which questioned Rupert Murdoch and his son, James - an event Murdoch Snr called "the most humble day of my life"; the Leveson commission of inquiry which has been questioning celebrities under oath; and a long-term review by the Press Complaints Commission set in train by the hapless Baroness Buscombe before being replaced by former Tory Cabinet minister Lord (David) Hunt.

A fifth inquiry - codenamed Operation Tuleta by the Met - threatens to open up an even bigger can of worms with evidence of hacking into computers including Gordon Brown's e-mails when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have around 20 computers which were seized as part of their inquiries and according to Monday's Independent believe it could involve as many victims as the 6,000 or so involved in phone-hacking.

Waiting until all the loose ends are tied up and the Leveson inquiry is completed before proceeding with charges would potentially put back justice for at least another year, if not longer. The police are confident that they can move forward, while the other inquiries are continuing. However, there is a risk.

It could be argued by the defence teams - when the trials finally begin - that none of the defendants will get a fair hearing, because of the way that all the incriminating evidence has already been spewed out in public by the celebrity victims, and, of course, the parents of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by NotW investigators.

Just for good measure, Channel Four broadcast Hacks at the weekend - a spoof of life on a Sunday newspaper, called the Comet, where hacking and blagging (impersonating celebrities to get private documents) was the norm. Written by Guy Jenkin, one of the writers of the 1990s hit Drop the Dead Donkey, it was so thinly veiled it could give more ammunition to the defence in claiming their clients cannot get a fair hearing.

It featured a James Murdoch lookalike as the son of an Aussie-born media mogul with a Chinese wife who hammered a protestor at a select committee hearing into a bloody pulp with a high-heel stiletto. You couldn't hope for a better example of art imitating life.

In this case, real life beat the satire, but the Mole is willing to bet that Ed Miliband won't resist making use of the name of the smarmy Tory leader who kow-towed to the Murdoch character. He was called David Bullingdon. ·