Home Hacking Panicky, scared and unsure who to trust: that’s how being phone hacked makes you feel | Jacqui Hames

Panicky, scared and unsure who to trust: that’s how being phone hacked makes you feel | Jacqui Hames

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I suspect that as you are reading this, your mobile phone is somewhere close by. If it is, scroll through your messages and read or listen to the content.

Now read or listen to them again through the lens of a tabloid journalist – out of context – looking for a story, looking for clues as to your whereabouts, activities, associations, relationships, private thoughts, feelings, opinions, arguments, arrangements. Has someone implicated you in something? What story could they possibly be writing? What could be misconstrued, misinterpreted, manipulated.

Welcome to the world of a phone-hacking victim.

At best, it is uncomfortable, annoying; you may feel irritated or even angry. At worst, your hands are shaking, possibly sweating, heart beating faster, breathing getting shallower and faster, your mind is racing as panic takes hold. You feel sick, overwhelmed, scared. As time goes by, you reflect on the implications for you, your family, friends, work, and become hyper-vigilant about whom you message, what you say, whom you trust. Could you live like that? I did.

My involvement in phone hacking came as a result of a murder that my ex-husband, a police detective, was investigating – the murder of a private investigator, Daniel Morgan. In summary, in 2002 journalists working at the News of the World decided to put us under surveillance, intrude into our lives and, as it turned out later, hack our phones.

In May 2011, police officers informed me that my personal details, including phone numbers and addresses old and new, had been found in the notebooks of Glenn Mulcaire, by then notorious as a private investigator who hacked voicemails for the News of the World. These notes revealed much more about the scale of the paper’s intrusion into my life than was known back in 2002.

As revelations about how industrial-scale phone hacking by the tabloid press hit the headlines, I went cold. Had my personal messages been listened to? I had worked for two years on a confidential inquiry before leaving my job at the Metropolitan police; the security implications alone were worrying.

It is unsurprising to those of us who have followed the phone-hacking scandal to learn that the Daily Mail has become the latest newspaper (the seventh, by my count) to face claims of phone hacking.

But the scandal has grown so massive, and so multifaceted, that it is easy to forget the lives left damaged in its wake and the sheer cost, personal and financial. Millions in court costs – possibly over £1bn incurred by News UK, Mirror Group and other newspaper owners. You have to wonder what their shareholders think of that.

Then there is the collusion between newspapers and politicians, which contributed to the scandal remaining hidden for so long and could explain, despite cross-party agreement, the backtracking by the government on press regulatory reform and the cancelling of the second part of the Leveson inquiry, which would have explored the criminal aspects of phone hacking, including the extent of corruption across the press, politics and the police.

The political and official wrangling goes on, but this week’s hacking claim by the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and last week’s news of a list of famous figures launching legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over the alleged misuse of their private information – including an accusation relating to the placing of listening devices in private homes – rightly turned the focus once again on to the victims of the alleged wrongdoing.

Because alongside Sir Elton John, Prince Harry and others was Doreen Lawrence – the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in 1993. In 1997, the Mail publicly accused a group of men of Stephen’s murder, and ever since then the paper and its former editor Paul Dacre have made a virtue of that coverage as evidence of reporting in the public interest.

The allegations made by Lady Lawrence (and the other claimants) include a range of illegal activity, all of which has been denied by Associated Newspapers Limited, publishers of the Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnline. However these claims progress, the fact that Lady Lawrence is among the claimants – an ordinary person thrown into the public eye after a tragic event – serves as a timely reminder that this alleged wrongdoing has affected all kinds of people, like me, from all walks of life.

The fact is, there will be no real justice for the victims of press illegality until the Leveson inquiry is allowed to finish its work and the second part goes ahead. Many victims have not had the chance to tell their stories, having been silenced by complex legal strategies that have robbed them of their day in court, by governments that have done the bidding of the largest newspapers groups, and by cover-up after cover-up.

The Conservative government has decided whose side it is on, and has so far refused to reopen the inquiry (in contrast to the policies of most other major political parties). But should Lady Lawrence’s and the other claimants’ actions succeed, we may well reach another tipping point; Leveson part two may become inevitable. Some will relish the prospect of the Mail facing scrutiny in the courts, but it is Leveson, the public inquiry, that would be most likely to have a truly transformative effect on the press – both for the good of our society and for us victims.

This scandal has rolled on for over a decade now and shows no signs of abating. It touches our country’s most powerful institutions – press, government and police. The separation and independence of these powers has historically been intrinsic to the success of democracy and to the ability of people like me and other victims of phone hacking and media abuse to have a voice, to get justice and to live free of the unwanted, unwarranted intrusion that ruins lives.

Jacqui Hames is a press regulation reform campaigner and victim of phone hacking

Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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