As a former Sun editor, I didn’t see why voicemail hacking bothered celebrities – until it happened to me
It was the kind of building George Smiley would have been happy to call home. Anonymous and bleak, it’s the home of Operation Weeting, where 60 officers flog themselves to death every day in the biggest Scotland Yard inquiry in anyone’s memory. I am here by appointment. A charming woman detective has called me a couple of times — when you are a former tabloid editor that’s worrying in itself — and asked me to drop by ‘at my convenience’ to look at the fact that my name and mobile number had been found in the paperwork of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
At reception I ask for the detective. The receptionist asks if I am Kelvin MacKenzie. My experience over the years is not to own up to that question too quickly — especially in the Merseyside area. After some hesitation I admit I am MacKenzie and he asks me to call a number scribbled on a scrap of paper. I ring the mobile and it’s answered by a detective sergeant. The sergeant says he will be right down. I had hardly clicked off when the lift door opened and out stepped a friendly chap in his late forties who also asked me if I was Kelvin MacKenzie. Surely I am not being charged with being Kelvin MacKenzie?
He turned out to be considerably further up the rozzers’ ladder.A detective chief superintendent, no less. He was then joined by the younger sergeant. I’ve seen this movie… good cop, bad cop. I know their game.
We went into a large empty room where the sergeant produced a tatty binder with my name down the side. By this time I was beginning to sweat. At that moment I would have even coughed to voting for Blair in 1997. There was a dramatic pause as the sergeant opened up the binder. Sheet one had my name on it with a number by the side. Was it mine? Yes it was. The next page was more interesting. It had the pin code used to access my phone’s voicemails. Up to this moment I had always believed that the pin codes of mobiles were 0000 or 1111 and that’s why it was so easy to crack. But no. In my case it was something like 367549V27418. That surely must kill the idea that the hackers guessed or blagged the number — they must have had inside help from the phone networks.
And then with a flourish we came to the final page. This was the one that mattered. There were six dates in the spring of 2006, each showing the time and duration of my phone being hacked. One of them was three minutes long, the rest much shorter.
For the first time I felt uneasy. If you have been editor of the Sun for 12 years, if you have floated and run a public company as founder, chairman and chief executive, very little worries or concerns you any more; your nerve endings have become encased in cement. But oddly I felt quite threatened by this invasion and understood more clearly why celebrities — no matter if they were A or Z listers — felt they had been violated. You see, there are three sides to this triangle and it’s the last side where the money and the hurt lies.
Side one is the name and mobile number. Side two is the actual hacking of the voicemail. Side three is information gained from the voicemail that has a value to the media.
The helpful and intelligent officers wanted to know if there was anything published around that time which came as a surprise because of its private nature. It was five years ago and I simply couldn’t remember but I doubted it: I am sub-Kerry Katona in showbiz terms. The only possible interest at that time was I was going through my divorce. Tabloid editor divorces — is that a story? After an hour it was time to leave and I asked if I could have a copy of the notes but was told that if I needed them for a civil action, then I would have to go through Scotland Yard.
In any event, I won’t be taking News International’s money. That would be a betrayal of the many happy years I spent there, plus I have a sense that to pocket the cash — and one lawyer was anxious for me to know that it would be tax free, always attractive — would be to indicate I thought Rupert Murdoch would ever have turned a blind eye to the hackings.
I have an advantage over you. I know Rupert Murdoch and I know he would have gone ballistic at the very thought of such actions. At 81 he may be old but he’s not daft. I should be so daft.
Still, I do reflect that in those 60 minutes I spent with the two police officers by Putney Bridge that my previous hostile attitude to the hacked stars had changed forever. As has my pin number.