The Chasing The Story panel event at this year's Harrogate Crime Festival ended with a bang as the issue of phone hacking was tackled by a panel of journalist-authors.
The event, chaired by Daily Mirror journalist and crime author Henry Sutton, included fearless true crime writer Tony Tompson, ex-rock journo turned author Stav Sherez, spy novelist Charles Cumming – who fervently denied that he served in MI6 – and acclaimed one-time-journalist-now-novelist Belinda Bauer.
Their discussions ranged across such subjects as the extent to which novelists can extend beyond the 'reality' that journalists must report – "If you were true to reality, it would be boring," said Cumming – and how journalistic training can benefit the novelists in terms of deadlines, concision and becoming thick-skinned, but it was in the last 20 minutes of the event that things took on a topical turn.
Prompted by a member of the audience asking about the panel's views on phone hacking, the authors broadly came out in defence of News International. Cumming admitted that: "I expect journalists to behave like that," adding that although he found the Milly Dowler hacking abhorent, "There's a great bit of schadenfreude going on. I think it's gone to far." Thompson concurred with him, alleging that he had known of several journalists over the years who had paid envelopes of cash to the police.
Belinda Bauer went further still. "Down the years I feel there have been contraventions that surpassed this hundredfold," she said. "I value truth more highly than privacy."
Perhaps Bauer's view was simply reiterating the point made throughout the talk, that both journalists and authors are souls in search of the truth. But it seems unlikely that we will soon be hearing of authors hacking phones.