British Tabloids in Action

11.30.12 8:45 PM ET

Leading figures in the British media, from Rupert Murdoch on down, are suspected of connivance or worse in the illegal acts of the British tabloid press. Two senior Murdoch employees, Rebecca Brooks (former CEO of News of the World) and Andy Coulson (the paper's former editor) face criminal charges. Yet many British people doubt that justice will be done.

Whenever I encounter this kind of skepticism from British friends, I think back to a defining paragraph from a book published four decades ago, Auberon Waugh's account of the trial of former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, The Last Word.

Thorpe was acquitted of all wrongdoing, and here is what Waugh had to say about that acquittal in the introduction to his book.

[A] large number of people, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Avon and Somerset Police and many others, were prepared to entertain the bizarre notion, at some stage, that Thorpe might be guilty. I have to confess that I was among their number. It was this erroneous idea which explains my early interest in what became known as the Scott affair, and my decision to write this book about the trial. It may be read, if people people choose, as a gesture of atonement for ever having entertained the silly idea that a Privy Councillor, an MP, an Old Etonian, a barrister, a friend of prime ministers, archbishops and high officials, a former client of Lord Goodman, could ever be found guilty of conspiring to murder a homosexual male model of lower-middle class background and doubtful record.

So it may yet be for the various lofty individuals suspected of having humiliated and abused private citizens in order to bulk the circulations of the British tabloids.