As a human being and a lawyer I have always prided myself as someone that is honest and values the truth. However I have recently gone through a process which has made me question my own morality and taught me the wisdom of truth.
Almost a decade ago I happened to be in a situation whereby I became privy to information which raised a red flag both legally and morally. At the time I didn't realise the extent of its significance and stored it away as a tale perhaps to be recounted one day in my memoirs or a fictionalised account of my experiences of the media world. When the phone-hacking scandal first raised its ugly head a few years ago I immediately had flashbacks to those events and alarms bells rang off as to their potential significance. But when the scandal seemed to blow over as quickly as it erupted I didn't give it much further thought.
However since the resurgence of 'hackgate' and the twists and turns and increasing revelations arising out of the Leveson Inquiry I have been increasingly uncomfortable about my knowledge and waged an internal battle as to whether or not I should speak up and place my head above the parapet.
The situation came to a head and six weeks ago led me to find myself huddled in a discreet café with Hugh Grant, Evan Harris of the Hacked Off campaign and Nick Davies of the Guardian in a scene that felt not dissimilar from a Richard Curtis film, apart from the fact that this was very much real life and no laughing matter.
I met with them in confidence to discuss the value of my evidence and frankly for them to persuade me to put my head above the parapet and give evidence to the Leveson Enquiry. As we sat and discussed the matter they all commented on how scared I was. I was on the verge of tears during our meeting. Even though I knew they could not compel me to give evidence and repeat my tale I was terrified of what I was getting myself involved in and the repercussions and vitriol from those much more powerful than me.
After a week of deliberation and soul searching I decided to give a statement to the Leveson Inquiry. For legal reasons, and as will become apparent as you read this blog I cannot comment further on the content of that statement.
Whilst I anxiously prepared myself for the possibility that I would be called as a witness we received a letter from the Leveson Inquiry stating they could not hear my evidence as they felt that some parts were pertinent to the criminal investigation and therefore the rest could not be utilised even in redacted form. At this point I had to make a decision. I could either voluntarily go to the police with the information or wait until the criminal investigation had progressed and for the possibility of being called via a witness summons to give evidence.
Against the advice of most of those close to me and in great personal discomfort I met with the officers from Operation Weeting and gave them a statement. The police considered the information I had relevant and important enough for them to take my statement but given the pace of developments neither I nor they know exactly how my evidence will eventually fit into the ever emerging jigsaw puzzle that is the criminal investigation. Whilst thanking me for my 'bravery' they said they needed more people to come forward as I had done in order for them to do their job properly and get to the bottom of this scandal and discover the truth.
I do not believe that my giving evidence was in anyway an act of bravery but it was the right thing to do and this post serves as an explanation of my actions and the moral process I have gone through in the last few months. My hope is it will trigger something in others and inspire them to follow suit.
Firstly I must make a confession. I am ashamed to admit that I remained silent to protect what I perceived were my own interests. I did not want to incur the wrath either of powerful organisations or individuals that have fame, power and gravitas and frankly could have been useful to me in my career.
However deep down I always knew not coming forward with the truth was as bad as telling a lie and finally came to the conclusion that through my inaction I almost put myself in the same category as those individuals actually involved in the hacking or other illegal activity. I haven't done anything illegal myself. But then neither did the German citizens in the 1930s who turned a blind eye when their one time neighbours and friends disappear when the Nazis first persecuted and then tried to exterminate European Jews. A brutal comparison, but the principle is the same.
We must all take responsibility for our behavior, including our inaction and the corresponding impact upon society in whatever form that takes. There are people in the media industry who are being dishonest about their involvement in various illegal activities highlighted by the Leveson Enquiry and are sacrificing others in the process. There are others who are not coming forward with information that they feel deep down could be relevant. The former fear the repercussions of the truth and the latter (rather like I did) are protecting what they perceive as their own interests at the expense of the greater good.
The former must know that no words are truer than the old saying, "do the crime and pay the time." Indeed this rhyme may have been behind their own reasoning when conducting illegal activities in order to 'expose' celebrities or other high profile individuals for activities which their newspaper considered 'crimes'. It is not so much a twist of irony as it the piercing of the sword of poetic justice if these individuals become the recipients of the very justice they attempted to administer and exposed for their crimes and made responsible for the ensuing repercussions. The difference perhaps being that this time it is done legally and for the genuine public interest, not for mere titillation.
Whilst the Leveson Inquiry may have been originally set up to investigate illegal and unethical media practices by certain (but by no means all) media organisations, what it has inadvertently exposed are the consequences of power struggles, personal agendas and egos clashing between powerful media organisations, politics and the very authorities that we the public rely on to administer justice. I believe the revelations we see now are only the tip of the iceberg of the true scale of corruption and destruction that has been left in its wake.
But we must be clear that what we are witnessing now is simply the effect of a disease that has plagued our society for years. A disease that allowed power rather than the truth to be the overriding concern of all those involved from media organisations to the Police to those in government. For all of whom it appears it was more important to keep on the right side of those whose favour they curried to serve their own ambitions than to abide by any sort of moral, and indeed in many cases legal, codes of conduct.
And let us not forget that the ripple effects from this disease are not only the illegal acts which go beyond invasions of privacy but also the many lives completely ruined -innocent people losing their livelihoods, relationships breaking down, ensuing addiction and other personal problems, even death.
In seeking to correct this deeply flawed, morally bankrupt situation we find ourselves in we need to deal with cause of this disease - ego, political, personal agendas and the never ending quest for power that causes people to abandon their morals, disregard the law and their fellow human beings all in the name of their personal ego trip. Until those that find themselves at the centre of power are either ousted or reform themselves then any findings or changes made as a result of these enquiries will be mere lip service. And in years to come we will find ourselves with new scandals will be a new version of the same old disease.
This is no easy solution but individual responsibility is as crucial as collective responsibility. Gandhi famously said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. This means different things for different people and I cannot help but feel that for those with potential evidence that means speaking to the right channels. Not doing so is an injustice.
As for me, well I have been through a moral and emotional rollercoaster, lost favour with some, gained respect from others and come to realise that neither is as important as having remembered who I really am and been truthful not only with others, but also with myself. Maybe I will find myself in court one day but now that I have come this far in my journey I do not fear that day if it comes. After all, if you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
Ambi Sitham is a lawyer, life coach and the author of The Laws of Love (represented by Sarah Williams at Ed Victor Agency).
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