Has there been a failure by the Metropolitan Police to properly investigate alleged criminal activity by those working for the mainstream media?
This question has been around for a long time, but it looked as if it was to linger until we all forgot about it.
It was a question raised by the circumstances around the prosecution of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire.
It is also the subject of a spirited libel case currently being brought by solicitor Mark Lewis (and click there for relevant links into the PCC "activity" on the matter).
But, until last night, it looked as if the question was not really going anywhere, unless Mark Lewis's case got to a substantive hearing.
However, in a detailed article which must be read by anyone with an interest in police conduct and media activities, the New York Times has revived the question and has sought to substantiate it with supporting material.
Much of this material is from anonymous sources and not open to verification.
The Guardian has picked up the story, though it is focusing on the particular role of Andy Coulson.
(It is a feature of UK political culture that any political problem needs to be personalised before anyone will report it and anyone will want to read it, and so this is one reason why we have staggering wider abuses whilst many get flustered about duckhouses and junior ministerial special advisers.)
Serious allegations always just remain allegations; and so a due process needs to be followed in investigating them: a process fair to those involved, but also a process open to public scrutiny.
As the New York Times allegations go to the relationship between the police and the press, it is not appropriate or possible that it should just be left to their respective supervisory bodies (even if one had any confidence in such bodies).
There instead needs to be an open judicial inquiry, and the Deputy Prime Minister (a Liberal Democrat) and the Home Secretary (a Conservative) should appoint one immediately.
Public confidence in the press and the police is crucial to a modern liberal and democratic society; any without an inquiry into these serious allegations, it is difficult to see how such confidence can exist.
No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.