It took almost exactly two years for the story to unravel. For the first 18 months not very much happened. The police added two more cursory investigations to their original inadequate probe in 2006. Parliament did its best, and some individual MPs did very well indeed. But it struggled to flush out the truth. Politicians, from prime ministers down, have since admitted to everything from pragmatism to fear as an explanation for their inaction or general complicity. The regulator produced a lamentable report which betrayed an inability, or lack of will, in getting at the truth.  And, with some notable exceptions, much of the media showed little initial inclination to shine a bright light on a particularly glaring abuse of power. The normal checks and balances in civil society didn't work.Those 18 months were telling – because the only reason the full story came out at all was down to a free press.  I'll be immodest enough to single out Nick Davies and the Guardian as the single most important force in ensuring that so much was eventually uncovered. Other journalists, in time, joined in. And what these reporters did – peel away at the evidence; accumulate facts; ask questions; cultivate sources; look at documents; talk to people who were involved; win trust; ignore threats; verify information; report accurately – is as good an illustration as you could have for the importance of a free press.It's for others to answer the question about the dogs that didn't bark: why other institutions in our society didn't function effectively over 18 months. But the saga tells you much about the need for an institution, an estate, a profession, a trade – we'll probably never quite agree what to call it – that exists independently of the other main centres of power in society