Stourbridge MP and government minister Margot James had to deflect a call for news of progress on the holding of a second major ‘Leveson’ inquiry into high-level corruption involving national newspapers and police, just days before the Government announced it was shutting the inquiry down.
Responding to an Opposition Parliamentary question after a 14-month government delay in deciding whether the High Court judge-led ’Leveson 2’ inquiry should go ahead, Ms James (pictured above, top right) said a different Government-led review will focus on how the media can make money and survive in the new digital era, rather than ‘looking back’.
In a written answer on February 20, Ms James said that no final decision had been made on whether Leveson 2 is ‘appropriate, proportionate and in the public interest’.
She said that the Review of Press Sustainability in the UK announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in February will be ‘forward-looking as opposed to examining past practices, and will be looking at the challenges the press industry faces in monetising its online content and the implications for the sector’s sustainability.’
Just eight days later, on March 1, the Government announced it was abandoning the second part of the Leveson inquiry that would have investigated outstanding concerns about historic abuses of media power and police cover-ups.
Lord Leveson: ‘Govt has broken its promise to victims’
Ms James’ long-time ministerial colleague Matthew Hancock said in his statement to the House of Commons: “We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward.” There were cries of ’Shame!’ in the House of Commons when the decision was announced, reported observers.
He called for the inquiry to go ahead as soon as possible, insisting that ‘the full truth’ about the extent of unlawful behaviour at the UK’s tabloid newspapers is yet to be exposed.
Fierce resistance to Lord Leveson’s recommendation for deeper investigations into Press and police corruption allegations that emerged during his original landmark inquiry came from publishers of national newspapers, including a broadside from the Daily Telegraph on the day of Ms James’ statement.
Some publishers have been implicated in phone hacking of crime victims’ families and celebrities as well as making illegal payments to police and other public servants.
At the height of the scandal, the ‘News of the World’ Sunday paper was closed down by its publisher Rupert Murdoch after details of the hacking of murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile phone and those of many others were uncovered.
A separate Investigation led to the jailing of Mazher Mahmood, a journalist known as the ‘Fake Sheikh’ for his disguises while he worked for the News of the World and its successor the Sun on Sunday. Mahmood was found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, after many years specialising in the ‘entrapment’ of celebrities and their subsequent prosecution.
Black Country MP ‘among list that newspapers spied on’
Among the alleged victims of covert surveillance and intimidation by Mr Murdoch’s UK media operation was Margot James’ fellow Black Country MP Tom Watson (West Bromwich) who was said to have been targeted by private detectives. Mr Watson was a member of a committee of MPs that investigated the allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.
But it was a wave of public outrage caused by the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal that led the then Prime Minister David Cameron to set up the Leveson Inquiry with a promise to uncover how newspapers were operating.
The first Leveson inquiry also threw new light on long-running allegations of police and press collusion to cover up interference in a notorious 1980s murder case. Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who was brutally attacked with an axe in a South London pub car park amidst suspicions of extensive police corruption in the area.
The 1987 murder is now the most investigated unsolved murder in British legal history and is now into its fifth inquiry after earlier ones collapsed or were abandoned.
Before the shutdown of the Leveson 2 inquiry was publicly announced, Lord Leveson wrote to Mr Hancock: “I have no doubt that there is still a legitimate expectation on behalf of the public and, in particular, the alleged victims of phone hacking and other unlawful conduct, that there will be a full public examination of the circumstances that allowed that behaviour to develop and clear reassurances that nothing of the same scale could occur again: that is what they were promised.
“For the reasons given above, I do not believe that we are yet even near that position and would urge you to give further consideration to the need for at least the bulk of part two to be commenced as soon as possible.”
Lord Leveson added that while he could not preside over the second part himself because of his workload, he would be ‘very willing’ to help another chairman.
Hacked Off, a pressure group formed to campaign for the Leveson 2 inquiry with the support of past victims of phone hacking and others reacted angrily to the announcement. The group’s co-founder, journalist and academic Brian Cathcart, said: “Matthew Hancock’s announcement In the Commons gave the impression Lord Leveson himself wanted a more limited inquiry at most.
“In fact the judge wanted his follow-up inquiry widened to include examination of the role of IPSO (the media industry’s self-regulated watchdog body, the Independent Press Standards Organisation) which in 2014 succeeded its discredited predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission.
The full text of Sir Brian Leveson’s argument for continuing with a further inquiry – since deleted from the Home Office website – can be found here. Among the points he makes is: “The conviction of Mazher Mahmood also raises issues of an entirely different species of unlawful and improper conduct”
At the start of the year, Margot James was appointed Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries in the Department for Culture, Sport and Media. Ms James began her rise through the ranks of the Conservative party while she was still at university, working as a researcher for Sir Anthony Durant MP and after graduating spent a gap year in the press office of Conservative Central Office, according to her personal website profile.
Editorial note: text in bold in the above report indicates a link to source – click to connect. Links may open in another window.