Stourbridge MP Margot James’ renewed support for the Government’s opposition to tougher Press standards and obligations in England was publicly challenged by a Conservative-supporting victim of the notorious News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
After Ms James Tweeted a link to an article in Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London newspaper that warned of the risks to the ‘Free Press’ by making it more liable to costs in court, one-time international fashion industry high flyer Mary-Ellen Field responded: ‘I am a phone hacking victim. What about me?’
Ms Field, the former power behind the business empire of Australian supermodel Elle McPherson, gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry into media standards after she fell under suspicion as the source of gossip stories about McPherson that appeared in British tabloid newspapers. Ultimately she lost her contract.
According to newspaper reports, it eventually emerged that the probable source of the stories was voicemails that had been hacked ‘on the behest of the News of the World’. Lord Leveson himself told her she had suffered ‘the collateral damage of what somebody else did to the person for whom you worked’.
Ms Field said in her Twitter replies to Ms James: “I refused Murdoch’s offer of £40,000 in June 2011. On 10/10/12 NGN (News Group Newspapers) told the court they’d accidentally destroyed the evidence.’
Then, after Ms Field gave her evidence to the Leveson inquiry, she claims: “Murdoch got a costs order against me and has a charge on my home.”
Digital Minister Margot James has twice personally led the Government’s pro-Press resistance in the House of Commons to Lord Leveson’s recommendations that alleged victims should have greater redress.
Her latest intervention came the day before Parliament was due to again debate Data Protection concerns (May 9 2018) arising from the Leveson 2 actions promised by former Prime Minister David Cameron, amid signs that parliamentary support for the repealing of media responsibility for the costs of media watchdog-approved actions over press abuse is waning.
Linking to The Times article written by her fellow MP Tom Tugendhat, Ms James Tweeted: ‘We must not take a hammer to journalism. A free press is vital to process of holding those in power to account. Proposals that force newspapers to pay the costs of litigants, whether they win or lose, will undermine our free press.” Unusually, the article is free-to-read online and not restricted behind The Times’ subscriber-only paywall.
In a third Tweet reply to Ms James, Ms Field – a member of the top Conservative members establishment, the Carlton Club in London – said: “I will never get justice because the Party I supported all my life puts the rights of Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre (editor of the Daily Mail) etc above those of the ‘nobody’ victims. Matt Hancock (DCMS Minister), Tom Tugendhat and Margot James believe I have no rights.”
The full story of Mary-Ellen Field’s troubling experience of Press hacking is detailed in a lengthy interview published in the Australian newspaper, The Age – it can be viewed here.
West Bromwich MP Tom Watson has backed a call by fellow hacking victim and actor Hugh Grant for the Government to press ahead with Leveson 2 and also impose the new financial responsibilities for newspapers to observe.
At the time of publishing this story, Ms James has not responded publicly to Mary-Ellen Field’s assertions.