Phone Hacking: The Guardian should hang its head in shame over its stance on a second Leveson inquiry


Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website Not chairing any new inquiry now


The Guardian is my old employer. It has a long and honourable tradition of fearless investigations which do not follow the rest of the pack. That included holding the media industry to account.

The decision this week to join the rest of the press pack and welcome the demise of Leveson 2 – the inquiry which would have taken a cold hard look at how mainstream media – in particular the News of the World and the Mirror – indulged in phone hacking and other nefarious practices  is profoundly disappointing.

It is even more so because one of the Guardian’s finest investigative reporters Nick Davies – now properly retired unlike me – exposed the practice in the  Milly Dowler case which triggered  the public exposure of the whole sordid business.

It is the spurious reasoning the paper has used to justify such action. The paper talked about looking forward rather than in the back view mirror as the main reason why it had decided to side with the Sun, the Murdoch empire and the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and Rupert Murdoch must be rubbing their hands with glee at their latest supporter, Kathy Viner, the editor in chief of the Guardian.

The inquiry would have made publicly accountable the top people who authorised such shameful practices which bring investigative journalism into disrepute  whether by hiring private investigators to blag, steal and phone hack anybody’s private life so long as they were a celeb or a Royal. More to feed the public’s voyeurism than in the public interest.

Worse, through this culture, they may have been with the Met police an accessory to  the horrific murder in 1987 of private investigator, Daniel Morgan – now at long last the subject  of a forensic independent panel inquiry under Baroness Nuala O’Loan , the former first Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. If the second Leveson inquiry had been launched, the independent panel report would have helped  inform Sir Brian Leveson in his difficult task.

The dropping of the inquiry has nothing to do with the future of press regulation – even though it is in the interest of newspaper proprietors and The Guardian to suggest it is. That is a separate matter.

If one followed the spurious logic of the Guardian – in simple don’t look back in anger – then it could have said in 1994 that the ” cash for questions” saga was also old hat -it was revealed 10 years after the event anyway- and there was no need for an expensive inquiry by Lord Nolan.

Yet because they did examine this historic scandal we now have a benchmark for MPs and ministerial behaviour and a permanent body – the Committee on Standards in Public Life- which can investigate new issues of propriety. It still as relevant today as in the 1990s.

The Leveson 2 inquiry could have provided something similar for the media and opened the debate on the way social media operates.

The  same logic would also suggest – as the Daily Mail and The Times already have – that there is no need for the present independent child sexual abuse inquiry – as that is just historic or why bother covering reports from the National Audit Office as they look back at past mistakes. It will be a very quick way of denuding the Guardian’s website and print editions.

My suspicion – and I have no knowledge – is that this decision is driven by commercial worries. Mainstream media is being sandwiched between the rise of social media giants Google and Facebook who are taking away their advertising – and the growing  popularity of websites and blogs – often with a right or left wing bias which attract a young readership.

Panic has led the mainstream media to rush to hang together and try and stop any further independent inquiry into their working practices. They should be careful – those who hang together could fall together. That is why the Guardian – a traditional dissident voice – should  hang its head in shame for what it now stands for.







Revealed: How The Metropolitan Police Covered-Up For Rupert Murdoch’s News International – Joe Public

This is an extremely important revelation by Bellingcat and Byline given that the Met Police have had at last to hand over huge numbers of documents to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel which is investigating his death. It suggests a wider conspiracy by the Met Police involving more people.
It is also good news that this is one of the first projects that has been ” crowd funded” by Byline showing the need for journalists to be given time and resources to investigate very serious scandals that are in the public interest.

Inforrm's Blog

Mazher-Mahmood-010A Bellingcat and Byline investigation can for the first time reveal Scotland Yard had intelligence Mazher Mahmood was corrupting police officers as far back as the summer of 2000.

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Alastair Morgan to @RupertMurdoch “You are in a unique position to help us finally lay Daniel to rest.”

This comes at a time when the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel , chaired by Baroness O’Loan has made a fresh appeal for people to come forward -particularly journalists – with fresh information which should be supported. No one should have such a hideous crime on their conscience.

The Criminal Media Nexus

1DMAM1Today, on the anniversary of his brother’s brutal murder in 1987, Alastair Morgan makes an impassioned appeal to Rupert Murdoch to fully co-operate with the Independent Panel Inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, chaired by Baroness O’Loan.

The full text of the letter Alastair just hand delivered to Rupert Murdoch is here . But the personal appeal towards the end is particularly striking:

The work of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel is almost entirely dependent on disclosure and I am appealing to you today – on the 28th anniversary of my brother’s murder – to ensure that News Corporation discloses all relevant material in confidence to the Panel.

Daniel’s murder, the police corruption and the ensuing years of failed investigations have been agony for the whole family. Daniel’s children have grown up without a father and my mother is now 86 years old. We need to know the truth about what…

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Revealed: How the Daniel Morgan Inquiry got nowhere for a year

Daniel Morgan: A lesson for other inquiries

Daniel Morgan: A lesson for other inquiries

While the future of the child sex abuse inquiry dominates the news agenda the media has missed an extraordinary dispute that plagued another independent inquiry – the investigation into the brutal murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan.

The independent panel also set up by home secretary, Theresa May, has until recently been deadlocked for almost a year because of a fractious argument between the retired judge appointed to run it and the panel member responsible for examining the police.

As I report on exaro news  the saga ended with both the chairman and the panel member resigning from the inquiry but nobody in the media noticed even though the murder of Daniel Morgan has been one of the most high-profile scandals for years.It involved allegations of corruption by the Met Police, dodgy involvement of the media, and a bloody killing.

Despite five police investigations into the case, nobody has been convicted for Daniel Morgan’s murder. The co-founder of a private-detective agency, Southern Investigations, he was found with an axe in his head in 1987 in the car park of a pub in south London..

The dispute is significant because it is relevant to the problems facing the child sex abuse inquiry – and crosses a fault line, that if not corrected by the Home Office, will make the work of future independent panels very difficult.

Surprisingly when I contacted both the retired judge who resigned, Sir Stanley Burnton, and the panel member, Graham Smith,from Manchester University, both were willing to talk.

Graham Smith couldn’t believe that no one wanted to know his views which were blunt to say the least. He said “The panel was behaving like a lot of Sherlock Holmes’s, and wanted to re-investigate the murder rather than research the documents”…. it was “like working for a judicial inquiry without the safeguards of being held in public”.

The judge, while not wanting to go into detail about his resignation, made it clear that he  didn’t want to negotiate by himself with Scotland Yard about handing over all the files, he nevertheless wanted to establish some rules just like judicial proceedings.

He wrote in an email:“A possibility was to emulate the manner in which claims for public-interest privilege are dealt with in litigation, when disputes as to relevance and disclosure are determined by the judge.”

“I would not regard the refusal of the other members of the panel to agree to such a machinery as a resignation issue.”

It turns out both of them have complained about their experience. Graham Smith has written a strongly worded memo to Theresa May and the retired judge has written to the  lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, about running independent inquiries.

So here’s the nub of it. Appoint a judge and it is likely he or she will want to run an inquiry rather like a court – taking advice from expert witnesses, sifting through information and writing his or her own report.

Appoint someone else to chair a panel and the atmosphere will be more collegiate and the panel will discuss issues and have an input into the final report which is what the child sex abuse inquiry was supposed to do.

Melding the two views of an inquiry together is very difficult  and requires great skill – and in some cases like the Daniel Morgan inquiry it won’t work and it falls apart. I am sure  Sir Stanley and Graham Smith are decent people – but the way the Home Office constructed the inquiry did not work.

Fortunately a new head and new people have now been appointed and the hope must be that the Daniel Morgan inquiry – which has a huge duty to the distraught Morgan family to find out what really happened – can now get on with the job.

But a valuable year has been lost and lessons need to be learned before a new person heads the child sex abuse inquiry.It points to not having a judge to chair it.

No Justice yet for Daniel Morgan

Scotland Yard: Dragging its feet Pic Credit: Wikipedia

Scotland Yard: Dragging its feet
Pic Credit: Wikipedia

This Christmas the long-suffering campaigner Alastair Morgan should  be seeing the proposed report into the alleged corrupt links between the Met Police, journalists on the News of the World and the undercover world of private investigators following the brutal murder of his brother, Daniel, some 27 years ago.

Theresa May, the home secretary, when she set up the inquiry in May 2013 promised it would aim to report by this Christmas.

But instead – partly thanks to enormous foot-dragging by the Met Police – the inquiry has barely begun.

As I reported last week on the Exaro website – it is only in the last few weeks – that the Met Police – has finally handed 50 crates of documents connected to this case. And we still do not know whether this  is everything or whether the documents are in good order.

It seems quite clear that the Met Police – which could face itself having to answer some very difficult questions when this report is published – has done everything to frustrate this inquiry going about its business.

This has wider significance since the inquiry is one of the innovative independent panels set up after the successful inquiry headed by Bishop James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, into the Hillsborough scandal.

This foot-dragging  by the Met raises questions about the powers such inquiries have – since it has no power to compel the Met Police to hand over anything and it looks like Cressida Dick, assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, took every opportunity to delay handing everything over.

It also  re-opens the issue whether the new overarching child sex abuse inquiry – which I return to in another blog later – will be able to do its job when demanding information from public bodies.

The murder of Morgan, co-founder of a private-detective agency, Southern Investigations, who was found with an axe in his head in 1987 in the car park of a pub in south London, was a scandal in itself. Despite five police investigations into the case, nobody has been convicted for the murder.

No wonder Alastair Morgan told Exaro: “It appears that the Met has been allowed to use every opportunity to obstruct and delay the process at every turn. I am sickened by such behaviour from a service funded by the public. It can only be described as disgraceful.

“I have little doubt that the Met will continue to try to obstruct and delay the work of the panel, without taking any account of the decades of pain and frustration that my family has suffered as a result of their failure to confront the corruption and criminality that seems endemic within their ranks.”

The Met themselves say it took so long because they had negotiate such  a detailed protocol to hand over the information. But I am not impressed.The whole idea of an independent panel is that it has its first duty is to families of people who have suffered gross injustices that the existing system has failed to bring to a proper resolution.

Plainly in the Daniel Morgan case this has not happened.

I can only hope that Nuala O’Loan, the replacement chair of the Daniel Morgan inquiry, who I am told is a formidable figure with a  tough reputation as the first Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland, gets a proper grip on this now the Met have handed over the files. She needs to get on with the job pronto.

Otherwise it will be a gross insult on top of a gross injury to Alastair Morgan and his family who have suffered far too much already.

Failure will also bring the whole system of independent panels into disrepute – so let’s see some action now.

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Debacle: Why it is important where we go next

Today (mon) home secretary Theresa May, will face a barrage of criticism in Parliament for her office’s failure to twice find a suitable person to chair the much needed historic child sex abuse inquiry

Losing not one chair but  two – Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf – because of potential conflicts of interest in a matter of weeks smacks of real incompetence by a department that should know better. it also caused severe embarrassment both to the people appointed and to the home secretary herself.

But I hope today is seen not just as an opportunity for ” yah boo” politics between Labour and the Tories but for a more reflective discussion of how we got here and what is needed to put it right.

What cannot be denied is that the home secretary did not entirely fulfil what she promised the ” magnificent seven ” MPs requested in drawing up the panel. True she did take on board their request for survivors on the panel – appointing two – Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project and Sharon Evans,  a former TV  presenter who runs a children’s charity.

But there – as far as I can find out – been no through consultation over the appointment of the two chairs of the panel involving the MPs – and there has also, to my surprise, been no internal consultation inside the home office. Frankly they should also have asked survivors groups BEFORE not AFTER the appointments.

It is probably not well-known but the home office has its own very small unit which can advise on the setting up of independent panels, who is appointed to them, and can interview suitable people to sit on them – or at least advise newly appointed secretaries to inquiries set up by other ministries on how to get going.

I understand this body was never consulted yet it can claim a track record of success. Its biggest achievement has been the Hillsborough Inquiry into the tragic deaths of Liverpool fans where it got a chairman, now the former bishop of Liverpool, to preside. None of those families of the fans would now say it didn’t get to the bottom of a grave injustice hidden for years.

Yet child abuse survivors might be surprised to know that it got the information without any statutory powers by ruthlessly pursuing the evidence and cajoling reluctant authorities to hand over  the information, including stuff that is now landing the South Yorkshire Constabulary in dire trouble.

It did have one duty  – and only one duty – to tell the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough Stadium first what it had found out. Once it had done this it published everything as fact – and set up of a train of events – now being shown by the inquest into Hillsborough.

It is also responsible for the current Daniel Morgan murder inquiry – where I suspect but do not know the same tussle is probably going on now.

Now many of the survivors seem to want a statutory inquiry which can compel people to attend, give information,  force people to confess to crimes, with grand public hearings and a very detailed terms of reference. Be careful what you wish for.

Superficially it sounds great but there are drawbacks to this approach. Terms of reference need to be nebulous rather than specific so the panel cannot be stopped following the facts wherever it takes them – and given the wide sweep of institutions involved it needs to go to places we may not have even thought about.

Second yes statutory power sound great but there is one drawback – I am told it allows lawyers representing anybody or organisation accused by survivors to demand the status of ” an interested party”. That means anything you tell them could go straight back to their lawyers before the inquiry even reports.

If it is non statutory there is no obligation whatever to tell them anything – and their lawyers have no right to find out.

If it follows what happened in Hillsborough and in Daniel Morgan – the families are centre stage. In this case, it means the survivors are centre stage – the panel is obliged to you, you are not obliged to the panel. This means you will know first what the findings are – not the armed forces, the security services, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the councils, the police, schools or any other body that allowed you to be abused.

Finally I hope the panel can tell you whether they have obtained a freezing  or preservation order on all documents listing evidence or allegations of child sexual abuse. Whitehall permanent secretaries have a superb meeting and network facility – and could send out letters now banning the destruction of all documents. I would expect the Church of England – after Archbishop Welby’s words last week to do the same.

And as for a chair – whoever is appointed faces the risk of ” guilty by association ” if they worked in any organisation because of the widespread nature of child sexual abuse. It just depends on how guilty the association is and the Home Office needs to do a  better job of finding this out.

Met Police chief moved out of child sex abuse investigation

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle, the head of the paedophile unit, has been taken off  Operation Fernbridge, the  historic sex abuse investigation centred on Elm Guest House in Barnes and the London borough of Richmond’s children’s services.

A report by  my colleagues on Exaro news reveals that this appears to be part of a  shake up of police operations in the badly staffed paedophile unit which has now seen the number of officers investigating cases rise from seven to twenty two.

Reports suggest he is on sick leave as the operation has come under pressure after two MPs complained about the way it had handled one case and also how much information it gave to the Crown prosecution Service over another case. These two disclosures on Exaro led in the latter case to the reinstatement of charges against one of the people facing a trial next February on alleged sexual abuse in Richmond.

A detective sergeant in the paedophile unit, which is based in the Empress State Building in Earl’s Court, west London, has taken over the Met’s investigations into historical allegations against MPs and other VIPs. These include ‘Operation Fernbridge’, which was sparked by Exaro and began nearly two years ago – amid strict secrecy – with an investigation into activities at Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.

The investigations also cover ‘Operation Cayacos’, which is looking into claims of a paedophile ring linked to politicians after Tom Watson, Labour MP, raised the issue in Parliament.

All these changes suggest the Met is facing a tough time handling these cases at the moment.

Before Settle was appointed to the paedophile unit, he had been a staff officer to John Yates, who oversaw one of the operations revisiting the murder of private investigator, Daniel Morgan and headed the “cash for honours” investigation into the Labour administration under Tony Blair.

Settle, then a detective sergeant, was also an investigating officer on  Operation Abelard II, which probed the axe murder of Daniel Morgan. The handling of the murder case by the police and press is now being investigated by an independent panel set up by the Home Office.

The Met are declining to comment about the move of Settle from the paedophile unit investigation.