Government narrowly defeat plan for new Leveson inquiry after deal with DUP

Lord-Justice-Leveson

Lord Justice Leveson ; Pic courtesy Leveson Inquiry website

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UPDATE: Government defeated the Leveson2  inquiry by nine votes 304-295 . There were five Tory rebels. The nine DUP  MPs supported the government after they were offered a new press watchdog for Northern Ireland. The one independent Northern Ireland MP, Lady Hermon voted with Labour.

Five Tories voted with Labour – they were Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve ( former attorney general), Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone and Crispin Blunt.

One Labour MP John Grogan voted with the government to block Leveson 2.

Parliament will decide today whether a second Leveson inquiry  should go ahead and on new rules that would strengthen the role of press regulator Impress and force compulsory arbitration in libel cases.

Voting in the Commons on both motions is on a knife edge with  literally the decision being made on who turns up and whether very active campaigns by  mainstream media moguls or Hacked Off can convince wavering MPs.

Theresa May has staked her reputation on protecting Murdoch and Dacre from a second Leveson inquiry into malpractices by the media and scrapping the section which would have forced compulsory arbitration. At the Westminster  Correspondents Dinner she promised lobby journalists that ” very good news” was coming to help the media moguls avoid further scrutiny into their practices.

But her failure to control Parliament has put both promises at risk- hence the frenzied campaign  in the media to protect press freedom by media bosses who do not want some of the dark practices subject to forensic examination by Lord Leveson.

There are two motions today – one by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory rebel Kenneth Clarke – aims to reinstate Leveson 2 after a Commons committee overturned a Lords resolution to hold the inquiry.

The second by Tom Watson, Labour deputy’s leader and long time campaigner against the Murdoch press, would implement the changes promised to force compulsory arbitration in libel cases – making court cases very expensive for the media even if they won.

The first motion stands the best chance of passing with guaranteed support from a number of Tory rebels, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the sole Green MP, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists. Nobody seems sure how the DUP will vote.

This alliance is however dependent on everybody turning up and solid support among all the groups.

There was signs at the weekend  that media moguls had changed  tactics and were trying to persuade some Labour MPs not to back Ed Miliband’s motion and the one strengthening Impress-and suggesting this would go down very well in the mainstream media who might look favourably on covering some of the issues  these Labour MPs might want to take up. A senior Labour source told me : ” They (the Labour MPs) are trying to curry favour with the mass media”.

Labour whips have been alerted to this but some Labour MPs are playing their cards very close to their chests and trying to hide their proposed support. You can be sure there will be very active work done by Labour this morning to try and root them out.

The other problem  that could scupper a  defeat for the government will be if not all MPs turn up. Here the SNP with 35 MPs are a key group – but not all of them turn up if they have pressing business in Scotland. A  ” no show” by just a few in this group would have a big effect on the vote.

So today’s decision will depend on the capricious nature of MPs in Parliament – and how much priority they put into defeating the government over this issue.

 

 

 

 

NewsPics : High Court orders company to be wound up and receiver to be appointed

NewsPics, the company run by photographer Matt Sprake and his wife, is to be wound up after it failed to pay Exaro and my legal costs now totalling £24,000.  The decision was taken by a registrar in the High Court yesterday. There is a full report on the Exaro News website and  an item in the Guardian Diary about the present situation. A receiver will be appointed in due course to distribute the firm’s assets.

There is also a report on the UK Press Gazette site of the hearing.

The Mail maketh Miliband

A loving father and son: Ed and Ralph Miliband.

A loving father and son: Ed and Ralph Miliband.

The Daily Mail has achieved something that Labour activists could only dream about. Their ill-judged headline on Ed Miliband’s dad, Ralph Miliband, for hating Britain has enabled the Labour leader, to turn a potential weakness into a great strength.
For all his abilities one of Miliband’s great problems in presenting his image to the great British public is that he appears to be a geek. He is the sort of guy that you might think is too bookish and too engrossed in detail (penalty for being an ex special adviser to Gordon Brown) to be a natural born Prime Minister.
But in one fell swoop Paul Dacre has turned a geek into someone who practically the entire nation can empathise and understand. He has made him all too human.
What person in Britain does not understand the natural love to defend one’s dad -particularly if he can’t answer back beyond the grave. What person doesn’t know the natural love between father and son – even if they disagree over politics and football teams.
The Mail’s mess has allowed Miliband to transcend party politics and for people who don’t take any interest in political matters – to remember one thing , he is the sort of guy who stands up for his dad.
I am sure Ed Miliband never would have wanted this in the first place – and certainly wouldn’t even think of exploiting it politically. But the result is that Paul Dacre has achieved the exact opposite of what he wanted and it serves him right.
One can scarcely believe the ineptitude of the next event. The Mail on Sunday is caught going to a private memorial service for Ed Miliband’s uncle to gather more dirt on Ralph Miliband.
What editor would be daft enough a- a week before the highly sensitive decision on a successor to the Press Complaints Commission – to allow his paper to engage in activities that the general public would find distasteful and abhorrent. No wonder apologies were offered – but the probable effect – unless Cameron is completely foolhardy – is that the alternative regime to Leveson is now dead in the water.
Even though this is not directly about press regulation – it will be seen that papers have not learned any lessons.
And with the potential for more striking revelations at the end of the month when the trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson starts over the phone hacking scandal, the situation for an embattled media can only get worse.

Judge throws out £30,000 copyright claim against this website

A deputy district judge has summarily dismissed a claim against this website and Exaro News claiming over £80,000 for publishing two pictures to illustrate the activities of a former Met Police photographer who ran an agency that publicly offered to pay thousands of pounds to public officials for stories on celebrities.
The court findings and background to the story is published on the Exaro website today
The case was brought by Newspics Ltd, the company owned by Matt Sprake, an ex police photographer who works for a number of national newspapers.
For bloggers the ruling by district court judge Stuart Quin at Milton Keynes County Court is interesting since he accepted the case brought by Exaro’s lawyers.Vertex Law,who argued that publication of the pictures amounted to what is called “fair dealing.”
This allows copyright to be waived whoever owns it if the pictures are used to illustrate a story and can be seen to be relevant to the story and in the public interest. This could be significant for bloggers who want to illustrate public figures in a story which is a matter of public interest whoever owns the copyright.
Mr Sprake who denies paying anybody was also summoned by Lord Leveson to give evidence to his inquiry into the press use of undercover work and invasion of privacy.
Mr Sprake claimed Exaro and this website had obtained the pictures from private sources. Exaro argued that this was not the case as the pictures were in the public domain.
The original story is on the Exaro website and on this blog. The pictures which showed Mr Sprake dressed in full photographer’s gear after the bombing in Canary Wharf in 1996 and sitting in the PM’s chair in the Cabinet Room at Number Ten Downing Street were used to illustrate his claims on his website. This said NewsPics advertised a menu of services under the label “surveillance photography”, claiming: “You can utilise the very same skills that are used by the security services and the police.”

UPDATE:October 25 Milton Keynes County Court have now awarded default costs against Newspics, the company owned by Matt Sprake and his wife, for £23,599.39 so Exaro News and myself can recover legal costs. He has 14 days to pay.

Leveson, “secret arrests” and the rights of suspects: a question of balance – Hugh Tomlinson QC

This is the alternative view by media barrister Hugh Tomlinson,QC to my piece on why APCO should tighten its guidelines on releasing the names of those arrested.I put it up for debate for those who are interested.

Inforrm's Blog

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Mail on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph are alarmed about ‘secret arrests’ – which, as usual, they blame on Lord Justice Leveson.  The complaint concerns proposed new guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers under which “forces will be banned from confirming the names of suspects”. The Mail calls it “a chilling new threat to the right to know” and holds out the prospect of people being swept off the streets in the manner of North Korea and Zimbabwe. The Telegraph says that critics are condemning the proposal as an attack on open justice.

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Why a dangerous police chief ban on announcing arrests will be an own goal for justice

 Suspects arrested  already in former Elm Tree Guest House investigation  Pic courtesy: Exaro

Suspects arrested already in former Elm Tree Guest House investigation Pic courtesy: Exaro

A furore has broken out rightly on  daft and dangerous proposals by the Association of  Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to refuse to release the names of people they arrest in the course of  criminal investigations. As the Mail on line reported this weekend (http://bit.ly/12BhfaN )  the proposal has been condemned as secret justice and produced angry responses from Index on Censorship and the Society of Editors. The police seem to be using Leveson as cover to do this.

But it smacks of the worst kind of justice where people disappear after being taken off the streets in countries like Russia, Zimbabwe and tinpot dictatorships.

But there is a practical aspect of this policy that has been completely overlooked. It is  because Acpo have taken the view that they are a news supplier which gives the media stories and  forgotten that it is two way traffic. The investigative media also uncover crooks and give the police grounds for prosecutions.

All this will fall  apart under this new directive from Acpo when both the police and the press are pursuing the same long term investigation and their paths cross. If the police don’t tell the press and the public who they have arrested they will be a very grave danger that when these people come to trial – the prosecution case will collapse because vital information to be revealed to the jury will already been published.

The reason is simple. At the moment if the police announce arrests have been made in a long term investigation – the media take a decision to no longer publish information about that individual which could prejudice their trial. But if the media don’t know or the police won’t tell them they have been arrested they can at the moment quite legitimately publish what they like within the libel laws.

Lord Justice Leveson: Used as excuse by ACPO Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

Lord Justice Leveson: Used as excuse by ACPO Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

The only way round this would be for the media to refer every story  that involves criminal activity to the police to check whether they thought of arresting anyone. This would amount to a police state – with the police telling editors what they could or could not publish.

This is not theoretical. At the  moment through Exaro News(http://www.exaronews.com)  a team of journalists we are involved in a very long and complicated investigation – over 40 stories so far – into an historic paedophile ring which operated partly through the London borough of Richmond and at Elm Guest House in the 1980s.

The police have arrested two people John Stingemore,  who ran Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond, and  Father Tony McSweeney, a Roman Catholic priest ,so far and are continuing investigations into other people, including highly placed VIPs, peers and MPs.

Anyone reading this blog or following Exaro  would have noticed there has been mighty little written about this two individuals since their arrest. It is not that we don’t know stuff about both of them. But we are not putting it on line because we KNOW from the police there have been arrested and we don’t want them to escape justice by wrecking a  fair trial.

But imagine we didn’t know. the whole police case  against them could collapse. No not too melodramatic.

What Acpo fail to appreciate is that investigative journalists  work like detectives. They gather information through painstaking inquiries, trace contacts from witnesses to victims and  often find out the same information  as the police about  suspects. Sometimes they are ahead, sometimes it is the police.

To decide not to announce the names of arrested suspects will in these cases be a spectacular own goal for the police. What we need is co-operation  and dialogue  not a wall of silence.

Politics of the madhouse:Lunatic law to regulate the blogosphere

Lord Justice Leveson: Blog Regulation was outside his remit

Lord Justice Leveson: Blog Regulation was outside his remit Pic courtesy: Leveson Inquiry website

Rushed legislation is bad legislation.  Proposals in the current crime and courts bill  to extend regulation to the blogosphere at the switch of a clause without proper debate or consideration  is daft and dangerous.

I have seen the detailed clauses put down for debate when Parliament returns this month – and frankly the only use for them is to swell the already well lined pockets of m’ learned friends. Taken together they are neither use nor ornament and if they became law all they would do is spread confusion and clog the courts with hours of pointless legal argument.

The aim is to try to bring the completely unregulated blogosphere within the new  regulated press and media. The proposal was neither sought nor demanded by Lord Leveson, whose inquiry concentrated on big media. Leveson probably didn’t understand the blogosphere and as far as I know isn’t on Twitter.

The amendments tabled in the House of Lords just before the recess on March 27 can be seen here (http://bit.ly/14AyRHO). It looks as though it is in  response to a letter from a number of bloggers from Paul Staines and Tim Montgomerie to Laurance Durnan and Sunny Hundal  to the Guardian  who objected to even more drastic measures (see http://bit.ly/XTs84y ).

But I still have enormous problems with the amendment. It is still not clear whether this blog should be covered by the law or not. On the one hand  it is primarily a news blog ( should be covered then) but written by one person ( shouldn’t be covered then). It involves some editorial control – either pre moderation or post moderation of comments – depending on rules set  by WordPress.com not me.(could be covered or not depending on your view.)

I can just imagine the arguments in a courtroom between lawyers on this blog and others. What will be the definition of incidental news ( how many stories do have to have to qualify) – what happens when a subject -like the current police investigations into paedophiles becomes news (do sites that write this up become news when it is the headlines, and not news when it is not).

When is a blog like  Broken Barnet  by Mrs Angry considered a community asset (exempt) or a news blog (not exempt). What is the definition of a small blog – one of the weird Lords amendments ( is it the number of hits, unique visitors, blog followers? Or as one person has suggested is it registered for VAT and does it pass the threshold for VAT?)

The main proponents for these new controls appear to be the Media Reform Coalition who have written this blog ( see http://bit.ly/13Mgr7S ) . They appear to be a self-appointed group of academics and lawyers. Their  argument is that I  should be registered to save exemplary damages being awarded against me by the rich and powerful and to avoid paying my opponents’ legal costs.

Since this blog appeared the Media Reform Coalition have today (Thursday) launched an on line consultation and more detailed explanation of the proposed changes. Those interested can find this at http://fb.me/2z6xrP6qz 

Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy says this is not the case and there will be  three weeks of consultation to try and get un registered bloggers the same privileges as those who are registered and define properly what is a small blog. (See http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/03/27/bloggers-to-get-three-week-consultation-on-regulation).

It remains to be seen how successgful this will be.

In the meantime  I am not swayed by the exemplary damages argument – it costs £1600 alone just to take out a libel writ at that level – so it would be beyond most people’s means. And also I suspect that many small bloggers caught in this trap wouldn’t employ lawyers – they would be become litigants in person – and clog up the courts just as the famous pair who took on Mcdonalds.  And they won’t have the money to pay the other sides legal costs anyway – so whoever took them would end up out-of-pocket themselves. The case would also become a cause celebre.

My gut feeling is to rely on the new Defamation Act – which will restrict libel cases against anyone – as the  rich and powerful will have to show the story has caused major damage – not just any damage.  I think all sides would benefit if any proposals to include blogs were dropped from the remit of the regulator – until at least there is a considered debate. As I said making law on the hoof is a disaster. You have only to look at the Dangerous Dogs Act to see this. This is the equivalent of the Dangerous Bloggers Act!

The bonkers logic of “Life of Brian” Leveson

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers  logic

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers logic

Now I have been given carte blanche by the Leveson inquiry to write what I want on blogs without any regulation I am going to take full advantage with some tough words for this judge on his lack of logic.

Like Lord Hutton before him who exonerated Labour over Iraq his report exonerates the current great and good in government and the media bosses from blame for the current crisis. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, is cleared of bias over Murdoch;  News International’s Rebekah Brooks of undue lobbying of Cameron over the McCann inquiry or anything else; Cameron and his government of any  favours deal with the  Murdochs and the police of widespread corruption. Cameron can be trusted to introduce reforms to make sure  public perception is changed.

But go further into this report – see http://www.exaronews.com today.  Go to Volume Four and Appendix Five – and get one of the most devastating critiques of the incestuous relationship between top politicians and the media I have ever read from a High Court judge in my 26 years of political journalism.

Unlike Hutton he really puts the boot in. Here and I quote he attacks what he calls the ” inappropriate  closeness” between media bosses and successive governments not just now – but for over 35 years. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron are all indicted in a damning charge sheet.

He baldly states “ politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest”.

He accuses them of being vulnerable to unaccountable interests, missing clear opportunities to address  public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press and  seeking “ to control ( if not manipulate) the supply of news and information to the public in return for expected or hoped-for favourable treatment by sections of the press.”

He concluded that all this gave rise to “legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the press have traded power and influence in ways which are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight. These perceptions and concerns are inevitably particularly acute in relation to the conduct by politicians of public policy issues in relations to the press itself.”

Now where does he get that view. By page 1971  as a good judge he cites his sources. And guess who gets reams of footnotes, one, Rebekah Brooks, from the McCann inquiry to Brown ,Blair and Cameron – the very person in the main part of the report is absolved from dirty deals!

Perhaps I have misread this million word treatise –  Brian Leveson is  actually auditioning for a Monty Python script or to help revive Bremner, Bird and Fortune for Channel Four.

His other glaring lack of logic is the treatment of the internet as of no consequence. I have a sneaking suspicion he thinks the internet is tun by techy teenage geeks playing war games and mad loud mouths. In fact it is now becoming a powerful antidote and rival to the dead tree press as a forum for discussion and breaking news. The battle for future generation politics is being fought  between Owen Jones and Harry Cole  on-line every day.  And there would be no way this small one man blog would get 158,000 plus hits in less than three years if the internet has been ineffectual.

On the main issue of  regulation or no regulation, I am reserving judgement. My heart is with those who argue that a free press is just that, a free press. My head is revolted by the despicable practices of some of the tabloid bosses who may well now go to prison. I applaud  the idea of a journalist’s conscience clause and his views on treatment of women and people from ethnic minorities and a new  arbitration service that will give justice to Joe Public as well multi-millionaires. But I want to see what this new press act will look like before going down the road to statutory backing. Let debate begin.

Press Complaints Commission: defending legitimate journalism

Lord Hunt: Current chairman of the Press Complaints Commission: pic courtesy: The Guardian

It may be unfashionable to say this right now,but this is a blog to say how well and fair the Press Complaints Commission handled a complaint against me this summer.

I was not even a party to the complaint which was between Matt Sprake, a former police photographer, and the Independent Newspaper but the content of his entire complaint was against me over a story that appeared under my name and Oliver Wright which I had researched and published on Exaro  News . (see http://www.exaronews.net for full story and pcc’s findings).

Basically  through Exaro News we revealed  how Sprake’s picture agency, NewsPics, offered to pay thousands of pounds to public officials – from nurses to police workers – for inside information on celebrities. Sprake denied he had ever paid anyone.

The offer was made explicitly on the agency’s website.

Matt Sprake: PIc courtesy of Hacked Off website

The disclosure led to Sprake being summoned by Lord Leveson to appear before his inquiry and provide information on the huge scale of his  work for Trinity Mirror which Lloyd Embley, then editor of the People, had omitted to tell them.

Sprate lodged a complaint to the PCC claiming that  breached the editors’ code of conduct. He claimed that the article contained inaccuracies and intruded into his private life, and that I had used subterfuge to gain information about his past career in the police.

The PCC dismissed each element of Sprake’s complaint particularly suggestions that his family had been put at risk by the disclosure that he had photographed terrrorist sites. The findings said:

“He considered that the information relating to his former employment by Scotland Yard in anti-terrorism activities was sensitive and confidential.”

But the PCC concludes: “The complainant had volunteered information about his former work with the police, including that he had been ‘looking at terrorism work’, to the journalist, whom he had taken to be a potential client, and was a stranger to him; and that the information amounted to a statement of his former occupation.

“In addition, in light of the statement published on the website, which suggested police officers contacted the company with information, and the on-going public scrutiny and debate over the links between the police and the Press, there was a public interest in revealing the complainant’s former work with the police.”

Sprake also complained that I had tricked him in a telephone conversation into revealing his past career in the police. The PCC said that Sprake was confused about the purpose of the reporter’s telephone call to him, but concludes: “The commission could not therefore agree that the reporter had engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge.”

Sprake was asked for comment on the findings and he said: “None at all.”

Now the good  and fair thing  about this judgement is that the PCC did not fall for such sweeping complaints from someone who had already admitted to Leveson about how he pursued the McCanns seeking intrusive photos when they had not wanted them on a  Canadian holiday. But I also had to justify  everything I had written – and had kept a recording of the call. The whole point of chasing him up was to allow him to give me his side and to be absolutely certain from his own words that he was an ex  police photographer.

The irony about all this is that PCC is certain to be abolished by Leveson in its present form because of the ” phone hacking ” scandal. Yet they have handled this well. Whatever  replaces the PCC must both safeguard the public from the worst excesses of bad  and inaccurate journalism  but equally protect  genuine investigative  journalism from unfounded claims from unscrupulous complainants. Over to you, my Lord.

Leveson Inquiry: Do you want to comment on Newspics, Mr Embley ?

Yet another development today in the fast moving Leveson inquiry into press standards. Lord Leveson – following the two blogs by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian and my exposure of Newspics website at http://www.exaronews.com – has invited the former editor of The People, Lloyd Embley, now editor in chief of  the Daily and Sunday Mirror, to comment on Matt Sprake’s evidence.

In a statement to the inquiry he said:” The Inquiry only learnt of the existence of Matthew Sprake very recently, but I am conscious that his evidence last week concerned, in large part, the work which he had been employed to carry out for The People.  Further, it raised issues relating to the responsibilities for the ethical decisions in connection with its commissioning.

Although I recognise that it is now too late to serve a notice under Section 21 of the Act on the editor, Mr Lloyd Embley (who gave evidence during the course of Module 1), should he wish to provide his account of that relationship, dealing with what Mr Sprake has said, I will, of course, consider it..”

It came on the same day the inquiry was told separately by the Scotland Yard chief, Sue Akers, that her bribery investigations were now covering allegations involving the Trinity Mirror group, owner of The People, over payments to prison officers involving Trinity Mirror as well as News International.There is no suggestion whatsoever that Matt Sprake is involved in this investigation.

Trinity Mirror were given the opportunity to comment on the Exaro News revelations about the inducements offered to public officials on Matt Sprake’s Newspics website but declined to take it up. Perhaps they will take more kindly to Lord Leveson’s request.

Full link to Leveson is :http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Transcript-of-Morning-Hearing-23-July-20121.txt