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.







Time for Dame Lowell Goddard to explain why she quit

lowell goddard

Dame Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee today. Pic credit: BBC


The shock decision of Dame Lowell Goddard to quit the child sex abuse inquiry has been compounded by her very terse statement on why she resigned. See here Dame_Lowell_Goddard_letter

Survivors have been suddenly let down  by someone who only two years ago committed herself to a five year comprehensive inquiry that would cover every aspect of child sex abuse from VIP paedophiles to institutions as varied as children’s homes, religious orders,  schools and colleges.
It already has a packed programme  including a controversial hearing of the facts surrounding the allegations against Lord Janner; the scandal in Rochdale around Sir Cyril Smith, Lambeth Council, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to name but a  few. It was also, I understand, to look at the Westminster paedophile ring and Operation Midland but not until 2018.

So her decision to leave at this crucial moment when the inquiry was starting to get into its stride is more perplexing. Her statement today in full  read :

“I announce with regret my decision to resign as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, effective from today.

“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it. After carefully discussing the matter with the Home Secretary and her Officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.  It was however an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.

“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.

“While it has been a struggle in many respects I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”

What I find particularly perplexing is her implication that she should never have been appointed to continue the inquiry in the first place. If suggests that she did not think things through.

The inquiry following the resignations of Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf because of conflicts of interest had already been remodelled – changing it from an independent panel to a  statutory judicial inquiry. Its work  and costs have gone up enormously and Lowell Goddard, as The Times pointed out, has taken time off and obviously misses her family.

The volume of work must be enormous – I know from sitting on a much smaller independent panel myself which I cannot talk about – that historic inquiries generate masses of documents.

In the child abuse area  a chair also needs to have a tough skin and a focused mind – since he or she is entering a minefield of controversy – and will face a barrage of complaints from a small but vocal minority who don’t believe that most of the child abuse took place – and most survivors are liars or bounty hunters.

Remember there are websites  devoted to the idea  that Jimmy Savile was totally innocent and everything has been made up by disturbed people. After all as Dame Janet Smith found the BBC either didn’t know or couldn’t bring itself to believe that he was a paedophile.

Therefore it seems to me that if she thinks there is something wrong in the process she should say so and she owes  the public who paid her a lot of money to chair this inquiry a full and frank explanation.

Reports suggested to me that her decision to go was not sudden. She has been seen as a little distant from event ( and not just physically ). There have been suggestions that Home Officials have tried to capture the direction of an independent inquiry and other suggestions that Ben Emmerson, the counsel in charge of the inquiry, may have had too much power.

Whatever happened we need a full explanation. And action from the Home Office and Theresa May, the PM who originally set up the inquiry as home secretary to make sure investigations and hearings go ahead regardless.

As I am the only person made redundant from Exaro who has a personal website – I intend to continue reporting on child sex abuse issues here and on Those who wish to keep abreast of developments should follow this blog or keep an eye on






Why all the UK should see this brilliant exhibition on the Calais Jungle


Until June 22 there is an extraordinary exhibition of art, sculpture,photographs, documents, multi media  and sound on the Calais jungle migrant camp.. It is at the London Newcastle Arts Project Space in Shoreditch,London.

Wanderers 1

An amazing sculpture at the entrance to the exhibition. It looks like a mass of people but each of them is an individual. A fitting symbol for the exhibition.

© Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen

The exhibition tells the story of the huge migration from the Middle East, Afghanistan, and North Africa to Calais and the people involved.It is probably the biggest issue in the whole of Europe today.

It is both a harrowing and uplifting showing the strength of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity. There are evil people, neo Fascists,nasty people smugglers, and thugs who exploit and deride them  but there are also many ,many caring human beings who are prepared to help them on their way to a better, safer life.

What is extraordinary about this exhibition is that much of the art comes from the very people themselves as a way of expressing their own plight. And the squalid Jungle is  a place where people play music, dance, paint,cook,and create as well try to survive.

Call me by my name 9 hi res

These are the tents they livedin. Picture

© brandingbygarden.


Everyone who has any humanity should see this exhibition – especially the people who denigrate them as hordes or swarms of people. They are people like them. It is antidote to the crass debate on Brexit.

And denying them a safe haven is also denying our country the benefit of their enormous talents – many are highly educated and many have discovered new talents on the way. Worse the plight of unaccompanied children aged from 8 to 14 or 15 is something this country cannot ignore – and thanks to the efforts of Alf Dubs ( Lord Dubs) who pushed Theresa May, the home secretary, to allow them to come in – there is some hope  for a few now. But there needs to be more.

Call me by my name 11

These lifejackets were taken from the beach in Greece. Believe it or not the smugglers gave them fake lifejackets, they don’t float.

© brandingbygarden.


At a very moving reception where the organisers- through the Migration Museum Project – was attended by asylum seekers – and some who had managed to be smuggled into Britain. They mingled with students, artists and campaigners looking at the exhibits.

Museums and art centres in Britain you should thinking of staging this exhibition so the people  across the United Kingdom can see the whole story. How about some of you rising to the challenge.

Call me by my name 3 med res (1)

The sculpture as you enter the exhibition. © brandingbygarden.

Westminster Paedophile Inquiry Row: A shrewd move by Scotland Yard

Sir Richard Henriques.

Sir Richard Henriques. Pic Credit: Blackpool Gazette

The decision by Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Met Police Commissioner, to ask Sir Richard Henriques, a distinguished  retired judge, to review police procedures covering Operation Midland is very shrewd.

At a stroke it will knock down the hysterical coverage in some newspapers of the investigation which has involved prominent VIPs being interviewed by the Met following allegations of sexual abuse and murder from a survivor known as Nick.

The papers- some of whom seem to act as judge and jury  before the investigation has been completed – in wanting to clear prominent people and cast doubt on the veracity of the victim in alleging such crimes. They have  also complained about the Met Police spending time and money looking at historic child sex abuse cases.

It will also prevent Keith Vaz, the  Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, grandstanding when  Sir Bernard comes before him at the end of this month.

He will know as a lawyer that he can hardly grill Sir Bernard about the procedures of the investigation while there is an inquiry by a retired judge looking into the same issues. Nor can he second guess Sir Richard’s findings.

Indeed instead he may have to explain why his committee was so quick to condemn the Met for its handling of  its investigation into the historic alleged rape  against the late Leon Brittan  brought by  ” Jane” now an independent review by Dorset Police has largely cleared the Met of any errors.

It should also provide a valuable breathing case for the Met to take a balanced decision on whether it can proceed further with Operation Midland rather than all this orchestrated hue and cry that it must be stopped now.

Obviously it has been painful for Leon Brittan’s family and the 92 year old war hero  Lord Bramall to be at the centre of such allegations but that doesn’t mean that the police should not investigate them.

Also it is not only cases brought by Nick that will come under scrutiny but also Darren where the Met Police appear to have taken the opposite decision and decided that Darren’s claims were not worth pursuing.

One of the most interesting findings by the judge will be how he sees the police handled two entirely different victims and  their allegations and what standards were applied.

In a statement announcing the review on Wednesday, Hogan-Howe said the aim was “whether we can provide a better balance between our duty to investigate and the interests of suspects, complainants and victims.”

The Met commissioner added: “We are not afraid to learn how we can do these things better, and that’s why I’ve announced today’s review in to how we have conducted investigations in to non-recent sexual allegations involving public figures.”

Henriques is a former high court judge who conducted an inquiry into how Lord Janner escaped justice over abuse claims.

He is  also the prosecutor who  brought the killers of James Bulger to justice and nailed Harold Shipman,the GP who murdered his patients..

Before retiring he was a judge presiding over  terrorist trials including the trial of eight terrorists who would have slaughtered almost 3,000 people had their plan to bring down transatlantic airliners been successful.

So he seems a good choice to cut through all the hyperbole surrounding the VIP paedophile ring  allegations and make sound recommendations on how the Met should handle such allegations in the future. My main reservation is how much of the report will be made public. Transparency is very important in this case.



The blog in 2015: Driven by Aaronovitch and Amy Winehouse

The unlikely combination of combative Times columnist  David Aaronovitch and the tragic pop star Amy Winehouse drove traffic to my blog last year.

I doubt either have met each other but in different ways it reflects the present obsession with controversial names and celebrity culture.

The Amy Winehouse blog is three years old and is a travelogue based on the fact that I found myself and my wife staying at the same tourist complex in St Lucia that acted as a retreat for Amy when she was chilling out from drugs. I suspect the film about her has driven the traffic but the blog got over 1500 hits last year – 50 per cent more than the combined total of the two previous years taking it to nearly 2700 hits.

David Aaronovitch’s critique of my journalism in The Times led to 3537 hits when I decided to respond – though it was eclipsed by my critique of Dominic Lawson’s take on the Leon Brittan alleged child sex abuse scandal which attracted 6447 views.

Interest in the case of child sex abuse survivor Esther Baker was reflected in two high scoring blogs- at 2674 for an analysis of the challenge facing Staffs Police in investigating her case and 2096 when the first arrest was announced.

The scandal over former justice secretary Chris Grayling seeking contracts from the despicable Saudi Arabian justice system – which this blog  and Tribune broke- was a big highlight – with 4250 hits when his successor Michael Gove faced court action and 2795 when the story originally broke.

Otherwise the biggest hits were reserved for the attempt to get rid of the Speaker, John Bercow, on the last day of Parliament – with 3933 on a piece criticising William  Hague’s botched action  in changing the election rules and 2497 on the midnight email to MPs from Julian Lewis MP which alerted everyone to the dodgy deal.

The most controversial blog has been my reporting of a Northern Ireland judge’s decision to compensate a paedophile for a campaign against him by one of his victims -comments were both virulent in their hatred and support for the judge.

Altogether the number of hits  recorded by WordPress on my blog – 127,725 were down from 182,000 the previous year. I also wrote fewer blogs as I was away some of the time. But this is not the full story as the blog is getting increasing additional traffic from Linked In, Facebook and is now run on so I am not longer sure how many hits I am getting any more.

WordPress also records I have had hits from 155 countries. Over 80 per cent (107,000) is from the UK but there were over 7,700 from the United States and over 1000 each from Australia, Ireland and France. I have had just one hit from Iran, Syria, Armenia and the Turks and Caicos Islands to name but a few.

The blog’s rating on has gone up from number 62 to number 50 on the top independent bloggers This partly reflects my twitter following increasing to 8085.

For a small one man blog however it is gratifying that so many people are interested – given I do no promotion.



A family that plays together stays together: a happy holiday season for the UK’s political-media elite – Des Freedman

A very good read from Des Freedman.Obviously a very happy Christmas for the Murdoch dynasty, their friends and the Prime Minister. What could possibly go wrong now -only immortality eludes them. Very much a tale of power corrupts. Now they have absolute power they must think nothing is beyond their grasp.

Inforrm's Blog

rupert-murdochFamilies should be together at Christmas. That’s the simple message we should take from the merry noises emanating from Rupert Murdoch’s London apartment where, on Monday night, David Cameron, George Osborne, Rebekah Brooks and a slew of top News Corp personnel joined the mogul in capping off what has been a pretty decent year for him.

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Cameron’s half truth over his Leveson exoneration

Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website

Yesterday’s clash between Ed Miliband and David Cameron over the Coulson affair was dominated by the Prime Minister’s assertion that he had been cleared by the Leveson inquiry of doing anything wrong.

He could happily quote Leveson’s findings which clear not only him but Rebekah Brooks – also now cleared of knowledge of phone hacking by a British jury – of behaving badly in any improper relationships between Number Ten and  the Murdoch empire.

But delve a bit deeper into this rather contorted report – all one million words of  it – which probably neither Cameron nor Miliband have – and you will find quite a different story.

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 27 years of political journalism.

As I reported before “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.”

Some exoneration for Mr Cameron and his predecessors!

If Labour had been sharp enough yesterday Ed Miliband could have rebutted Cameron’s confident assertions. But it may not be surprising that he missed it – because of the mismatch  between  Leveson’s conclusions and his comments on the sad state of the relationship between leading politicians and  media proprietors. It has close similarities to the way the Hutton inquiry exonerated Blair and Campbell despite revealing some devastating facts.

But in no way can either Cameron or Murdoch be complacent about their respective roles in trading power for influence which is at the heart of why both the mainstream media and politicians are widely distrusted by the general public.

And with more to come no politician can afford to brush this aside as ” a here today, gone tomorrow” story!