According to David Cameron, the key test of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations is that they satisfy the ordinary people most seriously harmed by the failed system. From the moment he initiated the Leveson Inquiry, in his testimony during the hearings and in subsequent meetings with victims of press abuse, the PM maintained that the most important measure of the new system was whether it satisfied the victims. Yet it seems he has either forgotten his own qualifications for a new system, or simply failed the test he set for himself.
In his testimony on June 14th 2012, the Prime Minister defined this test.
“I will never forget meeting with the Dowler family in Downing Street to run through the terms of this Inquiry with them and to hear what they had been through and how it had redoubled, trebled the pain and agony they’d been through over losing Milly. I’ll never forget that, and that’s the test of all this. It’s not: do the politicians or the press feel happy with what we get? It’s: are we really protecting people who have been caught up and absolutely thrown to the wolves by this process. That’s what the test is…
“[The current system] doesn’t work for the Dowlers, or the McCanns, [and] that’s the test…
“We should, as I say again, bear in mind who we’re doing this for, why we’re here in the first place, and that’s the real test. If the families like the Dowlers feel this has really changed the way they would have been treated, we would have done our job properly.”
David Cameron met with victims of press abuse and reiterated this view many times during the course of the Leveson Inquiry. In October 2011, he told a delegation from Hacked Off:
“If it’s not bonkers, we’ll do it.”
Lord Justice Leveson, in his speech announcing the publication of his recommendations made it clear that legislation was vital:
“Guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits for the industry, cannot be realised without legislation.”
A group of 20 victims of press abuse, including Bob Dowler and Kate McCann, released a statement firmly supporting that view: that new laws were necessary:
“We welcome this carefully prepared and thorough report.
The Judge has rightly condemned the outrageous conduct of the press in the recent years….
He has proposed a system of voluntary and independent self-regulation…
What is needed is a regulator which can properly and effectively protect the victims of press misconduct…
He has recommended that this be backed by legislation to protect the public and the press.
These proposals are reasonable and proportionate and we call on all parties to get together to implement them as soon as possible.”
Just an hour after the victims’ statement was released, David Cameron responded to the recommendations himself. He started by recalling his own sympathies with the various victims of press abuse.
“As we consider this report, we should consider the victims. We should remember how the parents of Millie Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked and were followed and photographed.
“How Christopher Jefferies’ reputation was destroyed by false accusations. And how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer.
“These victims – and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight – have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine.”
Yet by the end of his statement he had turned his back on the crucial element of Leveson’s recommendation: the statute the victims immediately publicly backed.
“Now I have some serious concerns and misgivings on this recommendation…. I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives.”
In a press conference following David Cameron’s statement, the victims expressed their discontent at his response. Jane Winter, who had her emails intercepted by News International, said
“His response was ‘as long as it is not bonkers, I’ll do that’. Well I saw the report this morning, it doesn’t look bonkers to me. I think he’s gone back on his word and I feel betrayed.”
Gerry McCann stated, as he launched the Hacked Off petition with Christopher Jefferies the following day
“Full implementation of Lord Justice Leveson’s report is the minimum acceptable compromise for me and I think for many other victims who have suffered at the hands of the press.”
Later, in a rare public statement, J.K. Rowling, whose family suffered greatly from press intrusion, encapsulated the collective spirit of betrayal amongst the victims by stating that she was
“…merely one among many who feel duped and angry by Cameron’s response.”
It seems then, that despite his initial commitment to ensuring justice for those worst affected by the crimes of the press, David Cameron has undoubtedly failed his own test.
Let David Cameron know that, regardless of his actions, you still support the victims of press abuse and want to make sure that no one suffers in the way that they have again. Sign our petition and share it with your friends.