A message from victims of press abuse to the Prime Minister

Sixty victims of phone hacking and other press abuses have written an open letter to David Cameron with the help of Hacked Off.

The letter, reported in today’s Observer, urges the Prime Minister to reassure the public that he will keep an open mind about reforms to the press until after Lord justice Leveson reports the findings of his inquiry in the next few weeks.

The victims are concerned about reports suggesting that the Prime Minister had already decided in favour of proposals put forward by newspaper proprietors and editors – proposals for continued self-regulation that many victims had already rejected. Press self-regulation is discredited after years of failure to prevent press abuses and inaccuracies.

Hacked Off campaigned for the establishment of the Leveson inquiry after the phone hacking scandal and hopes to see all parties approach the inquiry report with open minds.

Hacked Off will continue working with the victims when Leveson’s recommendation is announced in November. Make sure that you sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to make sure that you can show your support when the time comes.

Read the full text of the letter from the victims to the Prime Minister below, followed by the full list of names who have so far signed.

Dear Prime Minister

We are individual victims of the unlawful and unethical conduct of the press in recent years. This conduct has included phone hacking, industrial scale data-mining, bribery of public officials, inappropriate contact with politicians, computer hacking, unlawful invasions of privacy, blackmail threats and harassment. It has also involved a shameful conspiracy to cover up many of these misdeeds. No public interest justification has ever been credibly advanced for these abuses.

When you set up the Leveson Inquiry, we welcomed your action. The government appeared to be taking seriously the unchecked abuse of ordinary people by parts of the press. It also appeared genuinely to be concerned about the damage done to public trust in politicians and the police and indeed in the important role in a democratic society played by ethical public interest journalism.

We accepted at face value your expression of regret at what had happened, both under your watch and that of previous governments. We understood that your experience of learning of the allegations against your former Head of Communications had underlined your determination to make sure that action was finally being taken to make sure that our free press, our police force and the political establishment put their house in order.

We also welcomed your remarks, made in the House of Commons, that “We will never solve this if we try to do it on a party basis; we must try to do it on a cross-party basis”, and that “We must at all times keep the real victims at the front and centre of this debate” (Hansard 13 July 2011: Column 320).

We were further reassured by what you said about us when you gave evidence at the Inquiry:

“I’ve read some of the evidence that’s been put forward, and frankly some of that evidence is incredibly shocking. Some of it is really heartbreaking. The test of a regulatory system is not does that make the politicians happier? The test of the system is: is it going to provide proper protection to ordinary families who, through no fault of their own, get caught up in these media maelstroms and get completely mistreated?”

“And the evidence of the Dowler family and the evidence of the McCann family is incredibly powerful in that regard. 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.”
(Official Transcript, 14th June 2011, page 57-8)

When it comes to this ‘test’, you will be aware that the victims, after reflecting on the evidence put before the Inquiry in all its modules, made a submission which gives our view on the proposal for continued self-regulation put forward on behalf of some in the press by Lord Hunt and Lord Black (the ‘Hunt/Black’ plan). As stated in this submission, we do not believe these proposals are satisfactory in themselves, that they meet the needs of the victims, or that they will restore public trust:

‘The Module 4 CPVs have considered the submissions and evidence of Lord Hunt and Lord Black [to improve self-regulation]. The Module 4 CPVs all agree that the proposal advocated by Lord Hunt and Black for a new contractual self-regulatory body would not be a satisfactory solution. The proposal is considered to be an insufficiently clean break from the current PCC and the failings associated with that organisation. In the event that this system was established, it is anticipated by the Module 4 CPVs that complainants would be likely to prefer court proceedings as a forum for seeking redress.’

We have therefore been alarmed and distressed by the widespread reports in the press (‘The Times’, 31st August 2012), supported by comments made by senior members of your party, that you have already made up your mind and that you were ‘preparing to reject statutory intervention in the regulation of the press even if it is strongly recommended by Lord Justice Leveson’; and that the ‘newspaper industry will be given another chance to improve self-regulation’.

We were also frustrated to see that your own Head of Communications, when asked to reject the assertions in these stories, refused to do so, stating only that the reports were “speculation”. In the absence of rebuttal from you or your office, it is noteworthy that ‘The Times’ (5th September 2012) felt able to repeat the story the following week, stating “David Cameron is likely to reject statutory intervention in regulation of the press even if it is recommended by Lord Justice Leveson.”.

After we reminded the press and your office that the victims rejected continued self-regulation of the press with no statutory back-stop, and of what you had said in July under oath at the Inquiry (“…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 Times’ reported (5th September 2012) that “a well-placed source said Mr Cameron’s words had been misinterpreted and he had not intended to give a veto to any particular victims over the new system of regulation”.

It is highly regrettable to us that these articles, and supporting comments from senior Conservative Party figures, have sought to undermine the work of the Inquiry and to threaten any recommendations it may make for effective regulation of the industry. We are disappointed that you have so far not contradicted these articles, and therefore give the impression that you have, indeed, already decided to reject the recommendations of the Inquiry which you set up, even before they are even submitted. We, the victims, would consider such a rejection to be a betrayal of us and of your previous commitments.

We therefore seek your reassurance that:
1) contrary to the reports which we refer to above, you will consider the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson with an open mind;
2) you have not already decided in favour of a proposal for continued self-regulation – which we believe to be unsatisfactory;
3) you will proceed on a cross-party basis, and
4) that you stand by what you said at the Inquiry.

To remind you once again – you said that the test of the future system of press regulation is not whether it suits the politicians or their friends in the press, but rather the public interest – including the need of members of society to be free from illegal and unethical press practices. Do we have those reassurances?

We look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency so that our minds can be put at rest and so that the public in general may know that your position on this vital matter has not changed.

Yours sincerely

Victims of unlawful or unethical conduct by some parts of the press

Trevor Akester, Denise Anderson, Sophie Anderton, David Archer, Leslie Ash, Patricia Bernal, Alex Best, James Burdge, Major Mark Cann, Lee Chapman, Charlotte Church, Sheila Coleman, Steve Coogan, Eimear Cook, Tricia Cooklin, Mark Covell, Paul Dadge, Nicola Duffett, Christopher Eccleston, Jennifer Evans, Mary-Ellen Field, Duncan Foster, Sheryl Gascoigne, Lissa Gibbons, Louise Glass, Hugh Grant, Jacqui Hames, Joan Hammell, Charlotte Harris, Simon Hughes, Ian Hurst, Ben Jackson, Christopher Jefferies, Stephen Kelly, Andrew King, Sally King, Adam Lancelot, Jude Law, Anne Lee, Zoe Margolis, Michelle Milburn, Max Mosley, Sid Owen, Brian Paddick, Amanda Ramsay, Father Richard Reardon, Tom Rowland, JK Rowling, Graham Shear, Joan Smith, Nicola Smith, Mark Thomson, Stephen Toze, Prof John Tulloch, Claire Ward, James Watson, Margaret Watson, Patrick Watters, Noel Whelan, Jane Winter, HJK

See the article in the Observer here.
See our press release here.
See Hacked Off’s list of signatories with our descriptions and links to their Leveson testimonies here.

See the Core Participant Victims’ final submission to Leveson here.

23 Responses to “A message from victims of press abuse to the Prime Minister”

  1. Richard

    I think it’s important that the new rules should apply differently depending on the subject. People’s private lives should usually be off-limits, even to reputable journalists, but where politicians and corporations do bad things, the newspapers should be free to investigate any way they can.

    Reply
  2. Michael barratt

    15th August 2011

    Letter to:
    Mr Martin Richards
    Chief Constable
    Malling House
    Sussex Police
    Church Lane
    Lewes BN72DZ

    Dear Sir,

    I wish to bring the following complaint to your attention, since a Crawley police sergeant and individuals in the Sussex police call centre appear to me to have been dismissive of my representations to report a crime.

    I have sought without success to report to Sussex Police that Alison Little, Deputy Political Editor an employee of the Northern and Shell/ Daily Express of 10, Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN on the 27th July 2011 did contravened 5(b) of the Public Order Act 1986 – Part 1: in that she was responsible, acting alone or with others for producing and distributing a sign that incorporated threatening, abusive and insulting words, within the sight of person or persons likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. The sign in the form of a banner headline was widely distributed in public and private places throughout the United Kingdom (including where I saw the headline/sign in my home town of Crawley in West Sussex) and contained the following wording:

    “SICK BENEFITS: 75% ARE FAKING – 1.95m claimants could work but skive instead.”

    The author claimed in the sign/headline that 75% of those previously entitled to receive incapacity benefit (including my daughter) have used deception to obtain a financial reward. Furthermore, the sign/headline claimed 1.95m could work but prefer to deliberately avoid their social responsibilities (Scope estimates the total of those on incapacity benefit being tested by DWP for their fitness to work is 1.9m).

    On June 12th 2011 BBC News London reported the results of a poll of 2,050 disabled people commissioned by the disability charity Scope. The survey reported that more than half of disabled Londoners have experienced hostility, aggression or violence from a stranger because of their disability. Furthermore, 63% of people with disabilities in London thought others did not believe they were disabled.

    I wish to return in this the document to provide further information that I would have included in my statement to Sussex police in support of my claim that Ms Allison Little, acting alone or with others contravened 5(b) of the Public Disorder Act 1986 – Part 1.

    Soon after reading the Daily Express headline I approached the Press Complaints Commission to lodge my complaint only to be informed that because Northern and Shell the publishers of the Daily Express had stopped paying in January of this year into the fund that supports the ‘regulator’ no complaint against the Daily Express would be considered by the PCC. Astonished, I applied to Ofcom and was informed that since the complaint related to print media they could not accept my complaint, if alternatively my complaint had related to a broadcaster, Ofcom most certainly would have investigated.

    Subsequent to my studying the Public Order Act 1986 I telephoned the Metropolitan Police on Saturday 6th August. The officer I spoke to, put me on hold and returned after speaking to senior colleagues and informed me of a consensus opinion that there may be merit in investigating my complaint, however I must report to Sussex police since I reside in Crawley and saw the headline/sign in that town. The officer further informed me the Metropolitan Police would investigate if subsequently requested by Sussex Police and quoted the reference: CHS 5400 6.08.2011. I telephoned the Sussex Police call centre later on Saturday 6th August and subsequently received a return call from Annabelle at the call centre who gave me a reference (WS Police 1299 of 6.08.2011) and made an appointment for me to attend Crawley Police station at 11 am on the following Monday to give a statement.

    At approximately 9.00am on Monday morning I received a call from the Sussex Police call centre and was informed that a Sergeant at Crawley station had cancelled my appointment on the grounds that I must report my complaint to the Metropolitan police. I remonstrated with the call centre person without success. Later that morning I telephoned the Crown Prosecution Service in York and spoke to a clerk who confirmed my complaint should initially be lodged with the police force in the area I live. I spoke again to the Sussex Police call centre and asked to speak to a senior duty officer, my request was denied. Upon reflection it became apparent that the offices of Northern and Shell the publishers of the Daily Express were located in the City. As a consequence I telephoned the City of London Police later the same day and the police officer I spoke to confirmed that in the first instance I should lodge my complaint with Sussex Police. For the third time on Monday 8th I spoke to Sussex Police call centre, the person I spoke to refused to engage with me and implied that my complaint had no merit.

    It might be the Public Order Act 1986 s 5(1)(b) was not specifically designed for what I have in mind, rather being more intended to prosecute an unwitting motor cyclist making a ‘V’ sign at an unmarked police vehicle (resulting in a successfully conviction under the Act) or a nineteen year old responsible for harassing, insulting and/or obscene graffiti scrawled on a housing estate wall.

    Having spoken to several disability groups, individuals with disabilities and our own family experience; I am in no doubt the Daily Express headline mentioned above is qualitatively similar to the worst examples of graffiti in being deeply offensive to those with disabilities and their carers and being likely to give rise to increased public resentment and hostility towards those with disabilities. The offending headline was seen both by those who purchased the 27th August edition and those who did not purchase the newspaper, since the headline was displayed throughout the UK, on railway and petrol station forecourts; in libraries, supermarkets and shops.

    I am of the opinion that the Daily Express headline/sign is as pernicious, insulting and abusive as the worst examples of graffiti and fly posting. The scurrilous hate headline/sign of the 27th July is based on the lie that 75% of claimants of sickness benefit are fraudsters. Preliminary estimates released by the Department for Work and Pensions (published on 12th June one month prior to the Daily Express headline/sign) shows that incapacity benefit estimated loss in 2010/11 attributed to fraud accounted for 0.3% of the total expenditure, whereas underpayment of the same benefit by official error was more than double that sum in the same year. The Daily Express headline/sign claimed 1.95m of claimants for employment and support allowance (ESA) that replaces incapacity benefit are fit for work but prefer to shirk the responsibilities to the community. The Daily Express and Ms Little apparently overlooked in their statistics the fact that nearly four out of ten appeals against the original decision were successful, and this rises significantly where the person has representation. Published Five days prior to the Daily Express headline, in an open letter from a consortium of UK’s leading charities to Iain Duncan Smith Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions it was highlighted that the eligibility criteria for the ESA benefit replacing Incapacity Benefit is set incredibly high with flaws in the assessment process mean that many people with a significant level of impairment are declared fit for work.

    The abusive and insulting headline/sign stating 1.9m claimants deliberately choose to avoid work, is a hateful claim likely to increase public resentment and hostility to towards disabled people. Action for Blind People reported that 66% of blind and partially sighted people of working age are unemployed. A 2004 Department for Work and Pensions report stated that nine out of ten employers rank blind and partially sighted people as either ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to employ. David Congdon head of campaigns and policy at learning disability charity Mencap claims at least 65% of people with a learning disability want to work but less than 7% of people are in any form of paid employment.

    If Ms Little, (alone or with others) is not answerable to the law in this instance, in my opinion credence would be given in contemporary Britain to the observation made by the writer Jonathan Swift, approximately three hundred years ago:

    “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”

    I request a decision in writing as to whether my complaint and report of a crime will be investigated by Sussex police. If the decision is taken by Sussex police not to investigate I request in writing the reason(s) for not proceeding.

    Yours faithfully,

    Michael Barratt

    Reply
  3. Dan Harrison

    Absolutely shocking. If Cameron really has made up his mind already, then it undermines everything the Inquiry sought to do. Has DC really wasted all that public money on an Inquiry simply as a piece of theatre to appease victims? When the dust has settled, will it really be business as usual in Fleet Street? If this is the case, no-one will ever trust Honest Dave again.

    Reply
  4. Michael noon

    I think one of the most important changes must be the “banning” of payments for stories , As this drives so many of these problems. Stories must be told for the right reasons and not financial gain.

    Reply
  5. Frances

    Cameron never was going to change anything, he is scared of a backlash from the press. He is also trying to protect his friends in the press with an army of civil servants to help him. People like Mr & Mrs Dowler or Mr Jeffries do not have an army of civil servants to help them. If he does decide to implement Levinson’s recommendations I may change my mind that he is weak in all respects.

    Reply

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