Victims of press abuse including Gerry & Kate McCann, Christopher Jefferies, and many more, have written an open letter to the Prime Minister condemning him for failing to keep his promises on Leveson, and urging him to honour them now. The Prime Minister made these promises face to face with the victims, and on countless occasions in Parliament.
Gerry McCann commented:
“Feelings are very strong among those of us to whom the Prime Minister publicly and privately made his pledges. If he does not keep his promises to implement the cross-party agreement in full, allow the Leveson Inquiry to be completed and put the needs of the public before press proprietors, we will have been betrayed by him.”
The letter identifies four promises which the Prime Minister has failed to deliver on (more detail on these in the notes below):
- The refusal to implement the costs protection (section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013) which Parliament voted for and which incentivises the Leveson system and provides access to justice to press abuse victims
- The backtracking on Leveson Part 2.
- The failure to keep victims at front and centre of the debate.
- The return to “business as usual” in his relationship with media proprietors.
Victims of press abuse copied the letter to the Prime Minister’s co-signatories to the Cross Party Leveson Agreement which David Cameron is breaking, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.
Dear Prime Minister,
We write to you as people who have experienced press abuses and who look to you to ensure that such abuses are not inflicted on others in the future.
You made many promises on this issue in 2011-13, not only to us in private meetings but also publicly in Parliament, under oath at the Leveson Inquiry and in the form of the historic cross-party agreement on press self-regulation which you signed as Prime Minister only three years ago.
You promised, for example, to ‘make doubly sure that we get to the bottom of what happened’ when press standards collapsed. You said:
‘What is absolutely vital is that we put in place a regulatory system that they [the victims of press abuse] can see has real teeth.’
‘The relationship between politicians and the media must change.’
We want to express our frustration and dismay that, five years on, these solemn promises have not been kept, and we urge you to honour them now.
We were extremely disappointed last October when the Culture Secretary said he was delaying indefinitely one of the essential measures in the cross-party agreement – Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – that was designed to give independent press regulation ‘real teeth’ and was a key recommendation of the Leveson Inquiry – one you said that you accepted.
Worse, by delaying or shelving this measure your government will deny the public the low-cost access to justice that Leveson intended. Some of us know from experience how daunting it is for an ordinary citizen to take a big newspaper corporation to court for libel or invasion of privacy. In the cross-party agreement you undertook to deliver this low-cost justice through Section 40, but now it appears that you want to break that promise.
We urge you to commence Section 40 without delay.
We have also been concerned to read, through newspaper articles sourced from the Government, that you are seeking to cancel the crucial second phase of the Leveson Inquiry. Since this is meant to establish how lawbreaking took hold in our press, why the police failed to stop it and who was responsible, we need hardly say why this is of such vital public importance.
Not only did you promise that the inquiry would get to the bottom of this lawbreaking, but you also stated explicitly of Leveson 2:
‘It is right that it should go ahead and that is fully our intention.’
We urge you now to remove any doubt by confirming that the second phase of the Leveson Inquiry will go ahead without fail once the last criminal trials have concluded.
Some of us wrote to you on some of these issues in November, asking you either to act then or to meet us face to face to explain your position. You declined to do either. This amounts to another breach of promise, for in 2011 you declared:
‘We must at all times keep the victims front and centre of this debate.’
Instead, you have met with newspaper editors and proprietors on a regular basis. For example, between June and December 2015 you met with Rupert Murdoch and his editors on no fewer than seven occasions. Our request for a meeting with you continues to be ignored.
At your suggestion some of us met on 24th March with the Culture Secretary. He refused to agree to the implementation of the costs incentives by commencing section 40. Once again, he was unable to give us any explanation as to why your promises were being broken.
We believe that it is not just us whom you are at risk of betraying, but Parliament, the public at large and the future victims of a press industry which was condemned by Leveson for ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people’. If your promises are not kept, history tells us that newspapers will wreak that havoc again.
It is not too late. Please honour your promises.
We are copying this letter to the other signatories of the cross-party agreement and to the leaders of the other political parties in Parliament. We invite them to join us in demanding that you keep the promises you made.
Gerry & Kate McCann – victims of intrusion and libel by many newspapers over many years
Christopher Jefferies – wrongly accused of murder and libeled by multiple newspapers
Sheila & Martin Hollins – victims of press abuse following the attack on their daughter, Abigail Witchells
Edward Bowles – family suffered intrusion and harassment by newspapers following the death of his son in a coach accident.
Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts – mother and sister of victims of the Hillsborough disaster.
Jacqui Hames – family suffered hacking, surveillance and intrusion by newspapers when her husband was investigating a murder case with links to News International associates
Tricia Bernal and Phil Bernal – suffered intrusion and phone-hacking after the murder of their daughter and sister Claire Bernal
John Tulloch –suffered press abuse after being injured in 7/7 attacks and subsequently hacked
Paul Dadge – caught up in 7/7 attacks and subsequently hacked by News International
Andy Miller – libeled by the Daily Mail
Juliet Shaw – libeled by the Daily Mail
Emily Brothers – attacked by the Sun over her transgender status and disability (blind)
And many others
The Prime Minister made four clear promises.
- Access to justice and the Leveson cost-shifting incentive: Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2012.
Mr Cameron publicly endorsed and saw into law Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which provides access to justice for victims of illegal press abuse and was recommended by Leveson. Parliament voted for it overwhelmingly. There is a whole catalogue of promises that the Prime Minister and other Conservative ministers made for this to implemented. See them here.
He said, unequivocally (18th March 2013):
“We will use the Crime and Courts Bill to table the minimal legislative clauses needed to put in place those incentives”.
Yet on October 19th 2015, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale told the Society of Editors:
“I question whether this additional step, now, will be positive and will lead to the changes I want to see.
My mind is not made up, and I will want to examine the matter further in the coming weeks before taking any decision.”
When victims of press abuse including Kate and Gerry McCann and Christopher Jefferies wrote to Mr Cameron urging him to honour his promises to them, he referred in his reply to the need for the government to make ‘the decision on when to commence the costs provisions’. This is totally at odds with his promise to implement s40 he made to the victims.
- Backtracking on Leveson Part 2.
29th November 2012, the day the first phase of the Leveson Inquiry delivered its report, David Cameron gave Parliament his word definitively that there would be a Second Part to the inquiry:
‘When I set up the inquiry I also said that there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation. That second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.’
But in the last 18 months the Government have quietly walked back that promise to give themselves discretion over whether to proceed with Part 2 at all. In a written parliamentary answer last year Home Office minister Mike Penning said:
‘The Government has been clear that a decision on whether to undertake Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry will not take place until after all criminal investigations and trials related to Part 1 are concluded. As these are still ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.
PQ 221692 [on Leveson Inquiry], 27 January 2015
- Promise to keep victims front and centre of the debate.
July 2011 the Prime Minister said (Hansard 13 July 2011):
‘We must at all times keep the real victims at the front and centre of this debate.’
‘This has to be about the public and the victims.’
‘What we must do in the coming days and weeks is think above all of the victims and make doubly sure that we get to the bottom of what happened and prosecute those who are guilty.’
‘None of us can imagine what they [the victims] have gone through, but I do know that they, like everyone else in this country, want their politicians to bring this ugly chapter to a close and ensure that nothing like it can ever happen again.’
In 2012 David Cameron promised (Hansard 29 November 2012):
‘What matters most about this is putting in place a regulatory system that can make the victims proud.’
‘What is absolutely vital is that we put in place a regulatory system that they [the victims] can see has got real teeth.’
‘I think that they, as all victims do, deserve a really tough, independent regulatory system that can really hold the press to account, that can fine those editors, that can call them to account, that can insist on proper apologies and that can take up complainants’ cases and deal with them properly.’
But in the six months to last December, Mr Cameron met Murdoch and Murdoch’s editors no fewer than seven times, yet he could find no time to meet victims.
When Mr Whittingdale made his announcement about shelving the key Leveson measure, it was not to the victims but to a gathering of newspaper editors. Not surprisingly, they greeted his news with gleeful applause.
- Return to business as usual in the Prime Minister’s cosy relationships with the press
The Prime Minister said:
‘The relationship between politicians and the media must change’ – 13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘I think the relationship between politics and media needs resetting, and I think there is an opportunity for this Parliament to do that’ – 6 September 2011, Parliamentary Liaison Committee
But as recently as December 2015, David Cameron attended a Christmas party given by Rupert Murdoch at his London home. Also present were George Osborne, John Whittingdale (the Culture Secretary) and other ministers.
Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press, and works with victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.
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