Parliamentary inquiry misled on phone hacks

Author: By Ian Burrell, Media Editor

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Baroness Buscombe, said that she had been written to by Metropolitan Police lawyers acting for Detective inspector Mark Maberly, who, according to evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, had said that 6,000 people were victims of a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid. Baroness Buscombe was told that DI Maberly had “been wrongly quoted”. The police lawyers told her that the “reliable evidence” given to the committee was from Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who had said that only a “handful” of people were targeted.

“I have just spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention,” Baroness Buscombe was expected to tell the annual Society of Editors conference last night. “Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is an extremely serious matter.”

In order to “take account of this development”, the PCC will be re-writing its own inquiry report into phone hacking, which was published last week and concluded that there was “no new evidence” of phone hacking at the News of the World, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media empire. The PCC also found that it had not been “materially misled” by Murdoch’s executives when they assured the commission two years ago that phone hacking was not ongoing, after the paper’s royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for such activities in January 2007. That caused the paper’s editor, Andy Coulson, to lose his job.

The latest development is embarrassing both for the Guardian, which has alleged a widespread and ongoing culture of phone hacking at the News of the World, producing a series of front page articles in July, and for the BBC, which make the Guardian’s claim its lead story on its Newsnight programme and on its rolling news channel and national news bulletins.

In response to the PCC’s report last week, the Guardian launched a furious attack on the commission, saying its work was “cursory and complacent” and criticising its failure to take evidence from DI Maberly, who had been identified to the select committee by Mark Lewis, the lawyer acting for Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association and a victim of Goodman and Mulcaire. Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, went on BBC Radio to attack the PCC’s report as “worse than pointless”.

In its original story, the Guardian revealed that lawyers acting for the News of the World had made a substantial out of court settlement to Mr Taylor who, as had been reported more than two years previously, was a victim in the Goodman case. The Guardian suggested the settlement was linked to a wider culture of hacking than had previously been acknowledged and reported calls for David Cameron to sack Mr Coulson whom the Conservative party had hired as director of communications.

Speaking ahead of her speech to the Society of Editors, Baroness Buscombe said that she was disappointed by Mr Rusbridger’s “aggressive” stance and said “I’m not going to fuel the flames of a story that’s a non-story”.

Although she said the Guardian was “isolated” in its views on the matter, she was concerned by how its attack on the PCC would be regarded. “One of my challenges is to show the public we are not in the pockets of the press,” she said. “But then you have an editor going on the airwaves and putting pressure on us by making these comments.”

Baroness Buscombe, a lawyer and a Tory peer, will also call for the press to show a united front in protecting its collective future, particularly in challenging Google and other aggregators of online content. “Google is having a laugh at the expense of the creative industries and I think that’s deeply worrying,” she said, suggesting that British newspapers “should come together and start their own search engine”.

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