A lawyer called today for the resignation of Baroness Buscombe, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, after she questioned evidence he gave to a Commons select committee over allegations of phone-hacking by reporters at the News of the World.
Buscombe told the Society of Editors conference last night she had seen a letter from Met Police lawyers claiming that an officer, DS Maberly, had been misquoted over the claim the News of the World may have intercepted 6,000 phone calls.
This contradicted evidence given to the Commons culture committee last month by solicitor Mark Lewis.
Lewis said in evidence to the committee he had been informed by Maberly that “they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved” in the phone hacking.
Press Gazette has today seen a letter sent by Lewis to Buscombe calling for to resign.
He says: “I am deeply concerned that you have thought it proper to criticise my evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee without either having the courtesy or the propriety to put the allegations to me first. I regret that your failure to act properly has compromised any veneer of impartiality that you sought to create.
“The different versions of events that appear to have been given do not even amount to a conflict of evidence. It seems that you have chosen to accept the contents of a hearsay letter constructed on behalf of the Metropolitan Police rather than the first hand evidence that was given by me to the Select Committee.
“I am sure that upon mature reflection you will appreciate that in doing so you have betrayed any semblance of impartiality and regrettably ought to find yourself in a position where the honourable action would be for you to resign.”
Lewis says that the conversation with Maberly in which the 6,000 figure was aired was witnessed by two other people, one of whom was a barrister.
The conversation happened as Lewis was acting for Gordon Taylor in his phone-hacking privacy action against the NoW.
He said: “The context of the conversation was the resolution of the application for Third Party Disclosure against the Metropolitan Police. You will be aware that the Metropolitan Police had not told victims of phone hacking that they were victims.
“It is a matter of great concern that you have still not sought to examine the underlying documentation that would disprove the contents of the letter sent by the Metropolitan Police.
“I was sceptical of the ‘whitewash’ report that the PCC had issued but had satisfied myself that the report was carefully constructed to record that you had investigated nothing and consequently found nothing. My concern now is that you have magnified those findings in such a way as to suggest that there were a mere handful of victims…
“If you had checked the underlying documents you would have realised that the police evidence was no more than ‘spin’. I find myself incredulous at the crassness of your statement.
“Even on the Gordon Taylor case, there were more examples of phone hacking than the ‘handful’ that was mentioned within your report or by the Metropolitan Police.
“Of course, it suits the Metropolitan Police to try and downplay their woeful failures to notify all the victims of unlawfulness. In the Taylor case there were numerous individuals whose phone messages were hacked, and whose numbers were therefore acquired by the enquiry agent Glenn Mulcaire.”
Lewis questioned the honesty of the News of the World over the phone-hacking matter – and suggested that the PCC should have censured the paper.
He said: “The PCC can be nothing unless it is a beacon of truth prepared to expose and criticise its own members where it is proper to do so.
“Whilst I am as strong an advocate as there can be for a free press as a balance to Parliament and the judiciary, I do so by balancing the absolute standard of honesty and the need to protect privacy.
“The unlawful access of phone messages in order to find tittle-tattle is wholly unacceptable by any decent standard. I should not have to remind you that it is your job to enforce those proper standards so that we can have an honest and free press not just a free press.”