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June 14, 2012

DPP Keir Starmer answers questions from Press Gazette readers about phone-hacking, bribes and the public interest

By Dominic Ponsford1

The fact that more than 50 individuals have been arrested by police investigating hacking and corruption underlines the fact this time the Met are bending over backwards to ensure that no-one can accuse them of being too lenient.

Many in the press fear that quite to the contrary, journalists are being subject to a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Certainly, to my knowledge there has never before in British history been such a criminal purge of the British press.

With the police casting their net so widely, it is up to Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and his team to decide whether prosecutions are worth proceeding with.

The law gives no special status to journalists, but it does to freedom of express and the work they do.

That’s why David Leigh was today cleared despite admitting phone-hacking, a crime which has no public interest defence.

In April – Starmer made public the draft guidelines which he will follow when deciding which of the many journalists whose files will be passed to him should go on and face trial, and which should be cleared like Leigh. Although these guidelines are in force, they could change and a consultation is open on them is open until 10 July.

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When he was interviewed by Press Gazette last month, Starmer appealed to Press Gazette readers to respond to his consultation so he can better inform his decision on whether or not he prosecutes our colleagues.

To this end has agreed to answer any questions Press Gazette readers  have about the guidelines – or anything else.

In broad terms the guidelines balance the criminality of the act versus the good the journalist was trying to acheive.

Looking at the criminal act that started this whole scandal off, I asked Starmer whether the comparatively mild criminality in hacking a phone was justified by the end of trying to find a missing schoolgirl. In his answer he appeared to admit that this could indeed be the case.

If you have any questions for Starmer – please email them to me: dominicp@pressgazette.co.uk or post them in the comments to this post and we will pass them on to the DPP. We will publish his answers in about a week’s time.

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