How the Leveson Inquiry shone a spotlight on police and politicians - Press Gazette

How the Leveson Inquiry shone a spotlight on police and politicians

When David Cameron ordered the Leveson Inquiry, it appeared clear that it was the press which was on the hook for its involvement in phone-hacking.

But as Lord Justice Leveson's hearings got under way, it was often the politicians – including Cameron himself – who found themselves under the spotlight for their links with media owners and executives.

The Prime Minister suffered the embarrassment of having his private messages to News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks – complete with the salutation "lol", which he mistakenly believed meant "lots of love" – paraded in public.

And the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt lost his special adviser and came very close to losing his job after the closeness of links between his office and lobbyists for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation was revealed.

Indeed, one of the surprises for many voters watching the inquiry was the web of contacts and friendships it exposed between those at the top of politics and those in charge of the media organisations which scrutinise and torment them.

David Cameron. Pic: Reuters

The inquiry reignited questions over Cameron's judgment in hiring former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press spokesman and later installing him in 10 Downing Street as director of communications – a position he quit as the furore over phone-hacking kicked off.

Chancellor George Osborne too was dragged into the controversy, as it emerged he initially recommended Coulson just months after his resignation from the Sunday tabloid following the jailing of his royal correspondent for eavesdropping on Prince Harry's voicemail.

And eyebrows were raised at the PM's text message exchanges with Brooks, with their talk of "country suppers" and the News International executive's promise that she was "rooting for" the PM "not just as a proud friend but because professionally we're definitely in this together".

In October, questions over their relationship were revived when it emerged that a series of messages between Brooks and Cameron were not handed over to Leveson by Downing Street because they were not judged "relevant" to his inquiry.

A central issue for Lord Justice Leveson's investigation was the News Corporation bid for total control over satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which was ditched after the phone-hacking scandal broke in 2011.

Documents released by the inquiry showed the relentless text and email campaign of News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel to build contacts with Hunt's office as the crunch decision approached on whether he would green-light the bid.

Rebekah Brooks. Pic: Leveson

The Culture Secretary's special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned after admitting getting too close to Michel and Hunt himself – who sent messages addressing the lobbyist as "Daddy" and "mon ami" – was accused of favouring News Corp.

The inquiry uncovered a memo from the Culture Secretary to Cameron arguing the media group's case, sent before responsibility for the decision was stripped from Vince Cable – who said he had "gone to war" with Murdoch – and handed over to Hunt.

But Hunt insisted he had always been scrupulously even-handed in his handling of the bid, pointing out that he repeatedly took the advice of independent regulators.

He survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament, which saw one of the biggest coalition bust-ups since the general election when Nick Clegg told his Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain. And far from seeing his career prospects blighted by the row, Hunt went on to be promoted to Health Secretary in the September 2012 reshuffle.

The loudest political voice in support of Murdoch throughout the inquiry has been Education Secretary Michael Gove, who told Leveson that the media tycoon was "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".

Gove also urged caution over proposals for statutory regulation of the press, warning Leveson that the case for legislation would have to be very strong before he made recommendations that would "curtail liberty".

If it is the emails and texts which have provided the most powerful political images from the Leveson Inquiry, it is almost certainly the question of statutory regulation which will give politicians their biggest headache.

A firm recommendation from Leveson for some form of official regulatory body to rein in press misbehaviour would be difficult for the Prime Minister to reject. But few doubt that Cameron would be reluctant to earn himself a reputation for muzzling free speech by taking a step which would make him powerful enemies throughout the media.

Jeremy Hunt. Pic: Reuters

Scotland Yard had to deal with embarrassing revelations, the commissioner's resignation and leading the renewed phone hacking investigation as the Inquiry rumbled on.

The inquiry brought into sharp focus allegations about inappropriate closeness between journalists and top flight officers at the Met.

In July 2011, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Metropolitan Police Commissioner after coming under fire for hiring former tabloid executive Neil Wallis as a PR consultant, before Wallis was arrested for alleged involvement in phone hacking.

The force also denied claims that a stay at a luxury health resort for Sir Paul was arranged by Wallis, who was working as a PR consultant for Champneys at the time.

Scotland Yard said accommodation and food for Sir Paul and his wife was provided by Champneys managing director Stephen Purdew, a family friend of the Commissioner. Wallis denied any involvement in the stay in a statement issued through his solicitor.

Another episode of controversy erupted when it emerged that Rebekah Brooks was loaned a retired police horse in 2008.

The Met pointed out, however, that it was standard practice to loan retired horses to members of the public. The animal was returned in 2010 and rehoused with a police officer.

Amid increased scrutiny of relationships between journalists and the police, a report by Elizabeth Filkin was published in January this year, advising officers to avoid flirting with journalists or accepting alcoholic drinks from them.

The report urged police to "watch out" for "late-night carousing, long sessions, yet another bottle of wine at lunch – these are all long-standing media tactics to get you to spill the beans. Avoid."

Questions were also raised about why Scotland Yard decided not to reopen the investigation into phone hacking in 2009.

Sir Paul Stephenson. Pic: Reuters

That year the Met said the probe would not be revisited, but the Crown Prosecution Service said it would review material that had been passed to police in 2006.

At the beginning of 2011, the Met launched Operation Weeting, a new inquiry into phone hacking, after it said it had received "significant new information" from News International.

Then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers was tasked with overseeing Weeting and two parallel inquiries; Elveden, that looked at alleged corrupt payments to public officials and leaks of confidential information; and Tuleta, that looked at computer hacking, privacy breaches and alleged hacking of stolen mobile phones.

Giving evidence to the inquiry in September this year, she warned that in total the police investigation could cost up to £40 million over four years.

So far, a total of 18 people have been arrested under Tuleta; 25 as part of Weeting and 52 under Elveden.

Eight people including ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and former spin doctor Andy Coulson are facing charges over an alleged conspiracy to hack phones.

The others are private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and five former NOTW staff: ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former news editor Greg Miskiw, former head of news Ian Edmondson, ex-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former reporter James Weatherup.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers. Pic: Reuters

Six people have been charged under Operation Elveden – Brooks and former Sun chief reporter John Kay are accused of paying Ministry of Defence employee Bettina Jordan-Barber around £100,000 for information.

Coulson and former News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman are charged with paying for information that included contact details for the royal family.

In a separate case, counter-terrorism detective April Casburn is due to stand trial in January over allegations that she offered information to the NOTW.

No one has yet been charged under Tuleta.

Brooks is also due to face trial along with her racehorse trainer husband Charlie and five other people over allegations that they tried to conceal information from police investigating phone hacking and claims of corrupt payments.

The other defendants are her former personal assistant Cheryl Carter, head of security at News International Mark Hanna, Brooks's chauffeur Paul Edwards and security staff Daryl Jorsling and Lee Sandell.



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