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March 3, 2016

Whittingdale to meet Hacked Off, says decision on Leveson II will be made once criminal proceedings over

By PA Mediapoint and Press Gazette

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is to meet press pressure group Hacked Off amid fears that a further inquiry into press ethics and phone-hacking has been shelved.

The Cabinet minister told MPs that a decision on the second part of the Leveson Inquiry would be examined once criminal proceedings have ended.

He reiterated this stage had yet to be reached, but said he would meet media reform campaign group Hacked Off in a few weeks.

The various Met Police investigations into journalists have not concluded. But Sun reporter Anthony France is pursuing an appeal against his conviction for being involved in payments to a police officer.

Allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World led to the Leveson Inquiry, with Prime Minister David Cameron initially announcing in 2011 that it would be conducted in two parts.

The first reported in 2012 and examined the culture, practice and ethics of the press.

The second was expected to investigate alleged law-breaking and improper conduct within media organisations, the original police investigation into phone-hacking, and whether police were complicit in misconduct.

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Today in the House of Commons, Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis asked Mr Whittingdale: "Will you tell the House why your Government has gone from promising victims of press abuse that part two of Leveson will happen to that it may happen?

"And could you also tell the House how many meetings you and your Cabinet colleagues have had with newspaper proprietors over the past year, and whether that was a topic of conversation?"

Whittingdale responded: "We have always said that any decisions about whether or not Leveson Two should take place will be taken once all the criminal proceedings have been completed.

"We are not at that stage – there are further criminal proceedings still under way. Once those are completed we will come back to look at this question.

"With regard to meetings with newspaper proprietors, with victims of press intrusion, with my ministerial colleagues, we regularly publish a record of all those meetings and of course I do have regular meetings with all of those.

"I'm also looking forward to having a further meeting with Hacked Off to discuss these matters in a few weeks time."

There were reports in December last year that the second part of the Leveson Inquiry would not take place.

The government had quietly decided to shelve it because of "limited political appetite" for another expensive and long judicial inquiry, The Times reported.

There was also a consensus that the issues due to be examined during the second section of the inquiry had already been covered in a series of trials involving allegations of phone-hacking and corrupt payments to police officers and other public servant, it said.

The Daily Mail reported a "well-placed insider" as describing taking over the Leveson Inquiry as "not something judges would be queuing up to do".

It said overseeing such an inquiry would not be considered vital for a judge to get promotion, so there would not be a clamour to be appointed to it.

"It is not something that is going to further your career," the Daily Mail quoted a source as saying.

It added that Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, was understood to have acknowledged that it would be "difficult" to find a judge to pick up the controversial inquiry.

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