The Sun and Daily Mail have this morning condemned the effect the Leveson Report recommendations had on their reporting of the Rolf Harris sex abuse scandal.
The Sun was the first newspaper to report that Harris, who was yesterday convicted of 12 sex attacks on four girls, had been arrested.
Its front page story, in April last year, came three weeks after his arrest, and five months after he was initially questioned by police.
In an editorial today, the newspaper described how Harris’s lawyers cited the Leveson Report in trying to stop the paper from publishing any story, arguing that there was no “public interest” in reporting that he had been spoken to be officers.
The Sun also condemned the Metropolitan Police for not naming Harris, despite journalists putting his name to them for confirmation.
“No matter that his anonymity could implicate other entertainers of his age, prevent further victims from coming forward and put new ones at risk,” the paper said.
“The Sun alone named Harris and more women did then come forward.
“It may be too much to hope that the celebrities backing Hacked Off’s tribal war on the tabloids would ever pause to think what they’re doing.
“But let them not pretend, as they do, that Leveson’s recommendations have anything but grave consequences for our Press and our democracy.
“In this case they would have shielded a nasty old pervert with a taste for little girls.”
The Daily Mail, which today reported on how Harris’s “bullying” lawyers ”used the Leveson Report, which recommended anonymity in the event of arrests, to intimidate the press into silence”.
Lawyers told one newspaper: “There is no public interest in publishing such content as is entirely self evident following the publication of the Leveson Report.”
The Mail also reports that its sister title, The Mail on Sunday, was told by Harbottle and Lewis’s senior media lawyer, Gerrard Tyrrell,”it could face ‘highly damaging’ legal consequences if it published the fact that Harris had been quizzed by detectives”.
Praising the courage of victims who came forward to testify against Harris, today’s Mail editorial said: “If Harris’s lawyers had got their way, this breakthrough may never have occurred. Justice would have been denied.
“They fired off aggressive legal letters to newspapers – citing the Leveson Inquiry – which argued there was no public interest in reporting he was under investigation for historic sex attacks.
“Meanwhile, the police – themselves cowed by Leveson – initially refused to confirm the TV presenter’s identity.
“It was only when Harris was named by journalists – four months after police first interviewed him, in relation to a single victim – that the dam broke and the other women were able to come forward.
“Disturbingly, post-Leveson, there are many examples of police holding, arresting and even charging suspects in secret.
“This chilling practice is not only an affront to open justice and the hallmark of totalitarian regimes.
“It also hands a gift to predators like Harris who depend upon their frightened victims believing they are on their own.”
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