Leveson Inquiry chairman urged Government not to scrap probe

Sir Brian Leveson urged the Government to start the now-jettisoned second part of his inquiry into press standards because the public had been promised a full probe.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that reopening the "costly and time-consuming" inquiry - which reported on press regulation and ethics in 2012 - was not "the right way forward".

Leveson II was due to look into unlawful conduct within media organisations as well as relations between police and the press.

In a letter to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Mr Hancock dated January 23, Sir Brian, who is the head of criminal justice in England and Wales, said he believed the bulk of the inquiry's scope should go ahead.

He said: "I have no doubt that there is still a legitimate expectation on behalf of the public and, in particular, the alleged victims of phone hacking and other unlawful conduct, that there will be a full public examination of the circumstances that allowed that behaviour to develop and clear reassurances that nothing of the same scale could occur again: that is what they were promised.

"For the reasons given above, I do not believe that we are yet even near that position and would urge you to give further consideration to the need for at least the bulk of part two to be commenced as soon as possible."

Sir Brian added that while he could not preside over the second part himself because of his workload, he would have been "very willing" to help another chairman.

And he said he could not see why Leveson II could not be organised in as "similarly efficient" a way as part one, which cost the taxpayer £5.4 million and ran for 17 months, while the level of press involvement was "a matter for them".

Campaign group Hacked Off criticised the Government's decision, while former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames said the Conservatives had broken a promise by former prime minister David Cameron to finish the inquiry and she had "no confidence" in the Government.

Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, pictured with Hugh Grant after they settled phone hacking claims against Mirror Group Newspapers and News Group Newspapers (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, pictured with Hugh Grant after they settled phone hacking claims against Mirror Group Newspapers and News Group Newspapers (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Hancock also announced that the Government will not put into effect a controversial measure which would have required media organisations to sign up to a state-backed regulator or risk having to pay legal costs in both sides of a libel case, even if they won.

Ministers will seek to repeal the measure, contained in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, "at the earliest opportunity", he told MPs.

Labour shadow culture secretary Tom Watson described the decision not to go ahead with the second part of Leveson as "a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion".

Announcing the original inquiry in 2011 in response to a wave of public anger over alleged phone-hacking by the now-defunct News Of The World, Mr Cameron said that it would be divided into two parts.

But Mr Hancock said there had been "significant progress" in the practices of the press and the police, including by the creation of the new Independent Press Complaints Standards Organisation, since Sir Brian's report in 2012.

Our press release on today's wholesale betrayal of press abuse victims: https://t.co/ZYE7xP4QAb@DrEvanHarris "If this was any other industry the press would demanding that inquiry must happen immediately, but when it is about them they applaud the cover-up of a cover up."

-- Hacked Off (@hackinginquiry) March 1, 2018

A large majority of those responding to a consultation launched by his predecessor John Whittingdale in 2016 opposed the implementation of Leveson II, he said.

Telling MPs he was formally closing the inquiry, he said that priority should be given to dealing with the challenges of the modern media landscape, such as the rise of clickbait, fake news and social media.

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, welcomed the "common-sense approach" but warned that further challenges to press freedom remained in the shape of the House of Lords amendments to the Data Protection Bill.

He said: "The decision that a costly Leveson II inquiry will not now go ahead and today's renewed pledge by the Government to lift the very real threat posed to the existence of some local and national newspapers by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is extremely welcome."

But the director of campaign group Hacked Off, Dr Evan Harris, said: "This is probably the first time that a Government has over-ruled the views of the judicial Chair of a statutory Inquiry by cancelling an inquiry against his will."

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the Government will seek to overturn the House of Lords votes for tighter regulation of the media.

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