Stephen Glover on The Press

We should be grateful that Barclay has stepped out of the shadows
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The Independent Online

Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Telegraph Group, does not yearn to have his name in the papers. He keeps such a low profile that one might legitimately doubt his existence. So it was a surprise to see Mr Barclay's name among 39 signatories to an open letter to John Reid, the Home Secretary, published last week in The Daily Telegraph, objecting to the extradition of the so-called "NatWest Three" to the United States.

Mr Barclay and his co-signatories certainly have a point. Gary Mulgrew, David Bermingham and Giles Darby are likely to be extradited this week - handcuffed by US marshals and, according to some reports, shackled in leg irons when they arrive. These former investment bankers are accused of conspiracy to defraud NatWest (for which they worked) of £12m. Just over half this amount was allegedly shared by two senior executives at Enron, the collapsed US energy company. Although the British authorities have shown no interest in prosecuting the three men, the Americans are making a big deal of it.

The purpose of the letter signed by Mr Barclay and others was not to argue that the NatWest Three are innocent, but to draw attention to "a manifestly unfair extradition treaty with the United States". It is much easier for the US to extradite suspects from this country than it is for us to prise alleged felons from there. When Tony Blair asserted last week in the Commons that there is no inequity, he was either misinformed - or he was misleading us.

The letter marked the highpoint of an energetic campaign by The Daily Telegraph that has involved leaders, columns and numerous articles. It is a reasonable inference that Mr Barclay has been one of the main supporters of the campaign. One of his co-signatories was Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Group. Among the other signatories were several stars of The Daily Telegraph's business pages, such as Sir Philip Green, and Michael Spencer, chief executive of Icap, plc.

No reasonable person could disagree with a word of the letter. Why, then, do I feel very slightly uneasy? If Aidan Barclay commonly associated himself with great public causes, one would not give his championing of this one a second thought. As it is, he is normally invisible. The same point could be made about Mr MacLennan, who, though figuring in this column from time to time, generally does not like to put himself about. Suddenly these two habitually retiring titans erupt on to the national stage, featuring in The Daily Telegraph's first major campaign for some time.

I suppose they are partly motivated by the genuine fear that if the NatWest Three can be whisked off to America, clapped in leg irons and told that they may have to wait two years in solitary confinement for their trial, the same thing could happen to any of us. We could all have our collars fingered by an over-zealous American prosecutor.

This is certainly a worrying thought, and we should be grateful that Aidan Barclay has stepped out of the shadows to give it voice.

* THE LIBERAL Democrat peer Lord Avebury has been trying for 17 months to obtain details of Tony Blair's meetings with Rupert Murdoch. Last Friday the Cabinet Office was forced by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, to cough up some information. Tony Blair spoke to Mr Murdoch by phone on 13 March 2003, and he met Richard Desmond, proprietor of the Express titles, on 29 January 2003 and 23 February 2004. These were the only meetings "clearly of an official nature" between September 2002 and 15 April 2005, but since these disclosures exclude contacts "not clearly of an official nature" they are largely worthless.

A 'media storm' over Prezza? It was barely a gentle breeze

John Prescott may remain Deputy Prime Minister, but anyone can see that the man is irretrievably wounded, and he cannot be expected to last long. He and his advisers depict him as a victim of a "media storm". Many people, whether they like or loathe Mr Prescott, will be inclined to accept this version of events.

Yet, as with many previous New Labour scandals, this was a pretty half-hearted sort of storm, which took time to build. Even when it was allegedly raging, The Sun and The Daily Mirror did not think the story big enough to warrant front-page treatment. As is usual in these cases, The Daily Mail was in the eye of the storm, but even it took some time to achieve hurricane status.

Rather surprisingly, the story was broken by The Times on Saturday 1 July. The pro-New Labour Times is not a usual fount of stories damaging to the Government, though it has been showing signs of increasing independence of mind recently. Its political reporter Sam Coates had been sniffing around Mr Prescott's relationship with Philip Anschutz for a few weeks, and was presumably being fed information by the Tories. Even so, The Times did not splash with its considerable scoop, and preferred to run it on page three.

The Sunday Times, Independent on Sunday and Sunday Telegraph followed up The Times' story the next day, though none of them on the front page. Meanwhile, in time-honoured fashion, the BBC almost entirely ignored it, and continued to do so for several days. On Monday The Daily Mail was less aerated than one might have expected, while The Independent, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Daily Mirror and Guardian offered no coverage whatsoever. At this stage the "media storm" seemed in danger of fizzling out altogether.

Then on Tuesday the London Evening Standard splashed with the news that Mr Prescott had paid an official visit to a super casino in Australia in 2004, and was also being accused on the internet of having had further affairs. Further bits of damning evidence began to creep out. On Wednesday The Daily Mail, Daily Express and Times splashed with the scandal for the first time, and The Guardian and Independent followed suit the next day. But the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror and the Government-friendly Sun still showed limited interest. By Friday, though, The Sun had lost patience, though even so it dismissed Prescott in a second, rather than a first, leader. The allegation in yesterday's Mail on Sunday that he accepted a 'lavish Wild West outfit' from Mr Anschutz may prove to be serious.

What does all this prove? Only that there was hardy a uniform "media storm". There was a gust here and a mini tycoon there, but some papers took a long time to emit more than a gentle breeze, and one or two never really got going at all. When Mr Prescott finally falls, however, we can be sure that he and his friends will tar the media with a single brush.