More than 24 hours after the News of the World printed minute-by-minute accounts of nuisance calls allegedly by the Princess of Wales to Oliver Hoare, an art dealer , Lord McGregor told the Today programme: 'You're asking me about a piece I haven't yet read. All that I have read is what was reproduced in two other newspapers.' Neither had he read the Princess's three-page 'exclusive' denial in yesterday's Daily Mail.
The admission was immediately seized upon by Michael Fabricant, a Conservative member of the Commons National Heritage Select Committee, who said on BBC Radio that the peer's intervention had damaged the credibility of the PCC.
'I am concerned that he says first of all there is no case to answer, then he says well he hasn't actually read the article, but then he says of course if there were a complaint made directly by Princess Diana, they would investigate it.
'These are all contradictory statements, to my mind, and make absolutely no sense at all. I really do think that the PCC, if they are going to maintain any level of credibility, really should reconsider the position of Lord McGregor and I think he should reconsider his position.'
Lord McGregor, 71, later told the World at One that he said he had 'no intention' of resigning. While he had not read the article itself he had received a full account of its contents; his mistake was in answering the earlier question 'too literally'.
After agreeing that his comments had come a full 24 hours after publication, he said: 'I had no machinery for obtaining copies of the News of the World throughout the hours of darkness on Sunday night.'
Lord McGregor's chairmanship expires next year, although his latest faux pas increases pressure on him to step down. A former chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, he has remained a staunch defender of press self-regulation since assuming leadership of the newly-created PCC in January 1991.
In 1992, he condemned the media attention being heaped on Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story as 'an odious exhibition of journalists dabbling their fingers in the stuff of other people's souls'. When it later emerged that the Princess was behind the book and many of the leaks, he complained that she had embarrassed him.
His failure to condemn the publication of the 'Camilla tapes' surprised many as the commission's Code of Practice lays down that 'intrusions and inquiries into an individual's private life . . . can only be justified when in the public interest.'
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