Why did Leveson ignore hacking beyond press, ask MPs

 

Deputy Political Editor

Lord Justice Leveson is to be tackled by MPs over his failure to follow up a police report which revealed that hacking operations were ordered by law, telecoms and insurance companies.

The judge who conducted the Government-commissioned investigation into press ethics has been called before a Commons select committee to face questions over his inquiry.

Lord Justice Leveson received a report from the Serious Organised Crime Agency which said companies routinely hired criminals to hack, blag and steal private information from rivals.

The agency spelt out that the illegal practices went far beyond newspapers, but the judge did not act on its warning and did not even refer to its findings.

The formal invitation by the Culture, Media and Sport committee comes at a moment of stalemate over the future of press regulation following the publication of the Leveson report in November.

The main political parties have agreed a plan for an independent press regulator underpinned by royal charter, while newspapers have published an alternative charter.

The judge will be questioned over the impasse, as well as his failure to act on the disclosure that blue chip companies authorised hacking.

Conor Burns, a Tory committee member, said: "I would be more than surprised if colleagues did not want to seek to understand what his thinking was."

Mr Burns said they would want to know what he "did with these further allegations that hacking appeared to be far more widespread" and "what his rationale was for what he did or didn't do with them".

The committee previously issued an informal request to the judge to give evidence which he turned down. He looks certain to accept this time as witnesses who refuse to comply with a formal invitation can be threatened with contempt of parliament.

The MPs hope he will face their questions before the Commons rises for its summer recess on July 18.

A spokeswoman for the judiciary said he had not yet received the invitation, adding: "He will respond to the committee if and when he does."

Asked whether Lord Justice Leveson should appear before the committee to give evidence, David Cameron's official spokesman said: "That is a matter for him."

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told MPs on Monday that she recognised the "degree of concern" prompted by the new disclosures about hacking and said she also found them "worrying".

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