Your chance to air press grievances, Leveson tells MPs

Judge offers members a 'once-in-a-lifetime' chance to turn tables on their tormentors

MPs who have suffered at the hands of the tabloid press must come forward immediately if they want their accounts to be heard, Lord Justice Leveson said yesterday.

In an extraordinary appeal at his inquiry into the ethics of the press, the judge told the Labour MP Tom Watson to remind his Westminster colleagues that the inquiry was "a once in a lifetime's chance" for parliamentarians to come forward.

Mr Watson said he has been contacted by about 12 MPs who wish to go public with complaints about their treatment but fear "ridicule and humiliation" about their private lives and political mistakes if they criticise newspapers. The Labour MP said he had encouraged his colleagues to prepare submissions to the inquiry and Lord Justice Leveson suggested they should hurry, saying: "The train isn't stopping, because it can't."

The Leveson report on the culture, practices and ethics of the press is expected to be published before the end of the year.

Since he stood down as a Cabinet Office minister in Gordon Brown's government in 2009 and joined the culture and media select committee, Mr Watson has been a thorn in the side of News International and the Murdoch media empire.

According to Mr Watson, Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, in 2009 privately asked the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson: "What am I going to do about this Tom Watson?"

At the recent launch of his book, Dial M for Murdoch, co-written with The Independent's Martin Hickman, he accused News International of planning a smear campaign against members of the DCMS select committee.

The Independent yesterday revealed that the former News of the World uncover reporter, Mazher Mahmood, better known as the "Fake Sheikh", was personally responsible for commissioning surveillance on him. Mr Mahmood believed Mr Watson was having an affair with a party activist who was also a devout Muslim woman.

Appearing before the inquiry yesterday, Mr Watson said the allegation was untrue. He also said Mr Mahmood, now at The Sunday Times, commissioned the paper's regular private investigator, the former police officer Derek Webb, to tail him through Labour's 2009 conference.

During evidence to the DCMS committee last year, James Murdoch said he was aware of the Watson surveillance operation and apologised.

Mr Watson also repeated his claim that Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp, telephoned Tony Blair asking him to "call off" the MP's hackingcrusade. Mr Watson says the message was relayed to him in a call from Mr Brown. Since the call was described in Dial M for Murdoch, Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch have said they cannot remember this conversation.

Mr Watson told the inquiry: "This isn't the sort of thing a backbencher would forget too easily."

The notion that Rupert Murdoch was ordering around a former Prime Minister and trying to end a parliamentary inquiry, was "implausible back then," Mr Watson said. "But it certainly seems more plausible day by day."

Former NOTW executive to edit men's mag

A former News of the World executive arrested during the police investigation into wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid has been made editor of men's magazine Loaded.

Ian Edmondson, assistant editor (news) at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper until last January, was appointed by Loaded's new owner, businessman and porn magnate, Paul Baxendale-Walker.

Martin Hickman

From the witness stand: Praise for Indy's schools editor

The Independent's Education Editor, Richard Garner, was singled out for praise by the former Education Secretary, Alan Johnson at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday. Asked which reporters he had lunched with, Mr Johnson, Education Secretary between 2006 and 2007, said meetings with education specialists were "productive... I think about the education correspondent for The Independent, who was tremendously knowledgeable".

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