The terms of reference set for the Leveson Inquiry by the Prime Minister were: “To inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.” In so inquiring, Lord Justice Leveson seems to have taken an excessively narrow view of his remit. For one thing, as has been much commented on already, he ignored the internet, apart from one defeatist line about its being an “ethical vacuum”. But he also, as this newspaper has revealed, ignored evidence that most hacking, blagging and theft of private information was carried out not on behalf of newspapers but of law firms and large corporations.
This was an important failing of the inquiry. Not because Lord Justice Leveson should have investigated it in depth – that was clearly outside his remit. But he should have drawn attention to the culpability of parties other than the press, not just in his report but before it was published. The reputational damage suffered by newspapers in general and News International in particular would hardly have been mitigated by a plea of, “They’re all at it, m’lud”, but if other industries are engaged in comparable illegal conduct, then they too should be investigated and censured.
Instead, Lord Justice Leveson seems to have decided that the evidence, in a report from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca), was not a matter for him, and not a matter for anyone else either. Fortunately, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, took a rather more serious view in Parliament yesterday, describing the evidence that the hacking scandal spread far beyond the press as “worrying”, which is Home-Secretary-speak for “utterly outrageous”.
The Independent is not yet demanding another judge-led inquiry into the “other 80 per cent” of the hacking scandal, but Ms May should certainly be asking some searching questions of Soca and the Information Commissioner, the custodian of the Data Protection Act, about the evidence of such widespread and illegal invasions of privacy.