The Home Secretary should hold urgent discussions with the head of the judiciary on the prospect of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry going ahead, according to the pressure group, Hacked Off.
The call by Hacked Off, which includes a demand that any deal between Theresa May and Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, is made public, follows unsourced newspaper reports that the government have decided to abandon the second part of the Leveson Inquiry.
Sir Brian Leveson was appointed by David Cameron in 2011 to head a judicial investigation into Britain’s press. This followed revelations in the emerging phone-hacking scandal that the phone of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler had been hacked by the now defunct News of the World tabloid.
Part one of the inquiry, looking at the ethics and practices of the press, was published in November 2012.
The second part was designated to investigate "the extent of unlawful or improper conduct” within Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers. It would also look at other media organisations, and whether or not the police received corrupt payments and were “complicit in misconduct”.
This was put on hold till all criminal inquiries related to phone hacking ceased. The announcement last week by Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, that no further criminal action will be taken against Mr Murdoch’s UK press business, or against journalists from Trinity Mirror, effectively cleared any legal barrier to Leveson 2 kicking off.
However unsourced government briefings to selected newspapers have claimed that both the government and the judiciary have agreed to shelve the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
One report suggested there was no appetite inside the judiciary for any judge to complete the inquiry. It was described as a “poisoned chalice” that would not further a judge’s career now that Sir Brian been promoted to head the Queens Bench division of the High Court and was no longer be available to undertake part two.
Dr Evan Harris, the joint executive director of Hacked Off said Mr Cameron, Theresa May, and Lord Thomas, all had a duty to publicly explain what decision, if any, had been taken.
“Leveson Part 2 will be vital in dealing with serious allegations of police and press corruption," he said. "Theresa May has previously shown courage in standing up to powerful interests including in the Met to commit to Part 2 happening, and it would be disgraceful if she was to back down now – however alluring the prospect of currying favour with Murdoch’s media empire may be.
"To abandon Part 2 of the Inquiry would be stark complicity with those who have most to hide from the next phase of Leveson.”
In January this year, the Minister for Policing, Mike Penning, told the Commons that the government had made no call on Leveson 2.
In November 2012, the Prime Minister said he remained “committed to the inquiry as it was first established” – a clear signal that the “who-did-what-to-whom” probe, as Sir Brian called it, was still green lighted.
Mr Cameron acknowledged victims’ concerns about improper relationships between journalists and police. He added “It is right that it should go ahead, and that is fully our intention.”
The current Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, told parliament in 2013 when he headed the select committee investigating phone hacking, that “great unanswered questions” on police evidence and inaction would only be answered by part two of the promised Leveson 2 examination.
Theresa May told the same Commons debate that the second part of Leveson would take place. She offered Mr Whittingdale reassurance that his questions “will indeed be part of the second part [of Leveson]”.
The 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan, the subject of several failed police investigations, was expected to feature in Leveson 2. The Home Secretary in 2013 ordered a Hillsborough-style investigation panel to investigate the murder, with Mr Morgan’s family offered reassurance that Leveson 2 would potentially be able to look deeper.
If Part 2 is abandoned the Home office’s assurances will effectively vanish.
The Home Office, asked to comment, said the position stated by Mr Penning almost a year ago had not changed.
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