9 December 2011

Leveson Inquiry: Hearings - Day 14


"I want this inquiry to mean something", not end up as "footnote in some professor of journalism's analysis of 21 century history." LJ Leveson in reply to A Rusbridger's submission to Inquiry.

Lord Justice Leveson
The Panel : top row (left to right)
  • Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty
  • George Jones, former Daily Telegraph political editor
  • Sir David Bell, former chairman of the Financial Times
Bottom row (Left to right)
  • Elinor Goodman, former Channel 4 political editor
  • Lord David Currie, former chairman of Ofcom
  • Sir Paul Scott-Lee, former West Midlands chief constable
 The proceedings are shown here live on the Leveson Inquiry website. 

BBC Democracy Live Leveson Inquiry live-feed here.

Full list of Core Participants to be found here. (Guardian Website)

Relevant links from mainstream media, blogs and social media:

(Twitter feed for Leveson Inquiry on right of Home page of this (#pressreform) blog.) 

Leveson Inquiry Witness List - Week beginning 5.12.11 

Leveson Inquiry Witness Statements  

Videos of Each Hearing on Official Leveson Inquiry Website

Follow Leveson Inquiry on Twitter - #leveson #Leveson 

Guardian Live Blog

Guardian Leveson Inquiry Round-up Page 

Telegraph Live Blog

Leveson Inquiry - Evidence, Weeks 1 and 2 - a Crash Course on the Ways of the Tabloids - Inforrm's Blog 

Video : BBC - BBC News Programmes - BBC News Special: the Phone-hacking Inquiry 

BBC News - Phone-hacking Scandal: Who's Linked to Who? (excellent interactive graphics)

Application to Leveson Inquiry by Full Fact For Amendment of Restriction Order 

What do You Do When an Entire System Fails? - David Allen Green for New Statesman 

The Bureau, Bell Pottinger, Babies and Bathwater - The Free Speech Blog

I've Seen the Future and It's Crap, Michael Williams - BJR 

Latest News: (many more links under Phone-hacking, Press and PCC tabs at head of this blog)

Article on Thomas' Wanting to Strengthen ICO and Data Protection Act from 2007 - Independent
Article by Present Information Commissioner on ICO and Data Protection Act - Prospect Magazine
ICO Was Advised Of Journalists' Blagging Offences - Out-Law.com
RMT Demands Information Into News International Surveillance - Enlightenment Blues
BBC Review Clears Journalists of Hacking Phones or Computers - Guardian
Former Info Chief Accuses Mail Over Illegal Blagging - Press Gazette

lisa o'carroll
Journalists 'Would Have Fought Us' - Independent

Thursday 9th December 2011  - (Blog for Day 13 here)  

Today's Witness: Richard Thomas CBE (Ex-ICO)

(Copy of Evidence previously given to Leveson Inquiry by Francis Aldhouse)
(Witness Statement of Alex Owens.) - re failings of ICO and his superiors
(Supplementary Evidence of Alex Owens)

Richard Thomas CBE

Profile of Richard Thomas
Further Details 
Document explaining purpose and outcome of 'Operation Motorman'
Link to copies of 'What Price Privacy?' and 'What Price Privacy Now?' 

Thomas' Witness Statements and Exhibits in Full

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Here's a quick profile of Richard Thomas.
The former Information Commissioner, who stepped down in June 2009, was the author of two reports, What Price Privacy and What Price Privacy Now, in 2006. They highlighted the illegal trade in confidential information, and uncovered the unethical practices of some private investigators who served a market which paid handsomely for sensitive data.
One investigator, Steve Whittamore, counted nearly all the national newspapers amongst his clients, and journalists at the Daily Mail used his services most often. The report went virtually unreported by most of Fleet Street. Thomas was focused primarily on the use of investigators by the insurance sector and other big companies, and the growth of a cottage industry whose practitioners were punished by tiny fines on the rare occasions they were prosecuted. But the discovery that newspapers were using Whittamore may prove to be his legacy."
"Thomas has submitted six witness statements. He starts by apologising for his non appearance last week - he said his voice had gone."
"Thomas is being asked whether it was illegal for journalists to procure information via a third party.
I don't recall having that point ever discussed or analysed inside the office. My understanding of the conventional wisdom inside the office is that obtain meant more than receive ... Primarily, the prosecutions we brought were when people sought out and obtained the data [rather than received it]"

Thomas: Owens reported to Lockett & Aldhouse. They were almost "semi-detached" from organisation.

Thomas: within year of joining ICO I put changes in place to bring Owens, Lockett & Aldhouse more into structure of organisation.

Guardian Live Blog with Details of Thomas' Interview  
"Thomas says material he received in the last two weeks show that, although the ICO didn't interview journalists, the Met police did investigate four journalists under Operation Glade."

T Portilho-Shrimpton
Thomas: had no jurisdiction on Op Glade, police investigation into corruption. Feeling we had to co-operate with those matters

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Thomas says he was told it would be too difficult to prosecute journalists.
When I was told sometime in October or November 2003 as going to be too difficult expensive to prosecute journalists, that's when I went off to the PCC."
"Thomas is sticking to his guns that he did not draw up any policy not to prosecute journalists.
It was the sheer costs and logistical challenge of going against the press that meant we should go towards the investigators,
There was no policy from the outset that weren't going to go against the press
He says he was being told that it appears that he can't go after the press and he is saying we should go after the press."
Table from What Price Privacy Now? Report, Showing use of PIs by Newspapers

Gavin Freeguard
The letter to The Times, yesterday, from Sir Christopher Meyer, just mentioned by Richard Thomas (£)

Ben Fenton
Richard Thomas, info commr tells it was a good thing they didn't take on newspapers at same time as PIs over data theft.

Ben Fenton
Papers wd have taken Info Commr all the way to Strasbourg. Thank goodness we didn't do it, Richard Thomas tells

Ben Fenton
Info Commr was advised by QC press wd be "barrel load of monkeys" if they were questioned on data theft-well briefed and well-armed

T Portilho-Shrimpton
Thomas: I don't think I've had a conversation with editors... points out Paul Dacre is an editor and he met him...

From Guardian Live Blog:
"The inquiry is now discussing a letter from Thomas on 4 November 2003 to Christopher Meyer, who had just been appointed chairman of the PCC.Leveson draws attention to this line:
"Though I do not want to usurp your role as the regulator of the press"
Leveson says:
My question is what you are relying upon as concluding that the PCC was a regulator. You are a regulator. But you concluded here that they were a regulator, or asserted they were a regulator.
Thomas says the PCC call themselves a self-regulatory body.
He says his view now is the PCC is much more a "complaint handler"."
Conversation between Richard Thomas and Les Hinton at PCC Committee Meeting - Guardian Live Blog 1.17 p.m.

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Thomas denies the "tempo" of the ICO's investigation then slowed.
We were frankly outraged [with the PCC's response] and I was very focussed on the fact 'we can't get people get away with this
2.20pm: The PCC wrote to Thomas to day the report, What Price Privacy, compiled by the ICO into Operation Motorman was "an interesting read" and "had come out of the blue".
Thomas says he was surprised by the PCC's response.
I thought interesting read was a fairly strong understatement. We had put in a lot of work putting that report together.
It was not just directed at the press, but it was emphatic [about the press involvement]
We were very proud of that report; it was the first time we had gone to parliament. To describe it merely as an interesting read was a considerable understatement.
Says he was also surprised by the PCC's declaration that the report had come out of the blue, given they had had two meetings about its contents with the PCC."

T Portilho-Shrimpton
Thomas: I wanted loud, strident condemnation. Says PCC wasn't as loud and noisy as he originally expected

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Thomas said parliament did take his report seriously and it was taken up by four select committees in parliament. He said some of the media were also taking it seriously.
It was taken seriously. A lot of people were going around in a blind panic saying we've got to clean up our act over this."

T Portilho-Shrimpton
Thomas: Gordon Brown and Gus O'Donnel at meeting with him. Brown said unless we can get a compromise here, clause will be dropped

Thomas: Rebekah Wade &others argued prison sentence should be dropped & defence widened. Wanted law weakened.

Thomas tells : your Inquiry reason why clause in law allowing jailing of offending journos not yet enacted.

: "what?!" Thomas: govt not willing to activate clause until Inquiry has finished.

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Thomas says his successor at the information commission says illegal activity of this nature is still going on and the legal deterrents which could be enacted in the justice laws have not been enacted. He says the Leveson inquiry has now delayed the enactment of this section of the law.
Leveson interjects: What?
Thomas says the lord chancellor wrote to the information commissioner quite recently to say that this law could not now be enacted until the Leveson inquiry concludes.
He says the justice committee recently recommended that it should be enacted."

Ben Fenton
News International deny a link between mtg with Hinton and two days later hostile leader in Sunday Times.

Copy of Paul Dacre's Speech to Society of Editors Mentioning Richard Thomas 

Hacked off
Thomas: ICO interview under caution with S Times editor about breach of s55 in relation to Lord Levy in 2002 "before my time"

Hacked off
Thomas: I haven't seen anything on Op Motorman files which struck me as being justifiable in public interest terms

Rhodri Davies, NI Lawyer

Rhodri Davies, lawyer for News International is now permitted to question Richard Thomas.
From Guardian Live Blog:
"Rhodri Davies, QC, is now speaking on behalf of News International. He says the ICO did ask to the editor of the Sunday Times John Witherow to a meeting in November 2002.
When asked who wrote the letter he says it was a Mr Farrington.
Thomas says Mr Farrington was an investigating officer more junior than Alex Owens, who appeared last week.
The meeting was due to discuss Lord Levy and Lord Ashcroft.
He says he has no recollection of it at all. It was two weeks into his term as information commissioner."

Hacked off
Davies: Witherow refused to attend ICO interview under caution about Lord Levy story and ICO didn't take the matter any further

Rhodri Davies questioning Richard Thomas
 From Guardian Live Blog:
"Davies puts it to Thomas that the ICO's action in relation to the Sunday Times was unusual.
It is rather odd isn't it that you had this avalanche of information from Motorman that didn't lead to any such letter and this did?"

Details of Rhodri Davies' questioning of Richard Thomas from Guardian Live Blog

Jonathan Caplan QC, Counsel for Associated News

J Caplan QC is now permitted to question Richard Thomas about his evidence.

Richard Thomas saying that he regrets mentioning the press in his public attempts to force legal action against those who obtain information on others by illegal means. Says press might have publicised the crimes and demanded tougher sentences in 2008, had they not been implicated themselves!

From Guardian Live Blog:
"Jonathan Caplan, QC for the Daily Mail, is now asking qustions. Thomas says

"It was a big mistake in our part to include the press ... If we hadn't mentioned the press, I suspect we would have the law changed.
If we had just focused on all the other activity I suspect we'd have had our law passed in 2008 without all this activity
He says the press are so powerful, that if the Daily Mail were to write an editorial next week to say we need a tougher approach then there would be an instant response."

Thomas ends by expressing disappointment in an article in Idependent. May have to take it further.

Article complained of by Richard Thomas:

Watchdog Chief Faces Grilling Over Falure to Act on Press's Dirty Tricks - Independent