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Press intrusion victims say Cameron's failure to keep promises is betrayal



Original Source: Guardian Tuesday 05 April 2016

Tuesday 5 April 2016 22.00 BST


Gerry and Kate McCann and Christopher Jefferies are among those to sign letter calling for PM to clean up the press and implement effective regulation


David Cameron has ignored requests for meetings with the victims of press intrusion, the latter claimed. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters


Victims of press abuse have accused David Cameron of failing to keep the “solemn promises” he made during the phone hacking scandal and of betraying a pledge to put the public before powerful proprietors.


Gerry and Kate McCann, the parents of a missing child, and Christopher Jefferies, wrongly accused of murder, are among the signatories to the letter reminding Cameron of the promises he made to reach the cross-party agreement on the issue in 2013.


Speaking to the Guardian, Gerry McCann said, “Feelings are very strong among those of us to whom the Prime Minister publicly and privately made his pledges. If he does not keep his promises to implement the cross-party agreement in full, allow the Leveson inquiry to be completed and put the needs of the public before press proprietors, we will have been betrayed by him.”  


The letter, signed by several press victims including relatives of the Hillsborough disaster, urges the prime minister to stop delaying the imposition of costs on newspapers and to start the second part of the Leveson inquiry, designed to look into the relationship between the police and the press.


Cameron declined to meet the victims’ representatives last year while meeting Rupert Murdoch and his editors on “no fewer than seven occasions” in the last six months of 2015, the letter states.


“Some of us wrote to you on some of these issues in November, asking you either to act then or to meet us face to face to explain your position. You declined to do either. This amounts to another breach of promise, for in 2011 you declared: ‘We must at all times keep the victims front and centre of this debate.’”



Reminding Cameron of his pledge to change the relationship between politicians and the media, it states: “We want to express our frustration and dismay that, five years on, these solemn promises have not been kept, and we urge you to honour them now.”


A system of exemplary damages directed at newspapers that refuse to comply with the new regulatory structure was part of a late-night cross-party agreement made in 2013 ahead of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The victims have urged Cameron and the culture secretary John Whittingdale to impose the financial sanctions contained section 40 of the act.


Most newspaper groups are vehemently opposed to the proposed imposition of costs which, they argue, could leave them with financial penalties even if they win a libel case, for example. In an address to the industry last October, Whittingdale suggested that he had listened to their concerns and was considering the matter further. The law allows the government of the day to delay commencement of the order.


Whittingdale’s suggestion of an indefinite delay, spelt out most recently in a meeting on 24 March, left the victims “extremely disappointed” and prompted the letter to Downing Street. 


 “Once again, he was unable to give us any explanation as to why your promises were being broken. 

“By delaying or shelving this measure your government will deny the public the low-cost access to justice that Leveson intended. Some of us know from experience how daunting it is for an ordinary citizen to take a big newspaper corporation to court for libel or invasion of privacy. In the cross-party agreement you undertook to deliver this low-cost justice through Section 40, but now it appears that you want to break that promise.”

signatories also include the parents of stabbing victim Abigail Witchells; Jacqui Hames, a former Crimewatch presenter put under surveillance by the now closed News of the World; Edward Bowles, the father of an 11-year-old killed in a coach crash; Tricia Bernal, whose daughter was murdered, and two men injured in the 7/7 attacks whose phones were subsequently hacked by News International.


They urge Cameron to honour his promises: “We believe that it is not just us whom you are at risk of betraying, but parliament, the public at large and the future victims of a press industry which was condemned by Leveson for ‘wreaking havoc in the lives of innocent people’. If your promises are not kept, history tells us that newspapers will wreak that havoc again.”


With most of the criminal trials involving phone hacking now over, the issue of press regulation has fallen down the political agenda. However, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour party leader and his shadow culture secretary, Maria Eagle, have both spoken out about the need for effective regulation to avoid future abuse. Most of the newspaper industry has signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which is not compliant with Leveson.


Downing Street said it could not make an official comment until it had received the letter. A spokesman for the department of culture, media and sport said: “No decision has been taken about when to commence the cost provisions. The matter is still under consideration.”



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