Hacked Off launches at the House of Lords
By Thais Portilho-Shrimpton
Politicians from the three main parties, lawyers, professors of journalism and celebrities met at the House of Lords yesterday (July 6) to discuss the launch of our campaign to push for a public inquiry into phone hacking.
The launch of the Hacked Off campaign, run by the Media Standards Trust (MST) and Professor Brian Cathcart, brought together Lord Fowler, Lord Falconer, Adrian Sanders MP, Chris Bryant MP, Zac Goldsmith MP, actor Hugh Grant, and former president of the FIA Max Mosley, as well as Brian Cathcart and MST director Martin Moore, and many others.
The campaign aims to push for a full public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal – which has cast its shadow widely across British public life – to restore confidence in our press, police and government institutions.
They debated the best way to ensure Prime Minister David Cameron will follow through with his statement made during Prime Minister’s Questions that not only one, but perhaps two inquiries into the phone hacking scandal should be carried out.
A decision was agreed at the conclusion of the meeting to write a letter to the Prime Minister informing him that a cross-party meeting on the subject of phone hacking had taken place, calling for a public inquiry to be held under the terms of the Inquiry Act 2005 as soon as possible, regardless of criminal investigations, and requesting that he sets a date for the inquiry without delay.
MST director Martin Moore said at the meeting: “Things have moved pretty quickly in the last 48 hours and clearly we welcome the Prime Minister’s statement made this afternoon.
“But we are very, very focused on the details of this now. We have a lot of public admiration and support – within 24 hours we had more than 5,000 signatures in the campaign’s petition.
“We will continue to build public support, support from people in this room – politicians, professors, lawyers, high profile figures – and others.”
Lord Fowler said: “We need a free press in this country to keep government and other bodies straight. Nobody is against a free press because it shines a huge searchlight on what private and public bodies do.
He added: “I think it is utterly astounding that so many things pointed to lawlessness and wrongdoing, and the press apart from The Guardian were almost completely silent.
“I need to know how long these criminal prosecutions will take – it will be close to two years rather than a year before these investigations are complete.
“It is obvious that an inquiry that is set up will have to go much, much further than simply investigating a number of incidents in certain newspapers.
“My conclusion is to look for an answer to ‘is the press subject to the law just like the rest of us?’. We should appoint a judge for this inquiry and we should appoint a judge now.”
The group debated details of how the public inquiry should be held and its terms of reference, or which structure it should have, and speakers mentioned the inquiry should, for instance, have powers to subpoena witnesses to attend.
Professor of Journalism Brian Cathcart, from Kingston University, said decisions made by all those involved in the Hacked Off campaign in the next few days would be crucial.
Actor Hugh Grant said: “I was nervous when I read what the Prime Minister said in Parliament today. It makes me nervous that he wants to finish the investigations and further prosecutions before an inquiry can happen.
“We have to find a way to keep the ball in the air and maintain the inquiry in the public eye – there is a limit to how many times I can go on Newsnight.”
He added: “Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire worked 70 per cent of his time for the News of the World and 30 per cent for the Daily Mail, it is alleged.
“I think our campaign must be focused on how many newspapers did it and how to stop these practices in tabloids.
“This is going to be a long campaign and we all need to be involved.”
Helena Kennedy QC, Lord Prescott, and former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris were some of the speakers at the launch.