Today’s cancellation of the 2nd part of the Leveson Inquiry – a massive betrayal of the promises to victims of press abuses

Just over six years ago, I walked into the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, sat down in a blue chair in front of some microphones and faced about an hour of questions from Robert Jay QC. I was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Quite frankly, I had been terrified about doing so. Before heading up to London I had called the local police to warn them that I may need rapid response. I had talked through press management with the school I was a governor at, and had given advice to every single family member.

But I sat there and dismantled the evidence given by the editors of the Mail and the Sun, including pointing to a story the Scottish Sun had published the same day that Dominic Mohan (the Sun’s editor) had said they had improved their reporting on trans issues.

I did this, not because I personally had been the subject of adverse or downright hostile press coverage, but because as part of campaigning for fairer media representation of trans and intersex people, the group I had helped start had received numerous stories from those who had. Reading the damage the press did to countless individuals and families, including disrupting the education of children who had nothing to do with the stories the press were covering – quite honestly it was and still is heart-breaking.

My appearance before the biggest media story in the country at the time went largely unreported, probably for obvious reasons. Fortunately the protections I’d put around my family, my company and the school I volunteered for were simply not needed. But the initial appearance did prompt a press backlash on the community I represented– until I made a second submission, acknowledged by the Inquiry Team within minutes.

The relatively new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – Matt Hancock – has made clear his direction of travel from shortly after he was appointed. Under Karen Bradley, Government launched a consultation last year on whether the second part of the Leveson Inquiry should proceed, but it was clear from the questions asked where they were minded to go.

So today’s cancellation of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry – the part that couldn’t happen while court cases were proceeding – comes as no great surprise.

But it is a massive betrayal of the promises to victims of press abuses made by David Cameron, who said publicly that Leveson’s proposals would be fully implemented unless they were clearly bonkers. Those victims are hurting, and hurting badly. Not only were they subjected to some of the most egregious behaviour, they now feel completely betrayed by Government.

Additionally, Hancock has said today that the Government intends to repeal Section 40 of the Crown and Courts Act – a section which was necessary to provide the sticks to the press to sign up to an approved regulator instead of the one they have rebranded. A further promise broken.

I’ve been following British politics for more years than I care to admit. I was angry when the Thatcher administration started privatising public utilities. I was appalled when the then Conservative government lied about the pay rise I, as a young teacher, would be getting. I was furious that Labour were incapable of understanding the problems that ID cards would cause.

The terrible way this Conservative government is handling Brexit, the way they seem incapable of determining what is spin and what isn’t, and the slow destruction of both our public services and our economy to support them – adding the capitulation of the Tories to press barons has made me angrier with them than I ever have done before. It seems that every action they take is designed to destroy the country I love.

* Helen Belcher joined the Lib Dems after David Cameron’s human rights speech in late May 2015. She stood for Chippenham in the 2017 General Election.

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7 Comments

  • Nick Collins 1st Mar '18 - 6:01pm

    There is something perverse about the current government. They seem to make a point of making wrong-headed decisions. It happens so regularly now that it cannot be accidental or even carelessness. To describe it as incompetence would be too charitable: It seems to be deliberate.

  • I haven’t heard a peep from the broadcast media on this important announcement which is quite extraordinary and a dereliction of duty when the print media is all lined up against implementation of Leveson.

    Hopefully the Lords amendments to the Data Protection Bill, which would effectively reverse Hancock’s announcement, will now get approval in the Commons.

  • Helen Belcher 2nd Mar '18 - 11:05am

    It was mentioned in two sentences on the BBC’s News at Ten last night, but the only coverage this morning has been of the press rejoicing. The interesting thing is that Leveson himself clearly thinks that the Inquiry should continue. Overriding legal opinion and skewing the results of the consultation can only be interpreted as political meddling.

  • Nick Collins 2nd Mar '18 - 12:23pm

    Ian,
    I still think you’re being too kind to them. I would not trust this government to kick the ball in the right direction even if they did have their eye on it. Indeed, their track record, so far, indicates that the only object that they are capable of kicking is a can: down the road.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 3rd Mar '18 - 7:29am

    Helen, good article. I have to say being cynical that its governmental quid pro quo the Tories don’t go after the press and the press gives them good coverage, even in the light of massive Tory Brexit negotiation failures. Although I agree with you and state that what is principally right is right – us going after the press, rightly in coalition, and unfortunately not succeeding because the Tories and Labour backed off has cost us in press coverage since then. This I believe is because the press are nasty.

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