Privileges Committee – Phone Hacking Report - initial reaction from Paul Farrelly MP
The House of Commons Privileges Committee this morning
published its long-awaited report on the findings of the Culture, Media and Sport Select
Committee’s 2012 enquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World.
Paul has been a member of the Committee since 2005, through three enquiries into the scandal
in all, and following early media coverage and commentaries today, this is his initial reaction to
the Privileges Committee report:
a member of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, which investigated
phone hacking at the News of the World,
I was given notice on Monday of the Privileges Committee’s intention finally to
publish their report, which has been underway all year.
I was e-mailed an embargoed copy at 10am on Tuesday, when we were in session with the Chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), Sir Alan Moses, over press regulation. The Committee, therefore, has had no chance to discuss this before publication.
Tied up with Boundary Changes, which were also announced on Monday, I have only had the opportunity to read the report on Tuesday evening, and clearly closer study is needed.
Conscious that News International, and the individuals we criticised, will be well-prepared for its publication, these are my initial reactions:
I am pleased that the Committee has agreed with us that Colin Myler (former editor of the News of the World) and Tom Crone (former Legal Manager at News Group Newspapers and News International) seriously misled us and have been found in contempt of Parliament.
The second half of the report, however, is more disappointing.
One of the key issues we sought to get to the bottom of was, when the organisation was trotting out its ‘one rogue reporter’ defence, how widespread was suspicion or knowledge of hacking beyond Clive Goodman, its then Royal Reporter. And how open or honest was the evidence given to us during three difficult enquiries stretching from 2006 to 2012.
Regarding Les Hinton, the former Executive Chairman of News International, for example, the Privileges Committee agrees that his evidence was ‘misleading’ in not disclosing allegations which had been made by Goodman internally in these respects (p.99, para 269).
But the report then concludes that the evidence that Hinton misled us ‘does not meet the standard of proof we have set for a finding of contempt (that the allegations are significantly more likely than not to be true)’. I think the public – and media – will find this confusing.
Mr Hinton was the most senior executive at News International at the start of this affair, and continued to be employed by the parent, News Corporation, after his transfer to Dow Jones in late 2007. But he was by no means the only senior NGN or NI executive we interviewed.
There is plenty of evidence that the organisation long obstructed the search for the truth, yet the Privileges Committee finds itself ‘unable to draw that conclusion’ (p.119, para 322) and therefore does not consider ‘NI to have committed a contempt’ (p.119, para 323).
What we need to do now is analyse this report in more detail, before it is debated. I certainly agree, though, that it is time the House overhauled its sanctions so that Select Committees can operate effectively. Nothing has been done since a Joint Committee on Privilege reported in 2013, and the ‘admonishments’ here are in reality no more than the findings we reached.
In one sense, our final 2012 report was incomplete. On advice from clerks of the House and Speaker’s Counsel, as throughout our report, we made no findings regarding ex-editor Andy Coulson nor then NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks, owing to criminal proceedings.
In considering this report further, I will certainly want to go back over their evidence, and also disclosures made during the successful civil claims made by phone hacking victims.