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Damning report exposes cracks in coalition

After an inquiry into Press intrusion lasting more than a year, Lord Justice Leveson delivered a damning verdict on decades of “outrageous” behaviour by newspapers.

The Appeal Court judge called for the establishment of a muscular new independent regulatory body, backed by legislation, with the power to require prominent apologies and impose fines of as much as £1m.

The recommendations exposed deep divisions within the coalition Government.

Prime Minister David Cameron voiced “serious concerns and misgivings” about legislative action, and said the Press should be given “a limited period of time” to show it could get its house in order.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he believed Leveson's model could be “proportionate and workable” and insisted Parliament should push ahead “without delay”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband urged MPs to “have faith” in Leveson and said he would move for a vote in the Commons by the end of January to approve Leveson's proposals in principle, with the aim of getting the new system in place by 2015.

As cross-party talks got under way, the prospect of the consensus sought by Mr Cameron looked distant.

Labour claimed a concession after the PM said he would ask the Department of Culture to do some work on a draft Bill to implement Leveson, but Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron (below) had not “given an inch” and expected the exercise to make clear how complicated and far-reaching any new law would be.

Lord Justice Leveson's 16-month inquiry was prompted by the disclosure that News of the World journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and his 2,400-page report pulled no punches in condemning the behaviour of elements within the newspaper industry.

The Press had repeatedly acted as if its own code of conduct “simply did not exist”, and “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”, he said.

He left no doubt that the existing model of voluntary self-regulation under the Press Complaints Commission had failed, and rejected proposals for a

beefed-up regulator put forward by industry figures.

To ensure public confidence in a new regulatory body, its board should include no serving editors, MPs or ministers and should have a majority of members with no industry links, he said.

Crucially, he said that the body should be given legal under-pinning, with statutory regulator Ofcom given the responsibility of certifying it complies with legislation.

Publications which refuse to take part in the voluntary scheme could be subjected to compulsory regulation by Ofcom, he suggested.

Victims of Press intrusion broadly welcomed Leveson's proposals, and voiced dismay at Mr Cameron's stance.

Solicitor Mark Lewis, who represents the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said the PM had failed the victims of phone hacking.

“Cautious optimism lasted for about 45 minutes and then the Prime Minister spoke and said he is not going to implement a report that he instigated,” he said.

Kate McCann — the mother of missing girl Madeleine — said she hoped the PM and other party leaders would “embrace the report and act swiftly to ensure activation of Lord Leveson's recommendations within an acceptable and clearly defined timescale”.

Former TV presenter Anne Diamond said Leveson had come up with “a really good workable solution”, saying: “It is appalling that apparently the PM isn't taking that much notice of it, and is going to kick it into the long grass.”

Leveson heavily criticised politicians for becoming too cosy with the media, but cleared Mr Cameron of doing a “deal” with Rupert Murdoch's News International of policy favours in return for positive coverage.

The judge blamed a “series of poor decisions, poorly executed” by the Metropolitan Police for contributing to perceptions that officers were initially reluctant to investigate phone-hacking.

In a statement to the House of Commons shortly after publication of the report, Mr Cameron told MPs he welcomed plans for a new self-regulatory body.

But he voiced “serious concerns and misgivings” about Lord Justice Leveson's judgment that the scheme required legislative underpinning to command public confidence.

For the first time since the creation of the Coalition in 2010, Mr Clegg made a separate statement in the Commons to set out his differences with the PM, telling MPs: “We need to get on with this without delay.

“We owe it to the victims, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing,” Mr Clegg added.

Celebrities, clashes, protesters... and now a dramatic finale

By Ellen Branagh

It may have drawn to an end, but the Leveson Inquiry certainly went out with a bang. As debates have raged in the run-up to the publication of the report, many wondered which way Lord Justice Leveson would go — statutory regulation that in some people's view would “gag” the traditionally free British Press, or self-regulation as per suggestions from editors and proprietors.

He chose neither — less last-chance saloon, more a halfway house. After months of evidence followed by months of speculation, he recommended not a state regulator but a new independent Press regulator underpinned by statute.

The report was unsurprisingly scathing of the Press, condemning decades of “outrageous” behaviour by newspapers which “wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”; however, police and politicians escaped relatively unscathed.

Months of hearings saw plenty of drama at the Royal Courts of Justice, from celebrity appearances, to clashes between media moguls and the inquiry's own lawyers, and even interruptions from protesters.

The grand finale was no less dramatic — the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, just a stone's throw from Parliament, was centre stage.

While some politicians may have had the chance to pore over the lengthy document since the day before, for most, the first opportunity to see the long-awaited report was at 11.45am — in a “lock-in” that allowed them to see it before its official publication at 1.30pm.

Key witnesses took the opportunity to get a glimpse of the document, while, in a separate room were hundreds of journalists, all keen to see what the four-volume, 1,987-page publication would mean for the future of their trade.

In Lord Leveson’s 22-minute speech afterwards, he laid down exactly what he wanted in no uncertain terms. “This is not just the famous, but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with, but made much worse by Press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous,” he said.

His job done, he rounded off his task by passing the job back to the Government to steer the course of the future of the Press.

“The ball moves back into the politicians' court. They must now decide who guards the guardians.”

Belfast Telegraph


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