Mark Lewis, the lawyer whose phone hacking evidence has been challenged by the Press Complaints Commission chair, Baroness Peta Buscombe, has called for her resignation.
A Metropolitan Police detective inspector had been wrongly quoted in phone hacking evidence given to the House of Commons, Buscombe yesterday told delegates at the Society of Editors’ annual conference.
A letter to the PCC from police lawyers claimed that only ‘a handful’ of people were targeted by News of the World, Buscombe cited, contradicting evidence given by lawyer Mark Lewis to the Commons select committee investigating media law and press regulation, in September.
As reported by Press Gazette, Buscombe said: “This letter says that [Detective Inspector] – Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by assistant commissioner John Yates to the select committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.”
Following Buscombe’s claims at the conference, Mark Lewis from Stripe Solicitors has today issued a fierce letter to the PCC, copied to the chair of the Commons Select Committee and the Press Association. Addressing Buscombe, Lewis wrote: “I am sure that upon mature reflection you will appreciate that in doing so you have betrayed any semblance of impartiality and regrettably ought to find yourself in a position where the honourable action would be for you to resign.”
Lewis maintains the accuracy of his evidence: ‘the conversation that I had with DS Maberly was witnessed by at least two other people, including the barrister for [Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive] Gordon Taylor.’
His letter is reproduced in full below:
I am deeply concerned that you have thought it proper to criticise my evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee without either having the courtesy or the propriety to put the allegations to me first. I regret that your failure to act properly has compromised any veneer of impartiality that you sought to create.
The different versions of events that appear to have been given do not even amount to a conflict of evidence. It seems that you have chosen to accept the contents of a hearsay letter constructed on behalf of the Metropolitan Police rather than the first hand evidence that was given by me to the Select Committee. I am sure that upon mature reflection you will appreciate that in doing so you have betrayed any semblance of impartiality and regrettably ought to find yourself in a position where the honourable action would be for you to resign.
If it assists, the conversation that I had with DS Maberly was witnessed by at least two other people, including the barrister for Gordon Taylor. The context of the conversation was the resolution of the application for Third Party Disclosure against the Metropolitan Police. You will be aware that the Metropolitan Police had not told victims of phone hacking that they were victims. It is a matter of great concern that you have still not sought to examine the underlying documentation that would disprove the contents of the letter sent by the Metropolitan Police. I was sceptical of the “whitewash” report that the PCC had issued but had satisfied myself that the report was carefully constructed to record that you had investigated nothing and consequently found nothing. My concern now is that you have magnified those findings in such a way as to suggest that there were a mere handful of victims.
My evidence was clear. DS Maberly had told me the 6000 figure but that he would not give me everything, just enough “to hang the News of the World”.
If you had checked the underlying documents you would have realised that the Police evidence was no more than “spin”. I find myself incredulous at the crassness of your statement. Even on the Gordon Taylor case, there were more examples of phone hacking than the “handful” that was mentioned within your report or by the Metropolitan Police. Of course, it suits the Metropolitan Police to try and downplay their woeful failures to notify all the victims of unlawfulness. In the Taylor case there were numerous individuals whose phone messages were hacked, and whose numbers were therefore acquired by the enquiry agent Glenn Mulcaire.
The dishonesty of the News of the World position was demonstrated by the News of the World’s initial denial of the use of information that had been obtained by unlawful phone hacking. It was only after the disclosure of the “transcript for Neville” document that the News of the World were forced to concede that the evidence that they had given was false. It is astonishing that you are not more concerned that a “Statement of Truth” was put forward by the News of the World that was incorrect. Evidence was given to the Court that was untrue. That evidence was given on behalf of a national newspaper that enjoys a very substantial readership. Why has the PCC not taken action against the News of the World? Why did you not mention that aspect within your speech to the Society of Editors?
The settlement of the Taylor case followed a Court Order that the News of the World must identify the individual known as ‘Ryle’ . The News of the World did not do so and has not done so. Have they given that information to the PCC? Have you listened to the recording?
Rather the News of the World chose to settle the case rather than identify their own employee who had been engaged in that unlawful activity. It is noteworthy that your report chose not to investigate that aspect. The PCC can be nothing unless it is a beacon of truth prepared to expose and criticise its own members where it is proper to do so.
Whilst I am as strong an advocate as there can be for a free press as a balance to Parliament and the Judiciary, I do so by balancing the absolute standard of honesty and the need to protect privacy. The unlawful access of phone messages in order to find tittle-tattle is wholly unacceptable by any decent standard. I should not have to remind you that it is your job to enforce those proper standards so that we can have an honest and free press not just a free press.
I will debate this issue with you in any forum. A free and open debate is called for after the findings of the Select Committee. If DS Maberly wishes to expose himself to cross-examination by the Select Committee than he should offer himself up to give evidence and disclose all the underlying documentation that will show exactly how many individuals had their phones hacked and how many individuals were listened to.
Letter to John Whittingdale MP
Dear Mr Whittingdale
I enclose a copy of a letter that I have sent to Baroness Buscombe as a result of her suggestion that I misled your Committee. I have not misled it at all and standby the evidence that I gave.
If the Committee wishes to recall me then I will gladly attend. I invite the Metropolitan Police to volunteer the disclosure that they gave in the Taylor case as well as the wider disclosure that they refused to give in order that I can demonstrate the falsity of their position.
Copy of letter to Press Association