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Friday 9 December 2011

Leveson Is Served (7)

Today was the turn of former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas to appear before Leveson, which meant that Operation Motorman, the raiding of Steve Whittamore, was revisited in some detail. The scale of illegal activity all around the dunghill that is Grubstreet was plain to see, and so was the absence once again of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

There has been much talk of the failure to prosecute following Motorman, but as Thomas pointed out, the Fourth Estate could – and more than likely would – have fought “all the way to Strasbourg”. The cost of such a contest would have been immense. Instead, Whittamore got away with a conditional discharge and as Nick Davies observed, the “Dark Arts” were once again free to flourish.

So it looks as if Motorman will not result in any further action: the management of Associated Newspapers, Trinity Mirror, News International and the rest will be mightily relieved. But the prospect of more serious regulation looms, and in the meantime there is another week of fun and games to look forward to, with several refugees from the Screws scheduled to feature.

There is also the matter of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes. Staines published a draft of Alastair Campbell’s statement to the Inquiry before Big Al was due to attend, although Staines’ loyalty is not firstly to freedom of information, but to the hit counter of the Fawkes blog. He tells that he has much to tell Leveson.

There is only one problem here, and that can be put directly: what Staines would like to use the Inquiry for, and what Leveson requires him to address, are two very different things. This should not prove difficult for Staines to understand, and nor should it surprise him: his recent attempt to turn a Select Committee appearance into a tirade against MP Tom Watson encountered this very contradiction.

So Staines can produce a witness statement of whatever length he likes – and I predict his written evidence will have its longeurs – but what he gets to say before Lord Justice Leveson has to remind him that the Inquiry is there to be run for the benefit of the wider public and not the Great Guido will be rather less. Many pundits and bloggers will at this point be relieved at the intervention.

Especially because Staines has generated an unwelcome distraction purely for his own personal aggrandisement. If he, and his tame gofer Henry Cole, want to pretend to be great investigative journalists, then they would be best advised to cut out the attempts at grandstanding and actually do some great investigative journalism – rather than recycling press releases, as I noted yesterday.

Another fine mess once again.

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