On Friday it emerged that the PCC and its chair had paid £20,000 in damages to Mark Lewis as part of its libel settlement for comments made by the PCC Chair at the Society of Editors conference in 2009. We do not yet know the liability of the PCC for legal costs.
This information only came out in a related hearing in the High Court regarding action Lewis is taking against the Metropolitan Police.
It is of particular interest given that the PCC was previously unwilling to release this information (despite a request from the Media Standards Trust), and that in an interview on Radio 4’s Media Show four weeks ago Baroness Buscombe appeared to suggest she/the PCC had not apologised or paid damages (see transcript below).
Since more information has come to light we lay it out here so you can make up on your own mind on the (rather confusing) situation:
Evidence given by Mark Lewis to the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport (2nd September 2009)
Q2069 Chairman [John Whittingdale MP]: The key question, you correctly surmise, or at least we would say is your view, that it is unlikely Clive Goodman was commissioning information from Gordon Taylor’s phone. Do you have any evidence to suggest who in the News of the World might have been receiving information from Gordon Taylor’s phone?
Mr Lewis: This is interesting because I have heard the evidence given by the Assistant Commissioner and his side-kick. The methodology of the claim—and I have worked out there was a claim, it was obvious to me there was a claim but to make that stick I had to get documents which proved it—the way of getting the documents and the methodology, was applying for third party disclosure, as lawyers would call it, of various part bodies. That is why I applied for evidence from the Information Commissioner, and they consented, evidence from the CPS, and that was not a problem either, and evidence from the Metropolitan Police. When it came to the Metropolitan Police, the person who attended at the court was Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly. I can mention that because it was an open court, there were court hearings, and Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly said to me, “You are not having everything but we will give you enough on Taylor to hang them.” Those were his words, “to hang them”. So he quite clearly knew at that time there was sufficient evidence about my client, and I only had one client at that time, Mr Taylor, to hang the News of the World about that client. He also mentioned the number of people whose phones had been hacked. Whether that was an aside, whether that leads me into the threat of the injunction that the News of the World have made against me, or through their lawyers have made against me, the reservation of that right, but they had said that there was evidence about, or they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved. It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked, or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages. I think I am able to explain to this Committee how it worked…”
Statement of Baroness Buscombe to Society of Editors Annual Conference (15th November 2009, taken from Statement in Open Court)
“Those of you who are familiar with the case will recall the significance that was attached to the apparent evidence of a then Detective Sergeant from the Metropolitan Police called Mark Maberly. It was he who was alleged to have said that around 6,000 people had had their phone messages hacked or interecepted.
This allegation was made in oral evidence to the Select Committee on Culutre, Media and Sport, and has also been published in the press. It was repeated just last Monday in some coverage questioning our report.
Since the publication of our report last Monday, the PCC has heard from Detective Inspector (as he now is) Maberly through lawyers for the Metropolitan Police.
This letter says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an e-mail confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commission John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.
In light of this, I am doing two things.
First, I am of course putting this new evidence to my colleagues on teh Press Complaints Commission, because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.
Second, I have just spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committe on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention. Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter”
Subsequent response of the Press Complaints Commission to the Parliamentary Select Committee (24th March 2010, from PCC website and Select Committee)
“Finally on this subject, the Commission wishes to take this opportunity to correct the record. Your report says that the Chairman of the PCC issued a statement in November 2009 which may have suggested that Gordon Taylor’s lawyer, Mr Lewis, misled the Committee. This is not the case, as the PCC made publicly clear at the time. Baroness Buscombe has never suggested – and does not believe – that Mr Lewis misled the Select Committee and her statement, which made no reference to Mr Lewis, was not intended as a criticism of him or the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee. Baroness Buscombe regrets that her statement may have been misunderstood and that this has been of concern to Mr Lewis. Baroness Buscombe and the Commission therefore wish to make this position entirely clear”
Transcript of interview with Baroness Buscombe on Radio 4’s The Media Show (2nd February 2011)
Steve Hewlett (SH): In terms of acting responsibly you in a speech – you personally in a speech to the Society of Editors, questioned what a lawyer had said to the Select Committee in terms of how many ostensible victims there were and you went on to say, having questioned what he’d said, that you’d spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee to draw his attention to this
Baroness [Peta] Buscombe (PB): I didn’t question what he’d said actually
SH: You said any suggestion that a Parliamentary inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter. Subsequently he sued and you were forced into court to apologize at the end of the libel action
PB: No I wasn’t. I was never forced into court to apologise
SH: But did you pay damages?
PB: No. There was absolutely no question of apologizing. This was all about…
SH: Did you pay costs?
PB: I am not prepared to talk about that on air. I will tell you this, that what happened at the time was there was absolutely no intention to impugn anyone’s reputation whose name wasn’t even mentioned at the time. But we immediately clarified the situation
SH: You said in the speech that this letter you received, that the lawyer – I should say to the audience – had said that a policeman had told him that the number of phone hacking victims was in the thousands, possibly 6,000
PB: But you’re focusing very much on…
SH: You said to the SOE this letter that you’d received has in fact said he’d been wrongly quoted: ‘the reliable evidence’ you said, ‘the reliable evidence we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter is that given by a sitting commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee who referred to only a handful of people being potential victims’. In that case, first you’ve sided with the police rather than the lawyer
PB: That’s not true
SH: Secondly, he’s sued and forced you to court to apologise
PB: What I was doing – I wasn’t forced to court at all – what was happening was I was I felt being responsible at the time in terms of ensuring to the best of our ability and belief that we were working on evidence that we had been given. The truth is that I made a statement that I thought was absolutely the right thing to do at the time
SH: Which turned out to be wrong
PB: Which turned out its… We don’t know yet whether it’s wrong, we have no idea, and that is why we have had to be so careful in terms of…
SH: Which is why people will criticise you…
PB: No, excuse me, you’ve asked me
SH: …for taking one side rather than the other
PB: No, there’s no question of us taking any sides here, that is the most important thing about this. We are fiercely independent when it comes to this whole issue and indeed any issue
Letter of clarification from Baroness Buscombe to the Media Standards Trust director, Martin Moore (15th February 2011)
Thank you for your letter of 4th February, regarding my appearance on The Media Show.
My comments to Steve Hewlett centred around the issue of phone hacking generally, and I only touched upon the matter concerning Mr Lewis. Let me, therefore, explain the position further. Mr Lewis was concerned that my speech to the Society of Editors’ Annual Conference on 15 November 2009 may have been misunderstood to mean that he had misled the Parliamentary Select Committee. That was not my intention and I was happy to join in a statement in open court to make my position clear. I attach a copy of the statement which confirmed that my speech was not intended as a criticism of Mr Lewis or the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee. In the statement, I was also happy to express regret that a potential misunderstanding of my speech had caused Mr Lewis concern.
I, therefore, consider that my position, and that of the Commission, in relation to the issue raised by Mr Lewis has been adequately clarified.