This is a copy of an open letter that was sent today, Friday 4th February 2011, to the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission:
Dear Baroness Buscombe,
On Monday 29th November 2010 the Media Standards Trust wrote an open letter to the Press Board of Finance asking about the details of a libel settlement between yourself (as Chair), the Commission, and the solicitor Mark Lewis.
We have not yet received a response. But it was reported in the press that:
The Press Complaints Commission, which oversees the newspaper industry’s editorial code, yesterday found itself in the embarrassing position of formally apologising and paying damages for misleading remarks made by its chair, Lady Buscombe (The Guardian, 26-11-10)
In response to Steve Hewlett’s questions about the case you indicated that you and the PCC had not paid damages, had not apologised, and had not conceded that you were wrong in your comments about Mark Lewis at the Society of Editors 2009 (see transcript below).
The outcome of this important case is now, therefore, very unclear.
To clarify things we would be grateful if you could answer three questions:
1. Did you and/or the PCC agree to pay damages to Mark Lewis to settle his libel suit against each of you?
2. If so, how much were the damages?
3. Did you concede that the comments you made about Lewis at the Society if Editors conference 2009 were misleading?
As before, in the interests of transparency we will be making this letter public after sending it.
Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust
Interview with Baroness Buscombe on The Media Show, Radio 4, Wednesday 2nd February 2011 [Excerpt]
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