Not enough evidence to collar Coulson as report slams News of the World and “toothless” PCC

The parliamentary report into "Press standards, privacy and libel" has criticised the News of the World for "buying the silence" of a reporter and PI.

The parliamentary report into “Press standards, privacy and libel” has criticised the News of the World – then led by David Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson – for buying the silence of a reporter and private investigator, finding it “inconceivable” that no-one else knew of the paper’s illegal phone-hacking activities.

The Culture, Media and Sports committe report calls for the overhaul of libel laws, press standards and an overhaul of the Press Complaints Commission, describing it as “toothless compared to other regulators”.

On the actions of the News of the World, the report finds:

“It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking will never be known, not least because of the silence of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire [the paper’s royal editor and a PI, both jailed for Royal phone taps], their confidentiality settlements with the News of the World and the ‘collective amnesia’ at the newspaper group which we encountered during our inquiry.

“It is certainly more than the ‘handful’, however, cited by both the newspaper and the police.

“There is no doubt that there were a significant number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would have been of little interest to Clive Goodman as the paper’s royal editor. The evidence, we find, makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Mr Goodman, was aware of the activity.

“We have, however, not seen any evidence that the then Editor, Andy Coulson, knew, but consider he was right to resign. We find, however, that the newspaper group did not carry out a full and rigorous inquiry, as it assured us and the Press Complaints Commission it had.

“The circumstances of pay-offs made to Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire, as well as the civil settlements with Gordon Taylor and others, also invite the conclusion that silence was effectively bought.

“The readiness of all concerned – News International, the police and the PCC – to leave Mr Goodman as the sole scapegoat without carrying out full investigations is striking. The verdict of the PCC’s latest inquiry, announced last November, we consider to be simplistic, surprising and a further failure of self-regulation.

“In seeking to discover precisely who knew what among the staff of the News of the World we have questioned a number of present and former executives of News International.

“Throughout we have repeatedly encountered an unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation. We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.”

On the failings of the Press Complaints Commission and its future role, the report says:

“The PCC should be renamed the Press Complaints and Standards Commission, reflecting its role as a regulator, not just a complaints handling service, and that it should appoint a deputy director for standards.

“The regulator should have the power to fine its members where it believes that the departure from the Code of Practice is serious enough to warrant a financial penalty, including, in the most serious of cases, suspending the printing of the offending publication for one issue.

“The Committee concludes that there must be some incentive for newspapers to subscribe to the self-regulatory system. It recommends that the Government should consider whether proposals to reduce the cost burden in defamation cases should only be made available to those publications which provide the public with an alternative route of redress through their membership of the PCC.”

In a final, stinging rebuke, it adds:

“We remain of the view that self-regulation of the press is greatly preferable to statutory regulation, and should continue. However for confidence to be maintained, the industry regulator must actually effectively regulate, not just mediate. The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.”

Left Foot Forward will have more analysis of the report throughout the day.

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