Leveson slams politicians and Press for ‘too close a relationship’Judge’s report cites police review of McCann case as example of ‘inappropriate closeness’

By David Hencke | 30 November 2012

Politicians and the Press are slammed in Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry report on newspaper practices in the UK for having “too close a relationship”.

In a damning conclusion, a “strategy” by News International (NI) – publishers of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times – to press for a review of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann was cited as one of many examples of such “inappropriate closeness”.

On Tuesday, Exaro pieced together how NI strong-armed David Cameron, prime minister, into ordering a review last year by the Metropolitan Police Service of the girl’s disappearance in Portugal in 2007.

In his report published yesterday, Leveson warned politicians not to “place themselves in a position in which they risked becoming vulnerable to unaccountable influences, in a manner that was potentially in conflict with their responsibilities in relation to the conduct of public affairs.”

At the same time, elsewhere in the report, he accepted testimony from Cameron that there were no “deals” between him and NI.

Leveson wrote: “The evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby NI’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours.

“All those involved strenuously deny that there was a deal, whether express or implied. The documents do not gainsay them. Nor do the coalition government’s actions in government.”

But Leveson condemned politicians “at the highest level” for their relationship with the Press over the past 35 years. “Politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest,” he wrote.

He concluded that there had been “a lessening of public confidence in the conduct of public affairs, by giving rise to legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the Press have traded power and influence in ways that are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight.”

Buried in one of the appendices to the report, Leveson cites several reasons from the evidence that he heard for his conclusion that there was “excessive proximity” between politicians and the Press.

One of them was evidence from Rebekah Brooks, former NI chief executive, that Dominic Mohan, editor of NI’s red-top tabloid, The Sun, and Tom Newton Dunn, the newspaper’s political editor, talked to 10 Downing Street or the Home Office when launching a campaign for a review of the McCann case.

According to her testimony, Leveson recorded, Brooks “was part of a strategy to use the campaign to persuade the government to undertake a review of the McCann case.”

He noted her evidence that: “The campaign succeeded, and The Sun ‘won’.”

Brooks conceded to Leveson that she set out to “persuade” the government to launch a review of the McCann case.

Leveson’s report said that Cameron denied to the inquiry coming under pressure from Brooks to order a review.

And Theresa May denied that Brooks had threatened her with adverse coverage in The Sun if she did not agree to the review.

Leveson concluded from this and many other examples that one consequence of “this relationship of inappropriate closeness” between politicians and newspapers was to “permit, accept or encourage the power and dominance of certain voices in the Press, to the impoverishment of public debate and the formulation and implementation of public policy.”

In a 12-page section of the report, Leveson was strongly critical of the treatment of Madeleine’s parents by the Press, parts of which he variously described as grossly inaccurate, “outrageous” and “frankly appalling”.

Leveson’s report recommended a tougher form of self-regulation for the Press, backed by legislation.

It also condemned the ethics of Matt Sprake, a former police photographer, over his work for newspapers – after being exposed by Exaro.

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