Home secretary denied backing review because of lobbying by News International
But, she told Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into newspaper practices, her decision was not because of pressure from News International (NI).
Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, asked her about telephone calls on May 11, 2011 with Rebekah Brooks, then NI chief executive, and Dominic Mohan, The Sun’s editor.
That day, NI’s red-top tabloid, The Sun, was preparing its edition carrying an open letter on the front page from Madeleine’s parents requesting a review of the case.
Two NI executives had warned aides to David Cameron, prime minister, that the government must order a review, otherwise The Sun would publish the open letter.
Jay asked the home secretary last May whether she recalled the telephone calls with Brooks and Mohan on that day.
May said: “I do. Would you like me to tell you?”
Jay: “Yes, please.”
May: “This was in relation to the question about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the action that the government was taking, and that the Metropolitan Police was taking, to work with the Portuguese authorities to look further into the matters relating to that disappearance, to see whether there were any other avenues of inquiry that should be pursued.”
Jay: “Because a review was ordered by the Home Office – in other words, by you – at quite short notice…”
May: “No, a review was not ordered, was not requested or required at short notice. The Home Office… first started discussing with ACPO [Association of Chief Police Officers] the possibility of a police review, or further police work, on this. They first started discussing that with ACPO under the previous government.
“So, the discussion had been taking place for some time – it took place with ACPO initially – for ACPO to identify which police force would be appropriate to undertake this work, if it were to be undertaken.”
“At the same time, there were discussions taking place with the Portuguese authorities, because, of course, no UK police force can go into another country and start investigating. They can only do so with the agreement, approval and assistance of the resident authorities in that country.”
Jay: “Did you have discussions with the prime minister about this specific issue on or about May 11?”
May: “I do not recall having a specific discussion myself with the prime minister. I know that the prime minister was interested in this specific issue, but I do not recall whether I had a specific conversation with him.”
Jay: “Did Mrs Brooks say… that unless you ordered the review, you would be on the front page of The Sun until that happened?”
May denied this. “The nature of the telephone conversation was to alert them to the fact that the government was taking some action, that there was going to be this further work by the police here in the UK.”
She added: “I think that it was a call at my instigation.”
Jay asked whether “pressure” was applied “behind the scenes”.
May replied: “I felt that the work that we were doing to look at this review had been going on for
some time, it was coming to fruition around this time anyway, and, obviously, the issue was a
matter of public concern.”
Kate McCann recalled it differently. In her book, ‘Madeleine’, she described how Alan Johnson, May’s predecessor as home secretary under the previous Labour government, had commissioned a “scoping” exercise to see whether a review would be worthwhile.
The report, completed in March 2010, was “widely described as highlighting some deficiencies” in the Portuguese investigation, she wrote.
“We met the current home secretary, Theresa May, and wrote to her several times. Still no further forward, and in the dark as to whether the British government had even broached the matter with the Portuguese authorities, in November 2010 we started a petition to lobby the two governments to conduct an independent review.”
“We were at a loss to comprehend why,” she added, “our request had gone unanswered.”