Buscombe "regrets" PCC phone hacking report

The former chair of the Press Complaints Commission has said she regrets the 2009 PCC report into phone hacking that concluded there was no evidence to suggest the practice was widespread or that the PCC had been misled in its 2007 inquiry of the activity.

Baroness Peta Buscombe told the Leveson Inquiry she was “never comfortable” putting her name to the report, which claimed that the Guardian’s coverage of phone hacking “did not quite live up to the dramatic billing they were initially given”.

The report has since been formally withdrawn by the PCC.

Buscombe, who resigned as chairman of the PCC last October amid growing criticism, said she equally regretted being “clearly misled” by News International and what editors had told her, adding later that she had been “lied to” over the phone hacking.

But she was quick to say that the self-regulation body needed to be seen as acting. “What could we do? (…) If we’d have done nothing we’d have been called useless,” she said. “It was rather one of those ‘you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t’,” she added later. “It was very very difficult.”

She said people were “misconstructing” the role of the PCC, noting that the body did not have investigatory powers to summon editors to give evidence under oath. She argued that broadcast regulator Ofcom cannot “deal with crime, nor should it”.

She added that the rest of the world “would kill” for the British press’s system of self-regulation, though conceded that the rebuilding of trust was a “problem” and a “tough call” for Lord Justice Leveson.

Buscombe also argued that the major issue was newsroom culture, putting it to the Inquiry: “Can you have a system that changes the culture within news organisations?”

Meanwhile Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has been recalled to face further questioning, after he accused actor Hugh Grant and the Hacked Off campaign of trying to “hijack” the Inquiry.

Dacre made the remarks in his evidence yesterday in response to Grant’s testimony last November, during which he described a 2007 story in the Mail on Sunday that claimed his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks due to his late night calls with a “plummy-voiced” studio executive.

Grant said the only way the paper could have sourced the story was through accessing his voicemail, and that he “would love to hear what their source was if it wasn’t phone hacking”.

Associated Newspaper responded in a statement that the actor had made “mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media”, which Dacre said he would withdraw if “Mr Grant withdraws his that the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were involved in phone hacking.”

Leveson said that he would need to speak to Dacre for around 30 minutes this week about the issue.

Dacre stressed yesterday that he knew of no cases of phone hacking at Associated’s titles.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Mark Lewis accuses Baroness Buscombe of "denial" in phone hacking scandal

Solicitor Mark Lewis has accused Press Complaints Commission chair Baroness Buscombe of being in “complete denial” over the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

In a scathing letter to Buscombe,  Lewis says:

As recently as your [2 February] appearance on the Media show you remained in complete denial. The PCC’s role as an independent regulator of the press is meaningless. You tried to explain your actions by saying “we just don;t know” what the facts are. Well they are out there now. Even the News of the World has conceded that there have been more examples of hacking. Whilst their “mea culpa” in the inside cover of yesterday’s paper was partial and largely hidden, it made a concession that demonstrated that your report of 7 November 2009 was not worth the paper it was written on.

He goes on:

I would be very surprised if you were unaware of the latest developments and the admission by the News of the World about the extent of “hacking”. Yet our silence has been breathtaking. If it assists, your report concluded that you had not been “materially misled” by them then, and then chose to mislead yourself a second time. now is the time for you and the PCC to come out and condemn the News of the World in a robust and unequivocal way.

Read the full letter below


UPDATE: Jonathan Collett of the Press Complaints Commission has contacted Index to point us to this statement released by the PCC on Friday:

Statement from the PCC’s Phone Hacking Review Committee (8/4/2011)

The PCC’s Phone Hacking Review Committee has noted today’s statement by News International.

The newspaper has now admitted its own internal investigations have not been sufficiently robust. This raises serious questions about its previous conduct in regard to this issue. Our Committee will need a detailed explanation for this, along with other answers we will be seeking from executives. We have already made clear that we require and expect full co-operation from News International.

The PCC, through this Committee, is committed to holding the News of the World properly to account regarding concerns about phone hacking. It will also work to ensure that situations such as this do not arise in the future. Our findings will be made public.

Phone hacking among journalists, even in the past, raises clear issues about journalistic ethics. The PCC will play its part in acting vigorously to deal with it, in regard to both the News of the World and the industry as a whole.

The Committee is conscious that there is an ongoing police investigation, as well as active legal proceedings. Its own review process must not interfere with them. It will not be commenting further at this stage.