This morning at the Leveson Inquiry – 05/12/11

The former Deputy Information Commissioner told the Leveson Inquiry today that he did not recollect telling an investigator in Operation Motorman that the press were too big to take on.

Francis Aldhouse said this was not his view and he did “not fear the media”.

In his testimony to the Inquiry last week, former investigator Alec Owens claimed that, when he had alerted Aldhouse to the documents seized from private investigator Steve Whittamore’s home that revealed the extent of the press using private investigators, Aldhouse had told him the press were too big for the ICO to take on.

Aldhouse refuted the claims, telling the Inquiry that he did not recollect the meeting Owens, or hold the view that the media were too powerful. He said he had been happy to negotiate with the press in the past.

He added that he believed there had been a case for involving newspapers and journalists further in the Operation. He said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” to have apparently not been
consulted by his colleagues on the involvement of journalists.

He said had he been asked at the time, his view would have been that “we really ought to find a way to pursue this.”

Pressed by the Inquiry, Aldhouse said he did not recall any discussions regarding the way forward of the Operation, which he deemed one of the ICO’s “largest”. He said decisions made not to prosecute the press were done so by the Information Commissioner himself, adding that discussions he had with him were only “casual”.

The Inquiry was also shown potentially damning evidence given to the ICO by a senior lawyer in 2003. The counsel’s advice read that “many if not all of the journalists involved have committed offences”, and went on to say that the “overwhelming inference is that several editors must have been well aware of what their staff were up to and therefore party to it.”

The counsel’s advice also prioritised enforcement over the prosecution of journalists, to give a chance for the Press Complaints Commission to “put its house in order”.

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