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Fleet Street faces new phone-hacking investigation

The news investigation comes three years after two News of the World journalists were jailed for int

Lawyers for Vanessa Perroncel, the former mistress of England footballer John Terry, believe that one of her telephone calls may have been bugged and a mobile phone company has said that an attempt has been made to intercept the voicemail messages of one of her friends.

It has also emerged that Perroncel has filed writs for breach of privacy against News Group Newspapers (which publishes the Sun and News of the World) and against Mirror Group Newspapers. They relate to stories about her relationships, family life and about medical and health matters.

Press Gazette understands that legal negotiations are ongoing with other news organisations. The Information Commissioner's Office has confirmed that it is investigating this new phone-hack claim.

A spokesman said: "This incident has been reported to us and we are looking into it, together with Vodafone, to establish whether any offences under the Data Protection Act have taken place.

"The Data Protection Act, which is regulated and enforced by the ICO, covers the processing of personal information. The interception of communications is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which is separate to the Data Protection Act and is not regulated by the ICO."

In January, the News of the World overturned a far-reaching privacy injunction brought by John Terry to reveal that he had a four-month affair with Perroncel. The judge in the case ruled that knowledge of the affair was already widely circulated in the football industry and that an injunction was inappropriate because Terry was more concerned about protecting his business interests.

Perroncel then engaged the services of publicist Max Clifford who said that she had been offered £250,000 by the media to tell her side of the story. On Friday, 5 February, Perroncel issued a statement saying that she had decided not to talk to the press about her private life. The following Sunday the News of the World reported that a "deal had been done" with John Terry to buy her silence.

But speaking to the media for the first time, Perroncel told the Guardian's Nick Davies that she had not been paid a penny by Terry. This point was reiterated to Press Gazette by Perroncel's lawyer.

Explaining Perroncel's decision to sue for breach of privacy, Charlotte Harris of JMW Solicitors, said: "Vanessa is taking legal action as a last resort because the newspapers simply did not stop publishing private, untrue and deeply insulting information about her."

She said that Perroncel had opted to go down the legal route, rather than going to the Press Complaints Commission, because she thought it would be more effective. No legal action has yet been taken over the new phone hacking allegation, Harris said, because it was at the very early stages of investigation.

But she said she was confident the perpetrator would be identified and she said that once this happened, further legal action for breach of privacy would be taken. Perroncel's best friend and confidante Antonia Graham has been told by Vodafone that an attempt was made to intercept her voicemail.

According to Harris, suspicions were further raised after the exact wording of a private telephone conversation between the pair subsequently appeared in various media outlets. Press Gazette understands that the News of the World is not suspected of being involved in this latest phone-hacking allegation.

In her Guardian interview, published on Saturday, Perroncel said that she had been hounded by tabloid journalists since the John Terry affair story broke.

She said: "It is horrible. It is like a nightmare. Every day you think: 'What else are they going to say about me?' It is so intrusive and so false. Every day so many lies - and then people making judgments because of the lies."

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette.

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty Images
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The Conservatives have failed on home ownership. Here's how Labour can do better

Far from helping first-time buyers, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Making it easier for people to own their own first home is something to be celebrated. Most families would love to have the financial stability and permanency of home ownership. But the plans announced today to build 200,000 ‘starter homes’ are too little, too late.

The dire housing situation of our Greater London constituency of Mitcham & Morden is an indicator of the crisis across the country. In our area, house prices have increased by a staggering 42 per cent over the last three years alone, while the cost of private rent has increased by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, over 8200 residents are on the housing register, families on low incomes bidding for the small number of affordable housing in the area. In sum, these issues are making our area increasingly unaffordable for buyers, private renters and those in need of social and council housing.

But under these new plans, which sweep away planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent in order to increase the building homes for first-time buyers, a game of political smoke and mirrors is being conducted. Both renters and first-time buyers are desperately in need of government help, and a policy that pits the two against one another is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need homes both to rent and to buy.

The fact is, removing the compulsion to provide properties for affordable rent will be disastrous for the many who cannot afford to buy. Presently, over half of the UK’s affordable homes are now built as part of private sector housing developments. Now this is going to be rolled back, and local government funds are increasingly being cut while housing associations are losing incentives to build, we have to ask ourselves, who will build the affordable properties we need to rent?

On top of this, these new houses are anything but ‘affordable’. The starter homes would be sold at a discount of 20 per cent, which is not insignificant. However, the policy is a non-starter for families on typical wages across most of the country, not just in London where the situation is even worse. Analysis by Shelter has demonstrated that families working for average local earnings will be priced out of these ‘affordable’ properties in 58 per cent of local authorities by 2020. On top of this, families earning George Osborne’s new ‘National Living Wage’ will still be priced out of 98 per cent of the country.

So who is this scheme for? Clearly not typical earners. A couple in London will need to earn £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the country to benefit from this new policy, indicating that ‘starter homes’ are for the benefit of wealthy, young professionals only.

Meanwhile, the home-owning prospects of working families on middle and low incomes will be squeezed further as the ‘Starter Homes’ discounts are funded by eliminating the affordable housing obligations of private property developers, who are presently generating homes for social housing tenants and shared ownership. These more affordable rental properties will now be replaced in essence with properties that most people will never be able to afford. It is great to help high earners own their own first homes, but it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the prospects of middle and low earners.

We desperately want to see more first-time home owners, so that working people can work towards something solid and as financially stable as possible, rather than being at the mercy of private landlords.

But this policy should be a welcome addition to the existing range of affordable housing, rather than seeking to replace them.

As the New Statesman has already noted, the announcement is bad policy, but great politics for the Conservatives. Cameron sounds as if he is radically redressing housing crisis, while actually only really making the crisis better for high earners and large property developers who will ultimately be making a larger profit.

The Conservatives are also redefining what the priorities of “affordable housing” are, for obviously political reasons, as they are convinced that homeowners are more likely to vote for them - and that renters are not. In total, we believe this is indicative of crude political manoeuvring, meaning ordinary, working people lose out, again and again.

Labour needs to be careful in its criticism of the plans. We must absolutely fight the flawed logic of a policy that strengthens the situation of those lucky enough to already have the upper hand, at the literal expense of everyone else. But we need to do so while demonstrating that we understand and intrinsically share the universal aspiration of home security and permanency.

We need to fight for our own alternative that will broaden housing aspirations, rather than limit them, and demonstrate in Labour councils nationwide how we will fight for them. We can do this by fighting for shared ownership, ‘flexi-rent’ products, and rent-to-buy models that will make home ownership a reality for people on average incomes, alongside those earning most.

For instance, Merton council have worked in partnership with the Y:Cube development, which has just completed thirty-six factory-built, pre-fabricated, affordable apartments. The development was relatively low cost, constructed off-site, and the apartments are rented out at 65 per cent of the area’s market rent, while also being compact and energy efficient, with low maintenance costs for the tenant. Excellent developments like this also offer a real social investment for investors, while providing a solid return too: in short, profitability with a strong social conscience, fulfilling the housing needs of young renters.

First-time ownership is rapidly becoming a luxury that fewer and fewer of us will ever afford. But all hard-working people deserve a shot at it, something that the new Conservative government struggle to understand.