11 Surprising Revelations in the Daily Mail's anti-Leveson hatchet job

Prepare to be amazed by the state of the FT's loos.

Today's Mail has gone all guns blazing against the Leveson inquiry, unveiling a "quasi-masonic" conspiracy of interconnected individuals (what others might call "the media") hell-bent on muzzling the free press. Over a dozen pages, it outlines a shadowy nexus around David Bell, who is one of the Leveson inquiry's assessors, his friend Julia Middleton, the Media Standards Trust and a group called Common Purpose.

Here are 11 of the most surprising pieces of evidence brought to support the Mail's case.

1. It's an EU conspiracy! No, it's a New Labour conspiracy!

Lib Dem donor and one-time SDP activist Bell is a former chairman of the Financial Times, at the time Fleet Street's most zealous supporter of the European Union. Bell is also a former director of the FT's parent company Pearson, which was a financial backer of New Labour. 

2. Many journalists have worked at more than one media organisation in the course of their careers

Ian Hargreaves is a former Ofcom board member and one of the best-connected figures in the liberal Establishment. A founder with Julia Middleton of the New Labour think-tank Demos, Hargreaves was deputy editor at Sir David Bell's Financial Times (Robert Peston was political editor), editor of the Independent and New Statesman, Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC and is now Professor of Digital Economy at Cardiff University. On the Media Standards Trust website he is listed as a 'supporter' of the Hacked Off campaign.

3. These are some pretty scary people we're talking about:

Mother-of-five Middleton is the founder, chief executive and presiding guru of Common Purpose. She has been described as 'messianic' in her crusade to improve standards in corporate and public life.

4. The Guardian's Milly Dowler hacking splash was all untrue, except the bit we haven't mentioned that wasn't

In July 2011, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Britain’s newspaper industry: The Guardian alleged that the News of the World had deleted messages from murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, giving her parents ‘false hope’ that she was still alive. Despite the fact that we now know The Guardian story — which followed others detailing the hacking of messages left on celebrities’ phones — was almost certainly untrue, this was the tipping point. [source]

There is some sleight of hand here. In fact, the Guardian's splash that day led on the allegation that the News of the World had hacked the phone of murder victim Milly Dowler. The idea of deletions was mentioned in the sub-headline. It is now believed by the police that it is impossible to tell what, or who, caused the deletions. Nonetheless, it is not disputed that the paper hacked the phone of a dead girl in the hope of getting a story.

5. Johann Hari is David Bell's fault

Bell and Middleton set up the Media Standards Trust, a lobby group which presented a huge amount of evidence to the Inquiry. The Media Standards Trust, whose chairman was Bell, gave its 'prestigious' Orwell Prize for political writing to a journalist who turned out to have made up parts of his 'award-winning' articles. [source]

6. David Bell is conscientious

It's always the hard-working ones. Richard Pendlebury writes:

But while some of the Leveson assessors have patchy attendance records at the Inquiry, Sir David — whose unbridled eagerness to join the judge in his private rooms when the sittings rise has been remarked upon by observers — seems to have barely missed a day of the public hearings that began almost a year ago.

7. The FT has unisex executive loos

Writing in the New Statesman (bugger, are we part of this semi-masonic conspiracy? Do we need to buy robes?), Robert Peston of the BBC describes a "soiree" held by Middleton:

"Almost all her meetings end up with a collective wail about the irresponsibility and excessive power of the media. . . .Meanwhile, the discovery of the evening for me was that Pearson's executive washroom is unisex, a la Ally McBeal. What is Marjorie Scardino, Pearson's personable chief executive, thinking of?"

The Mail's feature writer, Richard Pendlebury, segues this into:

Peston was unnervingly prescient about one thing. Something has come of that soiree seven years ago.

Go on.

8. From Chris Bryant's underpants to Jean Charles de Menezes in one easy step

Another Common Purpose luminary is Chris Bryant MP — exposed by the press for posing in his underpants on internet dating sites. Bryant, who has led the charge against Rupert Murdoch in the Commons and was a Leveson witness, was Common Purpose's London manager for two years.

Among the senior police officers who are also Common Purpose graduates is Cressida Dick, who was savaged by the press for her leading role in the 2005 shooting of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in a London Underground carriage.

9. We're not like those mad conspiracy theorists!

For a number of years Common Purpose has attracted the obsessive attention of the more outré internet conspiracy theorists such as David Icke, as well as bloggers on the far Right. This has provided a convenient smokescreen against a more rational investigation.

10. That Hugh Grant's pretty shifty, eh? I mean, look at his face

11. I Knew Lesbians Would Be Involved Somehow

The panel included three New Labour peers, including Baroness Helena Kennedy QC — one of Middleton’s top ten ‘inspirational leaders’ and an MST trustee (now acting Chair) — and Dame Suzi Leather, the ‘Quango Queen’ who took flak from the press for championing IVF treatment for lesbians and who was interviewed by Julia Middleton for a film which appeared on the Common Purpose website.

PS. Ssh! No one mention our shadowy nexus

Tragically, there was no space to mention that the Daily Mail is edited by Paul Dacre, who is chairman of the Code of Practice committee, which governs the workings of the current press regulator, the PCC. 

Dacre once sat on a subway train near Sid Vicious, incidentally. Does that make him responsible for punk music?

Paul Dacre. Photo: Getty Images
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Women's bodies should not be bargaining chips for the Tories and the DUP

Women in Northern Ireland have been told for too long that the Good Friday Agreement is too fragile to withstand debates about their reproductive rights

When Members of Parliament are asked to pass laws relating to when and whether women can terminate their pregnancies, women’s rights are rarely the focus of that decision-making process. You need only look at the way in which these votes are traditionally presented by party leaders and chief whips as “a matter of conscience” - the ultimate get-out for any MP who thinks their own value or belief system should get priority over women’s ability to have control over their bodies.

Today’s vote is no different. The excellent amendment that Labour MP Stella Creasy has put before the house reveals not just the inequalities experienced by women in different parts of the UK when it comes to being able to make decisions about their health, but also the latest layers of subterfuge and politicking around abortion. 

Creasy’s amendment seeks access to the NHS for women who travel to England and Wales from Northern Ireland seeking abortion. Right now women in Northern Ireland are pretty much denied abortion by legislative criteria that limits it to cases that will "preserve the life of the mother" - (that’s preserving, not prioritising) - and pregnancies under nine weeks and four days. Rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality are not included as grounds for termination. The thousands of women who thus travel to England are refused free abortions on the NHS - confirmed by a recent Supreme Court ruling - on the grounds that this is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland. 

The idea behind devolution is that power should be more evenly and fairly distributed. It is not intended to deprive people of rights but to ensure rights. In refusing to exercise the powers available to him, Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is rightly acknowledging a difficult history of power imbalance between Westminster and Stormont, but he is also ignoring a wider imbalance of power, between men and women.  

There is so very much wrong with this arrangement. But a further wrong could be done if, as reports suggest, the Conservative Party whips its MPs to vote the amendment down in order to protect the regressive alliance with the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that is keeping their fragile minority government in power.

Instead of taking this opportunity to respond to the demands of women of Northern Ireland, this government is setting out the parameters of its complicity in refusing to listen to them. 

It is not the first time. In 2008 it was reported that the Labour party struck a deal with the DUP to leave Northern Ireland’s abortion laws intact, in exchange for their support over detaining terror suspects without charge for 42 days. Labour said at the time that it was concerned about the impact on existing UK abortion laws if the debate was opened.

But not one woman has equality until all women have equality. Women’s bodies are not chips to be bargained and we should not be bargaining for one group of women’s rights by surrendering the rights of another group. The UK parliament has responsibility for ensuring human rights in every part of the UK. Those include the rights of Northern Irish women.

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop playing politics with women’s lives. Women in Northern Ireland have been told for too long that the Good Friday Agreement is too fragile to withstand debates about their reproductive rights – a fragility that was dismissed by the Conservatives as they drew up a deal with one side of the power-sharing arrangement.

It’s time to confront the fact that nowhere in the United Kingdom – taking Northern Ireland as a starting point rather than an end in itself – do women enjoy free and legal access to abortion. Even the UK’s 1967 act is only a loophole that allows women to seek the approval of two doctors to circumvent an older law criminalising any woman who goes ahead with an abortion.

As long as our rights are subject to the approval of doctors, to technological developments, to decisions made in a parliament where men outnumber women by two to one, to public opinion polls, to peace agreements that prioritise one set of human rights over another – well, then they are not rights at all.

The Women’s Equality Party considers any attempt to curtail women’s reproductive rights an act of violence against them. This week in Northern Ireland we are meeting and listening to women’s organisations, led by our Belfast branch, to agree strategy for the first part of a much wider battle. It is time to write reproductive rights into the laws of every country. We have to be uncompromising in our demands for full rights and access to abortion in every part of the UK; for the choice of every woman to be realised.

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women's Equality Party.

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