Leveson Inquiry: Alastair Campbell urges press reform

Campbell: "The Daily Mail made up my father's death"

Tony Blair's former press secretary Alastair Campbell has insisted that most journalists are good people with nothing to fear from press reform.

He said a "genuinely free press" should be defended but that some elements of the media had become "frankly putrid".

Mr Campbell, who worked closely with Mr Blair during his time as prime minister, has been giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

His written evidence had already been leaked by a blogger.

On Sunday, the Order-order website, run by blogger Paul Staines under the name Guido Fawkes, published a link to papers submitted by Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell's witness statement has now been posted on the Leveson Inquiry's own website.

Alec Owens, a former police officer, who was the lead investigator at the Information Commissioner's Office when it conducted Operation Motorman, a 2003 investigation into the use of illegally-obtained information by newspapers, later gave evidence.

He said the former deputy head of the UK's data protection authority had declined to pursue newspapers over the illegal purchase of confidential information.

Mr Owens told the inquiry that Francis Aldhouse told him the media groups were "too big" for the ICO to take on, despite what he claimed was a paper trail connecting them to the practice.

He said he urged Mr Aldhouse and the then information commissioner Richard Thomas to go after the papers.

He told the inquiry: "I said, 'we can go for everybody from the blagger right up to the newspaper'.

"At which point there was a look of horror on Mr Aldhouse's face, and he said, 'we can't take them on, they're too big for us'.

"Mr Thomas, sort of bemused, deep in thought, just said, 'fine, thank you very much Alec, pass my compliments on and congratulations to the team from me, job well done'."

Mr Thomas is due to give evidence to the inquiry on Thursday.

Alastair Campbell is used to giving evidence to inquiries. He has Hutton and Iraq under his belt.

Leveson is likely to have been a more agreeable affair.

The questioning was gentle. It wasn't an examination of the role he's played in the media on both sides of the fence. Rather it was an opportunity for him to identify the problems and to offer solutions.

It's something he's passionate about.

His 55-page witness statement was referred to as a "formidable piece of work".

In his eyes much of the popular press and, in particular, the Daily Mail is guilty of fusing news and comment; being negative; and paying scant regard to fairness.

He believes the public now have a mirror on to a world they didn't really know about.

"They know the truth," he told the hearing. "They are horrified".

Mr Owens later explained why he believed the media wanted confidential information.

"It dawned on me this is what they wanted the numbers for - to hack," he told the inquiry.

'Frankly putrid'

Mr Campbell earlier told the inquiry: "Good journalists, who are still in the majority... have nothing to fear.

"The people fighting for the last, last, last chance saloon are the ones who got drunker before.

"They are terrified of not being able to do the sort of journalism they have been doing for the last decade or so."

Mr Campbell said the press was "frankly putrid in many of its elements".

He highlighted one incident in which a newspaper reporter rang him to say his paper was running a story that he was "fed up" at Downing Street and was going to a job at Manchester United.

"I said it was completely untrue and his verbatim quote was: 'I know, but it's a good story'," he said.

Death report

Mr Campbell also mentioned the Daily Mail reporting that his father's death had had a severe impact on him.

"The only thing was that my father was still alive at the time," he said.

He said he rang up Mail editor Paul Dacre who admitted he "didn't have a leg to stand on" and eventually paid a sum of money which was used to provide playground equipment at his children's school.

Mr Campbell suggested that the freedom of the press being defended most loudly had become a part of the press that is "barely worth defending".

He said: "A very, very small number of people have changed the newspaper industry so they've now frankly besmirched the name of every journalist in the country."

Mr Campbell said he agreed with former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt, who gave evidence on Tuesday, that the job was predominantly office-bound.

He blamed media management who cut back on staff to save money, adding: "That has led to a reliance on private investigators."

Investigator invoices

Mr Campbell said some of these private investigators had been acting almost as freelance journalists, presenting ready-made stories to the newsdesks - with too few questions asked about the methods used to obtain those stories.

Mr Campbell was asked by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, whether he had any experience of phone hacking.

Mr Campbell said he had been visited by officers from both Operation Weeting and Operation Tuleta about both phone hacking and computer misuse.

He said the police had told him that invoices had been found that suggested the Daily Mirror had paid a private investigator to look into him, a member of his family and former Labour minister Peter Mandelson.

Start Quote

How to boost genuine investigative journalism, I think, is part of this debate because it is dying”

End Quote Alastair Campbell

In his witness statement he said he believed a story about Cherie Blair's pregnancy - printed by the Daily Mirror in 1999 - could have come from phone hacking.

Mr Campbell told the inquiry that Carole Caplin, a former style adviser to Mrs Blair, told him she was targeted by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire between 2001 and 2003.

He said he did not remember ever using private investigators himself during his days at the Mirror.

Mr Campbell said British journalism was at its best and its worst in the world "often in the same edition".

He added: "How to boost genuine investigative journalism, I think, is part of this debate because it is dying."

Mr Campbell said Associated Newspapers and News International were not alone in making mistakes and he mentioned both the Independent and the BBC.

He also said the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) had been a failure and its credibility was undermined because its funding came from the newspaper industry.

Earlier in the day, Mark Lewis, a lawyer acting for phone hacking victims, accused News International of trying to ruin his life.

Mr Lewis, whose clients include the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, told the Leveson Inquiry the company commissioned surveillance on him and his family.

He described seeing a "truly horrific" surveillance video of his ex-wife and 14-year-old daughter. "That shouldn't happen to anybody's child," he told the inquiry.

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