Phone-hacking inquiry: Consultation to take place over part two

Karen Bradley Image copyright Reuters

A consultation is to take place on whether the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking should go ahead, the government has said.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said ministers needed to consider whether continuing served the public interest.

Labour's Tom Watson said it was "a sad day" for victims of press intrusion.

A second phase would look at the extent of unlawful conduct in media groups and the police and how allegations were investigated.

Ms Bradley told MPs she wanted to seek the views of the public, interested parties and the victims of press abuse before making a final decision.

"Given the extent of these criminal investigations, the implementation of the recommendations from part one of the Leveson Inquiry and the cost to the taxpayer of the investigations in part one, which is £43.7 million and £5.4 million respectively, the government is considering whether undertaking part two is still in the public interest," she said.

"We are keen to take stock and seek the views of the public and interested parties, not least those who have been victims of press abuse."

Shadow culture secretary Mr Watson accused the government of letting down the victims who had been "thrown to the wolves".

"Leveson part 2 is the investigation into how the cover-up of phone hacking was conducted," he said.

"In effect she [Ms Bradley] is today announcing a consultation on whether the cover-up should be covered up."

Former Labour minister Chris Bryant, himself a victim of phone-hacking, accused ministers of "reneging on all those promises made to the victims" that Leveson 2 would take place.

The consultation will run for 10 weeks, and finish on 10 January.

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It will also invite views on whether to implement legislation that could require newspapers to pay libel costs - even if they won their case.

They would be liable if they had not first offered a cheaper alternative like public arbitration and if they had chosen not to join an industry regulator approved under royal charter.

Newspapers signed up to the regulator would be exempt from the laws.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 - one of the key commitments made after the first part of the Leveson Inquiry - still needs to be signed off by the culture secretary three years on.

Dr Evan Harris, of the Hacked Off campaign, which represents many victims of phone-hacking and press intrusion, said: "It is almost unthinkable that a prime minister who claims to be willing to stand up to police and corporate interests would even consider postponing - let alone cancelling - an inquiry into cover-ups and corruption in our major national institutions."

Part two had been expected to get under way once all legal proceedings - including criminal investigations - had been completed.

In May 2012, Lord Justice Leveson said that before proceeding to part two, consideration should be given "by everyone" to "the value to be gained" from it, given the "enormous cost" involved, the fact that material would be years out of date, and it could take longer than the first part of the inquiry.

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