Entries from November 2012 ↓
November 26th, 2012 —
If you are interested in press reform, the chronology of events below should tell you how previous politicians have ducked their responsibility to act. When Leveson reports on Thursday, it will be up to you to convince your local MP that they should have the courage to finally deal with this issue. So why not consider joining the campaign for a free and accountable press? They’re called Hacked Off and they need your help and support.
1953 Four years after a Royal Commission told the press to start regulating itself, nothing had been done. It took the threat of legislation – a broadly-supported Private Member’s Bill from C.J. Simmons MP – to make them create the General Council of the Press. Withdrawing the Bill, a sceptical Simmons warned: ‘I give warning here and now that if it [the Council] fails, some of us again will have to come forward with a measure similar to this bill.’
1962 A second Royal Commission told the press it had to make self-regulation effective, but again warned of legislation: ‘We think that the Press should be given another opportunity itself voluntarily to establish an authoritative General Council . . . We recommend, however, that the government should specify a time limit after which legislation would be introduced.‘
1977 The third Royal Commission on the Press urged radical changes to the Press Council, which was found to lack independence and credibility, and said that if nothing was done Parliament should act. The report said: ‘We recommend that the press should be given one final chance to prove that voluntary self-regulation can be made to work.’
1990 The Calcutt Committee on Privacy was a response to Hillsborough, the grossly intrusive reporting of the death of TV presenter Russell Harty and an accident suffered by actor Gorden Kaye. David Mellor, then a Home Office minister, had said: ‘I do believe the press – the popular press – is drinking in the last chance saloon.’ Calcutt recommended the establishment of an effective Press Complaints Commission and newspapers were given a ‘year of grace’ to make this work. Home Secretary, David Waddingston, told the Commons: ‘This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation.’
1993 The Calcutt Review concluded that the PCC was ‘not… an effective regulator of the press’. It recommended a Press Complaints Tribunal backed by statute. A Major government with a slender majority failed to implement this.
2011 In the Commons in July 2011, speaking after the revelation that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked, David Cameron said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’
Hacked Off is working hard on behalf of the many ordinary victims and the public, of whom 78 per cent support independent press regulation, to ensure that their voices are not drowned out by the press. We are about to be steamrolled by one of the most powerful lobbying operations in parliamentary history. Please play your part in stopping it.
November 25th, 2012 —
Tom Steinberg, boss of My Society and former adviser to the Conservative party and last Labour government, has just published a number policy advice papers on his site. They represent five years of advice to ministers and the Conservatives when in opposition. I’m slowly ploughing through them but one of them jumps off the page at me. His valedictory paper recommends beefing up the powers of the ICO. I reproduce it here in full and would welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.
The key vulnerability of the present open government data agenda is the dearth of mechanisms to ensure that valuable data is published not simply at all, but published well enough, and on an ongoing basis.
Ministers have been successful in releasing a range of important datasets, but without continued watchfulness it is almost inevitable that a hard-pressed public services, unfamiliar with cheap automation techniques, will fail to sustain publication.
This is not just a theory – it is an everyday problem well known to most practioners and users of public data. For example, departments ceased publication of hospitality and meeting
data mere months after it was mandated by ministers in the last Government,and under this administration some departments have failed at timely release of further iterations of their £25k spending data, citing process problems.
This falling away of publication happens because releasing data does not sit within departmental priorities like ‘publishing unemployment figures’ or ‘delivering manifesto commitments’ – well known, high priority obligations. A mechanism is required to create such awareness within leaderships where and when it is needed. And it is not simply needed by the public – it is needed by ministers who want to see their wishes carried out on a sustained basis.
It is therefore proposed that the Information Commissioner is granted a new power to address this problem.
The new power would allow the ICO to add datasets to any public body’s Publication Scheme, on behalf of public or ministerial requests to do so.
More specifically, the power would enable the ICO to mandate publication not simply
of a named document, but of a particular dataset, specifying not only the data to be published, but the frequency of publication, the format of the data and even, in exceptional circumstances, the quality of the data.
This power would only be used by the ICO after a new form of public interest test was carried out by the ICO, to determine whether the cost and inconvenience of publishing this
data was outweighed by the value generated by regular public release.
To back up the ICO’s ability to mandate releases, the ICO would be given new powers to impose remedial measures on non-complying public bodies modelled on the Civic Monetary Penalties introduced for breaches of the Data Protection Act. These penalties would both create strong incentives for compliance, as well as bringing serious breaches of good practice in public data handling onto a level playing field with serious breaches of good practice in private data handling.
How this fits within the Right to Data Strategy
The Right to Data Strategy has been missing a clear central piece. The Mandated Data Release proposal is designed to form a hard center around which policies such as data inventories, culture change and the FOIA amendments currently in front of parliament could fit with extra clarity. It marks an escalation path which most public bodies would hope to avoid through close adherence to the voluntary parts of the strategy, and would boost uptake on the non-statutory policies currently in discussion.
This policy proposal is an outline of a tough vision, but the details have not been worked through in detail. The following are the questions which this idea most obviously raises:
November 22nd, 2012 —
After my colleague Dr Stella Creasy was asked to write the sleeve notes of a re-issued Wedding Present album, the Indie asked me to write the sleeve notes of an album I would like to see re-issued. It’s in today: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/teenage-heartbreak-the-wedding-present-and-labour-mp-stella-creasy-8340848.html It got quite heavily subbed so if you want to read the full version it’s here:
When Dory Previn did confessional, it was as if she’d etched out the lyrics into her own flesh with a cold steel scalpel. This album is a series of dark folk ballads that challenge every taboo. “Angels and devils the following day” weighs up the relative advantage of a physically abusive lover against a psychologically abusive one. Sex with a younger man is explored in “Lemon haired ladies” with the sardonic lines ”Whatever you give me, I’ll take as it comes, Discarding self-pity, I’ll manage with crumbs”. “A stone for Bessie Smith” is the remarkable story of Janis Joplin’s purchase of a stone for the unmarked grave of the “greatest blues singer that ever lived” Bessie Smith, a few short months before her own sudden early death.
Mythical Kings deserves to be up there with Joni’s “Blue”, or Carole King’s “Tapestry”. Her work was a reflection of the liberation politics of the early seventies but it stands the test of time as a unique piece of recorded music.
Dory died this year. A tiny part of my teenage self loved this woman after years of listening to Mythical Kings with the solitude of an old Sony walkman. Do not grief her passing, for as Dory says on the track that formed the album name “Sure that everything of worth is in the sky and not in the earth”. Do not grief but remember her name. Re-issue this album.
November 19th, 2012 —
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said:
“The deaths in Gaza and Israel are horrifying. It is a very dangerous moment not just for Israel and the Palestinians but for the region. A halt to violence on both sides is now absolutely critical.
“A full scale ground invasion would be a disaster for the peoples of both Gaza and Israel. It would damage profoundly hopes for peace and security and could lead to another humanitarian crisis.
“Both sides, regional players and the international community – including the UK Government – share a profound moral duty to do everything possible to prevent such a catastrophic development. Every effort must be made through the United Nations, the Quartet, The Arab League and the wider international community to reverse decisively the unfolding dynamic of events. Time is now very short to avert another catastrophe.”
November 11th, 2012 —
Thank you for your recent letter which I read online yesterday.
I appreciate your concern for the heat to be taken out of the public debate around this issue but as you have raised this with me publicly, I feel duty bound to explain that which I had wished to remain private.
Your central point is that any allegations I receive should go to the police. I am not sure why you have assumed that this is not happening. You are wrong, in any case.
It remains the case that the documents seized in the investigation into paedophile Peter Righton provide clear intelligence suggesting a child abuse ring that links to a former aide of a Prime Minister. In fact this was my sole focus when the matter was raised with the PM in the House. My concern was not the shortcomings of the previous inquiry into North Wales and at the time I was not aware of any allegations made about politicians relating to North Wales.
This is also why I believe the terms of reference for the inquiry announced by the Home Secretary are inadequate and at some point in the future will have to be broadened, as I told the Home Secretary on Tuesday.
As you know, I have some history with the Metropolitan police. We now know that during the hacking scandal, the organisation was sitting on a vast amount of intelligence that provided clear evidential leads suggesting much wider criminal wrongdoing.
In raising the matter with the PM I was seeking to ensure that the new team at the Met were aware that there could be clear intelligence held by them that would warrant a second look in this case too. I believe this is now happening.
Since raising the issue with the PM, a number of other allegations have been made of which I have made the police aware.
My concern is that the institutions that are there to protect vulnerable children may have historically failed. I do not know why this is the case but seek to understand it. This will take time and I would welcome your ideas as to how child protection policy can be improved in years to come.
The former child protection specialist who raised his concerns with me did so because after the Murdoch scandal, he felt I was prepared to speak out on a perceived injustice and see it through to the end – no matter where the evidence leads and whoever it affects and regardless of political persuasion. I should point out to you that my few public statements regarding an alleged child abuse ring have taken pains not to identify the political affinity of the suspected perpetrators. Nor have I at any point, publicly identified the time period to which the allegations apply. This is not a fit subject for point scoring.
I hope you now understand that I am fully co-operating with the police and that I will not let this matter drop regardless of what pressure is bought to bear by those that seek to undermine legitimate inquiry.
November 5th, 2012 —
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
5 November 2012
Dear Mr Cameron,
Congratulations on ordering a review of what information government departments may hold about organised child abuse at the heart of government 30 years ago.
In acting swiftly you have sent an important message about how seriously you take this matter. You have done the right thing and I commend you for it.
And the inquiry that you have announced performs a useful function. It is certainly important that government departments trawl their archives to see what documents they hold. But my experience of uncovering massive establishment conspiracies leaves me in no doubt that what you have suggested does not go anything like far enough. Its limited scope may even slow things down, muddy waters, damage trails. What is needed is a much wider, but equally immediate, investigation.
Since sharing my concerns with you at PMQs, a number of people have come forward to say that they raised their suspicions with the police, but investigations were not carried out. One allegation involves alleged child abuse and a former cabinet minister. We both know that many untruths are told about politicians, but this allegation was specific, informed and appeared well corroborated.
Cutting through a concerted establishment cover-up requires meticulous, diligent, fearless commitment to uncover the truth, whomever it unmasks.
My advice to you as Prime Minister – and from one father to another – is that you need to order a special police investigation, outside the affected forces, with proper resources, to review all relevant police files and those of the intelligence services. If they have documents suggesting politicians in the Commons and Lords or others in positions of power were involved in child abuse then they should make them available to a new inquiry team.
The forces so far known of be affected (Met, Surrey, West and South Yorkshire, West Mercia, Dorset, Kent, Essex, North Wales, Suffolk and Sussex) need to have their archives systematically searched for intelligence from witnesses/victims making claims which were not investigated; investigations which were closed down, and so on.
If what you really want – and I believe that it is – is the truth, then you must draw the terms of reference such that the police inquiry has licence to follow any lead it finds in what will be, after all, a serious criminal investigation. There should be no historic sexual abuse of children which is off limits to this investigation. The police should be supported by a dedicated team of child protection specialists, many of whom have been raising their concerns for years. Your advisers will tell you to be wary of “opening the floodgates”. They are wrong. Their decorous caution is the friend of the paedophile. Narrowing the inquiry equals hiding the truth. That is the reality and it is not what you want.
Detailed recommendations about how to organise an investigation is in the possession of the government. The 2002 guidance on Complex Child abuse investigations: Inter agency issues (Home Office and DoH) continues to be relevant and is referenced in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 Investigating complex (organised or multiple) abuse (p194 6.10-1.6.13).
A dedicated police unit is essential, investigating the organised abuse of children, wherever it happened – from the seediest backstreets even to Downing Street – without fear or favour of exposing the rich and powerful, or those who covered up for them.
And if it opens a floodgate of misery, then so be it. We will all feel dirtied and sickened – as we should. Victims have an absolute right to the whole truth.
I know you want to do this and ask that you give it your urgent attention.
You have no choice.
Tom Watson MP
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East
November 3rd, 2012 —
It’s ten days since I raised a question about intelligence suggesting a paedophile ring that touched the very heart of a previous government. I’d done so because a very credible retired child protection professional had lived with a gnawing suspicion of a cover up for many years.
These people are the rarest of human beings. They’re the people who labour in anonymity, day in day out, trying to make the world a better place. They have always been the foundations of our public services. Yet this retired public servant had, through a quirk of fate, stumbled on something that appeared so huge, that almost everyone he’d ever raised his concerns with had baulked at the challenge.
Since then though, many more ordinary people have contacted me about suspicions they have had of a wider wrongdoing – in some cases so heinous it made me cry.
They have talked of psychopaths marking children with Stanley knifes to show “ownership”. They tell of parties where children were “passed around” the men. They speak of golf course car parks being the scenes for child abuse after an 18 hole round.
And they have named powerful people – some of them household names – who abused children with impunity.
Two former police officers have raised their concerns of cover-ups. Child protection specialists have raised their fears that the network of convicted paedophile Peter Righton, the nexus of the group, was wider than at first thought. Others have identified a former cabinet minister who regularly abused young boys.
Some have raised mysterious early deaths, disappeared children, suspicious fires, intimidation and threats.
These allegations go way beyond the claims made on BBC Newsnight yesterday. Newsnight failed to name the paedophile mentioned by a North Wales survivor. I can understand why. A career can be destroyed by an allegation of such magnitude. There needs to be a high bar of proof.
Yet the thing I learnt most from the hacking scandal, and for that matter, the Savile case, is that the intelligence was staring the police in the face. These people were hiding in daylight. So powerful, so brazen in their actions, those who had an inkling of what was happening turned a blind eye.
Or maybe none of this happened. Maybe the 50 plus emails and numerous phone calls and letters I have received were all from fantasists. Maybe the allegations of the victims – made for many years, consistently to anyone that would listen, maybe they’re bogus.
One thing is for certain: someone has to join the dots. And that should be the police. There are a few hardy child protection specialists who for many years, have been burrowing away, trying to uncover the truth. Their work and insight should be taken more seriously. The police should work with them.
The hacking scandal was about the police failing to follow clear leads of wrongdoing by powerful people. They could do this because politicians turned a blind eye.
This is potentially worse. Some of those powerful people involved in a cover up may well have been – and could still be – powerful politicians.
I’m not going to let this drop despite warnings from people who should know that my personal safety is imperilled if I dig any deeper. It’s spooked me so much that I’ve kept a detailed log of all the allegations should anything happen.
As I type this blog post, I’m half-smiling about how insane all this appears. It sounds like I’ve taken leave of my senses – just like they said I had during the early days of the hacking scandal. Maybe I have. Yet with a properly resourced investigation, with the voice of victims being heard in public and with the political will we can get to the facts.
I wish I could fight the case of everybody who has been abused by a paedophile who has so far got away with it, but I can’t. That is a job for the police. Up and down the country private grief is being stirred by these stories. I cannot help in each individual case, but the police and support services can, must and will. If you were abused a long time ago and want justice now, go to the police. It is not too late.
What I am going to do personally is to speak out on this extreme case of organised abuse in the highest places. At the core of all child abuse is the abuse of power. The fundamental power of the adult over the child. Wherever this occurs it is an abomination. But these extreme cases are abuse of power by some of the most powerful people. Abuse of trust by some of the most trusted. It is a sickening story, but one which – like the truth about Jimmy Savile – is now going to be told.