Exactly a month ago, on 5 May 2011, Matthew Offord – the Conservative MP for Hendon – told a shocked House of Commons that one of their number was seeking one of those widely reviled “super-injunctions”. He reported a “rumour” that a Member of this place seeks a super-injunction to prevent discussion of their activities”. His intervention was widely reported: “MP takes out super injunction, another MP claims” (the Mirror), “MP granted super-injunction” (the Independent), “MP accused of hiding ‘own shame’ behind a super-injunction” (the Guardian).
As we pointed out in a post at the time, Mr Offord’s dramatic intervention did not appear to be based on any actual evidence of the existence of the injunction. He subsequently told the “Daily Telegraph” that he had heard that the application related to a “personal matter” and that he was planning to confront the MP “next week”. He said:
“I have heard about this from two different sources. I’m very keen to see that MPs aren’t seen to say one thing in public then behave in a different way in private. I feel that people shouldn’t be abusing these super-injunctions. I will speak to them and find whether the injunction has been taken out or not. If it has I will tell the MP that they are being hypocritical.”
What has happened since? What further information has been made available to the eagerly expectant world? In one word: nothing.
We can assume that Mr Offord was as good as his word and did indeed “confront” the allegedly injuncting MP. He must either have discovered that the rumours were true or that they were false. If he was mistaken then, we assume, he would have returned to the House and apologised for his mistake. If the rumours were true then it might be thought that he would also have made the position clear. But in fact, he has said nothing at all about it.
Opportunities have not been lacking. Mr Offord was present and spoke in the now notorious debate on injunctions on 23 May 2011 when Mr John Hemming MP made his intervention concerning Ryan Giggs and Twitter (which led to a rebuke from the speaker and mass civil disobedience by the media). Mr Offord said this
“I think that we all agree in the House that the law should be used to protect the vulnerable and not to hide the misdemeanours of those with large cheque books, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we have found ourselves in this situation because of the behaviour of some of the newspaper press? Super-injunctions have emerged because of the ineffectual and impotent way in which the Press Complaints Commission works, but we can regulate that and give ourselves greater protection from abuse“.
We can dismiss the suggestion by the irreverent local blog, the Barnet Eye, that these comments about the PCC were motivated by Mr Offord’s own recent unsuccessful complaint arising out of his long standing dispute with a Conservative defector to UKIP, Adrian Murray-Leonard. Mr Offord makes a serious point: injunctions are indeed the result of ineffective press regulation -(although it is not entirely clear what alternative he is proposing).
But what is noteworthy is that Mr Offord did not take the golden opportunity to clarify his remarks about the “MP and the super-injunction” a couple of weeks earlier. Neither did he take the opportunity of an appearance on Newsnight the same day – turning it down because he was “committed at this short notice“.
What then of the MP’s super-injunction? There are three possible answers:
- Mr Offord was mistaken;
- Mr Offord was right and a fellow MP has obtained an injunction which Mr Offord believes was unjustified,
- Mr Offord was right and a fellow MP has obtained an injunction which Mr Offord accepts was justified.
It would be a useful contribution to the public debate in this area to know which of these possibilities is correct. Perhaps one of the newspapers which were so keen to splash Mr Offord’s original allegation would like to ask him what the answer is.