We could be forgiven for thinking it was a default procedure these days at the Daily Mail: when an editorial writer gets to the final few paragraphs about almost any subject, he or she strains to find a way to blame it all on Sir Brian Leveson.
True, the Mail didn’t manage to pin the floods on the judge, nor has it found a way (yet) to make him responsible for the crisis in the Ukraine, but truer to form the latest twist in the Stephen Lawrence affair provided the paper with an opportunity to blame Leveson.
Here is how it concluded its comments on the implications for the police the Ellison Review into corruption and undercover operations:
Had it not been for off-the-record briefings given to the Mail by senior officers, our campaign which led to the conviction of Norris and Dobson (and, incidentally, the abolition of the centuries-old defence of double jeopardy) would never have been possible.
Yet in the chilling aftermath of the Leveson inquiry, unofficial contact between police and journalists is now virtually banned and, naively, Leveson wants whistleblowers to contact a State hotline rather than go to the Press.
The politicians say they are determined to learn the lessons of the Lawrence case. How hollow those words will prove if they shackle the free Press that first exposed the corruption and incompetence at the Met and – the Mail is proud to say – brought two of his killers to justice.
In short, if Leveson gets his way, race killers will go free.
Almost as reliable in finding ways to pin the world’s problems on the judge is Peter Preston of the Observer, and sure enough we find him once again faithfully echoing the Mail’s thoughts:
The Mail helped break open the sad, slimy saga of the Met and Stephen Lawrence. The Guardian cracked open the deceptions of undercover policing. Last week’s Ellison review is, in many ways, a testament to both campaigns, and to the fact that – however much rival papers may snipe – they are brothers for purpose under the skin.
Now, after Leveson, police channels of information are closed. Officers who talk to journalists can be intimidated, sacked, charged. Yet without whistleblowers in blue, neither campaign would have made such progress.
Is there any truth in the claim that Leveson wanted to kill off contact between journalists and the police? Of course not. We wrote about the Mail’s myth-making on this subject more than a year ago. This is the nub of it:
What he [Leveson] says, therefore, is that it is ‘both legitimate and justifiable’ for whistleblowers in the police service to go to the press. The Mail has obviously overlooked this.
He also says that on the whole it would be better if that wasn’t necessary, and if the police service itself had the mechanisms to deal appropriately with problems in its own ranks. With that in mind the judge made a few suggestions – ‘signposts to a series of pragmatic solutions’ – to help the police improve their mechanisms accordingly.
Again, it is hard to see how any reasonable person could disagree with this general approach. Say there was a person at the Daily Mail who was unhappy about bullying or sexism in the workplace. I am sure the Mail would like to think it had internal mechanisms to address such problems fairly and appropriately, and that the victim of bullying or sexism would not have to resort to taking a complaint to another newspaper or to Private Eye.
This is not to say that the option of whistleblowing for the Mail employee should not exist – in Leveson’s terms that would be ‘legitimate and justifiable’ – merely that it should not be the only or the first option.
So when the Mail writes that ‘if Lord Justice Leveson gets his way, whistleblowers will report their concerns only to their employers – and certainly NOT the media’ it is simply misrepresenting the judge, again.
If the police are now more cautious in their relations with the press, the Mail and Mr Preston should take it up with them and not blame it on Sir Brian Leveson, who never suggested that they should ‘ban contacts’ or ‘close channels’, or anything of the kind.
These latest empty claims about whistleblowing are bad enough, but it is surely distasteful to see the Mail claiming credit for the heroic campaigning efforts of the Lawrences. That reference to ‘our campaign which led to the conviction of Norris and Dobson’ is, to use a Mail phrase, wildly inaccurate, just as it is wildly inaccurate to claim that the press was the first to expose police incompetence and alleged corruption.
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