Friday, January 27, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Did His Credit Card Statement 'Do' for Simon Hughes?

Something has been bugging me about the Simon Hughes issue. In a post below, I stated that The Sun had got hold of his phone records. However, I now understand that it may have actually been his credit card records which The Sun obtained. I think therefore that Simon Hughes might be entitled to ask just how they did this. But he won't because it would be too risky for him, so maybe others should be asking the question on his behalf. If indeed it was through credit card records, the plot thickens. I am told by a friend who knows about these things that if he did pay by credit card, the word MANTALK would not have appeared on his credit card statement - instead it would be something innocuous so as not to arouse suspicion from anyone who might see the statement (like a girlfriend), I guess. So The Sun would have needed to do quite a bit of research to establish exactly what the company did. It seems therefore likely that someone close to Simon or someone in the know within the LibDems tipped them off. Or he may have thrown the statement away without shredding it and Benjy the Binman happened to pay a call.

In a way it doesn't matter whether it is phone records or a credit card bill. Assuming the records weren't just handed to The Sun I cannot see how they can possibly have obtained them within the rules of data protection or within the bounds of various other laws. I have no knowledge of the remit of the Press Complaints Commission, but I would be interested to know from readers if a complaint to them would be worthwhile someone undertaking. It is entirely proper for a newspaper to expose hypocrisy in public life, but there have to be limits on what they are able to do to facilitate such an exposure. Strangely, the rest of the media has been silent on this. But I remember well how The Guardian forged a letter on House of Commons notepaper which helped bring down Jonathan Aitken. Some will say the outcome justified the method used. My question is, what is an acceptable limit, beyond which a newspaper should not go?


Anonymous said...

Although I do not share your politics, you bring a rare and important breath of fresh air to political comment. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you mentioned this because it's been bugging me for a couple of days now too. It just seems to be accepted that this is something the tabloids can get their hands on. But that's just plain wrong!

Anonymous said...

"I have no knowledge of the remit of the Press Complaints Commission, but I would be interested to know from readers if a complaint to them would be worthwhile someone undertaking."

In theory, the only person with a chance of getting the Press Complaints Commission to investigate is Simon Hughes himself. They simply ignore complaints by the public, from anyone except the people directly named in a story.

However, you might try to convince them of some larger Public Interest, so that they take some action unilaterally.

Obviously, personal contacts and influence are the key, and you are better placed than most people to do this.

Did Sir Christopher Meyer , who is still head of the Press Complaints Commission, do a book signing at Politicos, when launching his "D.C. Confidential" memoirs which you actually reviewed ?

The same goes for any complaint to the hypothetical credit card company, or to the Office of the Information Commissioner for any complaints under the Data Protection Act.

Remember that we have no Privacy Act on the Statute Books in the UK, and things like the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life does not apply to snooping by private individuals or private companies, only against some of the activities of Public Bodies (with coach and horses wide exemptions for "national security" or "public health" or "for the prevention or detection of crime").

However, if any of the alleged phone calls were intercepted by the chatline operators, or the telecommunications companies then someone could theoretically be facing up to 2 years in prison under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, as, presumably the Home Secretary would not have signed the appropriate warrant, because of the "Wilson Doctrine".

It is not yet clear if the "Wilson Doctrine" banning the UK Government authorities from "tapping MPs telephones" has been updated obver the years to include Mobile Phones , Faxes or use of the Internet, or indeed if it also applies to all the other members of parliaments which did not exist 40 years ago i.e. Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Welsh Assembly, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Members of the European Parliament.

It is also still yet clear if Communications Traffic Data e.g. itemised phone bills are exempt from the "Wilson Doctrine" necause they are technically not the same as intercepting the content of a telephone call.

Peter Jacobs said...

Do people still actually use phone chat lines? Doesn`t the man own a PC or laptop?

I`m all for people making up their minds whether they`re Arthur or Martha, but surely, having had relationships with men and women, makes him a bisexual not gay...?

Anonymous said...

I was an Officer of Bermondsey Labour Party when Hughes the seat. Hughes would have been selected after the Tatchell stuff started and frankly knowing what was happening to Peter it's clear he must have intended to be dishonest about his sexuality. We knew all along he is gay and chose not to do anything about it. But he could have done something to stop the worse elements within his Party - after all it was only about 10 days before the election when it became clear that he could win it - so he could have come out before that - after all on paper he had nothing to lose but 23 years on he has become a spent force and should resign his seat after he comes last in the leadership election.