AN inquiry into possible phone hacking in Scotland by the News of the World newspaper has been rejected by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, despite the urging of the MP who is arguably the biggest thorn in the side of media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who closed the newspaper in July.
Tom Watson MP was speaking yesterday during the publication of a report by a Westminster committee that concluded – among other things and on this occasion on a split decision – that Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” (page 74 of the 125-page report, here).
And Watson’s call for an inquiry in Scotland was in the context of the one year in prison served by former MSP, Tommy Sheridan, after being found guilty of perjuring himself during a successful defamation case against the News of the World.
But Watson’s call was rejected by Salmond. As reported on page five of today’s Herald, the First Minister is quoted, as saying he believes such matters should reside with an inquiry into press standards being undertaken by Lord Justice Leveson and also with the broadcasting regulators, Ofcom.
The Westminster committee – culture, media and sport, on which Watson sits – was convened following the phone hacking allegations, that have led to not just the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry but police investigations also. Its report was slammed by Murdoch’s News Corpoation as “unjustified and highly partisan”.
Said Watson: “Former member of the Scottish Parliament, Tommy Sheridan, lost his liberty on a majority verdict of a jury not in full possession of the facts.
“He received a three-year prison sentence – I believe the judgement is unsound.
“If Rupert Murdoch really is sorry then he will order an urgent review of the information his company provided to the jury in the Sheridan case.”
At the weekend, it was revealed that former First Minister, Jack McConnell, might have had his phone hacked. Yesterday, former journalist and now SNP MSP, Joan McAlpine, wrote of police informing her of suspicions that she too was a victim.
The BBC website quotes Salmond, as saying, in response to Watson: “The question of who is a fit person to run a major news organisation should be judged by independent authorities, like Lord Leveson, and by the scrutiny of an independent statutory body like Ofcom, rather than a politically divided committee of MPs split on party lines.
“In terms of the suggestion of a separate Scottish inquiry, the Scottish justice system does not need any lectures from Tom Watson, who seems unaware of the fact that the Leveson Inquiry includes Scotland within its remit, and the fact that a Strathclyde Police special unit are currently investigating allegations of criminality in Scotland.
“That investigation will proceed wherever the evidence leads, without fear or favour, to ensure Scottish citizens are afforded the proper protection of the criminal law.
“And in Scotland, I am confident the criminal law will be upheld.”
In a similar vein, the Scottish Daily Express, in a report by Scottish political reporter, Paul Gilbride, and Dean Herbert, added: “Mr Salmond last night rejected calls for a Holyrood inquiry, saying Lord Leveson’s remit included Scotland and that Strathclyde Police had its own phone-hacking probe. He added: ‘It is a great pity that there was no such inquiry or police unit when Labour were in office in both Edinburgh and London, when Mr [Tom] Watson was a minister. But now that there are, we should trust them to do their job.'”