I’ll never forget the call from the Metropolitan Police on the Monday of Labour Party conference, September 2011, as part of Operation Weeting, when I was informed that I’d been a victim of hacking and later that a substantial amount of personal details had been sought and some appeared in the notebook from the notorious ‘snooper’ to the press, Glen Mulcaire.
It felt like a risk taking on the press in court. As reported in today’s press, I am seeking selection in Bristol South where I live and am relieved to have very recently settled my case with News Group Newspapers and expect an apology in court this Friday. It’s great to put this behind me.
Taking on a man like Rupert Murdoch and the powerful empire that is his News International and News Group Newspapers (NGN) was not something I did lightly, understandably fearful of repercussions, or retaliation of some sort, but my legal settlement includes an agreement that prohibits all the newspapers within this group using illegal means to spy on my life.
We need MPs to be strong enough to stand up to people like Murdoch. Remember it was the mettle of Labour’s Leader Ed Miliband and the likes of Tom Watson and Paul Farrelly MP, formerly of The Observer, to have the guts and forensic skills to challenge the might of Murdoch in the first place.
Murdoch liked to think ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won it’, a reference to the demonising of Labour and Neil Kinnock on the eve of the 1992 general election, but in reality he used wealth, viciousness and fear to get his own way.
Parliament seemed to turn a blind eye to these vile practices from a small minority of the press and it certainly was a case of: what Murdoch said went. Those days are over. Largely, thanks to Labour’s leadership and political braveness to take it all on.
I vividly remember the summer of 2011, being glued to the live broadcasts of both Rupert and James Murdoch, after being summoned to the Commons Select Committee to explore illegal practices of their newspapers. In fact, I started writing a zeitgeist novel, after the folding of the News of the World newspaper at that time, focussing on a female journalist losing her job and becoming embroiled in the hacking scandal. Little did I know, I was already involved myself, it has been very sinister and deeply unsettling.
So why me? The timescale appears to start after working on the general election campaign of 2001, as campaign manager’s assistant in a key marginal seat; Labour’s General Secretary Iain McNicol was organiser in chief and where we held Wimbledon for Labour in a second landslide victory.
Soon after this I was taken on as a researcher and parliamentary aide by Graham Stringer MP, then government minister and whip. In 2002 winning election as a London Councillor, I went on in my first year to win election to the Cabinet and on Labour’s National Parliamentary Panel. Hardly grounds for a tabloid story let alone a household name like John Prescott, Hugh Grant or Sienna Miller.
It’s certainly been a sobering experience taking on a power monolith like NGN, but I’m glad I stood up to the ‘Dirty Digger’ and played my part in challenging the Prime Minister, when campaign group Hacked Off organised a private meeting with myself and David Cameron last November in Westminster, the week before Leveson reported.
I sat humbled in the presence of the likes of Kate McCann and Milly Dowler’s father and took the opportunity to pin down the PM, grilling him over precisely what he was going to do to tackle the pernicious practices of the gutter press in this country. Sitting eye ball to eye ball opposite from the PM back then, it was obvious he had no intention of giving any Parliamentary time to the issue, to give the Press and Complaints Commission (PCC) real teeth.
Despite saying under oath at Leveson that the most important test of the inquiry was whether the victims of press intrusion, who the PM had described as being ‘thrown to the dogs’, are satisfied with the outcome, saying he’d support all recommendations in the Leveson Report unless they were ‘bonkers.’
Having taken no action, it’s another broken promise from Cameron.