Scottish Daily Mail

How they ’broke the law’ to smear their crit­ics

-

COM­MON PUR­POSE has claimed more than 35,000 peo­ple have ‘grad­u­ated’ from its cour­ses in the UK and across the world. As well as firms in the pri­vate sec­tor, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, quan­gos, char­i­ties and po­lice forces have all sent staff on Com­mon Pur­pose’s lead­er­ship pro­grammes. A week long ‘20:20’ course in ad­vanced lead­er­ship costs al­most £5,000.

Com­mon Pur­pose ‘ alumni’ are en­cour­aged to net­work and as­sist each other, though a full list of their iden­ti­ties is not pub­licly avail­able.

They have a pri­vate web­site, which re­quires a pass­word to log in. Mem­bers who dis­close in­for­ma­tion from this site face ex­pul­sion. Meet­ings are held un­der the so-called Chatham House rules, un­der which no one can be quoted by name. So much for the ‘trans­parency’ in pub­lic life that is be­ing called for by the Me­dia Stan­dards Trust and Hacked Off lob­by­ists.

How­ever, the pub­lic area of the Com­mon Pur­pose web­site, Mid­dle­ton’s book Be­yond Author­ity and other sources do re­veal the iden­tity of a num­ber of prom­i­nent of­fi­cials, ‘grad­u­ates’, course lec­tur­ers or those as­so­ci­ates whom Mid­dle­ton con­sid­ers to be her ‘in­spi­ra­tional lead­ers’.

Sir Bob Ker­slake, the re­cently ap­pointed head of the Home Civil Ser­vice and Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary at the Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, is a Com­mon Pur­pose grad­u­ate, ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s web­site. Lord Pat­ten, chair­man of the BBC Trust, has a full-page pro­file on the Com­mon Pur­pose In­ter­na­tional web­site’s ‘who we are’ sec­tion.

Jon Wil­liams, the BBC’s World News Ed­i­tor since 2006, is also a grad­u­ate of Com­mon Pur­pose Lon­don.

Pro­fes­sor Richard Sam­brook, who was the BBC’s Head of News and di­rec­tor of the World Ser­vice, is quoted prais­ing Com­mon Pur­pose on the web­site. He spoke at a Com­mon Pur­pose event but has de­nied be­ing oth­er­wise in­volved.

The BBC has told the Mail that, in a five-year pe­riod, it spent more than £126,000 on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses.

But it is Leve­son as­ses­sor Lord Cur­rie who (as we show later in fuller de­tail) il­lus­trates the in­ces­tu­ous re­la­tion­ships that in­ter­twine throughout this In­quiry.

He was the first chair­man of the me­dia reg­u­la­tor Ofcom, where for­mer col­leagues there in­cluded the ex-BBC ex­ec­u­tive Richard Hooper. Mr Hooper was a mem­ber of a re­view panel for Sir David Bell’s Me­dia Stan­dards Trust, while fel­low Ofcom board mem­ber Ian Har­g­reaves was an­other founder of Labour think-tank Demos along with Ju­lia Mid­dle­ton. Har­g­reaves is also now a Hacked Off sup­porter and Leve­son wit­ness.

Dur­ing Cur­rie’s ten­ure, Ofcom sent mem­bers of its staff on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses, al­though he is not per­son­ally a mem­ber of Com­mon Pur­pose.

An­other Com­mon Pur­pose lu­mi­nary is Chris Bryant MP — ex­posed by the press for pos­ing in his un­der­pants on in­ter­net dat­ing sites. Bryant, who has led the charge against Ru­pert Mur­doch in the Com­mons and was a Leve­son wit­ness, was Com­mon Pur­pose’s Lon­don man­ager for two years.

Among the se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers who are also Com­mon Pur­pose grad­u­ates is Cres­sida Dick, who was sav­aged by the press for her lead­ing role in the 2005 shoot­ing of the in­no­cent Brazil­ian Jean Charles de Menezes in a Lon­don Un­der­ground car­riage.

It was As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Dick who per­son­ally chose Deputy As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Sue Ak­ers to head the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into phone hack­ing and pay­ments to po­lice at News In­ter­na­tional.

Deputy As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Ak­ers was in charge of the child pro­tec­tion team in Is­ling­ton when the Evening Stan­dard ex­posed a long-stand­ing pae­dophile sex ring in the bor­ough’s chil­dren’s homes.

Ms Ak­ers was also in charge of the Met’s North West pro­tec­tion team in the months lead­ing up to the death of eight-year- old Vic­to­ria Clim­bie, who was tor­tured and mur­dered by her guardians. This episode, which again trig­gered a firestorm of me­dia criticism and re­sulted in a pub­lic in­quiry, led to her re­ceiv­ing ‘words of ad­vice’ — the po­lice equiv­a­lent of a rep­ri­mand. Nei­ther episode fig­ures promi­nently in her of­fi­cial pro­files. In­deed, none of this was men­tioned when Ms Ak­ers told the Leve­son In­quiry that News In­ter­na­tional’s trans­gres­sions could not be de­fended as be­ing in the pub­lic i nter­est — a claim vig­or­ously re­but­ted by News In­ter­na­tional’s lawyers, who asked how Ms Ak­ers was qual­i­fied to de­fine the pub­lic in­ter­est.

In all, Ms Ak­ers ap­peared be­fore the Leve­son in­quiry three times — more than any other wit­ness.

Lord Blair, Cres­sida Dick’s boss at the Met, was an­other Leve­son wit­ness. Un­der Blair’s lead­er­ship, the Met spent tens of thou­sands of pounds on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses. The Met re­viewed its train­ing re­quire­ments in 2009.

Since the year Blair stepped down (2008-09), the Met says, no money has been spent on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses.

This week, Lord Blair said: ‘I sup­port Com­mon Pur­pose, as do the vast ma­jor­ity of lead­ers of ma­jor pri­vate and pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions.’

One of the most lu­cra­tive con­nec­tions be­tween Com­mon Pur­pose and the po­lice in­volves the West Mid­lands force. Sir Paul Scot­tLee, the for­mer West Mid­lands’ Chief Con­sta­ble — now a con­sul­tant — is a Leve­son as­ses­sor.

Us­ing Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests, the Mail has es­tab­lished that 27 West Mid­lands of­fi­cers, i nclud­ing one As­sis­tant Chief Con­sta­ble, went on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses un­der Sir Paul’s lead­er­ship.

It ap­pears that the West Mid­lands ex­pen­di­ture on such cour­ses dur­ing this pe­riod was sig­nif­i­cantly more than that of t he far larger Metropoli­tan force. FOR a num­ber of years Com­mon Pur­pose has at­tracted the ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion of the more outré in­ter­net con­spir­acy the­o­rists such as David Icke, as well as blog­gers on the far Right. This has pro­vided a con­ve­nient smoke­screen against a more ra­tio­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But a num­ber of cred­i­ble par­ties have also sought to dis­cover more about the char­ity’s pres­ence within pub­lic bod­ies. In 2007, for ex­am­ple, Tory MP Philip Davies — con­cerned at the then New Labour gov­ern­ment’s ap­par­ent close links with the or­gan­i­sa­tion — lodged writ­ten ques­tions to a num­ber of sec­re­taries of state about how much their de­part­ments had spent on send­ing civil ser­vants on Com­mon Pur­pose cour­ses.

The an­swers, which weren’t widely pub­li­cised but can be found on of­fi­cial par­lia­men­tary records, showed a to­tal spend over a hand­ful of years of more than £1 mil­lion.

Davies was told that the Depart­ment of Work and Pen­sions had spent al­most £240,000 in five years, on cour­ses which had ‘ helped fos­ter valu­able part­ner­ships in the lo­cal community which can be used to im­prove the ser­vice of­fered to our cus­tomers’. The Min­istry of De­fence had spent more than £300,000 over the same pe­riod.

While Com­mon Pur­pose could do lit­tle about this kind of scru­tiny, we now come to per­haps the most se­ri­ous charge against this body: the sup­press­ing and smear­ing of in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens who had lodged Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion ques­tions about its ac­tiv­i­ties.

On the spe­cious ba­sis that FoI leg­is­la­tion was be­ing abused, caus­ing dam­age to the char­ity’s rep­u­ta­tion, Com­mon Pur­pose com­piled a ‘black­list’ of the in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned. Com­mon Pur­pose of­fi­cials sent pri­vate, per­sonal de­tails of these peo­ple to pub­lic bod­ies around the coun­try, with the warn­ing that new FoI re­quests about the char­ity from those listed should be treated as ‘vex­a­tious’.

In other words, Com­mon Pur­pose tried to block the le­gal rights of those in­di­vid­u­als and pre­vent their free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The pri­vacy watch­dog, t he In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice ( ICO), i nves­ti­gated the af­fair, fol­low­ing com­plaints by five of those on the black­list.

In re­sponse to a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest f rom this news­pa­per, a spokes­woman for the ICO said: ‘As far as we are aware, 18 in­di­vid­u­als had their per­sonal de­tails dis­closed by Com­mon Pur­pose by way of the list pro­vided to var­i­ous pub­lic bod­ies.’

She said these de­tails could ‘con­tain their name, and if known, also their ad­dress and/or phone num­ber’.

In late 2009, the ICO ruled that Com­mon Pur­pose was ‘ un­likely to have com­plied with pro­vi­sions in the Data Pro­tec­tion Act 1998 on pro­cess­ing data’. Their spokes­woman con­firmed to the Mail: ‘In this case, the Act was prob­a­bly breached.’

The ICO de­cided not to take ‘fur­ther ac­tion’ against Com­mon Pur­pose ‘af­ter the char­ity con­firmed that it no longer dis­trib­uted the list’ and Ju­lia Mid­dle­ton is­sued a state­ment in which she said: ‘As an or­gan­i­sa­tion we made a gen­uine mis­take in this in­stance. But it was in a very rapidly chang­ing le­gal con­text …’

Now let’s put this mit­i­ga­tion into the con­text of the Leve­son In­quiry and those Com­mon Pur­pose-linked or­gan­i­sa­tions, the Me­dia Stan­dards Trust and Hacked Off.

Op­er­a­tion Mo­tor­man was a 2003 in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice into al­leged breaches of the Data Pro­tec­tion Act by vir­tu­ally all news­pa­pers in­clud­ing the Mail and other me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions, who had used a Hamp­shire pri­vate de­tec­tive agency to ob­tain any­thing from ad­dresses and phone num­bers to, in some in­stances, li­cence plate own­ers and crim­i­nal records.

This was a time when the full im­pli­ca­tions of the Act were by no means clear. No jour­nal­ist was ever pros­e­cuted as a re­sult of Mo­tor­man.

But Hacked Off and the Me­dia Stan­dards Trust have pushed ever harder for the Mo­tor­man files to be made pub­lic, and i ndi­vid­ual jour­nal­ists named.

One is minded of Mid­dle­ton’s ex­pla­na­tion that Com­mon Pur­pose had erred be­cause of ‘a very rapidly chang­ing le­gal con­text’. Yet the char­ity’s own data pro­tec­tion breaches were com­mit­ted a full five years af­ter Op­er­a­tion Mo­tor­man.

This episode pro­vides a telling in­sight into the ‘don’t do as we do but do as we say’ mind­set of Com­mon Pur­pose’s lead­er­ship.

And yet who is the ul­tra-busy as­ses­sor help­ing Lord Jus­tice Leve­son write his re­port that could shape the fu­ture of the hith­erto free press and the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion? Com­mon Pur­pose trustee and for­mer chair­man Sir David Bell, cre­ator of the Me­dia Stan­dards Trust and sup­porter of Hacked Off.

In his dec­la­ra­tion of in­ter­ests to the In­quiry, Bell ex­plains away the black­list episode like this: ‘Com­mon Pur­pose has had sev­eral deal­ings in the past few years with the ICO in con­nec­tion with com­ments that have been made re­peat­edly about it on the web with­out, in Com­mon Pur­pose’s view, any foun­da­tion at all.’

With what can only be de­scribed as rank disin­gen­u­ous­ness, there is no

 ??  ?? No friend of the press: Sue Ak­ers
No friend of the press: Sue Ak­ers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK