Disturbing questions over Leveson’s key adviser, Sir David Bell and ‘Common Purpose’: Special Investigation into a central figure in the McAlpine scandal and judicial inquiry into the press
– Sir David Bell’s suitability as senior adviser to Leveson Inquiry under scrutiny
– Sir David is a trustee of the tarnished Bureau of Investigative Journalism
– BIJ behind the disgraced Newsnight probe that implicated Lord McAlpine
By Micheal Seamark and Sam Greenhill
What is Common Purpose? Ask David Bell…
Sir David Bell is on the six-strong panel of assessors assisting Lord Justice Leveson, whose report into press standards is expected within weeks.
But a Daily Mail investigation has uncovered evidence that questions both his suitability as an adviser and the impact this may have had on the objectivity and neutrality of the Inquiry.
Sir David is a trustee of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the group behind the disastrous Newsnight report that falsely implicated Lord McAlpine as a paedophile.
With his lawyers preparing to sue the BIJ for damages, the former Tory Party treasurer yesterday described the devastating impact on him of the programme that has left the BBC in crisis, with the resignation of its director general.
The 70-year-old spoke of how the shattering allegations had consigned him ‘to the lowest circle of hell’ and said it had made him ‘a figure of public hatred’. The BBC last night agreed to pay Lord McAlpine £185,000 plus legal costs.
This was followed by a grudging apology from the BIJ, which read: ‘The bureau’s trustees apologise to Lord McAlpine for the extent to which its contribution to the Newsnight broadcast on 2 November fell short of the high standards it expects and for any incorrect speculation about the identity of the politician that may have been encouraged by the bureau managing editor’s tweet in advance of the broadcast.’
At the Leveson Inquiry, the BIJ, which bragged it was the gold standard of investigative journalism, proposed a media levy that would force newspapers to fund groups such as itself.
As well as the bureau, Sir David is co-founder of the Media Standards Trust, the lobby group behind a huge amount of evidence presented to the Leveson inquiry.
The Trust, which Sir David chaired until recently, subsequently spawned Hacked Off – the campaign group demanding press reform fronted by actor Hugh Grant and comedian Steve Coogan – which has boasted of its role in considerably expanding the Inquiry’s original remit.
Julia Middleton: Heading what some describe as a ‘cult’ – Common Purpose.
Sir David’s friend and Trust co-founder is Julia Middleton with whom he heads an organisation called Common Purpose which receives millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money from public servants sent on ‘leadership’ training courses. It is described as the Left’s answer to the old boys’ network.
Two more of Leveson’s panel of advisers, ex-Ofcom chairman Lord Currie and Sir Paul Scott-Lee, ex-chief constable of West Midlands Police, have indirect connections with Common Purpose.
The Mail investigation has uncovered an incestuous network of political, business and financial links between Sir David, ex-chairman of the Financial Times, and individuals and organisations appearing before the Inquiry to demand statutory press regulation. It reveals:
- Many of the witnesses who provided the most hostile anti-press evidence to Leveson are linked to senior figures at Hacked Off and the Media Standards Trust;
- Significant funding for the Trust comes from a charitable trust of which Sir David is a trustee;
- The Trust has links with Ofcom, the statutory media regulator which some suspect has ambitions to regulate Britain’s free press;
- Despite being formed by the Trust, which is campaigning for ‘transparency and accountability in the news’, Hacked Off refuses to detail the source of its own funding;
- The ‘prestigious’ Trust-administered Orwell Prize for political writing was handed to a journalist who turned out to have made up his ‘award-winning’ articles;
- Common Purpose is ‘likely’ to have breached the Data Protection Act – the charge levelled at the Leveson Inquiry against virtually all newspapers;
- It has strong links with powerful and controversial lobby and PR groups;
- Common Purpose ‘leaders’ have had a significant influence on the appointments process in Whitehall.
Tory MP Philip Davies, who sits on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said: ‘This is about a lot of people of dubious intentions setting up organisations to push their own opinions and inveigle their way into positions of influence. They are simply promoting their own ideological agenda in a surreptitious manner.
‘It makes you wonder, if we had statutory regulation of the press, just who would be sitting on such a body.’
Common Purpose, which once shared the same headquarters as the Media Standards Trust, charges up to £5,000 for a week-long course and claims more than 35,000 have ‘graduated’ in the UK and worldwide.
Who is behind ‘Common Purpose’?
The BBC spent more than £126,000 in a five-year period on its courses. Among senior police officer ‘graduates’ of Common Purpose is Cressida Dick, the Scotland Yard commander in charge of the bungled operation that ended with the 2005 shooting of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes.
It was Miss Dick who personally chose Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers to head the investigation into phone-hacking and payments to police and public officials at News International.
Another lucrative connection between the police and Common Purpose involves the West Midlands Force.
The force sent 27 West Midlands officers, including one assistant chief constable, on Common Purpose courses under Sir Paul Scott-Lee’s leadership.
New Labour peer Lord Currie was the first chairman of Ofcom and the media regulator also sent people on the courses.
Two of his board members have been involved with either the Media Standards Trust or Hacked Off.
The Mail sent detailed questions to Sir David, Lord Currie and Sir Paul but none replied.
The Leveson Inquiry issued a statement on their behalf, saying: ‘Before the assessors were formally appointed to their role they were each asked to declare any issues they felt might cause a conflict to arise with their position on the Inquiry.
‘As part of that process, each assessor discussed those matters with Lord Justice Leveson and provided a written declaration accordingly.
‘He was satisfied then that there was nothing in their disclosures which caused him concern or justified any of them not taking up this role.’
Common Purpose chief executive Miss Middleton said: ‘I am proud of my private and personal association with the Media Standards Trust, started by many people in response to widespread feelings that increased transparency in the media should be encouraged.’
She said none of the organisations she was connected with had a role in selecting the assessors.