By Dominic Ponsford
An “unprecedented” intervention from the Attorney General’s office has delayed the release of a Press Complaints Commission adjudication on the News of the World.
A draft PCC judgement, reportedly clearing the NoW over its payment to a criminal informant involved in an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham, was leaked to The Guardian last Thursday.
But the full adjudication, due to be released on Thursday of this week, has been delayed while the PCC follows up “a couple of factual points” raised by the office of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.
The PCC is a non-statutory body independent of Government and this action by the Attorney General has rung alarm bells at the NoW.
Executive editor Stuart Kuttner said: “We were surprised by the last-minute intervention of the Attorney General. In my experience this is unprecedented. In the months leading up to the Beckham kidnap trial, our staff co-operated extensively with the police. We also assisted the PCC throughout its subsequent inquiry.
“The PCC adjudication exonerated the News of the World. We have no reason to think the Attorney General’s involvement will change that.”
The PCC committee met on Wednesday last week to adjudicate on the NoW’s payment of £10,000 to convicted criminal Florim Gashi, who told the paper about an alleged plot to kidnap Beckham.
The trial of five Eastern European men, which resulted from the NoW’s investigation into the plot, collapsed on 2 June after the Crown Prosecution Service dropped its charges.
The PCC announced it was launching its own inquiry into the Gashi payment immediately afterwards. Section 17 of the Editors’ Code of Practice forbids payments to criminals unless in the public interest.
At the time, trial judge Simon Smith said he was “minded to refer the matter to the Attorney General to consider the temptations” which money offered for stories, particularly involving celebrities, gave rise to.
But according to a source at the NoW, the paper has learned that the Attorney General will not be taking action for contempt of court over the payment to Gashi.
PCC director Guy Black said: “Our normal procedure is to ensure that all those with an involvement in a complaint, which in this case would have included the Attorney General, should be consulted about the draft of any adjudication. It is deeply regrettable that a leak to a newspaper interfered with that process.”
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said: “When we learned that the adjudication was about to come out, we thought we would get in touch to let the PCC know his [the Attorney General’s] conclusions, having had the case referred to him by a judge. He wants the PCC to have the benefit of his views and his investigation in making its adjudication.”
The leak of the draft PCC adjudication coincided with the official release of an adjudication censuring The Guardian for a payment of £720 to a former prison inmate about life behind bars with Lord Archer. This has led to four national broadsheet editors criticising the two decisions.
News, page 5