David Hencke: Leveson would have 'seriously damaged' cash-for-questions investigation

Former Guardian political correspondent David Hencke believes his cash-for-questions investigation would have been “seriously damaged” if Leveson’s recommendations were in place in the 1990s.

Hencke, named Political Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards in December, said lobbying company Ian Greer Associates could have “gotten away with” bribing MPs to ask Parliamentary questions under Leveson’s proposals.

The investigation took around three years to complete and Hencke believes that under Leveson the lobbyist Ian Greer would have been encouraged to put pressure on the paper to disclose the information it had.

“I’m one of these people, my heart is definitely on the side of self-regulation,” he told Press Gazette. “I can understand the underpinning argument but there are parts of Leveson – the thing about sources and data protection – that to my mind will be really damaging to journalism.”

Hencke, who now works for investigative website Exaro, took voluntary redundancy from The Guardian in 2009 after 33 years.

In 1994 he was named the What the Papers Say Journalist of the Year for his cash-for-questions investigation, which led to the lobbying company going bankrupt and the resignation of two junior ministers.

“When I did the cash-for-questions investigation I held a lot of material on Ian Greer Associates for a long time – in fact, when I think about it, it took about three years to get that story cracked,” he said.

“And if Leveson had existed, or the recommendations existed, I think it would have seriously damaged the holding of this information and would have possibly allowed Ian Greer Associates to get away with it.”

But despite describing parts of Leveson’s report as “bonkers”, Hencke said stricter controls were needed to control some journalists’ behaviour and conceded that an “absolutely minimal” underpinning may be needed.

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