Labour MP John Prescott has called on the Press Complaints Commission to launch a full investigation into whether the Daily Telegraph broke the editors’ code of practice by paying for leaked details of MPs’ expenses.
In a Guardian.co.uk comment piece, the former deputy prime minister said journalists calling for better regulation of parliament should take a look at their own system of self-regulation, administered by the Press Complaints Commission.
“These papers were some of the loudest campaigners for greater regulation of the banking system and parliament. And they’re right,” he said.
“But perhaps they should think about clearing up their own back yard too. On this issue, they suddenly fall quiet.”
Telegraph Media Group has refused to say whether – or how much – it paid for the leaked details of MPs’ expenses which have dominated the news agenda for the past three weeks and prompted a wave of public anger.
Scotland Yard has said it will not investigate the leak. At the weekend, former SAS officer John Wick confirmed he was the middleman who passed the details to the paper.
“Wouldn’t it be great if the editor of the Daily Telegraph – who has refused all media requests to discuss the story – came out and answered the question, did you pay for the stolen expenses disc?” Prescott asked today.
“Just as he did to me and my colleagues, I’ll give him to 6pm tonight to reply.”
Prescott argued that the Telegraph could be in breach of section 16 of the editors’ code of practice, which prohibits making payments to criminals or their agents.
Although clause 16 has a public interest defence, Prescott said he believed this would be difficult to justify since the details were due to be published in July anyway.
“The public interest defence looks a bit spurious when the information was going to be shortly released to the public,” he said.
“No. This was a clear case of chequebook journalism driven by a desire to sell more newspapers.”
Prescott added: “Can I now invite Baroness Buscombe [the new chair of the PCC] to investigate the publication of this stolen disc and publicly declare whether there has been a breach of clause 16 of its code of practice preventing criminals profiting from crime.
“It’s time for the PCC to stand up and prove that it’s an effective regulator and not the toothless tiger it became under its previous chair [Sir Christopher Meyer].”