'MPs feared repercussions of challenging press'

A former Labour MP believes the press "intimidated" politicians out of suggesting a need for privacy legisaltion under the last Labour government

Claire Ward, who claims press attention may have contributed to her baby being stillborn, said MPs on the Culture, Media and Sports Committee felt intimidated by the press.

“Although there were frequent discussions about undertaking a report on the need for privacy legislation, most members believed that such a challenge to the media would have repercussions for our personal lives,” said Ward, in a submission to the Leveson Inquiry.

“During my four years on this committee, we refrained from any such inquiry.

“I believe the majority of members felt intimidated by the implicit threat that their personal lives would be exposed in the media if the committee dealt with this issue.”

She believes the Leveson Inquiry, and revelations over the past two years, have helped politicians develop the "collective courage" to "expose unacceptable activities by the media".

"My concern is that the intimidation and threatening [behaviour] by reporters did a huge amount of damage to many MPs during the last 20 years in particular," she said.

"We now need to restore confidence in the relationships. The public are entitled to have elected politicians who have nothing to fear from good journalism."

 

Ward claims that “entirely false claims” made by the News of the World in December 2004 put her under “enormous stress” while on holiday in Riga.

“For a number of weeks at the start of 2005, I feared the News of the World would return to the story again,” she said.

“I was under enormous stress from this threat. Following the general election in May 2005, my baby was stillborn.

“I cannot help but think that the stress I was placed under in the early stages of my pregnancy, particularly during my stay in Riga, may have contributed to the eventual loss of my baby”

The submission also refers to a number of other alleged incidents, mainly involving the NoW.

In 2001 the now defunct Sunday newspaper published a story claiming Ward had shared a bed and shower with a captain in the Royal Marines during a visit to Kosovo.

She insisted at the time that the information was false, but her solicitors suggested it would be best not to take action.

“I was advised that the story had been written in such a way that it would make it very difficult for me to challenge and that if I did take action the News of the World would never leave me alone after this,” she said. “I was only 28 at the time and wanted to concentrate on my political career.”

She also described several events which suggest reporters had tried to hack her phone, and revealed that she was referred to several times in the notebooks of Glenn Mulcaire.

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