Thursday 23 November 2017

Tory MP compares tabloid papers to Nazi death camp

Gordon Rayner and Martin Evans in London

ZAC Goldsmith, the British Conservative MP, compared tabloid newspapers to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz as he gave evidence to a parliamentary committee on privacy yesterday.

Mr Goldsmith, who was granted a superinjunction in 2008 to prevent leaked emails being published, rejected arguments that some newspapers would not be commercially viable if they were banned from writing about celebrities' private lives.

He said: "If the only way a business can stay afloat is by engaging in immoral or unethical behaviour, then that business should either change its model or go out of business. No one said that Auschwitz should have been kept open because it created jobs."

After being criticised for his comments on Twitter, he acknowledged his poor choice of analogy, tweeting that: "I could/should have made it citing something different."

Mr Goldsmith appeared before the joint committee on privacy and injunctions alongside Hugh Grant, comedian Steve Coogan and former F1 boss Max Mosley, all of whom had previously given evidence to the Leveson inquiry on media ethics. The inquiry heard yesterday that journalists and editors who commissioned a private detective to illegally obtain personal information could have been prosecuted but were never pursued.

Documents seized from Steve Whittamore, a private investigator, in 2003 revealed how he "blagged" details such as ex-directory numbers, car registrations and family and friend lists for hundreds of celebrities, sports stars and ordinary members of the public.

Whittamore, who was later convicted of illegally accessing data, kept detailed notes listing all the journalists and newspapers who commissioned him to carry out the work.

Despite lawyers advising the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) that there was enough evidence to suggest the journalists had committed data protection offences, none were interviewed.

Alec Owens, a former ICO investigator, who was recalled to the Leveson inquiry following his evidence last week, said his superiors decided that the press were "too big to take on" and had dropped their investigations.

Mr Owens told the inquiry, which is being held in court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice, that Whittamore offered various services to reporters between 2000 and 2003. They included obtaining ex-directory numbers for £75 (€88), vehicle registration details for £200 (€232) and British Telecom "family and friends'' lists for £100 (€116).

The inquiry heard that Whittamore had thousands of entries in his notes for work carried out on behalf of leading national newspapers. Among these were requests to obtain personal information related to Hugh Grant and his former girlfriend Liz Hurley.

Robert Jay, the barrister for the inquiry, also hinted that members of the England football team may have been targets in 2002 around the time of the World Cup in Japan and Korea. Mr Jay said Whittamore's notebooks provided a "veritable treasure trove of information". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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