I was interested to the read latest from the Leveson Inquiry, which touched on how an old contact Martin Salter was treated by the News of the World when he was my MP in Reading. My old paper the Reading Chronicle reported on his written evidence as part of Labour MP Tom Watson’s appearance at the hearing this week.
Mr Salter has said before that he believes he became an ‘enemy’ of the News of the World for publicly refusing to back its controversial ‘Sarah’s Law’ anti-paedophile campaign in 2000. I worked with Martin on a number of stories at around this time, and remember him explaining his reasons for not backing the campaign to name all convicted paedophiles, stating that it could endanger the children it is intended to protect by driving sex offenders underground.
The facts of this case, and the claim that he may have had his phone hacked, is no shock when set against the background of all that’s come out over the last 10 months. The national press covered the story too, but were less interested in Salter’s story than they were about the wider body of evidence Watson gathered on the extent to which the News of the World seemed determined to nail him for something. Both figures claim to have been on an ‘enemies list’ at the News of the World, which in itself is a chilling indication of the hold tabloids have had over politicians.
What interested me most about this wasn’t the story itself, but what appeared in the comments underneath it. The story contained a brief hint at ill feeling between Mr Salter and his former Labour counterpart and ex-MP for Reading East Jane Griffiths:
“[Mr Salter] also said in 2004, former Reading East MP Jane Griffiths, attempted to “smear” him with “a series of wholly false and ridiculous allegations” in an “angry interview” with the Mail on Sunday after she was deselected by her local Labour party.”
“I read with interest your copy of a press release from a Mr Martin Salter titled “Ex-Reading MP tells Leveson he was a News of the World target”. Apparently Mr Salter is upset that the now defunct News of the World ran an “unpleasant” story about him refusing to back its Sarah’s Law campaign in 2000. Poor love. Journalists not always being nice about people in public life? That must have come as a terrible shock to the notoriously publicity-shy and reclusive MP. Understandably still traumatised 12 years later by the terrible discovery that there are parts of the print media which are sometimes unwilling to copy out his press releases, Mr Salter has attempted to heal those wounds by providing his tale of woe as evidence for Tom Watson MP to present to the Leveson inquiry. What Tom Watson was thinking when he agreed to accept this stuff is another matter. But I have read Tom Watson’s ghostwritten book “Dial M for Murdoch”, which is not only crammed with inaccuracies but reveals that Tom Watson at one stage believed himself to be mentally ill. We’re with you on that, Tommy-boy! Mr Salter takes up the story. The News of the World went to his home! Shock! Horror! They had a photographer! Anguish! Terror! He was indeed terrified. He had to stay away from home for the Whole Day [sic]! In case the Nasty Men [sic] came back! I am reliably informed that he spent the day in Reading West, where he knew the press would never find him. They were searching for him, of course, in Reading East. A cunning stunt, I’m sure you will agree.”
It continues, ending:
“He also tells us that to this day, eight years on, he is still “trying to figure out” if there had been “an attempt to illegally access his voicemail messages”. No evidence for it, Martin. Sorry mate, you’re just not interesting enough.
“I am grateful to the delightful Sally Stevens of Berkshire Media for allowing me the opportunity to reply to the nonsensical falsehoods peddled by Mr Salter in the pages of this publication. It does the heart good to know that not all newspapers allow lies and smears to go unchallenged.”
Swift responses came from Chronicle reporter Alex Gore, who pointed out that the story did not come from a press release, and Mr Salter, who sought to explain the relevance of this information to the evidence he had supplied. This was followed by a further response, and some tweets later on:
I found it amazing to see the latest exchange unfolding under an online story. If Jane Griffiths has been given a chance to respond in next week’s paper, as she says, I’ll be keen to get my hands on a copy.
- Leveson Inquiry: ‘fake sheikh had me followed’, says Tom Watson (telegraph.co.uk)
- Fake sheikh “ordered” surveillance on Tom Watson (newstatesman.com)