The Independent in a leader today questions whether the Leveson Inquiry should proceed given the recent revelation that police do not believe that News of the World journalists hacked the voicemails on Milly Dowler's mobile which gave her parents false hope she was still alive.
Headlined 'This inquiry looks less substantial by the day', the leader states: "Even as danger seems to be lapping around the upper reaches of the popular press, however, the rationale for instituting the Leveson Inquiry in the first place suddenly looks shaky. It was The Guardian's claim about NOTW journalists deleting Milly's messages that revived public indignation about phone hacking and convinced politicians they had to "do something". That something became the inquiry headed by Lord Leveson.
"It was not just the politicians who were spurred into action. When he learnt of the distress to the Dowler family – who had interpreted the deleted voicemails as evidence that Milly was alive – Rupert Murdoch made public and personal apologies to her parents, agreed a £3m payment, and summarily closed the NOTW. Yet that report, as The Guardian now admits, was based on assumption, not fact. While journalists indeed hacked the messages, the deletions were probably made automatically.
"The 'what ifs' that follow are legion. What if The Guardian had reported only the hacking and not the deleting, would the public outcry have been as great? Would the Prime Minister have felt compelled to respond? Would there have been an inquiry at all, on top of the police investigation already in train? After all, if phone-hacking was going on – which it was – it was a breach not only of ethics, but the law.
"One conclusion might be that the Leveson Inquiry is doing the right thing, even if it was set up for the wrong reason. But this would be to make the best of what is, at root, a bad job. The question must be faced squarely: is it right that this inquiry, which could transform regulation of the British press, should proceed at all, now it is clear that it was built on a misapprehension?"