Bridget Phillipson: ‘The most incredible justification’

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THE phone hacking scandal brought the Parliamentary session to a frenetic end.

Every day seemed to bring new revelations more awful than the last.

There was understandable outrage at allegations that News International had hacked into the phones of Milly Dowler and victims of terrorism.

I sit on the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee, and it was last September that we launched an inquiry into phone hacking. It gained little attention at the time.

It was suggested that Tom Watson and Chris Bryant, the Labour MPs leading the charge against News International, had an axe to grind.

But time has proved that both they and the Committee were right to pursue the unethical and illegal activities of some journalists and police officers.

The government should have listened months ago and referred News Corporation’s takeover of BSkyB to the Competition Commission.

In the end, Parliament united behind this demand and Rupert Murdoch was forced to back down.

As a Committee, we were able to question current and former senior officers from the Metropolitan Police to try to uncover why the original investigations had gone nowhere.

Much of the evidence from the Police was simply breathtaking with ever-changing excuses.

The most incredible justification had to be that because News International was unwilling to cooperate with Police, they couldn’t pursue the matter any further.

I would have thought that experienced police officers would be used to criminals behaving in this way, but apparently not.

The public inquiry has begun its work – it will consider the specific allegations of phone hacking and police corruption, but just as importantly also the wider issues of media ethics and the relationships between police officers, politicians and journalists. While the pace has slowed, this clearly isn’t the end of the scandal.

PARLIAMENT has gone into recess and it’s a great opportunity for me to catch up with all of the local groups and visits that I haven’t been able to fit in while Parliament is sitting.

 I spent Friday morning shadowing staff at Houghton Jobcentre. I saw firsthand the challenges that staff face, but also the difficulties local people are having in finding work. There are four jobseekers locally for every vacancy.

 Recent figures show that growth has stalled and the recovery has been choked off. Every excuse in the book has been given. First, it was too cold with the snow and more recently it’s been too warm and we had the Royal Wedding.

 Blaming the weather and a public holiday is no way to run the economy. We need the government to bring forward a credible plan for jobs and growth to get the economy going again.

 That’s why I’m calling for a temporary VAT cut to put money in people’s pockets and a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund house building and support for our unemployed young people.

 Unless the government changes course, tough times remain ahead, particularly for our area.