Leveson: the celebrity sham-trial

by Dan Hodges

This will already be the hundredth article that you have read about her. She began the week as anonymous junior barrister Carine Patry Hoskins. Now she is the woman on the left, the vivacious/doe-eyed/comical (delete as appropriate), star of the Leveson investigation into phone hacking.

The unfortunate Ms Hoskins will no doubt  feature in the film of the book of the judicial inquiry. Indeed, both she and Hugh Grant will probably play themselves. Or if it is directed by David Lynch, each other.

Our brightest students will study her and the interrelationship between the courts, press, politicians and social media. “Monday, 21 November 2011 was the day the Twittersphere began to devour its own. Discuss”.

She will become the subject of debates about the law, feminism, class, love, longing, celebrity, privacy, voyeurism and the wisdom of cameras in the court room. Though I suspect that after yesterday there is about as much  chance of the latter as Ronnie Biggs finding himself called to the bench. “What does the woman on the left tell us about…” headlines are set to assail us from every side.

This is what she tells us. She tells us Leveson is a farce.

Remember where we came in. This inquiry is meant to be investigating issues of such import that earlier this year several serious commentators were speculating they could lead to the resignation of the prime minister and the downfall of the government. It would be, we were told, the anvil upon which a once in a generation realignment of the relationship between politicians, public and press would be forged. According to many of those politicians, including the leader of her Majesty’s opposition, the Leveson inquiry would prove to be one of the most important of modern times.

Are you kidding? Leveson is already looking like the OJ Simpson trial, minus the gravitas and respect for the sanctity of the judicial process.

That infamous case was presided over by Judge Lance Ito, a man described by one prosecutor as “drunk with media attention”. Judge Leveson, in contrast, appears frozen in the spotlight. It’s quite apparent that the poor man doesn’t have the first clue what he’s doing. Which isn’t to say he isn’t competent to fulfill his terms of reference. But he obviously  has no settled view on what those terms should be. The most telling parts of his interaction with Hugh Grant were when he virtually implored the star to advise him on the scope of his own investigation.

Grant himself is a decent and unremarkable actor, and seems a decent, if unremarkable, man. And he has clearly been the subject of some unacceptable media intrusion. But I’m unclear how his performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones: the edge of reason qualify him to pass judgment on issues such as media regulation and the sensitive balance between a free press and the state. Yet once again, Leveson bent over backwards to obtain his expert opinion; “From my perspective it’s abundantly clear this is  a topic you’ve thought about carefully”, he gushed.

The Leveson enquiry is supposedly exposing, and finding solutions to, the issues generated by the media’s obsession with celebrity; though actually, it’s our own obsession with celebrity, as Carine Patry Hoskins has just discovered. But far from exposing it, Leveson is fuelling it.

Look at the BBC’s coverage of the day’s proceedings. The corporation’s website splashed on Hugh Grant’s evidence,  focusing on his allegations relating to the Mail on Sunday, and honing in on “his conversations with a “plummy-voiced” woman”.

Only in the fourth paragraph did it choose to inform us of Sally Dowler’s testimony, in which she recalled the moment that she was informed her daughter’s phone messages had been deleted, erroneously drawing the conclusion she was still alive.

In fairness to the BBC, their 10 o’clock news bulletin led on Mrs Dowler rather than Grant. But both featured ahead of the Stephen Lawrence trial.

I thought we were finally getting the hang of these things. Lord Hutton’s report into the death of Dr David Kelly was an embarrassingly clumsy white wash. But the investigation that preceded was transparent and provided enough evidence for us all to see the dossier making the case for war had been so “sexed up” it resembled an Anne Summer’s catalogue. Chilcott’s investigation into the wider issues surrounding the conflict has also provided some powerful and interesting testimony, and benefited from its sessions being televised.

Leveson is a regression. Once Sienna Miller, Sheryl Gascoigne, Max Moseley, JK Rowling and the mysterious witness known only as HJK have breezed through, the most important inquiry for a generation is going to be looking more like a poor man’s version of Celebrity Big Brother. Which is not to say celebrities don’t have the right to have their say. But their evidence requires focus and context. And Lord Levenson is providing neither.

When asked by counsel about a statement he had issued in response to a story about his private life Hugh Grant responded, “It was not ideal circumstances. I was dressed as a cannibal at the time”. If testimony like that brings down the government it really will be time for a public inquiry. And Carine Patry Hoskins should chair it.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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10 Responses to “Leveson: the celebrity sham-trial”

  1. The Future says:

    To be fair it could still bring down Cameron.

    If Coulson purged himself under oath the week before he resigned then Cameron is done for. Or If Cameron was aware of all of Coulsons activities (those been proved in a court of law) then he is done for as well.

  2. Roger says:

    Shouldn’t ‘council’ in your final para be counsel?

    And why the surprise – Leveson was chosen very carefully and is doing precisely what the government intends him to do – provide a distracting circus that will so overpower the public with tedious detail and celebrity ephemera that they will lose interest and so allow the whole thing to be wrapped up with the jailing or fining of a few carefully chosen journalistic scapegoats.

    Then its back to business as usual (in fact as the childishly sexist treatment of poor Ms Hoskins – tried and found guilty of being young, female and attractive in a public place – in a sense it already is).

    As a former Daily Express columnist used to say ‘Pass the sick bag’….

  3. Dan Hodges says:


    Which would make the whole thing a bigger farce than it is now.

  4. You mention the death of Dr Kelly and Lord Hutton’s report. However it wasn’t the white wash you refer to that was important but the fact that Dr Kelly’s death wasn’t adequately investigated.

    Lord Falconer and Tony Blair agreed on the very morning that Dr Kelly’s body was discovered that there should be an inquiry. What should have happened is that the police investigation and inquest should have run their course. If the inquest had concluded that Dr Kelly committed suicide then by all means at that stage set up an inquiry, in fact I suspect that the public would have insisted on it.

    The Hutton Inquiry taking no evidence under oath was not a suitable substitute for an inquest. It’s also clear that issues involving conflicting evidence weren’t dealt with by Hutton and no meaningful attempt was made to consider the possibility that Dr Kelly was murdered.

  5. Unworthy, silly and well below Dan’s intelligence. Leveson (plus libel law reform) gives us a chance to limit the off-shore propietors and the sad journalism they promote. Hutton focused on a single untruth which the BBC mishandled with disastrous consequences. Leveson has a choice. To change something for the better in way politicians flinch from given their media dependence. Or surrender. Dan’s column as ever a great read but in striving for effect he misses the real point and why the Daily Mail is lashing out with fury.

  6. Citizen Smith says:

    she is well fit
    nuff said bruvers

    B-liar has set back the movement by decades

  7. Umar Farooq Khawaja says:

    You write, “Yet once again, Leveson bent over backwards to obtain his expert opinion; “From my perspective it’s abundantly clear this is a topic you’ve thought about carefully”, he gushed.”

    If you had bothered to read Hugh Grant’s evidence, which I did in its entirety, you would have realized that the Judge’s comments were not out of place or due to Grant’s celebrity. It is plainly obvious that the man has thought long and hard about what is going on in the press.

    Then again, you work for a political party, so likely have an axe to grind. Grind away, silly man.

  8. Brian Spencer says:

    I’m grateful to Denis MacShane for reaffirming where Hutton’s focus was. Hutton did go through the motions so far as ascertaining how Dr Kelly died but it’s clear that from the outset it had been decided that Dr Kelly had committed suicide. The Inquiry was mainly concerned at looking at the Gilligan broadcast of 29 May 2003 and related events prior to and following that “Today” programme.

    It’s interesting is it not that a judge was chosen to chair the Inquiry whose very survival at the time of the Troubles in Northern Ireland depended on the Security Services protecting him. So if the Security Services were actively or passively involved in any way with Dr Kelly’s death who better than Lord Hutton to be the main man. Lord Falconer has stated that the number of suitable experienced judges that could have run the Inquiry was in the tens yet Hutton was the only one he really considered on that July morning.

  9. Steve Norris says:

    “To be fair it could still bring down Cameron”. Wrong planet son. You clearly haven’t been following closely enough. On Leveson Dan’s right. On a huge canvass such as the relationship between the press, politicians, celebrities and freedom of speech it was vital to establish right from the outset precisely what the outcome of the inquiry was going to address and what changes/remedies might be needed. After the way this week’s testimony has been handled there are so many hares running it’s hard to see what conclusions he can come to one way or another.

  10. Roy Packham says:

    The type of (extremely biased and tunnelled view) article and comments one would expect from Labour Uncut and from Dan, who?

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