Former Blair spin doctor slams 'putrid' British press

30th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The media chief to former British premier Tony Blair told a press ethics inquiry Wednesday that the country's newspapers were "putrid" and that a member of Blair's inner circle had her phone hacked.

Alastair Campbell, who was Blair's spokesman between 1997 and 2003 including the start of the Iraq war, said police had told him that he too featured in the notes of a investigator employed by the News of the World tabloid.

Campbell, himself a former reporter at the Daily Mirror tabloid, said he defended the need for a free press but that some parts of British journalism were not worth defending.

"We have a press that has become frankly putrid in many of its elements," Campbell told the Leveson inquiry in London.

"What's happened is a very, very small number of people have actually completely changed the newspaper industry so that frankly they have now besmirched the name of virtually every journalist in the country."

The inquiry, led by senior judge Brian Leveson, was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July following the scandal over the hacking of mobile phones at Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World.

Campbell said he had been contacted by Carole Caplin, the former style adviser to Blair's wife Cherie, saying her phone had been hacked, confirming suspicions he had about stories that leaked.

Caplin had been shown notes belonging to Glenn Mulcaire -- a private detective formerly employed by the News of the World who was jailed for hacking in 2007 -- which suggested her phone had been targeted.

"During various periods of the time that we were in government, we were very very concerned about how many stories about Cherie and Carole Caplin were getting out to different parts of the media," Campbell said.

"Some of it may have got out because people who were within the government were putting it out there. Perhaps. That does happen. But equally there were all sorts of stories where you would just sit there scratching your head thinking, 'how the hell did that get out?'"

Campbell said he had at the time accused Caplin of leaking stories, and had since apologised.

Campbell said Scotland Yard detectives investigating phone and computer hacking showed him references to him and his partner Mulcaire's notes.

He said he was also told that the Mirror, his former paper, had paid private investigators to look at him and former minister Peter Mandelson.

Campbell stepped down in 2003 with political flak over the Iraq war flying, especially over the suicide of British weapons inspector David Kelly, although he insisted the move was unrelated to that.

© 2011 AFP

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