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Lord Leveson’s Black Marker

July 15, 2014

By Chris Brace

After the last posting or two on the Express group use of Private investigators there has been a suggestion of a degree of panic out in the halls of that organ. The first story had them making initial moves, but the second resulted in a whole series of indirect messages requesting that the story be taken down as we were in breach of the Data Protection act, which were politely declined. Initially we were scratching our heads, how could details of legal documents published by a government enquiry put people who were commenting on their contents infringe peoples privacy?

Further conversations however resulted in the claims that the relevant documents had not been correctly redacted before being provided to the public. Which had us looking in much greater detail at several documents, apart from the one that we had been concentrating on having had this discussion, we were then informed that the documents had been removed for redaction, no doubt under the pressure of panicking lawyers. A quick check of the Leveson website resulted in the observation that six documents provided by two witnesses to the Inquiry had vanished from the website.

Now the Inquiry is no longer live, the attached website has come under the management of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Emails were written asking what had happened to those documents. After the requisite wait of a couple of weeks to make sure you know who is in charge we were informed that the relevant documents would be back in a redacted form shortly, as being part of the public record, they could not be just deleted from the website. So we drummed our fingers more, and then, with no notification after another month, the files re-appeared.

The file had been gone through with a black marker, deleting names, but not just any names, anything that even looked like a name so you got things like “alf is it the new ira” a story obviously related to the Animal Liberation Front, however the black marker had swiped its way through it as if it was the name Alf.

Original top, redacted Bottom

None of the redactions in the first part of the document that we had used were in any way useful given five minutes research however. The reference in the document was by newspaper headline and date. Deleting just the name from the headline makes a search for the redacted detail somewhat trivial. How many stories in the typical days output are headlined “XXX is the new IRA”? Other “names” had also bitten the big one courtesy of black marker, amongst which was the delightfully named Dole Conman.

So back we went to the DCMS with the question as to who had done the redactions, had the documents been returned to the expresses lawyers, in which case they probably better check the bill to make sure they hadn’t been charged lawyer rates when someone appeared to have used the tea boy. Had the DCMS done it, Or was the iffy redaction down to the Inquiry itself in which case is one of the learned judges time falling victim of the current legal aid cuts and he’s been cast out to live rough on the streets with his paperwork being done by a Workfare Tiny Tim?

After the requisite wait, and assurances that it had been passed to the proper department at the DCMS we were informed that the appropriate redactions had definitely been done by the inquiry, (however we only have the DCMS word for that as there is no connection to the now non-existent Inquiries staff, they may just be a convenient point of blame)

The final reply came back that said that the Inquiry website was now moved to the government web archive, and would be available from there from now on, seeming a “please leave us alone there’s nothing else we want to do” message. Now that webpage has a link at the top, to historic versions of the website, that have been scraped up by the National Archives at various points during the time the site has been in existence. The last two changes out of around thirty different historical versions of the website at various stages in its history are firstly to one  that shows the change to remove the unredacted documents, and the final one to put all of the new redacted versions back in.

However if one travels further back into documented history of the archived site, then all of the earlier copies are of unredacted versions of the pages that so worried the the Express Group and their Lawyers are still available.

Chris Brace

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