Less than stellar First Minister Alex Salmond appoints Peter Watson of Levy McRae to Leveson ‘expert group’. A LAWYER who has represented controversial clients including shamed former Glasgow City Council Boss & Cocaine addict Steven Purcell, & former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC (née McPhilomy) and whose law firm has been accused by some newspapers of attempting to silence press reports over scandals involving the seedy private lives of some of its prominent public figure clients, has been appointed by struggling First Minister Alex Salmond to an ‘expert group’ charged with considering the proposals to regulate (or muzzle – Ed) the press, put forward by Lord Leveson.
PETER WATSON, of Glasgow law firm Levy McRae, the same law firm with personal connections to Scotland’s much derided and five-years-in-the-job-too-long Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who worked at the law firm for several years was named today in a Press Release issued by the Scottish Government as being appointed along with David Sinclair, Ruth Wishart, Professor Neil Walker to the First Minister’s ‘expert group’ which will be headed by retired judge Lord McCluskley (aged 83).
Glasgow based Levy McRae have hit the headlines in recent years over their representation of characters such as former Lord Advocate, now Dame Elish Angiolini who took on Levy McRae to sue anti abuse campaigner Robert Green and recently, after the England based journalist Mr Green had been jailed for six months for handing out leaflets in Aberdeen, Levy McRae went back into court to silence further calls for an investigation into claims of historical abuse in the case of Hollie Greig, a downs syndrome victim who has alleged she was abused by several individuals in the Aberdeen area.
Documents presented to the court by Levy McRae, whose offices Angiolini (nee McPhilomy) told the court she resided at, also name a number of websites which it is claimed are linked to the campaign to out alleged child abusers. The Court interlocutor, which is a public document, can be viewed and downloaded here : Interlocutor Elish Angiolini v Robert Green re Hollie Greig case. Levy McRae were also identified by the Press Complaints Commission as being the authors of a complaint submitted to the PCC against Scots law title “The Firm”, who were forced to retract statements made regarding Angiolini’s alleged involvement in the abuse case.
Troubled law firm Levy McRae also featured in a recent report where one of it’s other partners, Legal Defence Union boss Bill Macreath (60) of Troon, is facing accusations of professional misconduct & inadequate service as a result of a Law Society of Scotland investigation.
Scottish Government Press Release : Leveson findings - expert panel appointed
A five-person panel has been appointed to consider the recommendations of the Leveson Report in Scotland. The expert group, to be chaired by former Solicitor General and Senator of the College of Justice Lord McCluskey, features Scots legal experts and representatives of journalism and those affected by malpractice:
Lord McCluskey of Church Hill LLD, former Solicitor General for Scotland and Senator of the College of Justice (chair)
David Sinclair, Director of Communications at Victim Support Scotland, former President of the National Union of Journalists and former assistant editor of The Herald
Professor Neil Walker FBA, FRSE, Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh
Peter Watson, Senior Partner of Levy & McRae and Visiting Professor at the School of Law, University of Strathclyde
Ruth Wishart, independent media production professional, former assistant editor of the Sunday Mail, Scotsman and Sunday Standard
The panel is tasked with considering the findings and certain recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson – particularly how statutory underpinning of a new independent system of self-regulation of the press could work in Scotland. The terms of reference are set out below.
Panel members are invited to provide advice and recommendations to the Scottish Government within three months.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “Press regulation is a devolved responsibility, there have been victims of press malpractice in Scotland and Scotland has its own unique legal system. It is therefore unarguable that we in Scotland need to make our own response to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson in his report – particularly on the proposal for statutory underpinning in Scots law of a new, independent self-regulation system for the press. This expert panel will offer advice on the most appropriate way to approach such statutory underpinning in Scotland, bearing in mind our legal system, developments elsewhere in the United Kingdom and experience internationally. What happens thereafter will be a matter for the Parliament.”
Stressing the range of expertise within the panel, Mr Salmond added: “What is critically important is that this panel is representative of the broad spectrum of interests that need to be taken into account. It is a balanced panel that features experts in Scots law, respected journalists, legal practitioners and someone with a background in supporting those affected by crime and malpractice. This group of experts is independent and non-political and is chaired by a former Court of Session judge. I am grateful to each of them for bringing their knowledge, expertise and commitment to this issue and look forward to receiving their recommendations.”
The terms of reference of the expert group are as follows: To consider the findings and recommendations made in the Part 1 of the Report of the Leveson Inquiry in respect of Press Regulation, and, accepting the main principles on which those recommendations are made, including in particular the need for statutory underpinning of a newly created, genuinely independent and effective system of Self-Regulation, to offer advice and recommendations as to the most appropriate means of achieving such statutory underpinning in Scotland, in the context of —
the Scottish legal system;
any other existing provisions in law that relate to publication by the Press in the UK;
any developments in Press Regulation elsewhere in the United Kingdom arising out of the Leveson Inquiry;
experience in regulation of the press outside of the United Kingdom, that might inform consideration of the recommendations made and the mechanisms suggested in the Part 1 Report of the Leveson Inquiry,
and to provide such advice and recommendations to the Scottish Government within 3 months.
Lord McCluskey (Chair)
John Herbert McCluskey, Baron McCluskey was Solicitor General for Scotland from 1974 to 1979. During this period he worked on the then Labour government's proposals for devolution. Lord McCluskey became a member of the Judiciary in 1984 and presided for 16 years as a High Court judge over some of the country's most famous criminal cases. He retired in 2000. In 2011 he chaired the Independent Review Group examining the relationship of the High Court of Justiciary and the United Kingdom Supreme Court, whose recommendations were accepted both by the Scottish Parliament and the UK Government. Lord McCluskey was for many years chair of the judges for the Bank of Scotland Press Awards and also Vice President of the West of Scotland Press Fund (the Journalists’ Charity).
David Sinclair has been head of Communications at Victims Support Scotland since 2006, he is a former assistant editor of The Herald, having worked there from 1975 – 2006 and was President of the National Union of Journalists in 1990-91.
Professor Neil Walker
Neil Walker - LLB, PhD, LLD (Honoris Causa) (Uppsala), FBA, FRSE - is Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh His main area of expertise is constitutional theory. He has published extensively on the constitutional dimension of legal order at sub-state, state, supranational and international levels. Previously he taught public law at Edinburgh for ten years (1986-96), was Professor of Legal and Constitutional Theory at the University of Aberdeen (1996-2000), and, most recently, was Professor of European Law at the European University Institute in Florence (2000-8), where he was also the first Dean of Studies (2002-5). In December 2008 Professor Walker was asked by the Scottish Government to conduct an independent review of final appellate jurisdiction in the Scottish legal system.
Peter is Senior Partner and Head of Litigation at Levy & McRae. Under his leadership, Levy & McRae has built up a worldwide reputation in areas of expertise such as media law, licensing, aviation, international claims, public inquiries, employment law and tax and revenue investigations. He is also a part-time Sheriff and Visiting Professor at the School of Law, University of Strathclyde, and is a former President of the Society of Media Lawyers, Chairman of the Association of Mediators and a Member of the Criminal Rules Council.
Ruth Wishart is a journalist and broadcaster with extensive experience of the Scottish media. She has been a columnist with the Daily Record, columnist and Assistant Editor of the Sunday Mail, columnist and Assistant Editor of the Sunday Standard, and Senior Assistant Editor of the Scotsman. Currently she writes a column for Herald Society, and contributes regularly to The Scotsman. She has also presented radio series for Radio Scotland and Radio 4. With Deborah Orr and Paul Flynn she recently interviewed a range of journalists, the transcripts of which were used for Enquirer, the National Theatre of Scotland's response to the issues covered in the Leveson Inquiry.
COCAINE SCANDAL IN GLASGOW : HOW THE NEWSPAPERS SAW LEVY MCRAE & PETER WATSON
EDITORIAL COMMENT Published on 21 Mar 2010
The shockwaves emanating from the controversial departure of Glasgow City Council leader Steven Purcell have shaken the foundations of Glasgow’s political and business establishment.
The initial facts were bad enough: allegations of drug-taking, cover-ups, incoherent ramblings, paranoia, a stay at a clinic specialising in the treatment of drink and drug problems, and finally Mr Purcell’s retreat from Scotland, reportedly for up to a year.
Since Mr Purcell’s departure, speculation has grown ever more fevered, encompassing suggestions of a network of powerful figures working behind the scenes to influence the workings of the city. The suggestion that this so-called network includes leading figures from the media is now threatening to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the Scottish press.
There have been hints that some Scottish newspapers have pulled their punches on the controversy because editors have been too close to Mr Purcell or, worse, they have been cowed into submission by Peter Watson and PR firm Media House. These suggestions have involved the Herald & Times Group, publishers of this newspaper, The Herald and the Evening Times. Other newspapers have also been referred to. We believe our readers should learn the facts here rather than read assumptions in the pages of other publications.
Glasgow is a large city but its political and business centre is small. Personal and business relationships meld together, contacts extend and overlap, boundaries blur. Business dinners become social occasions, colleagues become friends. Such social networking goes on in every city in the world. It only becomes a problem when a conflict of interest arises.
We believe our readers should learn the facts here rather than read assumptions in other publications
For the Herald & Times Group that conflict of interest arose when solicitors Levy & McRae, the firm we employ to ensure the legality of our editorial content, was engaged to act on behalf of Steven Purcell in the early stages of the controversy. The Herald broke the news of Mr Purcell’s resignation as council leader in a story by Paul Hutcheon on Tuesday, March 2.
Peter Watson, of Levy & McRae, and Jack Irvine, of Media House, acted for Mr Purcell as the crisis unfolded. In the most recent documents lodged with Companies House, Mr Watson is listed as one of four shareholders of Media House, along with Mr Irvine and two other individuals. Mr Watson has told us that he holds the shares as a representative of a trust for Mr Irvine’s children.
Mr Watson and Mr Irvine denied reports that Glasgow City Council’s PR department planned to issue a statement referring to Steven Purcell’s “chemical dependency”. When released, the official statement referred only to Mr Purcell’s “stress” and “exhaustion”.
They warned that a story in The Scotsman newspaper revealing details of the deleted reference to “chemical dependency” could be a breach of the Data Protection Act and be referred to the Information Comissioner. The media was also warned that inquiring into Mr Purcell’s health might breach his right to a private life under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The Sunday Herald’s analysis of the Steven Purcell controversy on March 7 included an article criticising the tactics of Mr Watson and Mr Irvine. To avoid a further conflict of interest, the article was not scrutinised for legal problems by a full-time employee of Levy & McRae but by a QC acting as an independent adviser, although still under the overall umbrella of the Levy & McRae contract with the Herald & Times Group.
After the story’s publication, the Sunday Herald was contacted separately by both Peter Watson and Jack Irvine. We will not reveal the details of private telephone calls with Peter Watson but the results of those calls could be seen in last week’s Sunday Herald. We printed a correction of one factual inaccuracy: we had said Mr Watson and Mr Irvine had left Scotland to go “on holiday” around the same time as Mr Purcell had left the country. In fact Mr Watson and Mr Irvine had both left on business trips to the Cayman Islands. We also printed a letter from Mr Watson complaining about our coverage. We agreed to print the letter to fulfil our duty to offer a right of reply.
In response to separate complaints from Mr Irvine we offered the same factual correction and the same opportunity to submit a letter for publication, subject to our normal editing procedures. He refused both offers.
In an article in industry magazine PRWeek on March 10, Mr Irvine revealed he had lodged a complaint with the Sunday Herald. He said he had asked for an apology and that he would refer the matter to the Press Complaints Commission if his request was refused.
Mr Irvine has now submitted a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission against the Sunday Herald article. He has complained on two counts:
1: By stating that he and Mr Watson had gone on holiday the Sunday Herald implied that he had left Mr Purcell “in the lurch”.
2: The Sunday Herald launched a “vicious attack” on the methods he and Mr Watson had employed without giving either the right to comment or reply before publication, allegedly in breach of the Editor’s Code of Practice.
Mr Irvine referred to previous “problems” he had experienced with the Sunday Herald, including discussions this newspaper had had with Mr Watson over a story concerning another Media House client earlier this year.
Mr Irvine claims to the Press Complaints Commission that the Sunday Herald’s article on the Steven Purcell tactics was “heavily influenced by spite, bad blood and malice”. The Sunday Herald will defend itself against Mr Irvine’s accusations through the normal channels.
There have been other references in the media to the friendship between Steven Purcell and leading newspaper editors, including Herald & Times editor-in-chief Donald Martin. Mr Martin met Mr Purcell and prominent figures in the Glasgow business community on a fairly regular basis and both were part of a network dubbed “Team Glasgow”.
Mr Martin told the Sunday Herald: “I was glad to play a role in Team Glasgow along with other individuals who believed in co-operating for the good of the city. Our aim was to encourage actions which would help the city. As a newspaper editor it is an important part of my job to make contacts in the political, business and other spheres and I also believe it is part of my job to work for the good of Glasgow and indeed Scotland. There is no conflict between that aim and my commitment to publishing the facts of stories which are important to the lives of our readers.
‘‘The Herald broke the news of Steven Purcell’s resignation and has continued to inform our readers of the major developments in this story. We remain committed to uncovering the full facts surrounding Mr Purcell’s departure, many of which remain obscured. We will work to uncover the truth, no matter how long it may take. There is no evidence of a ‘conspiracy of silence’. Indeed, the facts render such an allegation ridiculous.”
There remains the question of a conflict of interest regarding Peter Watson in his roles as legal adviser to the Herald & Times Group and as a listed shareholder in Media House. Levy & McRae’s website offers a service described as “reputation management”. It states: “With a low profile, we aim to keep our clients off the front page and take swift, effective action where required. Being networked at the highest levels and having access to major decision-makers is key to our success.”
One media organisation asked the Herald & Times Group last week if such a statement could be reconciled with the aims of our newspapers.
Herald & Times managing director Tim Blott said he was extremely concerned at the conflict of interest which had arisen in the Steven Purcell case. He said: “We are taking this problem very seriously and are assessing our relationship with our legal advisers this week. We certainly need to be assured that there is no potential for similar conflicts of interest in future and we are making our position very clear to Levy & McRae.”