David Cameron is coming under intense pressure to drop his opposition to a new law backing up Press reforms after he faced a backlash from victims of media intrusion.
High-profile campaigners who have suffered at the hands of the Press refused to meet Culture Secretary Maria Miller last night because they feel “too let down” by the Prime Minister, according to pressure group Hacked Off.
Nearly 17,000 people have signed a petition launched by the organisation calling on the three main party leaders to implement Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations in full.
Divisions over how to deal with the judge’s findings have also ratcheted up coalition tensions.
Liberal Democrats last night pledged to make sure legislation implementing the Press regulation plan was drawn up “in good faith” after Tory suggestions that a Bill was only being drafted to demonstrate the proposals were unworkable.
Conservative Ms Miller insisted the “principles” of the judge’s blueprint could be met without statutory backing. Asked if it was designed to prove the system would not work, and would threaten Press freedom, she said: “Absolutely.”
Labour raised fears that officials would “gold plate” the draft legislation so it looked too complex.
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “The statement that this Bill is being drafted to show that it will not work does not reflect the position agreed by all three party leaders in the talks on Thursday.
“And the Liberal Democrats in Government will ensure that the Bill is drafted in good faith. We owe that to the public and the victims.”
Hacked Off associate director Evan Harris attended last night’s meeting with Ms Miller but said the group came away “as disappointed” as when it went in.
He said: “Maria Miller asked to meet with victims of Press abuse. No victims were willing to meet with her because they felt too let down by what the Prime Minister said yesterday, and some of them, frankly, were too angry.
“We were left with no proper explanation of why the Prime Minister said he had an objection in principle to the core of the Leveson Report, which he had not mentioned to us previously in three meetings, and had not mentioned in his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.”
But a Tory source disputed claims victims were due to attend the meeting.
“The conversation with Hacked Off was frank and open and the Culture Secretary said that she would be keen to keep an open dialogue with them as things progress,” the source added.
London bombing hero Paul Dadge, a victim of phone hacking, said he was very disappointed with Mr Cameron’s stance and called on him to back the public rather than the Press.
Christopher Jefferies, the landlord wrongly arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates, warned it would be a “disaster” if the recommendation on legislation was ignored and said he would feel “let down” by Mr Cameron.
Lord Justice Leveson called for a new watchdog with statutory underpinning to be given the power to require prominent apologies and impose fines of up to £1m.
Mr Cameron immediately voiced “serious concerns and misgivings” about legislative action and said the Press should be given “a limited period of time” to show it could get its house in order.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday: “Many of the victims of sections of the Press will be feeling utterly betrayed by David Cameron. Here is somebody who commissioned the Leveson Inquiry, said the test would be whether the victims thought it would make a difference to them, and within a few hours of receiving the report he has rubbished its central recommendation.
“I am afraid that is totally wrong, he should be standing up to powerful interests, including in the Press, and saying we are going to do the right thing.”