As a national tabloid newspaper admits phone hacking, Political Editor Jonathan Walker talks to a West Midlands MP who has been a leading campaigner to uncover the scandal.
Tom Watson was looking forward to escaping the spotlight after he quit Gordon Brown’s government in 2009.
His decision to resign as a minister and return to the back benches was prompted partly by a series of high-profile battles with the media which he feared was affecting his family.
On one occasion, neighbours were alarmed when they spotted men who turned out to be national journalists going through bins outside Mr Watson’s home.
But the Black Country MP, who has represented West Bromwich East as a Labour MP since 2001, has emerged as a leading campaigner in the battle to uncover the truth about phone hacking and other dirty tricks used by parts of the national newspaper industry.
As a member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, he quizzed senior staff from The News of the World about a culture in the newsroom which, in the words of the committee’s report, “at best turned a blind eye to illegal activities such as phone-hacking and blagging and at worst actively condoned it”.
And last year he launched an outspoken attack on the “barons of the media” during a passionate speech in the House of Commons, claiming: “They are untouchable. They laugh at the law. They sneer at Parliament. They have the power to hurt us, and they do, with gusto and precision, with joy and criminality.”
But what motivates his campaign?
After all, two men have already served jail terms after a court found them guilty of plotting to intercept voice mail messages left for royal aides.
Former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator he employed, were sentenced in 2007 to four months and six months in prison respectively.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Watson said he was concerned that phone hacking, and a general culture in parts of the national media that meant nothing was off limits, was damaging public life – and even made MPs scared to express their honest opinions on policy matters.
He said: “Phone hacking was a reflection of a toxic media culture in some newsrooms in the UK.
“It’s immensely corrosive and damages our democracy. We need a culture change.
“Secondly, I’m not yet convinced that the nation knows the level and depth of criminality that took place when it comes to invasions of people’s privacy.”