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Former ICO deputy head denies blocking press probe

'I never said the press was too big to take on'

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The ICO’s deputy commissioner has denied ever saying that the press was “too big” for the commission to take on.

A former senior investigator for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) told the Leveson Inquiry last Friday that he was asked not to pursue a case that pointed to private investigators getting confidential information for journalists.

According to Alexander Owens, when he approached his superiors, the deputy commissioner at the time, Francis Aldhouse, said, “We can’t take them on, they’re too big for us”.

He claimed the ICO was too afraid of the wealth and influence of the media to continue with the case.

Today, Aldhouse was called by the Leveson Inquiry to respond to the statement from Owens.

He said in his written statement (PDF) that he had “no recollection” of the meeting between with Owens and the former commissioner Richard Thomas where they discussed the investigation, but it was “possible there was such a meeting”.

However, he strongly denied the claim that he had said the press was too big to take on.

“I certainly have no recollection of the colourful intervention attributed to me, namely that I said that, 'We can’t take the press on they are too big for us'. I do not believe I ever said anything remotely corresponding to this quotation. It does not represent my view then or now,” his statement said.

Owens had said that he had been told not to make contact with any newspapers or journalists that he had identified in the investigation, but Aldhouse said that would have been the decision of the commissioner.

“I am not aware of such a decision. I took no part in the decisions on this prosecution,” he said.

Former commissioner Richard Thomas is due to give evidence to the inquiry on Friday. ®

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