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Police drop attempt to use Official Secrets Act against journalist in phone hacking scandal

After threatening to use the retrograde Official Secrets Act to force a "Guardian" journalist to reveal her sources in the phone hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police is holding a closed-door meeting with members of parliament to explain the move, report Index on Censorship and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Metropolitan Police sought a court order under the Act to force journalist Amelia Hill to hand over her notes regarding her groundbreaking story that "News of the World" had hacked murder victim Milly Dowler's phone. IFEX members lambasted the attempted intrusion, saying it would diminish sources' likelihood of speaking to journalists in the future and thereby severely hamper investigative journalism. The threat against investigative journalism is even more prescient in this case as Hill's journalism is what brought the scandal to light.

London's police commission ceased attempts to invoke the State Secrets Act on Tuesday, after much outrage from the public as well as press freedom organisations including Index, and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). However, the news that the deputy assistant police commissioner will only answer questions about its reprehensible attempt via a secret meeting has only inflamed anger.

"The attempt to use the Official Secrets Act on a journalist was an outrageous attack on free speech and those responsible should explain themselves not just to parliament but to the country," says John Kampfner, chief executive of Index.

On 27 October 2011, an Index-supported conference called "Regulating the Media" will take place in London to promote discussion and strategies to counteract recent major press freedom threats, including those following the "News of the World" phone hacking scandal as well as injunctions against social media providers.

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