Sir David Bell, a senior adviser to the Leveson Inquiry, is facing questions about potential conflicts of interest over his links to a lobby group demanding press reform.
Sir David is a co-founder of the Media Standards Trust, the group behind the Hacked Off campaign which has been fronted by the actors Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan.
He is also a trustee and former chairman of Common Purpose, a charity which runs leadership courses and encourages networking among its graduates, including the Scotland Yard commissioner Cressida Dick, who appointed Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers to head the phone-hacking investigation.
Earlier this week, Sir David’s name was linked to the notorious Newsnight report which led to the smearing of Lord McAlpine, as he is a trustee of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the not-for-profit group behind the Newsnight film.
The BIJ gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in which it proposed a levy on media organisations to fund groups like itself, which, it boasted, produced a “gold standard” in journalism.
The BIJ is now being sued by Lord McAlpine and its future is in doubt after it failed to carry out basic checks on its report for Newsnight.
Sir David’s links to organisations whose members gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry were examined by The Daily Mail, which said they raised questions about the “impact this may have had on the objectivity and neutrality of the inquiry itself”.
There is no suggestion that Lord Justice Leveson has any links to any of the organisations or that he has been anything other than impartial.
In 2006 Sir David, the former chairman of the Financial Times, and his friend Julia Middleton founded the Media Standards Trust, a charity which campaigns for “quality, transparency and accountability in news”.
It spawned Hacked Off, the lobby group leading the campaign against phone-hacking, which successfully argued for a widening of the remit of the Leveson Inquiry to include the conduct of politicians, the police and mobile phone companies.
Hacked Off also successfully lobbied for the Leveson Inquiry to investigate failures of Data Protection laws.
Ironically, in 2009 the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that Common Purpose, formerly chaired by Sir David and founded by Miss Middleton, was “unlikely to have complied with provisions in the Data Protection Act 1998 on processing data”.
It had circulated a list of 18 people to public bodies around the country warning that the people named should be treated as “vexatious” because they had lodged Freedom of Information Act requests about Common Purpose’s activities, in particular the amount government departments were spending on its courses.
Because the list circulated by Common Purpose could “contain their name, and if known, also their address and/or phone number”, Common Purpose had “probably breached” the Data Protection Act, the ICO said.
Common Purpose clients include Government departments, which spent more than £1 million sending people on its courses over a few years, the BBC, which spent £126,000 over five years, and police forces.
Two other Leveson assessors, the former Ofcom chairman Lord Currie and the former West Midlands Police chief constable Sir Paul Scott-Lee, have indirect links to Common Purpose.
During Lord Currie’s time at Ofcom, the regulator sent staff on Common Purpose courses. Two of the people who served on the board of directors with him have also been involved with either Hacked Off or the Media Standards Trust.
West Midlands Police sent 27 officers on Common Purpose courses under Sir Paul’s leadership.
Common Purpose says its courses give participants “the inspiration, knowledge and connections to help them become more active and engaged in society”.
Critics have described it as a “modern version of the freemasons’ handshake” and “the Left’s version of the old boys’ network”.
Philip Davies MP, a member of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said Sir David’s connections “raise questions about his suitability to be on the [Leveson] panel and whether he can be relied upon to give an objective analysis and recommendations”.
Lord Justice Leveson is due to publish his report into media standards at the end of this month or early next month.
A spokesman for the Leveson Inquiry said all six assessors had been asked to declare any potential conflicts of interest before they were appointed and discussed their answers with Lord Justice Leveson.
“He was satisfied that there was nothing in their disclosures which caused him concern or justified any of them not taking up their role,” the spokesman added.
Sir David was unavailable for comment.