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Phone records scandal claims big scalp

Published: 7:11AM Thursday August 01, 2013 Source: ONE News

The General Manager of Parliamentary Service has resigned in the wake of the journalist phone record scandal.

Geoff Thorn handed his notice to The Speaker, David Carter, this morning.

His resignation follows the release of Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance's phone and swipe card records to a Parliamentary inquiry without her permission.

Mr Carter said he has accepted Mr Thorn's resignation "with some regret".

"During his tenure as General Manager, Mr Thorn has overseen a significant improvement to the operation of Parliamentary Service," he said.

"However, both he and I acknowledge that the confidence in Parliamentary Service has been undermined by events in recent weeks, and as General Manager he accepts responsibility for this."

Mr Thorn will receive a payout equivalent to three months' salary and any entitlements owed to him, The Speaker said in a statement this afternoon. 
He took up the role in February, 2008 having previously been the General Manager of the Commerce Commission.

Before joining the Commission he was the Manager of the Special Investigations Branch, Royal New Zealand Military Police, and had been in the NZ Army for 20 years.

At the time of his appointment he was hailed by the then Speaker, Margaret Wilson, as having "strong leadership and relationship skills".

David Stevenson, the current Group Manager, Precinct Services, will be appointed acting General Manager of Parliamentary Service from 5pm tomorrow.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said Mr Thorn is "paying a very high price for what is really coercion from the Prime Minister's office", blaming it on John Key's "over-bearing and totally wrong request".

He said the matter "should have gone to an inquiry first".

"I know from personal experience that to get an MP's phone records you have to have the MP's consent, that was Mr Thorn's rule, why did he change it here? It had to be pressure from the Prime Minister's office," said Mr Peters.

'I'm mad as hell'

The journalist at the centre of the phone records scandal took a swipe at the Government in a column published today.

The opinion piece follows an announcement yesterday that a public inquiry will be held into how details of Andrea Vance's calls were handed to a Prime Ministerial inquiry without her permission.

Ms Vance says in her opinion piece today that she's "mad as hell" and "reeling" from the privacy invasion.

"My jaw gaped open when he (Speaker David Carter) sheepishly confessed that a log of all calls I placed to people around Parliament over three months was released to an inquiry focused on the leak of the Kitteridge report on the GCSB."

She said an IT staffer showed her "metadata" of the records of hundreds of calls she had made between February and May.

"The conversations, of course, aren't disclosed. But you can glean a lot from matching numbers, time and the dates of published stories."

Ms Vance said she never expected such an invasion would happen to a journalist in New Zealand, and slammed the Government's "casual disregard for media's true role as an independent watchdog".

She said Prime Minister John Key ordered the inquiry into the leak and now "he can no more shrug off responsibility for how it was conducted than (inquiry head David) Henry can".

She said she does not want an apology.

"But I wish both men (Key and Henry) would do New Zealand's media the courtesy of taking responsibility for the unreasonable activities undertaken by that inquiry, which undermined the freedoms I and my colleagues hold so dear."

She said in a statement released to media today that she wrote the opinion piece because she "wanted to explain why an important line was crossed by the Henry inquiry at a time when privacy issues are being hotly debated across the world."

"I've had my say and it's for Henry and others now to explain their actions."

Official inquiry

Meanwhile, opposition parties are welcoming an official inquiry into how details of Ms Vance's calls were handed to a Prime Ministerial inquiry without her knowledge.

Parliament's powerful Privileges Committee says it will be inviting evidence from those directly involved in the matter and intends to hear that evidence publicly on August 21.

Labour says the story gets murkier by the day, and the Prime Minister needs to come clean about what role he and his office played in the sorry saga.

"He keeps on saying that he gives the answer. And then we find there is another answer behind that one and there is something else and something else," Labour leader David Shearer said.

Opposition MPs are refusing to accept the official line that Ms Vance's phone records from her press gallery office were handed over to the Prime Minister's Government Communications Security Bureau leak inquiry - known as the Henry Inquiry - inadvertently.

The Henry Inquiry investigated the leaking of a top level report on the GCSB earlier this year.