Stephens quits telephone watchdog over potential 'conflict of interest'

Stephens Innocent senior partner Mark Stephens has resigned from Icstis, the telephone line watchdog, following the discovery that he did not tell the committee of a potential conflict of interest.

Stephens sat on the Icstis emergency committee which suspended the Daily Mirror's premium number “Fergie tape” hot-line which was playing conversations between the Duchess of York and her spiritual adviser, Madame Vasso.

The line was suspended on the grounds that it breached the Icstis code of practice on invasion of privacy, and the following day Stephens chaired a panel which imposed a complete ban.

But Mirror lawyer Martin Cruddace, who attended the hearing, later heard from Madame Vasso's lawyer that Stephens had previously advised Madame Vasso on a potential copyright claim against the Mirror.

“It looked like Mr Stephens had a conflict of interest. He didn't tell either us or Icstis that he had previously advised Madame Vasso,” he said.

On 8 October, Cruddace wrote to Icstis chair, Baron ess Brenda Dean, to complain. Dean replied that Stephens had admitted that he had advised Madame Vasso, but maintained it had not put him in a position of any conflict.

Stephens said: “There was a difference of view as to whether or not there was a potential conflict of interest. In my view there wasn't, but because of client confidentiality I couldn't respond and explain the position fully. In order to make the position of Icstis clear, I stepped down.”