The evidence heard in the third and fourth weeks of the Leveson Inquiry has broadened the focus from the initial “crash course in the ways of the tabloids” to the “non-phone hacking” activities of the News of the World (“NoW”) and the approaches of its lawyers.
The “highlights” included the evidence of former NoW Chief Reporter, Neville Thurlbeck former Editor Colin Myler and the lawyers Tom Crone and Julian Pike. The evidence was, again, widely covered in the press. For the third week, Journalisted noted 121 articles (down from 339 for the first week). In this post we will provide a brief survey of the evidence which was given. The witness statements are available on on the Inquiry website along with video footage of almost of the witnesses. It is particular instructive to what Lord Justice Leveson’s reaction to the evidence and to see the questions which he puts.
On the morning of Monday 5 December 2011 further evidence was given by Alec Owens and Francis Aldhouse, who both formerly worked for the Information Commissioner’s Office. In the afternoon, evidence was given by the author Peter Burden (who wrote the book “News of the World? Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings“).
On the morning of Tuesday 6 December 2011 evidence was given by solicitor Charlotte Harris, David Leigh (of the Guardian) and Steven Nott (who drew the problem with mobile phone security to the attention of the Daily Mirror in 1999). In the afternoon, evidence was given by film maker Chris Atkins (the maker of “Starsuckers” – see our post “Documentary’s legal battles reveal ugly truth about UK media culture“)
The Inquiry did not sit on Wednesday 7 December 2011. The following day, Thursday 8 December 2011 was “academics day” with evidence in the morning and the afternoon from a star studied cast – Professor Steven Barnett (University of Westminster), Professor George Brock (City University), Professor Brian Cathcart (Kingston University), Professor Ian Hargreaves (Cardiff University), Professor Julian Petley (Brunel, University), Angela Phillips (Goldsmiths University of London) and Dr Daithí Mac Síthigh (East Anglia University). We have already posted Julian Petley’s statement (Parts 1 and 2). The thoughtful views of his colleagues also repay careful reading.
On the morning and afternoon of Friday 9 December 2011 evidence was given by the former Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (who produced no less than six witness statements). Mr Thomas was cross-examined by Counsel for News International, Rhodri Davies QC.
As reported by the BBC, the fifth week of the Leveson Inquiry was dominated by former employees of the “News of the World” and by the controversy over the deletion of Milly Dowler’s voicemails. Lord Justice Leveson ordered an inquiry into the accuracy of this story. As the “Financial Times” reported, the dispute “triggered the most destructive outbreak of press tribalism in living Fleet Street memory”. Lord Justice Leveson made it clear that the Dowler story was not the only reason for the Inquiry.
On the morning of Monday 12 December 2011 the Inquiry began by hearing evidence from the notorious “Fake Sheikh” Mazher Mahmood (whose evidence was broadcast orally only). Later than morning evidence was heard from Neville Thurlbeck. He made it clear that he would not give evidence on matters relating to phone hacking. He suggested that the average price for a front page “splash” at the NoW was £15,000 to £20,000 and that for each story published 6 to 10 were discarded due to lack of verification. He admitted a story about a former F1 boss’ orgy was not in the public interest without a Nazi theme. He told the Inquiry that he was “not part of the strategy” behind the publication of the Max Mosley story in the Now. There is a report on the Journalism.co.uk website. That afternoon Mr Thurlbeck’s evidence was completed and the Inquiry heard from former NoW Deputy Editor, Neil Wallis.
On the morning of Tuesday 13 December 2011 evidence was given by Lawrence Abramson (formerly of Harbottle & Lewis) and Julian Pike (of Farrer & Co). Mr Pike was briefly cross-examined by David Sherborne on behalf of the core participants concerning and issue as to when NGN first became aware of the claim brought by Sienna Miller.
In the afternoon the Inquiry heard evidence from Tom Crone (former inhouse lawyer). As reported by the BBC Mr Crone denied a “culture of cover-up” at NoW after it paid out damages for phone hacking. He said that
“It was not a culture of cover-up, it was a culture of avoiding reputation damage through bad publicity”.
He denied that “compliance” was part of his job – a view later questioned by another former News International lawyer, Jon Chapman.
On the morning of Thursday 15 December 2011 the Inquiry heard further evidence from Mr Myler and then from Daniel Sanderson (a former NoW journalist who wrote the story about Kate McCann’s private diary). During the afternoon evidence was heard from private investigator Derek Webb – who disclosed that he had been recruited by Neville Thurlbeck and that when he commenced working for the NoW he became a member of the National Union of Journalists. He said that he had put 150 people under surveillance on behalf of the News of the World. He told the inquiry that 85 per cent of those he followed were celebrities or politicians, such as Sienna Miller, Jude Law and Labour MP Tom Watson, and the remaining 15 per cent were related to the criminal world.
The witnesses giving evidence on Monday 19 December are: Matthew Driscoll (a sports reporter sacked by the Now in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression), James Hanning (Deputy Editor of the Independent, and Stuart Hoare (brother of the recently deceased former NoW journalist Sean Hoare). On Tuesday 20 December, the Inquiry will hear from Matthew Bell, Christopher Johnson, Sharron Marshall, Piers Morgan (via video link), Julian Pike (recalled) and Steve Turner. On Wednesday 21 December, evidence will be given by Nick Fagge, Padraic Flanagan, James Hipwell and David Pilditch.