The final week of module one brought the Leveson Inquiry to an explosive, if temporary, conclusion. The last witness to appear before the chairman was Daily Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre whose dispute with actor Hugh Grant dominated the proceedings. I wrote about this in more detail on Inforrm on Friday.
The first witness during the Monday morning hearing was DAC Sue Akers, QPM, a deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. She updated the inquiry on several police investigations and said the team investigating police bribery would be expanded from 40 to 61 officers, in order to deal with allegations regarding journalists from the Sun. The investigation carried out by Operation Elveden saw 14 journalists arrested last month, and one in 2011.
She said 581 “likely” victims of phone hacking had been contacted by the police in relation to Operation Weeting, and that a further 231 were uncontactable. Seventeen had not been told for undisclosed operational reasons. Documents obtained by Met Police from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, including email exchanges and audio tapes of hacked voicemails, suggested they are 6,349 potential victims of phone hacking. Around 2,900 people have contacted the police to ask if their voicemails have been hacked. Of these, 1,578 appear in Mulcaire’s 11,000 pages of notes.
An investigation into email hacking, Operation Tuleta, is currently examining 57 allegations of data intrusion. Akers said a team of 20 officers were assessing whether a full investigation should be launched, and that some claims of blackmail, breaching of anonymity and telephone interception had been discarded. The team will continue to work from four terabytes of digital information A small error in her evidence as to the number of officers involved in the investigation was corrected by a subsequent letter.
Nick Owens, a Sunday Mirror reporter, denied trying to obtain the confidential medical information of celebrities from undercover filmmaker Chris Atkins. He was one of several journalists approached with fake stories and secretly recorded for the documentary Starsuckers.
David Barr, junior inquiry counsel, questioned the journalist over a full transcript of the meeting with Atkins during which he was offered fabricated stories about famous individuals having cosmetic surgery. During the secretly recorded meeting, Owens said to Atkins: “The thing to say to your friend is ‘what can you get’, because the more the better really…if she can, get a document on everything.”
Owens said he had been talking generally with the filmmaker, posing as the friend of a nurse, about information he said could be taken from a private clinic. Atkins presented Owens with false stories on Girls Aloud singer Nicola Roberts, actors Gemma Arterton, Hugh Grant and Rhys Ifans and director Guy Ritchie.
Dan Wootton, former showbiz editor at the News of the World, told Lord Justice Leveson he believes all celebrities have a right to privacy, especially in areas of sexuality, health, pregnancy and family. He said he was disappointed by evidence given to the inquiry by the actor Hugh Grant last year, adding:
“It was very rare for me to ever write about Hugh Grant because my belief was that my readers of my showbiz column weren’t interested in him, because he didn’t seem to enjoy his job and was pretty miserable.”
Wootton, who now writes for the Daily Mail, said he was frustrated that Grant had not confirmed the birth of his daughter last year, as no journalist wants to publish inaccurate stories. He said there definitely needs to be a “two-way street” between celebrities and journalists offering a right of reply and working with celebrities involved mutual trust and writing about individuals in a fair and honest way.
The sole witness in the afternoon hearing was Paul Dacre. He defended a statement accusing Hugh Grant of “mendacious smears” against his newspapers, saying the actor had attempted to discredit Associated Newspapers by telling the inquiry he believed his phone had been hacked by Mail journalists.
Grant said he believed a Mail on Sunday article published in 2007 relied on misrepresented information obtained from his voicemail service, when he gave evidence to the inquiry last year. The article claimed a “plummy-voiced woman” was responsible for the demise of Grant’s relationship with Jemima Khan, who has firmly denied a source close to her leaked the story to a journalist.
Dacre complained witnesses had given a partial view of Mail titles and the lines of questioning by Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, had painted a “bleak picture” of his newspapers by highlighting rare examples of bad practice.
The editor, also chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, said he advocated a register of accredited journalists with press cards acting as an “essential kite mark” for ethical journalism, ensuring membership to a new press regulator. He said:
“The key would be to make the cards available only to members of print newsgathering organisations or magazines who have signed up the new body and its code… The public at large would know journalists carrying such cards are bone fide operators committed to a set of standards and a body to who complaints can be made…I think the beauty of the system, the attraction of the system, is it will be the newspaper industry registering and disciplining journalists, not the state.”
Dacre defended the use of Steve Whittamore, saying that virtually all newspapers had employeed the private investigator and it had been seen as a way of getting phone numbers quickly. He said:
“There was a very hazy understanding of how the Data Protection Act worked and this was seen as a very quick way of obtaining phone numbers and addresses… we didn’t believe it was illegal…That information could be all obtained legally but it would take time… time is everything in journalism.”
On Tuesday morning, Leveson LJ confirmed that Paul Dacre would give further evidence in the week, and said issues surrounding the conflict between Hugh Grant and Associated Newspapers should be heard before the inquiry “in the interests of fairness”.
Baroness Peta Buscombe, former chair of the Press Complaints Comission, answered questions on her handling of the phone hacking scandal. The commission produced a report in 2009 into allegations made against the News of the World, over which she later resigned. She said:
“This is a report which with hindsight, and so on, I regret… I regret that I was clearly mislead by News International and that I accepted what they had told me. I felt all through the process somewhat hands-tied by merely being able to ask questions.”
She told the inquiry the PCC did not have the appropriate powers to investigation the matter and politicians had scapegoated the commission instead of taking on the press.
Baroness Buscombe told the chairman he had a “tough call” in how to rebuild trust between the public and a future regulator. She praised the current commission for working minimise harm and hurt suffered by complainants and providing quick and free access to redress, and advocated a kite mark system as a “marker of trust” for online publishers. She added:
“The upside is to create a system which can rebuild trust between the press and the public, which of course is paramount, but which allows freedom of expression“.
The inquiry also heard from Microsoft and Twitter representatives. Ronald Zink, chief operating officer in Europe of Bing, the Microsoft search engine, said his company worked on a case-by-case basis when considering whether to remove online content. He added:
“We actually don’t differentiate between defamatory material and privacy-invading material. I can tell you our practice in the UK would be the same for invasion of privacy as it would for defamation.”
Zink agreed with David Barr, junior inquiry counsel, that victims have very little redress for invasions of privacy that have gone “viral” on the internet and said Microsoft would be willing to consider direction from a future press regulator online.
Colin Crowell, head of global public policy for the social network Twitter, explained the company had the right to remove content but would only do so following a legal request, and said disclosure of account details would only be considered under a court order. He said he understood how widely information could be spread on the network and said the company was “recognising the counters of freedom of expression may differ from country to country”. He added: “It depends on the subject, it depends who is tweeting it and retweeting it. During a major events… tweets can propagate very quickly out of a particular jurisdiction.”
In the afternoon hearing, the inquiry heard from picture agencies and two recalled national newspaper editors. James Harding, Times editor, answered questions on former Times journalist Patrick Foster, who hacked into the email account of an anonymous blogger to uncover his identity in 2009. Richard Horton, a police detective, had written about his work life on the NightJack blog.
The inquiry were shown a series of emails between Times staff, including Foster and then legal manager Alastair Brett. The messages showed Foster saying he had managed to stand up the story with information about Horton from the public domain, after Brett and then home news editor Martin Barrow expressed concern over the origin of the story. Harding said:
“If Mr Foster had come to me and said at he had done this… we would have taken disciplinary action, that we did take, and I would have told him immediately to abandon the story. I would have said that I did not believe that that intrusion was warranted in the public interest.”
The editor said he was not aware of the story, or the fact the Times had gone to the High Court over an injunction taken out by the blogger, until a later date. He said Brett had apologised for not raising it with him before the injunction was heard in court by Mr Justice Eady, who refused to grant the injunction on the basis of public interest (The Author of A Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 1358 (QB)).
Foster implied in a witness statement to the High Court that confidential sources and a process of deduction had lead him to Horton’s identity. He was given a formal warning of gross professional misconduct and later left the Times over another matter. Horton is currently taking legal advice on a privacy claim against the newspaper. Harding apologised on behalf of the paper and said:
“I sorely regret the intrusion into Richard Horton’s email account by a journalist then in our newsroom. I’m sure that Mr Horton and many other people expect better of the Times; so do I.”
Sun editor Dominic Mohan was presented with several articles from the paper referring to the phone calls of celebrities, including singer Liam Gallagher and Eastenders actor Sid Owen. He denied the stories had been obtained by phone hacking, but said he could not say “100 per cent” as an internal investigation is being conducted by News International, the Sun’s parent company. He said he had no warning Sun journalists were going to be arrested in relation to Operation Elveden on January 28.
The editor called Page 3 an “innocuous British institution” that celebrates natural beauty and said allegations his paper is sexist are “false”. He was shown a 2004 article referring to Claire Short, then an MP, as “fat and jealous” after she criticised the paper’s portrayal of women. He was also asked to comment on a description of model Kelly Brook’s chest as “the Mitchell brothers”. He said the Sun had raised standards in terms of transgender reporting and admitted previous coverage of individuals was “not our finest moment”.
Neil Turner, vice chairman of the British Press Photographers’ Association, said photographers at the agency acted in a professional manner and had to work in accordance with the Press Complaints Commission code. He advocated a four-pronged approach to regulating photographers; clear and strict pre-publication tests for pictures, the use of press cards, an enforceable code of conduct and a simply written outline of the law.
Turner told the inquiry an agreement between photographers and the Royal Courts of Justice had been broken when several newspapers asked staff to take photographs of author JK Rowling as she left court building from a separate entrance, not wanting to be pictured. The second submission by the BPPA can be read here.
Gary Morgan, a founder of the Splash news and picture agency, based in the United States, appeared by video link. He said the PCC code is not competent enough at dealing with photographers. He told Leveson the agency worked from a “no shoot” list detailing court orders taken out by celebrities to protect their privacy and said staff photographers were expected to know the law and abide by the code.
Morgan was asked about a Splash photographer, Colin McFarlane, who allegedly drove at the mother of Tinglan Hong, who had a child with Hugh Grant last year. He said McFarlane, who denies the claims, had been interviewed by himself and the London picture desk and had given his version of events. He added: “At this point in time it’s her word and his word… there’s been no decision either way on who’s correct.”
The witness statement of Simon Citron (Yahoo) was taken as read.
The Wednesday morning hearing began with a duel appearance from Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust and Full Fact founder Will Moy. Moore, a founder of the Hacked Off campaign, said a review group formed by the MST plans to submit a report on regulation to the inquiry in May. He told Leveson LJ he advocated a voluntary system, possibly with statutory or non-statutory incentives to comply. He and chairman of the MST board Roger Graef met with Lord Hunt, chairman of the PCC, last year.
He said the inquiry has heard clear examples of intrusion into many aspects of different people’s lives and warned Leveson not to follow the path of the 1990 Calcutt report. He praised journalism in the UK but said irresponsible reporting had lead to a lack of public trust in the media. He added: “I absolutely think it’s incredibly important to talk about the enormous amount of excellent journalism across the country, and particularly I think at a local level.” Moy said Full Fact tried to raise awareness of issues rather than making judgments about journalism, but said accuracy was a “huge problem than the public has recognised”.
Moore accused the current PCC of airbrushing the picture on complaints, saying 47 against the Daily Mail last had resulted in clarifications, corrections or apologies, and yet no adjudications against the paper were shown as upheld. Moy added to Moore’s evidence: “There is a sense that newspapers can play games with the PCC and the PCC can’t do much about it.”
Full Fact provided the inquiry with five submissions and the Media Standards a further six, which can be read here.
Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, described the website as a “Sunday newspaper every day” in that it has many sections. She said she would welcome the chance to meet PCC chairman Lord Hunt, and that it is important online news operations are consulted about proposals for reforming media regulation.
Political blogger Paul Staines, also known as Guido Fawkes, gave alleged examples of dubious press practices. He told the inquiry he sold a series of photographs of Foreign Secretary William Hague’s special advisor Chris Myers in a gay bar to the News of the World, after publishing a story on Hague sharing a hotel room with his advisor Myers in 2010.
He said the pictures, which were never published, were bought by the paper for £20,000, had been bought up to take them off the market, linking the purchase to Andy Coulson, who was appointed as director of communications for the government by David Cameron that year. Staines went on to accuse Telegraph journalist Gordon Rayner of using private investigator Steve Whittamore, saying his name appeared in Operation Motorman files 335 times, and told Leveson LJ victims of press intrusion identified by Motorman files should be informed so the journalists responsible can be prosecuted.
He also said two journalists had told him Tina Weaver, editor of the Sunday Mirror, authorised staff to “spin” phones, a phrase referring to phone hacking, but that information published on his blog about Piers Morgan was derived from the former editor’s writing.
The afternoon hearing began with evidence from Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who said an interim policy on the prosecution of journalists would be ready within a matter of weeks. He said:
“It seems to me it would be prudent to have a policy that sets out in one place the factors that prosecutors will take into account when considering whether to prosecute journalists acting in the course of their newsgathering.”
Starmer said there were only a “handful” of cases where the Crown Prosecution Service had considered charging journalists and explained that statutory defences for journalists included an express public interest, public interest in terms of free speech and concerns over the Official Secrets Act.
Helen Belcher from Trans Media Watch, an organisation campaigning against prejudiced and inaccurate depictions of transgendered people in the media, said the trans community had “more or less walked away from the PCC”. She said:
“The PCC has wanted to express support but for whatever reason is unable to actually deliver on that support… [The PCC are] like Pontius Pilate, that is, washing their hands with a sense of woe that there is nothing that they can do.”
“We noted [Sun editor] Mr Mohan’s suggestion that groups like us come and train their journalists in issues, but it’s basic human decency and respect, and that’s actually all were asking for. We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re asking for the same treatment as everybody else. ”
Pam Surphlis, from the Northern Ireland division of Support After Murder and Manslaughter, an organisation supporting bereaved families, said press interest in murder and manslaughter victims often adds to the trauma suffered by bereaved families. She outlined a series of points explaining how journalists should approach bereaved families, including the use of official intermediaries, refraining from doorstepping and attending funerals and informing families if stories about a death are going to be run “weeks, months or years later”.
Surphlis recommended a regional press ombudsman for Nothern Ireland to ensure citizens felt represented in media regulation. She added:
“Families don’t want to know how to handle the media because they don’t want the media in the first place…I’m immensely grateful to the inquiry being set up, that we at least have a voice somewhere that somebody is prepared to listen to bereaved families”.
The second submission from SAMM NI can be read here.
The witness statement of Francis Fitzgibbon QC was taken as read.
Thursday morning’s hearing started half an hour early to accommodate Darryn Lyons, founder of the Big Pictures agency, who appeared via video link from Australia. He said his photographers tried to abide by the PCC code but the paparazzi often “don’t know where they stand” when taking pictures of celebrities. He added:
“I think that celebrities use these situations for their own self gain on a regular basis and I think that there’s two sides to every story, which I hope the inquiry looks at in great detail. On their terms it’s fine but if they’ve done the wrong thing or it’s immoral and that’s been recorded in history, they’ve been photographed and they don’t like it. The problem is when you are photographing someone famous these days you don’t know if it’s right or wrong.”
Lyons, whose agency is sent over 3,000 pictures a day, was asked about legal actions taken by the actress Sienna Miller, singer Lily Allen and the late Amy Winehouse. Miller complained after pictures were taken of her on a yacht in 2008. Lyons told the inquiry it had been normal practice to take pictures of celebrities on holiday “since Brigitte Bardot was sunning herself on the beaches of St Tropez”.
Ian Edmondson, former news editor at News of the World, the gave evidence. He claimed there had been a culture of bullying at the paper continued by editor Colin Myler, who replaced Andy Coulson following his resignation in 2007. He said:
“It’s a case of you will do what you are told and you live in that environment… It’s not a democracy at a newspaper. It’s autocratic.”
Edmondson said he was uncomfortable with the decision to publish the diaries of Kate McCann without permission. He told the inquiry he was asked by Myler to secretly record a conversation with Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns’ spokesman, after the editor refused to approach the family to collaborate on the story. He said he was told to “not make it clear what we had, tell him in general terms, something woolly”.
He denied drafting emails sent by Neville Thurleck to women involved in the Max Mosley case and said they were written in language he would not have used, contradicting evidence given by the reporter last year. He added:
“I have got no doubt whatsoever I would have asked [Thurlbeck] to contact the women. In fact with his experience I would have had no need to [but] it’s more likely that I would have asked him.”
Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney, firmly denied allowing former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan to listen to her voicemails. Morgan implied in his evidence to the inquiry that Mills, or someone close to her, had played a recording of McCartney singing down the phone following an argument in 2001. He refused to reveal his source to the inquiry but said the recording had been legitimately obtained.
Mills said she had “never” played private messages from then-husband McCartney to anyone. She added:
“I can’t quite believe that he would even try and insinuate [it]. A man that’s written nothing but awful things about me for years would absolutely relish in telling the court if I had personally played a voicemail message to him.”
A former Trinity Mirror employee, not a Daily Mirror journalist or someone working under Morgan, allegedly contacted Mills shortly after the argument over her charity work.She was told journalists knew about the argument and that McCartney had phoned apologising and singing “a little ditty” to his wife. After Mills threatened legal action the story was never published. Mills said details from Operation Weeting showed her voicemail, and that of her sister, had been hacked.
A short video was played in court showing Mills being pursued by paparazzi outside her Brighton home, including a car chase resulting in a crash. She told Leveson LJ she and a friend had recorded 64 hours of footage. When asked her views on the PCC, she said power should be taken away from editors and “given to the public”. The supplemental witness statement of Heather Mills can be read here.
The National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet provided the inquiry with several written statements from anonymous journalists, which was unsuccessfully contested by Associated Newspapers last month Associated Newspapers v The Leveson Inquiry  EWHC 57 (Admin).
One testimony from a journalist with 30 years’ experience in national newspapers said there had been “tremendous pressure” when working at the News of the World and a “macho” culture had pervaded the industry. Another said: “If you did what Sean Hoare did or Paul McMullan did [speaking out against the industry], you don’t work in the industry again.” Stainstreet said Paul Dacre’s proposal of accredited press cards for journalists was not a “practical solution”. She told the inquiry private investigator Derek Webb had applied for an NUJ press card as a researcher, and had been recommended by two references, but agreed he should not have received accreditation.
In the afternoon hearing the inquiry heard from publicist Max Clifford, who explained how he settled his own phone hacking claim against the News of the World over a “quiet lunch” in Mayfair with Rebekah Brooks. It was agreed he would receive £220,000 a year for three years plus legal costs and, as part of the arrangement, provide the paper with tips for stories. Clifford said he had become increasingly aware of phone hacking “as the years went by” and journalists had become more creative in their methods to deliver results.
He said the nation had been “shocked and horrified” by the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone by the News of the World. He said: “That sent shockwaves throughout Fleet Street, particularly tabloids. [Newspapers] wouldn’t run with something because of the Leveson inquiry.”
He described the story behind the infamous article “Freddie Star ate my hamster”. Starr, a client of Clifford, wanted to prevent the story being printed. The publicist told then Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie to run it anyway with the comedian’s denial. He said: “I was looking after Freddie’s career and his PR and I believed it would be something that would help him.”
Clifford advocated a new regulatory body largely funded by Parliament, ensuring newspapers have less of a financial interest, which would protect members of the public. He said:
“I certainly don’t think that having a responsible body that is able to protect [against] the excesses of the media would in any way be damaging to them or their freedom. I think it would give them greater respect, and in the long term, possibly help the chances of their survival. If suddenly you’re thrust into a potential media nightmare you need someone you can call straight away who is able to respond and hopefully stop a potential disaster which could destroy you and your family.”
Clifford told the inquiry he had been called by one of the women involved in the News of the World expose on former FIA president Max Mosley, concerned that the paper would publish her photograph and personal information. He rang a man he believed to be Ian Edmondson, then news editor at the paper, telling him: “If I was you I’d leave them alone”.
He countered evidence given to the inquiry by former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and said a story revealing the pregnancy of Cherie Blair in 1999 was not obtained through hacking but from someone close to her. The source told Clifford and he gave the story to Piers Morgan, then editor of the Mirror.
The final witness of the inquiry’s module 1 was a recalled Paul Dacre, who had given evidence on Monday. He was questioned by David Sherborne, counsel for the core participant victims, over a Mail on Sunday article claiming a “plummy-voiced executive” leaving messages on Grant’s phone had caused the breakdown of his relationship with Jemima Khan. The editor said he would only retract a statement accusing the actor of “mendacious smears” against his company if Grant agreed to take back what he called “repeated statements” about the Mail. In evidence to the inquiry Grant had speculated the story may have been obtained by phone hacking.
Dacre told Sherborne: “Our group did not hack phones and I rather resent your continued insinuations that we did.” Referring to the News of the World, he said: “Mr Grant is obsessed by trying to drag the Daily Mail into another newspaper’s scandal.”
The inquiry has now broken for two weeks and will return with Module 2, examining the relationship between the press and the police, on 27 February 2012.