Module two of the Leveson Inquiry, examining the relationship between the press and police, came to a close in April, with a “floating week” of evidence from proprietors, providing plenty of revelations and allegations for Lord Justice Leveson to consider.
The evidence of James Murdoch revealed he had discussed the BSkyB takeover bid with David Cameron at a private dinner hosted by Rebekah Brooks. The pair attended the dinner in December 2010, just two days after Vince Cable was removed as minister in charge of the deal. The inquiry was then shown a series of emails from 2010 between Murdoch, head of press Frederic Michel and others at News Corp, on the government’s approach to the takeover. They indicated Michel was in regular contact with Hunt, referred to as a “cheerleader” for Murdoch’s empire. Murdoch denied an inappropriate relationship between Hunt and News Corp, saying the minister had acted appropriately during the bid. He also rebutted claims the Sun switched support to the Conservatives prior to the 2010 general election to garner political power.
The emails contained information sent from Hunt’s advisors, Adam Smith and John Zeff, often referred to collectively as ‘JH’, to Michel, including details from a meeting between Hunt and David Cameron in July 2011 on proposed two phone hacking inquiries (which later merged to become the Leveson Inquiry) sent to Murdoch by Michel. Hunt’s office said the minister shared the same objectives as News Corp but wanted Murdoch to understand he needed to “build some political cover on the process”. In early emails from 2010, Michel describes Hunt as “amazed” by opposition to the bid from Ofcom, and says the minister he was very happy for me to his point of contact with Murdoch, to avoid giving opposition an opportunity to “attack the fairness of the process”.
Following his son, Rupert Murdoch gave evidence over two days, and was questioned over his relationships with other senior politicians, including the Sun’s backing of Tony Blair before the 1997 general election. Murdoch said he had never asked Blair for anything during his time as Prime Minister and denied a link between the Sun’s endorsement of Labour and articles written by Blair for the Sun and the Times. He added: “I think we all like to back a winning racehorse, you like to be on the winning side, but no, that was not a motivation.” He also denied being the one of the “main powers behind Thatcher’s throne”.
The proprietor admitted to a cover-up of phone hacking at the News of the World. He said he was “misinformed and shielded” from the extent of hacking at the paper and admitted his decision to close the News of the World was made because he panicked, but blamed other newspapers for turning the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone into a “national scandal”. He said he was kept in the dark over the extent of phone hacking at his newspaper. The proprietor referred to “one or two very strong characters”, friends with journalists at the paper, one an unnamed lawyer described as “a drinking pal” of reporters at the paper who “forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or James [Murdoch].”
Murdoch said he did not believe there had been any unethical treatment of journalists and photographers at News International and said staff at the News of the World seemed to be a “happy bunch” whenever he had visited the newsroom.
Aidan Barclay, son of Sir David Barclay who owns Telegraph Media Group with his brother Sir Frederick Barclay, described his relationship with the Prime Minister as “friendly and cordial”. He said he often sent articles on economics to senior politicians, including Gordon Brown during his time at Number 10, as they do not always have time to read newspapers
Evgeny Lebedev, who manages UK media operations of Lebedev Holdings Ltd, owner of the Evening Standard, the Independent and Independent on Sunday, for media tycoon father Alexander Lebedev, said he championed “world class journalism” and revealed he has spent £75 million funding the Standard and the Independent titles. He urged Leveson LJ to protect freedom of the press when considering possibilities for future regulation.
2006 hacking investigation
DAC Sue Akers began module two with an update on the police operations investigating alleged criminality at News International, saying senior figures in the organisation were aware of widespread phone hacking as far back as 2006. Neil Garnham QC, acting for the Met, lead with an oft-repeated explanation: an increased terrorism threat during the summer of 2006 had drained resources from the original investigation, echoed by former DAC Peter Clarke who said there had been 70 anti-terrorist operations underway in the UK around the time Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were arrested in 2006.
DS Phillip Williams, who lead the 2006 investigation, made it clear police were aware criminals and the media could use hacking to obtain information, and a list of potential victims – 148 or 419 individuals – was drawn up. Many of the names were from outside the royal household, indicating it was not just Goodman using the services of the investigator. DCS Keith Surtees said the “moment had been lost” to conduct a full search of Goodman’s desk following his arrest, and said officers had been obstructed by members of staff. DI Mark Maberly said police had investigated Mulcaire’s office numbers and two hub numbers at the News of the World, which could have been used by anybody at the newspaper.
Former DAC Brian Paddick told the inquiry information held by Mulcaire could have put people in witness protection in danger, as a printout from Mulcaire’s computer suggested he held information on people who had been placed under programmes by the police.
Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said former Home Secretary Alan Johnson rejected plans for a full investigation into phone hacking. He said he discussed the case with Johnson and senior official in 2009 but there was little enthusiasm for carrying it forward. At the time, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, headed by O’Connor, was investigating allegations that Conservative minister Damian Green was being leaked confidential Home Office documents by a junior civil servant.
Senior Met figures
John Yates, the former assistant commissioner who resigned from the Met last year over a failed 2009 review of the hacking scandal, was the first of several senior officers to be questioned over his relationships with former News of the World journalists, including crime reporter Lucy Panton and deputy editor Neil Wallis. He was asked about an email between Panton and a colleague, in which she was asked to “call in all those bottles of champagne” and ask Yates for a favour.
Former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman was shown to have socialised with Panton, Wallis and Andy Coulson on several occasions and defended a column her wrote for the Times, for which he was paid £10,000 a year after retiring from the Met in 2007, but said he took the point it might create the perception of an improper relationship with News International.
Former commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said the force had developed a fixed mind set in 2009, meaning the original hacking investigation was not challenged, and told the inquiry Yates had reassured him a further investigation was not needed. He admitted Yates’ friendship with Neil Wallis might have appeared inappropriate.
Lord Condon, commissioner from 1993 to 2000, described hospitality as “the start of a grooming process that can lead to inappropriate or unethical behaviour”. Condon was responsible for introducing hospitality registers to the force in 1998. Lord Stevens, whose autobiography was serialised in the News of the World, said he would not have continued writing for the paper if he had “known what I know now” about hacking. Lord Blair admitted the Met could have taken a different approach to phone hacking allegations and said he could no understand why AC Yates made the decision not to reopen the investigation so quickly. He told the inquiry he had no recollection of being asked to give authority for the loaning of a police horse to Rebekah Brooks in 2008.
Tim Godwin, former deputy commissioner, told the inquiry he had different values to other senior officer who frequently socialised with journalists and editors. Former AC Bob Quick said he came under scrutiny from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday after heading an investigation into then shadow immigration minster Damian Green. He said the investigation revealed Green had been leaked confidential information from senior civil servant Christopher Galley and was “perfectly legitimate”. Despite this, he received little support from the Met and was criticised in the press for his approach. He said he was surprised when Yates told him the inquiry was “doomed” and advised him to drop it, and was concerned that Yates had been close with Mail journalist Stephen Wright.
Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick revealed she could have taken charge of the review, but felt Yates had the relevant experience to deal with it. She claimed deputy mayor Kit Malthouse had told her not to put too many resources into the phone hacking investigation, and said she had reminded him of her operational independence.
Current commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe called the relationship between the press and police “distorted”. He said he had concerns over close social relationships between officers and journalists, and said the frequency of meetings described in evidence to the inquiry had been surprising. He went on to reveal 53,000 Met police have now been given permission to access the internet at work. Until recently, officers had to prove they had a justifiable business reason for accessing the web.
DCI Clive Driscoll said the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence could have been jeopardised by Daily Mail reporting. He said a senior member of the Met was suspected of briefing and making allegations outside of the official line, but did not confirm the name or that the individual had been the source of the leaks. The individual is currently under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Operation Elveden, the Met investigation into alleged payments to police by members of the press.
Journalists and press officers
Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s director of communications, resigned two weeks after giving evidence to the inquiry, after the force starting disciplinary hearings against him for hiring Neil Wallis’ PR firm Chamy Media in 2009. He revealed he had allowed Lucy Panton, crime reporter at the News of the World, to file a story on disgraced police commander Ali Dizaei from his office computer. He said the computer was not connected to the MPS computer system and Panton would not have had access to police files or documents, but admitted it may have been an error in judgment to allow her to use the computer and his email address.
Having given evidence during module one, Neil Wallis returned to the inquiry to answer questions on his relationships with senior Met officers. He denied making himself more tantalising to the force by undercutting competitors for the Met PR role. He described John Yates as “immensely impressive” and had previously referred to a personal friendship with the former AC. The pair maintains they struck up a friendship over their mutual love of sports, particularly football, and attended two or three matches together outside of work.
Lucy Panton denied having a preferential relationship with Hayman or Yates, saying she found them helpful in background briefings. She said her relationship with Fedorcio was important, as the DPA would ask officers to hold back briefings or information for journalists working on the Sunday papers but denied the News of the World was in a special position with the Met.
The inquiry heard from several crime reporters and editors including Sandra Laville (Guardian), who said she feared closing down unofficial contact between police and the media would drive information underground; Paul Peachey (Independent); Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas (Sunday Times); Jeff Edwards (Crime Reporters Association); Mike Sullivan (Sun); Stephen Wright (Daily Mail), who said he felt CRA briefings had been used by senior officers to control the flow of information; Jerry Lawton (Daily Star), Sean O’Neill (Times) who said the Met has become “closed and defensive” as a result of the Leveson Inquiry; Justin Penrose (Sunday Mirror) and Tom Pettifor (Mirror).
John Twomey, crime reporter at the Daily Express and chair of the Crime Reporters Association, said the Filkin report, into relationships between the police and the press, could affect the level of contact between the media and police forces. He said the report, commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, was condescending to women after it suggested some female journalists engaged in “flirting” with police officers to get information. James Murray, associate editor for News at the Sunday Express, told the inquiry he had accepted a lift home in a Scotland Yard car after socialising with police officers. He and a colleague had been celebrating over a meal and drinks after a successful prosecution by Met officers.
Regional press and police
Dave Harrison, part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency team working on the 2006 Ipswich murders investigation, said he was told a surveillance team had been deployed by the News of the World to find out who the SOCA team where and where they were based. He said a similar team from the Sunday Mirror had picked up the first suspect of the murders, who was later cleared, and debriefed him in cars before taking him to be interviewed. He told the inquiry they had also used “anti-surveillance capabilities” to elude the investigators.
Tim Gordon, editor of the South Wales Echo, said his crime reporter was told Gwent police were “tightening up” as a result of the Leveson Inquiry and the Filkin report. Adrian Faber, editor of the Birmingham Express and Star, said he feared the restriction of information from the police, and thought asking officers to record all contact with journalists would have a negative effect. The editor of the Herald, Jonathan Russell, to the inquiry the Herald’s relationship with Strathclyde was a “good template” for proper interaction between police and press.
Regional police forces were represented at the inquiry: West Midlands Police (Chief Constable Chris Sims and head of press Chief Inspector Sally Seeley, to whom Leveson LJ noted policy of having a serving officer as head of press at the force as helpful in limiting “cosy” relationships with journalists); Strathclyde Police (Chief Constable Stephen House, who said most leaks from his force to the press concerned celebrities, and Rob Shorthouse, director of communications); South Wales Police (Chief Constable Peter Vaughan and Caroline Llewellyn); Norfolk and Suffolk Police (Chief Constable Simon Ash and Anne Campbell); Cumbria Police (Gillian Shearer and former CC Craig Mackey); Surrey Police (Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby, who said the press have “damaged and hindered” the work of Surrey Police during the investigation into Milly Dowler’s disappearance); Avon and Somerset Police (Chief Constable Colin Port, who said Chris Jefferies’ name had been accidently revealed to a journalist but that no on or off-the-record conversations had been given to the press during the Joanna Yates murder investigation, DCI Philip Jones and Amanda Hirst); Durham Police (Chief Constable Jonathan Stoddart and Barbara Brewis); British Transport Police (Chief Constable Andrew Trotter, also head of the Association of Chief Police Officers communication advisory group and Joanne Bird); Police Service Northern Ireland (Chief Constable Matthew Baggott and Liz Young) and Staffordshire Police (Chief Constable Mike Cunningham and Ian Fegan).
The Independent Police Complaints Commission was represented by Jane Furniss, who said she had prepared a report on investigating corruption in the police for the Home Secretary that would be ready imminently and could be provided to the inquiry before publication. Furniss said between 2010 and 2011 there had been 1,279 complaints about improper disclosures of information by police, but said some would have been “someone who’s looking to see whether his daughter’s new boyfriend is a suitable young man”.
Sir Hugh Orde, president of Association of Chief Police Officers, said the Met was different from regional forces, and officers need more support in in dealing with the media due to the “sheer intensity and scale “of the force, but said standards should apply across the police service. Oliver Cattermole, director of communications also gave evidence. Ben Priestley, from Unison, said officers often lacked confidence to expose wrongdoing in police forces around the country.
Deputy London mayor for policing Kit Malthouse said the number of staff working on Operation Weeting and other relevant investigations was expected to rise to 200 next year. He told the inquiry the total amount spent would reach £40 million, compared to the £36 million spent on preventing child abuse in the capitol this year. The former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority said he had continually questioned the drain on resources caused by the hacking investigation, and was keen to make sure officers were not “overplaying it”.
Catherine Crawford, chief executive of the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime and former head of the MPA, said Operation Weeting had to be balanced against a “whole range of activities that need to be pursued”, but said she had never witnessed any improper pressure on the Met to follow a particular line by the MPA or force commissioners. Julie Norgrove, director of audit risk and assurance for the MOPC, said gifts and hospitality received by Met staff had been categorised as risky in internal audits for several years. She said the hospitality register had been reviewed five times in 11 years and staff did not always provide proper justification for gifts despite the logging systems.
Victims and journalists
Lord Prescott, former deputy prime minister and a victim of phone hacking, said he believed the police had acted under a “conspiracy of silence”, as he had approached the police and News International several times from 2006 in order to discover whether his privacy had been breached and to what extent.
Rather than accessing his voicemail, Mulcaire had hacked into the phone of Joan Hammell, Prescott’s chief of staff. It is now known that Mulcaire intercepted 45 messages between Prescott to Hammell, Despite AC Yates stating the investigation had not uncovered any evidence to suggest Prescott’s phone had been tapped in 2009. Prescott told Leveson LJ his name was on a piece of paper recovered from Mulcaire’s notes and appeared twice in tax invoices between the private investigator and News of the World.
Simon Hughes MP, who said the police initially gave him limited information over the hacking of his phone by Mulcaire. He was shown documents recovered from Mulcaire listing names of three senior journalists at the paper alongside his personal information last year. Hughes pointed out Mulcaire’s conviction in 2006 was based around the assumption he had received £12,300 from the paper, when in fact a list of bank transactions shows he was paid over £400,000 by the paper before his arrest in transfers alone.
Jacqui Hames, a former Met police officer and presenter of Crimewatch, said information obtained by Mulcaire could only have come from her personnel file and described seeing her personal information in notebooks recovered from the private investigator last year. She told the inquiry she and then husband Dave Cook, a detective chief superintendent, were routinely followed and had their emails tampered with while Cook led a review into the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan. Rebekah Brooks told Cook and Dick Ferdorcio, the Met’s head of press, this was because it was suspected the pair was having an affair with each other, despite being a well-known married couple. Hames told Leveson LJ she suspected there was some collusion between those convicted of Morgan’s murder and the newspaper
Chris Jefferies, the former landlord of murder victim Joanna Yeates, detailed his experience with the police and press following his arrest for the murder in 2010, of which he was later cleared. Jefferies said he believed police took a long time to lift his bail in order to suggest he had been arrested on the basis of stronger evidence that was the case. He was cleared as a suspect in March 2011 even though Vincent Tabak had been charged two months earlier, after confessing to manslaughter. Tabak was subsequently convicted for Joanna Yeates’ murder.
And the rest
Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist who broke the phone hacking story, said the scandal would not have come to light without unofficial meetings between police officers and the press, and police should not be prevented from speaking to journalists without authorisation from press officers, and that losing unauthorised contact would lead into “dangerous territory”, saying such relationships only become problematic if they prevent investigations, such as the original 2006 investigation into phone hacking, from being carried out correctly.
Alastair Brett, former in-house lawyer at Times Newspapers Limited, told the inquiry how information reporter Patrick Foster had illegally hacked into the email account of DC Richard Horton, author of the NightJack blog, was not disclosed during legal action in 2009. Horton tried to injunct the paper to prevent them revealing his identity. The Times failed to disclose that the information had been obtained by hacking, as Foster “stood up” his story with information from the public domain after discovering Horton’s identity. Brett said he had acted in the belief the blogger would not take the matter to court.
Leveson LJ pressed Brett over the misleading nature of the information provided to the High Court. Brett eventually conceded it was “not entirely accurate”. Brett told the inquiry: “Perhaps I was making a wrong decision but I was compartmentalising things. I put the earlier email hacking into a compartment.”
Dame Elizabeth Filkin, former parliamentary commissioner for standards and author of The Filkin Report, said lower ranking members of staff within the Met saw complimentary gifts from the press, including tickets to expensive sports events, as excessive. She went on to highlight several issues, including the favouring of some journalists and newspapers by the Directorate of Public Affairs, which would offer stories to certain reporters to keep others out of the press, and said transparency should be a priority for the Met in dealing with the media. Roger Baker said he recognised an “intensity” at the Met, due to the size of the force and it being on the doorstep of the national media. He advocated for more clarity in the relationship between police officers and journalists, and said off-the-record briefings should be limited and recorded in order to safeguard the public.
John Ryley, head of news at Sky News, was called to give evidence on authorising one of his reporters to break the law and hack into the email account of ‘canoe man’ John Darwin. He said journalist Gerard Tubb had accessed an alias account owned by Darwin after sources close to the prosecution said email contact between Darwin and his wife would not be examined in the court case against them
Ryley apologised to the inquiry after inquiry counsel said a statement sent from Sky News to the inquiry last year failed to mention the hacking incidents. He said the letter had been drafted with phone hacking in mind and had mistakenly not included email hacking, which was known to senior management at the time of writing.
The inquiry will resume next week with evidence from Martin Clarke (editor of the Mail Online), DCI Brendan Gilmour (Operation Glade, MPS), T/ACC Russell Middleton (Operation Reproof, Devon and Cornwall Police), Andy Coulson, Viscount Rothermere and Rebekah Brooks.