The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR THOMAS MOCKRIDGE (sworn).

  • Mr Mockridge, please make yourself comfortable. I am going to ask that you be provided with one file, which I see is not in front of you. It's file 1, which is entitled "Bundle for News International", which will contain your two, if not three, witness statements. They're to your right. Thank you very much. First of all, your full name.

  • Mr Mockridge, I've said this to each of the titles that I visited: I spent some time at News International before the Inquiry started and I saw a number of the editorial floors on which you operate and I'm grateful for the courtesy you've extended to me.

  • Mr Mockridge, your first statement is dated 14 October of last year and has a statement of truth; is that right?

  • That's under our tab 6 and it bears the number 07774. Your second statement is dated 16 December of last year and updates the position on two matters. Again, it has a statement of truth. Your third statement, for which you wish to apply in due course for protection under Section 19 of the Inquiries Act, qualifies paragraph 6.6 of your first statement in a way in which I understand you do not wish to raise publicly. Is that so?

  • So we won't go further into that, but subject to that specific matter, this is your truthful evidence?

  • Mr Mockridge, we've carefully read your statements. The purpose of your giving evidence is just for me to draw out a number of discrete points in relation to what is currently happening at News International, because you are the chief executive officer of the company. Is that so?

  • You have been since the departure of Rebekah Brooks in July of last year. Is that so?

  • For those who are not fully aware of the relationship between the various companies within News Corporation, there is a helpful family tree which we see under our tab 2 and bears the number 53570.

  • Thank you. This, of course, will be deeply familiar to you but not to all those who are following the Inquiry. The ultimate parent company is incorporated in the US, News Corporation, and there are various regulatory provisions, particularly in 2002, I think, which apply to that. NI Group Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of News Corporation?

  • Then it bifurcates, if I can so describe it: News Group Newspapers Limited, which formerly included the News of the World but now just is the Sun, and then we have Times Newspapers Holdings Limited, which ultimately divide into the Times and the Sunday Times; is that right?

  • We can see -- and we'll be hearing evidence of this in a moment -- the position of the independent national directors who, as it were, are above TNHL. Is that so?

  • You give us your employment history in your statement. I'm not going to cover that in any detail, save to point out that you've been involved with News International for some considerable time now before you became chief executive officer; is that correct?

  • I've been involved with News Corporation and its subsidiaries, but not News International.

  • Thank you. May I ask you, please, generally about your dealings with Mr Rupert Murdoch. How frequent are those?

  • It will vary week to week. In some weeks, I will speak to simultaneous several times via the phone. In some weeks, I might not speak to him at all.

  • It may be a difficult question put at this level of generality, but what sort of things is he interested in?

  • I should say first of all it's not necessarily relating to News International, because I continue to have responsibilities in other parts of the company. He is interested fundamentally in the business. Frequently our discussion would be how our advertising revenue is progressing. He's interested in the news in general terms and will be interested in observations about what is current in British society and what issues we might be reporting. He's also interested in the progress of this Inquiry and the progress we're making in the company in updating and changing compliance and these issues. So a broad range of issues.

  • You tell us in paragraph 2.5 that the NI board is now meeting monthly to accommodate the work being performed in the area of compliance. Again, in general terms, are you able to give us a thumbnail sketch of that work, please, since July of last year in the area of compliance?

  • I think in particular what we have sought to do is to update/refresh the whole range of compliance policies and in particular improve the communications of the compliance policies. My observation has been that even where an existing policy is completely thorough and appropriate, if it's not well communicated, then it's much more difficult to expect people to comply with it. So I think a lot of that just goes to the language, the drafting, the way it is presented to employees. Sometimes that might mean the distribution of a hard copy document, as we did with the News Corporation standards of conduct. The mere device of that reminds people of the issues in that document.

    Sometimes it might mean using the intranet and the Internet devices to refresh. I think it's a broad-ranging objective to make sure that policies which were generally required before are correctly up-to-date and communicated.

  • Thank you. At paragraph 2.6, you remind us of the position of the independent national directors following undertakings given to the Secretary of State for trade and industry, as he then was, in 1981. We're going to hear a bit more about that in a moment. As for the policies which, as at the time of writing of this statement, were in the process of being approved and implemented, that's paragraph 2.8(iv), is that right, at page 07777?

  • 2.8(iv) on page 5, as I have it, yes.

  • We do have those policies in separate bundles. At that stage, some of the policies were in the process of being approved, but am I right in saying that policies (i) to (iv) have been rolled out since the date this statement was signed off?

  • It's correct the first four have been rolled out and the fifth is actually available on the intranet in a draft form, but has to be finalised.

  • Thank you. The payments policy is going to be covered in some more detail by the next witness. What responsibility, if any, do NI board members have for the ethics of the newspapers?

  • I believe the board members have a general responsibility to contribute to ethics. I would think ethics itself, as other witnesses have described, is a subjective term, not an objective one, but I think the standards that the board sets, the way the board itself behaves, contributes to the overall ethics of any company, equally ours.

  • In what way, do you think, Mr Mockridge?

  • I think if the board shows an interest to apply itself to, as we are doing now, set clear and well-communicated policies, that itself is a message to the employees of the company of the manner they're expected to behave.

  • Thank you. I'm going to pass over, if I may, taking them as read, a significant number of paragraphs, and ask you, please, to look at paragraph 12.4, our page 07785. You are careful to define your terms, the difference between a "private investigator" on the one hand and a "search agency" on the other. You're clear about who a private investigator is: someone who holds himself or itself out as being skilled in sourcing information which is not otherwise publicly available, on the one hand, and the search agency only looks at publicly available records. Do you know that from your own knowledge, that that is what a search agency confines itself to?

  • This is what I've been advised by my colleagues, and particularly editorial staff.

  • Have you asked editorial staff closely about --

  • (Alarm sounds)

    The search agency, what they do, or their modus operandi, was something you've been told about by the editorial department. Is that so?

  • Are you aware of evidence in relation to Mr Whittamore, who might have described himself quite accurately as a search agency, but deploying methods which were illegal methods?

  • I'm aware in general terms of that evidence and I'm aware that this was an issue in the past, although I think these definitions are relevant today.

  • It's not so much the definitions, I think, Mr Mockridge. It's more what goes on by search agents and whether you've undertaken steps to satisfy yourself that the search agents News International employs are deploying lawful as opposed to unlawful methods. What have you done about that?

  • What -- I'm completely confident that they are. I have required of the editors and the managing editors that -- as it's stated here, first of all, we don't at this time employ private investigators and secondly that search agents, like other suppliers to the company, are subject to the general governance of the company, so they cannot operate in ways differently from what employees would.

  • Is that right, necessarily, Mr Mockridge, in relation to an independent contractor? Unless enquiry is made of the independent contractor as to how he or it is operating, you won't know? It is merely aspirational that the search agency is comporting itself legally?

  • I think it requires positive control. I think it's fair to say people are particularly sensitive to this issue at this time, given recent history. I'm confident that at this time there is no leakage in the policy and it would require ongoing attention to ensure that's the case.

  • In relation to private investigators, as you've defined them, the policy now is that editors need to seek your approval before engaging any private investigators. Up to now, you've never given your approval. Under what circumstances might you give your approval?

  • I would await a request and consider it at the time.

  • You point out under paragraph 14.1 that you're actively developing a policy in that regard. Is that so?

  • Your second statement now, Mr Mockridge. I'm not going to ask about paragraph 2.4, but you rightly update the Inquiry as to the position and the arrest of one individual. Can I ask you to clarify paragraph 5. This is the access to a computer by a reporter at the Times. Are we talking about an internal computer or are we talking about a third party's computer?

  • I believe it was a third-party computer.

  • Are there any specific issues which have caused you concern since you took over as chief executive officer outside the ambit of phone hacking, issues which you've discovered which you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention?

  • I don't think there's anything I would draw to the Inquiry's attention separately from the investigations which are progressing and which I think in time results of which will be notified to the authority -- to the Inquiry.

  • This is the internal investigation --

  • The internal investigation.

  • This is the one chaired by Lord Grabiner?

  • Do you feel that there has been a change in culture since your arrival as regards cash payments in particular, whether to sources, on the one hand, or to staff in relation to their expenses on the other?

  • There's certainly been a change or a more clear definition of policy rather than a change. I think in terms of culture it's a question of -- I've been there six months. I think any culture in any organisation is something that evolves over time. It will obviously change more quickly with change of personnel, so I think it might be overambitious to say culture entirely has changed in six months, but I think there has been a change in the governing structure. It's well understood through the business, the policies have been rolled out with training and information, and I believe the individuals are rigorously applying the policy.

  • Do you have a policy for risk management?

  • News Corporation has a risk management policy. NI, as a subdivision of the company, doesn't have a separate risk management policy.

  • So it applies the news corporation policies; is that how it works?

  • Is catastrophic editorial error, however you like to put it, one such risk?

  • It's not defined as a separate -- to my knowledge, it's not defined as a separate item in the risk management policy, no.

  • Of course, you have oversight -- and this is my final question -- over two subsidiary companies, one of which, NGN, is responsible for the Sun. The other, TNHL, is responsible for the Times and the Sunday Times. In terms of compliance, is there any difference between those two separate companies and the newspapers they run?

  • In terms of compliance, no. The policies of NI apply equally to all three title or the two companies which encompass the three titles.

  • Thank you, Mr Mockridge. Those are all the specific questions I have for you, having taken the rest of your statement as read.

  • I have a couple. Mr Mockridge, you arrived in this country six months ago. Your work has taken you to various parts of the world. I'm not asking you to foreshadow what Lord Grabiner might say or recommend, but I am asking if you are prepared to share with us, from your bird's eye perspective and experience in the business of journalism over many years, your view of where we've got to in this country and where you believe we should be going.

  • Thank you for a broad question. I would maybe make the caveat that as a newcomer to this country, clearly my observations are relying on a relatively short period of time, and that I've worked in four significant separate markets: firstly, New Zealand and Australia, both of which are broadly derivative of the United Kingdom. I would note in both these countries there are self-regulatory mechanisms for the press which appear to be working effectively.

  • Although there are reviews, at least in one of the countries, I think possibly both.

  • There's certainly a review in Australia at this time. Again, we'll see how that evolves. I'd be very surprised if it changed the fundamental self-regulation position.

    I would point out that both Australia and New Zealand share the principle of the United Kingdom that there is no constitutional requirement of free speech, but I think all three societies would regard that as a fundamental element of the way they operate, and I share the view of many of your other witnesses that in this society, where there is not a constitutional guarantee of free speech, for the government to make laws which intervene in the press would contravene that basic principle and undermine the principle of a free press.

    I think in the other markets I've worked in -- I don't think there is much to learn from Hong Kong, due to the particular constitutional circumstances of Hong Kong, although I should point out it does have a vibrant press -- Chinese-language press.

    In Italy, the press is not directly regulated by the government, but it is subject to influence in several ways, in particular by very extensive state subsidies for newspapers, and also by a requirement that to be a journalist you must pass a state-sponsored exam.

  • That's an exciting proposition.

  • It's an exciting concept. It was actually implemented in the 1930s by a prime minister who was legally appointed in Italy and who was legally removed from office, but I don't know that this structure from Italy is much to learn from. But I think the general lesson is that state intervention in the press diminishes the free press.

  • But there is a difference, isn't there, between state intervention and the state provision of a mechanism which permits independent regulation?

  • Because once the state intervenes, the state intervenes. I think I would go to the principle of the United States, where the congress could not pass a law to have that effect, and --

  • Yes, but we have to be a bit careful about that, because Parliament can pass a law about anything. It might be said it's the thin end of the wedge but the fact is that if a government were brought into office that wanted to change the system, whether they're amending a statute or passing a new statute makes not the slightest difference.

  • I would argue in the end this gives an extra responsibility to the United Kingdom, without a written constitution, without these guarantees, with guarantees which I find, coming here, are relying on a 1998 European Act -- there is an even greater responsibility for the state to limit its intervention.

  • I'm not sure that's entirely fair. The European Convention, as you probably know, was drafted in large part by British constitution lawyers at the end of the war, and has been part of the law but only enforceable in this country directly since the Human Rights Act.

  • I don't -- I'm not actually familiar with the full detail.

  • I understand. That's why I felt it appropriate.

    My question, which was deliberately broad, as you say, was also to get your view about what your reaction, coming into this maelstrom, has been of the way in which the press operates in this country.

  • If I can, again, make a general honest remark. I think there are many people outside the United Kingdom who look at the British press with jealousy, due to the extent of competition and choice in this marketplace, and due to the ability of the press in general terms in the United Kingdom to examine stories, issues, to report with a freedom and holding to account that is not evident in other markets, which is a combination of the resources available to the press here, and the fact that -- and those resources essentially flow from the fact that there is a much greater readership of newspapers in the United Kingdom than certainly other European countries, with the exception of, I think, Germany -- and due to the history of the free press here. So everything might not be perfect but if we look at the great array of stories published in this country over the last decade, there is only a minute fraction of them which have been of particular interest to this Inquiry.

    I think that point of balance needs to be considered.

  • I'm not sure "minute fraction" is right and I'm not sure I would necessarily agree with the characterisation of the situation that everything may not be perfect, and I wonder whether that's really how you intend to put it, given what you came into and what you must have heard over the last six months.

  • I'm talking about the situation today, not the circumstance, clearly, of five years ago, but I think in general this country enjoys something precious, and something which I say many people in other countries look up to. I think that's a balancing thing that needs to be very seriously considered.

  • I hope you'll agree that that's something that I've been trying to do, but that doesn't necessarily remove the responsibility of coping with those parts of the way in which the press operate that could not be described as either precious or perfect.

  • All right. Thank you. Thank you very much.

  • Sir, Mr Pennant-Rea needs to be away before noon. He'll only be about ten minutes. May we hear from him now and then break?