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

  • SIR HAROLD EVANS (sworn).

  • (Evidence by video-link)

  • For my purposes, you're in this country rather than America, Sir Harry, and I don't think we add those last words, but never mind.

  • Sir Harold, may I have your full name, please?

  • Your full name, please?

  • Oh, Harold Matthew Evans.

  • Thank you. You have provided us, Sir Harold, with a number of statements. The first statement is dated April 2012 and is under tab 1 of your bundle. There's also an exhibit, which is tab 2, which is called "Journalists' relations with politicians".

    You've provided us with a further statement on 14 May, which is under tab 18, which is entitled "Relations between politicians and the press", and there are various other materials you've provided, but the three documents I've identified have been provided by you for the purposes of this Inquiry, and are you content to attest to the truth of their contents?

  • Thank you. First of all, Sir Harold, your career. It's under our tab 17. I'm just going to take the highlights, if I may. You were editor of the Sunday Times between 1967 and 1981; is that correct?

  • You were editor of the Times, but only I think for about 13 or 14 months, between 1981 and 1982; is that correct?

  • And subsequently you have pursued a career in journalism and the media primarily in the United States of America; is that right?

  • Before we look at the events of 1981, may we seek to identify in your own words the culture of the press in this country in the 1970s, particularly from the perspective of the Sunday Times. Some would say that was the heyday, really, of that paper. In your own words, could you give us a pen portrait of that, please?

  • Well, the remarkable thing about the Sunday Times, and it also applied to the Times when the Times was taken over by Lord Thomson, Roy Thomson, in 1966 -- 1967, was that the ownership of the paper absolutely insisted on the political independence of the paper, absolutely insisted, when I went before the board meeting to be appointed editor, that I would never let a Thomson commercial interest interfere with the conduct of the newspaper. It was actually an editor's dream world of freedom, subject to the constraints of the economy and, of course, truth and accuracy and the law. And so it was a -- the reason why the Sunday Times was very successful, it wasn't any magic powder I had, it was the fact that in the freedom to appoint really first class people, to give them their head, I would have the support of the chairman of the company, Sir Denis Hamilton, and behind him of Roy Thomson.

    Roy Thomson wan a wonderful person. He used to have an old card in his pocket and he'd read it out and it said:

    "I swear that I will never interfere with the editorial policy of a newspaper."

    When people complained to him, he then put the card back in his pocket and said, "You wouldn't expect me to go against my own word, would you?"

    So the atmosphere of total freedom subject to quality and independence was enormously exhilarating.

  • Thank you. Certain aspects of the culture, indeed the practices of the press in the 1970s you cover in the second document I've identified. It's under tab 2, "Journalists' relations with politicians". If you look at the fifth page on the internal numbering, on our page it's 00010 --

  • -- you refer four lines from the top to the investigations you instigated from 1961 to 1981 at various papers.

  • And you note two occasions when surreptitious wireless recordings were approved. Could you tell us a bit more about those occasions? The methods you employed and the safeguards, in particular, you put up.

  • Yes. I wasn't the editor of the paper when the first use of wireless -- surreptitious wireless. It was to expose an antique dealers' ring, and the only way to get the evidence that people who put up their antiques for sale were being defrauded was for the antique dealer whom we knew, in fact he was an antique dealer who was also a correspondent, had a wire, and there was a van outside, and that led to the exposure of this wrongdoing.

    I wasn't the editor at the time, but actually I would have approved it if I had been.

    The occasion where I did approve, the second and the only instance I can think of, was when the police were trying to find and identify crooks who were selling franchises to people that were completely fraudulent, and the police said to us, "We need to get this information out to alert everybody, to alert everybody to what was going on", and so the franchise crooks, in conversations with the Sunday Times reporter, the business news reporter, were exposed.

    In Times Newspapers, there was one other instance in Times Newspapers under the editor William Rees-Mogg in 1967, when the police force was corrupt, very badly corrupt. Bribes were being taken by policemen to suppress various wrongdoing, and the editor of the Times, William Rees-Mogg -- and I agreed with him, by the way -- arranged for a rather -- well, a very surreptitious recording of one of these transactions taking place between a corrupt policeman and a crook, and that led to the complete reform of Scotland Yard, and then Sir Robert came in, Robert Mark came in, and Scotland Yard began rooting out really massive corruption.

    So there were three occasions: antique dealers, franchise operations and corrupt policemen in Scotland Yard.

  • Thank you. You explain that in your own editing, your rule of thumb in deciding the ethics of any such activity was always that you must openly declare how you got the information, and that's clear from your statement.

    Can I ask you about your relations with politicians quite briefly, if I may? It's page 10 on the internal numbering of this document. 00015. You explain that you did have private off-the-record conversations. How did you avoid getting too close to your interlocutors?

  • By massive restraint. No, I made a determination ever since I began to be an editor at the Northern Echo that too close a relationship could be compromising, and in fact Alastair Hetherington at the Guardian, an editor I greatly admired, I was kind of shocked when I read his life story of how he'd co-operated with Harold Wilson to change the paper's policy so as to bring pressure to bear on President Johnson over whether Britain should be involved in the Vietnam war, and I thought that kind of relationship -- I've read a great deal on the history of the press and the Northcliffe era, the Cudlipp era, and what struck me about all of them was it's a Faustian bargain when you get too intimate with politicians. I think it serves neither the politicians nor the press well for the relationship to get to be one of complicit -- complicity, really, and that on no account would I ever allow myself to do that.

  • Okay. Do you have any reflections on the culture of other sections of the press in the 1970s, in particular the Sun and the News of the World, or not?

  • Well, I thought the Sun and the News of the World were very vigorous newspapers, and I admired some of the techniques. What I did not admire, and I'm on permanent record about this, I absolutely deplored the invasions of privacy creating a great deal of misery for no public interest whatsoever, and I've written extensively about this. I thought that the -- while it was very difficult in the public interest to find out certain things, and I explained that in my lecture, The Half Free Press, it was extremely easy to malign and abuse somebody by spying and exposing things that were not really of any national significance but were embarrassing to these people, and I thought that was atrocious.

    If I might add, we've seen the full efflorescence of this appalling cancer in the hacking stuff. That started to grow in the 1970s and it always was appalling.

  • We may come back to more contemporary reflections in due course.

  • Can I move forward to the year 1981, Sir Harold --

  • Just before you do, what was going on in the 1970s that appalled you? Because of course at that stage you were in English journalism, as it were.

  • I don't want to jump in too quickly. In the 1970s -- I became editor of the Northern Echo in 1961, in the north of England, and I conducted some campaigns, and I disliked the invasions of privacy then. When I became editor in 1967 and into the 1970s, there was a great deal of invasions of privacy, but there was also, my Lord, a great deal of restriction in the law. For instance, in the thalidomide case -- do you want me to stop?

  • Throughout the 70s there were two issues. We had -- because the power of corporations and governments had grown extensively, there was a greater need for invigilation in the public interest of what was happening, and so I began the editorship of the Sunday Times by investigating the cover-up of the spy Philby, and I did various things like that, but in almost every instance we ran against external restraints. Official Secrets Act, libel, contempt of court, in confidence. And the law of confidence, which had grown out of a case where Prince Albert -- you know this law better than I do, I'm sure, but I discussed it quite a lot with the Lords of Appeal, I was on a committee, so we were fighting to get information in the public interest and restrained by the law, but there was no law to stop the prurient publication of invasions of privacy. So we were in an ambivalent situation.

  • We're talking about what I was doing in the 1970s, am I right.

  • Okay. We were not hostile to authority or government, but we thought -- for instance, in the House of Commons there were 95 subjects on which MPs could not ask questions. The most ludicrous thing that happened was that one of our staff members was on a cruise ship where I think 400 people were taken off with violent illnesses, so we wanted to investigate the sanitary conditions on cruise ships. The British government, the Board of Trade, would not give us any statistics about the inspection reports on these cruise ships, so we went to the United States, where the New York Port Authority said, "Here you are, here's the records you want", and of course that was an exemplar of the First Amendment of the United States and the openness of that society, and so we were able to expose the abuses in that particular trade, and it seemed to me absolutely ludicrous that we had to go to the United States to find relevant information. MPs couldn't find it.

    The growth of corporate power and the growth of government was not sufficiently matched by a responsible press and by a law which I called it in a lecture I gave the "half free press". Half free press in the sense that by comparison with the United States, we were half free. Of course, by comparison with the Albanian People's Republic, we were fully free, but I also accepted the need for restraints, and in all the lectures and education work I did, I always stressed we must be absolutely sure of our facts, we must verify them and we must prepare to defend them in court, and we must never abuse the privilege of the free press, because we have no more rights than the ordinary citizen.

  • Thank you. May I move forward now to 1981 and the bid for the Times, the Sunday Times and the associated titles. A lot of the background we know about, but one relevant facet is that you, on my understanding, were bidding for the Sunday Times as part of a consortium; is that correct?

  • It was a management buyout group and it consisted of the senior editors on the paper, the finance director of Times Newspapers Limited and outside advisers, and at one stage we had the support of the Guardian newspaper and the Independent Television Authority. So it was a group, but it was really a management buyout was probably the best way to describe it.

  • The lunch that Mr Murdoch had with Baroness Thatcher on 4 January 1981, you point out that the existence of that did not enter the public domain until March of this year; is that right?

  • Correct. It was an astonishing piece of news. It wasn't even known to the Cabinet at the time that Mrs Thatcher had had a secret meeting with Mr Murdoch and Mr Murdoch kept it secret to the point of telling the official historian of the time, Mr Graham Stewart, no such meetings took place whatsoever during this period. And this had to be accepted, although it was a falsehood, until the Cambridge archives of Mrs Thatcher were released and the minute of Bernard Ingham, now Sir Bernard, was there, and also a letter of thanks in his own handwriting from Mr Murdoch thanking Mrs Thatcher for a lunch he said had never taken place.

  • If we can move the clock forward to 16 January 1981, we've seen a document -- it's KRM5 -- which is a minute; I don't know whether it's available to you, Sir Harold, dated 16 January 1981, which refers to -- it's signed by Mr Denis Hamilton, referring to "nearly three hours of talks with Mr Rees-Mogg and Mr Evans today. It emerges that the three of us are quite unanimous in favour of Rupert Murdoch as the most suitable future proprietor of the company."

    Is it fair to say that certainly by the middle of that month, you were in favour of Mr Murdoch's bid on behalf of News International?

  • No. I have to put Sir Denis Hamilton's note in context. First of all, it did not take place on January 16. The lunch with Denis Hamilton and William Rees-Mogg took place on January 20. I have a record of this. What took place on January 16 was a meeting with Sir Denis and senior journalists at the Times who came back to me absolutely boiling mad. They said, "We told Denis we want the management buyout to go ahead and he was very much against it."

    We have to understand something about Sir Denis Hamilton. First of all, I regard him as one of the great pillars of British journalism, a man of utter integrity. The youngest Brigadier in the British Army at the age of 28. The man who brought me from Darlington to the Sunday Times, who recommended my appointment to Roy Thomson and was a total and wonderful supporter all those years. Really good supporter, chastising me from time to time, encouraging me from time to time. That was marvellous.

    In all those years, that's 16, 17 years, he was vehement in his condemnation of Mr Rupert Murdoch. He thought he was lowering the standards of British press, he was disgusted by him and he made it clear, and something very sad happened to Denis, which is that he and the Thomson organisation in London very much wanted Rupert Murdoch to have these papers. Why? Because they thought he would deal with the unions effectively. Were they crazy? No, they were right. Rupert Murdoch was the man to deal with the unions, as we saw with the Wapping incident.

    However, both William Rees-Mogg and I were surprised that Denis changed tack about Mr Murdoch. I remember standing outside the Times building with him and he said, "You know, he thinks very highly of you, Harold", and I said, "I don't care, I don't think he's a good proprietor", and Denis revealed to me that Rupert had offered him the chairmanship of the new Times newspaper. So the January 20 meeting was where Denis Hamilton got William Rees-Mogg and me together, I have a note of it here, and he said, "Look, we're going to sell the paper to Rupert Murdoch unless you prefer one of the following: Daily Mail, News International or Lonrho."

    Okay, so we take Lonrho, Rowlands -- actually, at his suggestion I'd taken a poll of the journalists' chapel at the Sunday Times, giving them these choices. I called them the choices between the seven dwarfs because there were about seven bidders, but the ones we got the vote on was 37 preferred Mr Murdoch, in the chapel, 32 Rowlands, and 11 for Lonrho. So Rupert Murdoch came ahead in the journalists' chapel.

    However, what your note didn't say and what both William and I emphasised to Denis Hamilton: rather than Mr Murdoch, I would like my Sunday Times management buyout group to succeed and William Rees-Mogg would like his journalists of the Times group to succeed. So the idea that we had suddenly decided 100 per cent for Rupert Murdoch is not true.

    Bear this in mind: on 26 January, I continued efforts to get the Sunday Times consortium linked to the Times, so we could buy the whole company. I had many conversations about this, and Donald Cruickshank, the financial director for Times Newspapers, was most insistent that this was the way to go, and all of us made a fatal miscalculation. We assumed that the bid would not go through because of the law of the Monopolies Commission, because we knew full well that the Sunday Times was a highly profitable newspaper and therefore could not be exempt from Monopolies Commission scrutiny on the grounds that it was losing money.

    So that's the background to this. And by the way, Mr Jay, if I may just continue for a moment, one of the sadnesses in my life, I'll never forget the moment. Denis Hamilton, yes, was appointed chairman of Times Newspapers as Murdoch had promised him. A few months later, he was sacked. This great distinguished man was denied a lunch tray at his desk, he was humiliated. He called me to his office and gave me bound volumes of the history of the Times, in tears. I said, "I'll put them in the office". He said, "No, get them out of this place."

    So it's a very sad sequence of events, that Sir Denis, who was the creative genius, really, behind the Sunday Times -- I was just a lucky inheritor -- a man of great sensitivity, somewhat sensitive in his own personal attitudes, frightened of being confronted, I think two things happened to him. One, I think he liked the idea of the continuity of the Times with him as chairman, and secondly, it became clear to him he'd been heartbroken by the print unions destroying the paper he had largely created. I mean, I get a lot of the credit for that, but much of it was him.

  • Okay. On 21 January 1981, Sir Harold, there was a meeting. This is our KRM7. Sir Denis Hamilton chaired it, Lord Dacre was there, you were there, Mr Rees-Mogg was there, and at a certain point Mr Murdoch was there. I don't know if you have this document to hand.

  • One thing that is relevant out of this meeting is that when Mr Murdoch arrived -- this is our page 01471 -- Sir Denis Hamilton welcomed him and introduced him to the committee. He informed Mr Murdoch that out of seven possible future proprietors he had emerged as the most suitable bidder. Do you remember anything about that conversation, that meeting?

  • 21 January 1981 in the evening.

  • Is that the vetting committee? I think that's the vetting committee date. Just a minute.

  • Let me just give you the background. There was a conversation within the committee before Mr Murdoch arrived. Mr Murdoch arrived. He was told what I've just told you, and then Mr Murdoch was asked some questions. Do you remember that?

  • I was present. I have a full note of it in "Good Times, Bad Times". I took a shorthand note of that meeting.

  • Apart from what Mr Murdoch said about guarantees of editorial independence, which are clearly set out in this note, it would be fair to say that by that point he was the most suitable bidder, wasn't he?

  • By that point he was the bidder that the Thomson organisation had decided to sell to. That was a fait accompli. That was a decision made by the board of Thomson, and it wasn't a decision made by the board of Times Newspapers.

    However, by that stage there was no point in trying to resist Mr Murdoch's success in taking over the papers, and there were two reasons for that. One, since the papers were clearly going to him if -- if -- if he satisfied us on the editorial guarantees, if he satisfied us on the editorial guarantees, he was indeed, I agree with the Thomson organisation that he, of the others, was probably the most suitable person to deal with very difficult trade unions.

    Our own management consortium, which had the support of the former Prime Minister and, for a time, the support of the print unions, did intend to tackle the abuses of the print unions, but to give him his due, I think Mr Murdoch was a better operator in that sense. So to that extent we felt that the advantages for him -- we wouldn't have felt that way if Mr Murdoch had not been prepared to swear the guarantees, to have them written into the criminal law and to be guaranteed by the British government.

    In fact, I -- you know -- go on, next question, sorry.

  • In your book, Sir Harold, you ranked the seven finalists, as you know, on pages 144 and 145. News International came top. The pros:

    "Commercially viable, proven track record of successful newspaper management, ability in Australia to create a quality newspaper [that's The Australian], readiness to retain present editors, which is" -- well, Mr Rees-Mogg moved on at his wish, I think, and you became editor of the Times. And then the reservations:

    "Mr Murdoch's arrival in England has had some deteriorating effect on the standards of the daily tabloid press."

    Was that your view?

  • It also says:

    "He undoubtedly has been deeply and often involved in the editorial function."

    Was that your view as well?

  • Yes. I had the advantage --

  • Sorry, carry on.

  • We did quite a bit of work investigating Mr Murdoch's practice in Australia, and of course we had on the paper several brilliant Australian journalists, Bruce Page, Phillip Knightley, who knew full well at first hand and they were all utterly opposed to the idea of Mr Murdoch taking control. In fact, the entire staff of the Sunday Times was opposed because they said he's not to be trusted and they gave example after example after example.

    I said, okay, we knew all this, I knew it myself, and that's why we have to build these guarantees, and I made a big mistake. I stayed on the vetting committee to make sure the guarantees were watertight. In hindsight, I should have got off the vetting committee and led a campaign against the failure to go to the Monopolies Commission. At that stage, we all assumed the Monopolies Commission was going to be invoked since it was a clear case for the Monopolies Commission, but we were not, of course, aware of the secret meeting of January 4 and Mrs Thatcher's secret deal with Mr Murdoch.

  • Okay. The other salient background points. This is a letter from Thomsons dated 26 January 1981 to the Secretary of State for Trade. It's our exhibit KRM10. What Thomsons were stipulating was that if there were a reference to the MMC, then the agreement would not have effect. In other words, their offer to sell would lapse. Do you agree that that was the position, and insofar as a sword of Damocles was being posed over anybody's head, that sword was being brandished by Thomson and not Mr Murdoch?

  • It's absolutely true. In the House of Commons debate, instead of the metaphor being the sword of Damocles, it was a pistol pointed at the heads of everybody concerned by a totally phoney timetable.

    The basic thing is, Mr Murdoch gave the impression he would pull away completely. Thomson organisation wanted him. It was all phoney. It was a phoney war. In fact, the best speeches in the House of Commons were pointing out how phoney a war it was.

    The Sunday Times was strike-bound for 12 months and we came back with a larger circulation than ever, so that was a false argument.

    In fact, of course, it was ridiculous to say you can't go to the Monopolies Commission for the most important newspaper takeover in British press history -- "I'm sorry, we don't have time to make sure the law is being observed, I'm sorry, we don't have time to go to the Monopolies Commission" -- it's ridiculous. It was a whole set of chess moves. This was pawn to bishop 4, actually pawn to bishop 6, because they were going so fast to try and get the thing through.

  • Okay, but presumably you'd accept there's no direct evidence of collusion between Mr Murdoch and Thomsons. Would that be fair?

  • Yes. Ken Thomson was in Canada. The leading figure was Gordon Brunton. My financial director was alarmed by all this. Donald Cruickshank later became chairman of the Stock Exchange. They all thought it was a fiction. They all wanted me to lead a campaign against it, but as I just said, I felt I was better employed on the vetting committee and I was probably wrong, because I had this terribly old-fashioned belief that if somebody made a promise, they would keep it.

  • The other point is that a huge issue was made of this in the debate in Parliament, I think on 27 January 1981, namely: was the Sunday Times economic and a going concern? Your book deals with the point in great detail and some would say that on an objective accounting view it was a going concern, although the Secretary of State concluded otherwise. But would you agree that Mr Murdoch had no role in how the accounts of the Sunday Times were presented to the Secretary of State?

  • No, he didn't. In my book, I never charged Mr Murdoch with fiddling the Thomson figures because he couldn't have done it anyway.

    The best authority on this source is Bruce Page's book, "The Murdoch Archipelago", which was done years later when he investigated -- he was former editor of Insight, and a man of great intelligence. In fact, Mr Murdoch from this courtroom praised Mr Bruce Page for his investigations on other issues. And it's pretty clear, in fact I would describe it as a shambles. The level of scrutiny brought to the Sunday Times figures was a disgrace. The chief accounting officer of the government was not involved. Mr Biffen did not come back until the day before. It was well-known that Mr James Prior said Mr Biffen is Mrs Thatcher's will. He did whatever he was told.

    So in fact, the more one looks at this, the more it becomes a kind of Polish war grave. There are so many bad things undetected for years and years and years. I mean, it was a disgrace to the standards of the British government that the Civil Service was so lax, the minister was in India at the time and didn't take much of an interest in it, some of the ministers didn't even know that the Monopolies Commission law restricted this kind of thing.

    As I say, my "Good Times, Bad Times", Bruce Page's "Archipelago" -- and then on top of this, you have -- if I might, Mr Jay, refer you to Mr Woodrow Wyatt's diary, may I?

  • This is our tab 39, isn't it, the entry of 1987? Is that what you have in mind?

  • I'll read it to you. Mr Woodrow Wyatt was a go-between between Mrs Thatcher and Mr Murdoch and I'd been at the dinners with Mr Wyatt throughout my career. At one of them Mrs Thatcher was present. There's nothing wrong with any of that.

    However, Mr Wyatt was assiduous in keeping a secret diary and this is the remarks he made in June 1987. First of all, in a conversation with Mrs Thatcher saying:

    "We need another pro-Margaret newspaper and we tried to get the Today newspaper for Mr Murdoch without going to the Monopolies Commission.

    "'Ah, yes, I remember the Times didn't get referred to the Monopolies Commission when we bought them both, the Times and the Sunday Times, because they were making a loss', says Mrs Thatcher."

    That's what Mrs Thatcher said. She was misinformed. Then Mr Wyatt:

    "I reminded Rupert during the evening about his request and at my instigation she had stopped the Times acquisition" -- she had stopped the Times acquisition -- "being referred to the Monopolies Commission, though the Sunday Times was not really losing money and the pair together were not."

    That you have in a nutshell.

  • Was Mr Wyatt that close to Mrs Thatcher or was there an element of exaggeration here, Sir Harold?

  • Well, if you read all the Woodrow Wyatt diaries, yes, he's very close to her. Intimately close to her. It may be a touch of exaggeration, him glorifying his own role, but not to that extent. And many things like the Westland deal and so on and so on, everything that I've been able to check out in Woodrow Wyatt's diaries has turned out to be accurate.

  • I've been asked to put to you -- sorry, carry on.

  • No, I was going to say I'm not particularly -- I wasn't particularly fond of Mr Wyatt, I thought he was a bullying character, but I did find his diaries, his journals a remarkably accurate portrait of the feelings in Britain at the time, and having been at his dinner party, I knew the kind of arguments that went on and they were very enjoyable.

  • I've been asked to put to you this question: in view of the fact that you, amongst really everyone else, were supporting Mr Murdoch's bid on behalf of News International, presumably you were pleased that Mr Biffen gave his consent immediately rather than incurring the inevitable delay and uncertainty of a reference to the MMC?

  • Pleased? Horrified! Horrified!

    We knew that he couldn't have given it a minute's scrutiny. I put the figures in my book. He clearly hadn't because he missed out £400 million of revenue. Not at all pleased! Our whole hope of the management buyout committee, of Donald Cruickshank, Bernard Donoughue, Peter Wilshire, me and the other senior editors was that they would go to the Monopolies Commission, that we would have a chance to buy the paper on behalf of the workers.

    The idea that he -- in three days, Mr Jay, a newspaper merger, unprecedented in British history, went through, and it went through on falsehood, on false figures! It's really the most extraordinary event. So the idea that somehow I was pleased! None of us was pleased. Right to the House of Commons debate. This is the kind of thing -- let me give you an example of the kind of thing that was happening. The House of Commons had a debate, and I'm sitting bound and gagged in the press gallery, all right? Before I get to the press gallery, the Press Association says, "What do you think of the takeover?" I said, "Well, we would much prefer our management buyout committee, but the editorial guarantees that Mr Murdoch has agreed with us are excellent", which was true.

    When Mr Biffen came to use that statement, he dropped out the first reference to our management buyout group, he didn't say we still preferred the management buyout group, he just excised it completely.

    Now, that's cheap politics, if you like, but it was certainly very offensive. Right until the deal was done, we expected the Monopolies Commission to intervene. In fact, the journalists on the Sunday Times had two meetings. The first one, they voted unanimously, pretty well, to ask for a writ of mandamus to go and argue the case before the Monopolies Commission. On the second vote, only 13 voted for it, because, why? They felt that if they went to the Monopolies Commission through the courts, which we were told we would succeed, because I've given you evidence here from Mr Gerhard Weiss(?) on the fact that the Sunday Times was a ... [break in transmission] that we might have lost the daily Times continued application. So out of the very best motives, the Sunday Times journalists voted to let the process continue, and they regret it to this day. They have formed what's called a gravediggers' club.

  • I've studied these documents again, Sir Harold, the contemporaneous documents. I don't see any reference in them to any concern on the -- or any view, rather, on the part of Thomson or Sir Denis Hamilton along the lines that there was likely to be delay because there would be a reference to the MMC. There seems to be complete silence about that, almost, arguably, an assumption that one way or another there wouldn't be a reference to the MMC. Do you see that?

  • Is that a fair observation or not?

  • It's a sound observation. In fact, in my very first conversations with Denis Hamilton when he indicated that he had been offered the chairmanship and was willing to change his long-held views of Mr Murdoch, he said, "Of course, there's the Monopolies Commission", but that was the last kind of talk of the Monopolies Commission.

  • Okay. The other question I'm asked to put to you: are you able to give any evidence from your own knowledge in support of the proposition that Baroness Thatcher intervened with Mr Biffen?

  • Yes, just a minute. (Pause).

    I was told by someone I know that Mrs Thatcher had determined it must go to Mr Murdoch because she valued his support. In this belief, I was supportive of Mr Hugh Stephenson at the Times, who had it from a friend in the Cabinet Office that Mrs Thatcher's real debt of gratitude was the crucial factor in doing it. Lord Donoughue, Bernard Donoughue, had it from the Cabinet Office that she owed him a debt. He had supported her in the last election, and would support him in the next. Mr Jim Prior in an interview with Mr Bruce Page said of course it was a purely cynical ploy for political support.

    I suggest that the Inquiry might actually ask the Cabinet Secretary of the day to give evidence on this point.

  • One of the issues that I have to consider, Sir Harold, is how far this helps me address my terms of reference, which are concerned with the culture, practice and ethics of the press, I suppose today rather than what is now, albeit an important part of the history, 30 years ago.

  • My Lord, if I might say so, the seminal event was 30 years ago. All flowed from the excessive concentration of power in a single media corporation. That was -- sorry?

  • That might indeed be right, and you might be right that one of the issues that has to be addressed today is the impact of the extent to which News Corp, in the form of BSkyB and in the form of News International, has influence in our present media, but that may not necessarily require me to decide who said what to whom in 1981. I understand the point, but I hope you understand the focus that I have to have.

  • My Lord, if I might make this comment on that? What happened in 1981 is entirely relevant today because it's a manifestation of the same culture of too close a connection between a powerful media group and politicians.

  • That I entirely agree. It might very well be, though, that that is the first chapter in what might be a fair number of chapters of relationships between politicians and media people.

  • Indeed, but the chapter leads to a denouement which you're presiding over at the moment. The excessive concentration of power which the Royal Commission on the press in 1947 under McGregor said was a real threat to British democracy, that was what was initiated in the seminal acts of 1981 and the value of the guarantees given there was zero, so that says a lot about the relationship between politicians and the press today, that not -- never since those pledges to Parliament were broken, never once has Parliament intervened. There's an inertia there and a collusion which is right in front of your faces today.

    It seems to me that there's this tremendously clear thread connection between what happened then, the consequences for excessive power, and the nature, the nature of the ownership of that power. If it had been like BBC or the Thomsons, it wouldn't have mattered, but we have in Mr Murdoch a man of enormous competitive energies but who also was able to use that base of the Sunday Times and the Times, tremendously profitable eventually, especially the Sunday Times, also to get control of BSkyB.

    BSkyB -- you may not want to go into that, my Lord, but I want to say that Mrs Thatcher again intervened to get around the law so that Mr Murdoch could get control of British SkyB. He had more than the share of media control that the law required, but he beamed this stuff in from the European satellite and everybody fell over, because they were terrified of him.

  • I certainly understand the point, I certainly understand the point.

  • Sir Harold, I'm going to cover the history 1981, when you become editor of the Times, to 1982 fairly succinctly, if I may. Can I do it in this way: the book you wrote, "My Paper Chase", we have it under tab 14, our page 00115, you say towards the bottom of the page that:

    "In my first six months at the Times, Murdoch was an electric presence, vivid and amusing, direct and fast in his decisions, and a good ally against the old guard, as I worked to sharpen the paper's news values while retaining every element of its traditional coverage ..."

    So it looks as if something went wrong from the autumn of 1981; is that right?

  • Yes, that's correct. That's a fair summary. In the first six months, Mr Murdoch was just the kind of owner one would like: involved, not bullying. He came into a few things -- for instance, when he suggested I attack the Royal Family in the first budget because they had got the civil list increased, I didn't mind him suggesting that. When I investigated the facts, I found it was completely wrong, he'd misread it. That evening I went to the Sun newspaper and told the editor -- the editor said, "I'm doing a blast on the Royal Family", I said, "Just a minute, those figures you've been given are not right because you're misreading the calendar years", and I told Mr Murdoch too. But the Sun continued with the false story and I didn't do it in the Times and he never said a word about that.

    So later on, of course, any kind of conduct of mine like that received a blast, but for the first six months he was extremely good: vigorous, encouraging me to change the staff, to infuse -- the Times circulation -- William Rees-Mogg was a very fine editor of the Times, but economic circumstances had taken the papers down and we had to try to revive them, and so Mr Murdoch was continuing, "Why don't you grab so-and-so and so-and-so", and sometimes I would grab -- I took on David Watt, the political person -- all with his enthusiasm.

    By the way, I suppose we'll come to the budgets, but I said, you know, "Can we afford it?"

  • There came a time in the autumn -- sorry.

  • Sorry, I didn't answer. I was trying to amplify that first six months. You're quite right, something changed. It must have changed at the same time for Denis Hamilton, who was then being forced out, but what changed I think, Mr Jay, and this could be checked, in 1981 it was a very bad time in Britain. Mrs Thatcher was grossly unpopular. She was trying very hard to do what she thought was right, but the policy of her strict monetarism, like the austerity in Europe today, was not working, and that led to a great deal of anxiety on Mr Murdoch's part and in fact on everybody's part.

    At the same time, he was feeling money pressures, which we didn't know about at the time. So after September, October, it got more and more difficult. The skies got darker and darker until the thundercloud burst.

  • So it was a series of circumstances, but some of them were externally imposed, namely a deteriorating economic situation, which led in due course to the breakdown of your relationship with Mr Murdoch. Is that a fair summary or not?

  • A fair summary would -- I think the sequence of events was as follows. It became clear, particularly if I can mention the -- when political pressure was brought on me to support the government, even though my own editorial board thought it was wrong. And of course therefore I continued with our policy, Mr Murdoch made it clear to me, and you have documents saying which he's rebuking me for not doing what he wants in political terms, and I can give you many instances of this.

    It's wrong to ascribe it to the economic situation. It's correct to say that Britain's economic situation was worrying the government. I did get this through his mouthpiece, Mr Gerald Long, the ridiculous statement that I shouldn't publish the figures on the recession because Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor, said the recession was over. It went down by 6.5 per cent. It continued to go down for the whole year. So Sir Geoffrey's prediction that the recession was over was wrong.

    This gets me a letter from Mr Murdoch's mouthpiece, Gerald, two pages long: "How dare you say the recession is continuing when the government says it has ended?" Those figures were from the Central Statistical Office.

    That's just one of the many, many instances, I'd like to give you some more, of the gradual distancing of Mr Murdoch and me due because I would not support the policies of the government come what may. We supported them rather proudly. And this led to him doing this wonderful imitation to you which I hope somebody's got a copyright of it, portraying me as Uriah Heep, coming in and saying, "I don't have an opinion, Mr Murdoch, can you tell me what to say?"

    That's the funniest thing I've heard in a hundred years because he was continually talking to me. I describe in "Good Times, Bad Times" I had the effrontery to call the Nobel prizewinner in economics, Mr James Tobin, and say, "Write an article looking at the British economic condition". At the same time I called up the government's economic advisor Professor Hague and said, "After Mr Tobin, will you please reply to this?"

    That night I was taking Mr Rupert Murdoch to my home to meet my wife and have dinner. By the time we reached the dinner, it was almost fisticuffs. "Why did you publish that stuff, Tobin?" I said, "He's a Nobel prize winner, it's an interesting view on economics". "Intellectual bullshit". I said "Just a minute, what do you know," I said, "about economics? You said inflation would be down". "No, no, no, no get off" -- this went on. I mean, that's on the policy side.

    The recession, the -- a vehement dislike of any criticism of the monetary policy of the day, which was leading to massive unemployment, and then, of course, there was -- if I might continue -- in the fall of this year, Mr Murdoch was continually sending for my staff without telling me and telling them what the paper should be. He sent for the elderly and academic Mr Hickey(?), who went in tremulously, to be told by Mr Murdoch, "Your leaders are too long, too complex. You should be attacking the Russians more."

    I had in my office the foreign editor, he was trembling. He said, "Do we have to change our policy?" I said, "No, we stick to our policy'.

    Perhaps the most particular demonstration of the campaign against me and the conditions in which we were trying to produce a good newspaper was the Ruda affair. What happened was there was a dinner the night before at a restaurant which I attended with Mr Murdoch and he had his pals around with him and they were all saying, "The trouble with the Times is it's too serious, the editorials are too long, what you need is bingo."

    I listened to this offensive evening and the next day Mr Murdoch sent for me and he had the pages of the paper open, with his biro pencil gouging through the business news. "Sport, didn't I tell you sport, sport, sport, where are the four pages of sport?" I said, "Just a second". He was excising the unit trust prices and the business news. "You've always told me the business news is important and I agreed." "Never mind that, sport!" I said, "Listen, if I'd given four pages to sport regularly, we wouldn't have space for business news, and you want the business news" -- "I want the business news for the revenues. Business advertising. You worry about editorial, I'll worry about the revenues. Sport, sport!" I turned to the advertising director. I said, "Mr Ruda, you may remind Mr Murdoch of his pressure to have more business news to get more advertising".

    I looked at Mr Ruda -- and this is a scene enacted a million times in Mr Murdoch's company. "Mr Ruda, remember you were pressing me to put more business news in?" Mr Ruda has suffered another bought of selective amnesia. That thing happened all the time.

    The most dramatic example again of interference with the content of the paper, I had a reporter in Poland who was doing fantastic work when the coup took place. He was sending little messages out in people's shoes. So we gradually strung together a marvellous narrative of Poland, what had happened in the insurrection with Lech Walesa, a wonderful thing, and said to Mr Murdoch on the way out, "We should put this on the radio, it's a fantastic two pages". Next morning, the next morning he sent for me. He had the Sunday Times, marvellous narrative by Roger Boyes, two pages, and he turned to the Sun newspaper, which had this much on Poland: "That's all you need on Poland."

    So he's sending for my staff behind my back, he said to Frank Johnson the columnist, Frank Johnson, going on about these kind of things, and Frank Johnson said, "I'd rather not be talking to you when the editor's not here", and Frank Johnson told me Mr Murdoch said, "That's why I am talking to you, because the editor's not here."

    So these were the things that -- it's not the general economy, not even the economy of Times Newspapers. It is his determination to impose his will and destroy the editorial guarantees that he'd given.

    Whilst I'm on this theme, it's really after all these years of living with this nonsense, the promise of the budget, the five guarantees, every single one of the five guarantees he promised were broken. The budget never materialised. For 12 months I'm trying to get a budget and Gerald Long, the managing director, said, "Rupert's very funny about figures, he doesn't like anybody to see them", and in our board meetings they were a parody of what board meetings at Times Newspapers were. We never had any figures, we were flying blind, we had no idea what was going on. "Oh, Rupert likes to keep that to himself." The accountants were told don't give any figures to anybody. We never got a budget in the entire 12 months.

    And the final straw for me, and the final straw, by the way, for the journalists who were getting -- morale was getting lower and lower and lower, I'd just asked them for 25 redundancies, which was what management said. Without meeting me or telling me, they went and asked for 40 redundancies. Can you imagine the effect on morale?

    At the same time, it was learned that the titles of the newspapers, the Times and the Sunday Times, were being moved to News International by a board decision at which only two of the nine directors were present, excluding the editors of the Times and the Sunday Times. It was an illegal move without the permission of the editorial directors, the minutes were falsified, there was no quorum.

    That's the kind of thing which I had to protest and I did and I was told, when I wrote my protest, Mr Long would not give it to Mr Murdoch. He said "Take it away, you will withdraw this letter". I said "I will not withdraw this letter", and the editor of the Sunday Times supported me, and in the end the national directors repudiated this decision by stealth to move the titles.

  • Okay. The events of March 1982 are clearly charted in your book. Graphically and clearly. We also have some material from the Hugo Young papers, which indicates -- this is January and February 1982 -- that by this point your view of Mr Murdoch was fairly florid?

  • I'll just read out one sentence, or perhaps more than one sentence. These additional papers which arrived yesterday. 11 February 1982. This is someone else, I think Mr Young, actually, setting out your view. You refer to Mr Murdoch as:

    "Evil incarnate, the very personification of it. He's had his heart removed long ago, together with all his moral faculties and his human sensibility."

    Might it be said that for whatever reason your relationship had reached such a low point that it was increasingly difficult perhaps for either of you to be objective? If I can put it in those terms.

  • Yes, I suppose you could say that I was kind of so furious about all the five promises being broken. It was objectively true they were being broken, and it's objectively true that I was angry about this, and it's objectively true that if he'd observed those promises, I was prepared to go on as we had gone on. Was I emotional? I got somewhat emotional about this, because it seemed to me such a betrayal of all the things that Denis Hamilton and I and William Rees-Mogg had fought for.

  • Yes. Can I ask you about one piece of information you set out in your book, and then I'm going to move on from this. At page 534 of "Good Times, Bad Times", you refer to something that Mr Murdoch told the home editor of the Times, Mr Fred Emery. Do you remember that?

  • It's a point I put to Mr Murdoch when he gave evidence, and it's about the Secretary of State's undertakings:

    "They're not worth the paper they're written on."

    Can I ask you what the source of your information here is?

  • You vanished as a picture. I can hear you. You're speaking from outer space now.

  • But I can talk. As long as you can see me.

  • Okay. So it's my loss, not --

  • I'm not terribly happy about that, because I don't think it's terribly fair on you. You have no picture at all, Sir Harold?

  • I have no picture of you at all, no. We'll see if we can get somebody in.

  • I think we'll have a break now anyway.

  • And we'll consider what we're going to do. We need a break to give the shorthand writer just a chance to stretch her fingers. All right.

  • (A short break)

  • Sir Harold, am I now visible?

  • Can you see me?

  • Thank you. I was asking you about page 534 and the reference to Mr Fred Emery and Mr Murdoch allegedly saying in relation to the Secretary of State's undertakings, "They're not worth the paper they're written on". I was asking you about the source of this information for your book. Can you assist us on that?

  • Mr Emery told me that, and after we heard Mr Murdoch say he couldn't remember ever saying that to Mr Emery, Mr Emery sent me an email in New York in which he -- and I think he also sent it to the Commission -- Inquiry, in which he said -- he insisted that he did see and did hear Mr Murdoch say, "They're not worth the paper they're written on."

    Mr Emery denied using the word "insurrection". He was quite right, by the way, there was chaos at the Times, and we may spend a moment or two on the origin of that chaos.

  • It's probably not going to matter overmuch for the purposes of this Inquiry.

  • I'm not sure that we've -- I certainly haven't seen an email from Mr Emery, Sir Harold, so if you've had one, possibly you could just send us an email address of Mr Emery and we will see what we should do about it, if anything.

  • I'm asked, Sir Harold, to put to you this --

  • I've just found the email that he sent me.

  • We'll be in touch with you separately about his email.

  • Apparently we do have it.

  • I'm told we do have it, so that's fine.

  • It's something I've overlooked. I can't see it. Oh yes, we do have it. It's under tab 18, on the penultimate page. Under the heading "A note on the insurrection".

  • So we have it there, Sir Harold.

  • The one I took out, the one I gave you. There it is, right. I'm set.

  • Lord Justice Leveson is just reading the reference to it.

  • Thank you.

    May I ask you this further question, Sir Harold, and again another core participant has asked me to put this, that at the end of the day the articles allowed you to appeal to the independent national directors, and although your difficulties with Mr Murdoch had lasted only about six months, you chose to resign when you could not have been dismissed without the agreement of the independent national directors. Why didn't you appeal to them?

  • Well, I did invoke the national directors when I was being harassed in the fall of 1981, I was in touch with Lord Robens and Lord Roll and Denis Hamilton and also with Mr Edward Pickering. Sir Edward Pickering was the Murdoch appointee to the board, and so I asked him to come to my office and I protested the pressures and particularly the failure to be given the budget, and I said, "I'm looking to you, as I'm looking to these other directors to whom I've spoken, to protect me from these pressures in honour of your duty as an independent director", and I'd known Pickering for a long time and he looked at me and he said, "You have to remember I work for Lord Beaverbrook", who was a notorious brilliant dictator of newspapers, and what Edward Pickering was saying to me, "I am the fifth national director, don't look to me", so that was a total failure.

    Lord Robens, Lord Roll and Sidney Greene and to a somewhat lesser extent Lord Dacre were vehemently in support.

    When the titles were removed by Rupert Murdoch, illegally ... [break in transmission] [he?] said to me, "We have a leviathan by the nose", and they were so furious they forced him to retract.

    I then asked Lord Robens to come to my office and this was in -- the dates in November, December, and I told him what was happening. He said, "Oh, that's his game, is it?" He didn't even have a good word to say. He said, "This is a lunatic asylum. I don't like the way Mr Murdoch does business."

    Mind you, he'd been particularly infuriated by the question of removing the titles without the national directors, so it's not true to say I didn't appeal to the national directors. Denis Hamilton's response was, "Just sit there and bide your time and I, Denis, will sort it out and make sure that you get the budgets and things that you were promised", and since Denis Hamilton was such a figure, I was inclined to rely on it, but at the same time Denis had already been fired, he'd left the paper by then, so that was not ...

    Lord Robens, I had another meeting with him, who was speaking on behalf of the four, forget Pickering, and the sixth one had not been appointed following the resignation of the journalist representative.

    I had the famous meeting, famous in my mind, of Lord Robens where we discussed whether I should, with the backing of the independent directors, insist on staying as editor of the Times. Robens said, "He has no reason to fire you." In fact, he tried to do that and Lord Robens told me that Mr Murdoch at an earlier meeting had asked them to approve my resignation and they said to him, "No, you can't do that, you have to ask Mr Evans", and Lord Robens told me all this. I didn't know that this had gone on, that secretly -- of course, it was all part of the ploy. At the moment, Mr Murdoch was meeting journalists all over London telling them he was going to fire me, et cetera, et cetera, I overspent the budget that didn't exist, I was a communist and all this kind of -- he told a group of Geoffrey Johnson-Smith and Conservative MPs that I was a massive support of the SDP, which I wasn't.

    So the answer is -- the real answer is that I by this stage was absolutely disgusted, dismayed and demoralised by living in a vindictive, punitive atmosphere, where every paperclip was challenged. Freedom to operate within a budget? Every -- we got written instructions that I could not send a reporter to a fire without giving written authorisation.

    The whole thing was a farce. The production systems were a farce because Rupert Murdoch had not succeeded in getting full access to the computer. I remember the occasion, I'd written an editorial and I go upstairs to look at it and a page -- and I find it sticking to my feet, because it was a paste-up system. It was chaos. It took a long time to get production right.

    So I thought, to be absolutely honest, it was attractive to think I should now lead the fight, I've got the backing of these four, and that's enough.

    I honestly didn't think I wanted to endure any more of the nit-picking, trying to produce a great newspaper in impossible circumstances, and that's why I resigned.

  • Okay. May I move on now, Sir Harold, to other issues, wider issues about the culture, practices and ethics of the press? May I start off, please, with a piece you wrote, not sure exactly when, and that's part of my focus in asking you this question. Look at tab 16 of the bundle that has been prepared, you'll see a piece that you wrote, it must have been before 1981, called, "Privacy in journalism, striking the balance", and it related, amongst other things, to the role of the press in the Lambton/Jellicoe Affair. Do you remember that?

  • Yes, I do. What tab is that?

  • Tab 16. I think we're in the 1970s here, but I'm afraid I can't remember when the Lambton/Jellicoe Affair was.

  • Right, okay. I have the article now.

  • I'm sure you'll want to take time to read the set of principles which is in the penultimate column from the right. Do you see that?

  • These principles may be said to be equally apt now to when they were written.

  • Yes.

    "The reporter should not do anything ..."

    Very hard to read this.

  • It is possible to read?

  • "The reporter should not do anything illegal, such as breaking and entering, stealing documents or other property, threatening people with physical violence, demanding money with menaces, impersonating a police officer [et cetera]. When photographing people without their permission, nothing should be done which may not subsequently be described in the published story. These methods should be considered only when no other means are available ..." et cetera.

    They are a series of principles.

  • Yes. Yes, I still believe those principles, and I would put them in rather gold plate.

  • And you would do that in view of the experience of the last 35 years since this piece was written; is that right?

  • Yes, indeed. I was -- I gave evidence in 1947 when I said similar things to the Royal Commission, and then I was no longer editing when the Calcutt report came out, but I thought that the Calcutt report was pretty clear and should have been followed, and he did say this was the last-chance saloon for the press to get its house in order.

  • I think that was Mr Mellor.

  • Oh, okay. Perhaps the last-chance saloon was a journalistic colourful interpretation of what Calcutt was saying, but he did say this was the last time Calcutt did say --

  • No, no, it wasn't a journalist, it was the Secretary of State who said that. "The press are drinking in the last-chance saloon."

  • This sounds me like an editorial argument. Show me your sources and I'll show you mine.

    Anyway, I thought Calcutt on privacy was extremely good, as I thought the 1947 Royal Commission was good. And the reason my information is -- and we may have a superior witness in court with us today -- my information was that Calcutt wanted to act after the excrescences that had occurred after his publication, and he was told or concluded that it would upset some of the political leaders too much, and so the opportunity to follow on Calcutt with a reasonable law of privacy was lost. And then of course since then we've had all the appalling conduct that your Inquiry is focused on.

  • Yes. I think there were two bits of Calcutt: Calcutt 1, which allowed a period of time, and Calcutt 2, where he said, "Actually, this has not worked, there ought to be all these other steps taken", and then the government decided that the Press Complaints Commission could carry on. You may not have appreciated that I have made the point several times during the course of this Inquiry that I am very concerned that there shouldn't be simply a report that sits on a shelf in a professor of journalism's study; that actually we try and make some difference, if we're going to change anything that has an effect.

  • In my view, my Lord, that is actually the heart of the matter of this Inquiry, because if the relationship between the politicians and the press, which in this particular case the politicians are scared of the press, scared of having some kind of penalty, wouldn't do what they should have done, which was to introduce a debate of high order on the consequences. So I am absolutely 100 per cent with you on that, and I think a number of senior journalists would be.

    It's really ... [break in transmission]. I'm a critic of the press, I'm a critic of incompetent government. A supporter of free opinion, free speech, but there is a limit, and now we have the European -- Articles 8 and 10 in the European Commission court. We have actually standards we can observe. But it needs enactment. We could come to the question: well, how do you enforce -- how do you make the press behave better in a free society? And I think I have some thoughts on that which I'm quite happy to expose.

  • I was going to ask you that question, but I was going to ask you an earlier question before we got to it. You've been in America now for some time, but no doubt you've been watching the press in the United Kingdom over the last 30 years nonetheless; is that right?

  • We had one historical perspective from Mr Paul Dacre, as you know, editor-in-chief of the Mail titles, when he came to one of our seminars in October, and said that in fact the standards of the British press have improved over the last 20 years and in his own words he said it would be churlish to deny that. I wonder whether you could assist us from your perspective. Would you agree with Mr Dacre or not?

  • Mr Dacre deserves a compliment from me for the bravery he exhibited in challenging the Lawrence killing. I thought that was a superb piece of journalism.

    On the improvement of the British press, if you're measuring it by quantity, the amount of newsprint now consumed, you can say there's been a gross tonnage appreciation. And in terms of quality, some of the writing -- I think that British journalism in its writing and in its design and expression is superior to American journalism, by and large, by and large. Having lived with both, some of the general standard in the American press is much higher so far as accuracy, checking and freedom of expression, and there are tabloids, like Mr Murdoch's Post in New York, which don't go for that, which go for the end of the trashy supermarket magazines.

    So it's fair to say you can have a fair comparison between the American and British press in which the British press doesn't look too bad, but it's the excesses of the tabloids and the hysteria which is really where I part company with Mr Dacre. The persecution of individuals for no public good whatsoever. I think that is such a significant decline in the standards of the press, it's gone far beyond what it went in the Lambton Jellicoe case, with having a photographer behind a prostitute's mirror. It's now got entrapment, bribery, hacking, blagging.

    We've got a situation in which newspapers are employing private detectives! We used to employ reporters, trained reporters, whose job it was to find the facts. And the idea that the press has now come to the fringes of the criminal underworld, I'm totally appalled by what I see.

    So I have to part company from Mr Dacre in that regard, while paying tribute to the general standards, the quality of papers in Britain, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Times still remain pretty good and so on. And some the things the tabloids do are very, very good. But there needs to be some external restraints to stop this dissolution of civilised standards.

  • Okay. The external restraint. It may come back to the question you yourself posed five minutes ago: how do you get the press to behave better? It's all part of the same theme, isn't it? Could you develop that for us, please, Sir Harold?

  • Yes. In my view, it's very dangerous to bring a statute to bear on these matters, because I've explained in my life as an editor I had great trouble with statutes and also with common law which had been congealed from very different cases, usually to protect property. So in the thalidomide case, a great injustice lay for ten years because of the misapplication of the civil law of contempt, and so on and so on. Many instances of that.

    So I'm very, very -- personally very leery of an attempt to write a law which can meet the subtlety and the changing circumstances and is adequate for those occasions when you have to consider doing something questionable for the sake of a greater public good. This is the tricky area.

    I mean, I took a chance in the thalidomide and I was vindicated in the end, but I was pursued all the way to the House of Lords and finally the European Court of Human Rights.

    I think the best answer is to have an ombudsman or a senior -- a man of some intellectual and journalistic distinction as the chairman, with legal advice, with the power to issue a subpoena, with the power to punish and holding the press to the very highest standards. That, I think, is what should be done, rather than having a -- divine a statute, retain the flexibility of an ombudsman who is experienced in these things. Can you go to him before -- I'm not particularly keen on going to him before, but in some circumstance you could go and say, "Look, there are these gangsters who are doing this; is it permissible in this case to bug their phone?" And if I were the ombudsman, I might well say no. I might say, "That's a police matter, you should go to the police and tell them that."

    However, that's the kind of situation which nobody can predict, nobody can predict the amazingly complex and difficult circumstances that may arise almost in a night for a newspaper editor. So the newspaper editor has to have judgment, he has to have principles, and he has to have the freedom within those constraints to do what he thinks is in the public interest, and then bear the consequences of making misjudgments.

    For instance, I have never been -- I mean, there's a very good interesting new defamation bill going through Parliament at the moment, and it probably is a big improvement. It's not nice to see Britain become the tourist libel capital of the world, and I think superinjunctions are an appalling abuse of power. It's not nice to see any of that, but it's much better if we could have a self-regulating system that works. What we've had is a self-regulating system that didn't work.

  • But what you've just described, Sir Harry, requires a statutory structure behind it. In other words, it requires legislation, as it were, to set up your ombudsman with all these powers.

  • So if you were to say to me that this should not be a government-controlled body, I would absolutely totally and completely agree with you, without hesitation.

  • But what you are suggesting could not be done, I don't think, purely consensually.

  • Well ... [break in transmission] said, what is the alternative? Keep the government out of it. Let's have a body of respectable and good people and a superstructure behind them, as you say, to set it up, with clear parameters written about what should concern them, what the principles are. One principle obviously should be transparency. Everything should be open.

    At the moment, we don't -- we have a Press Commission, Press Council, which has shown itself in the hacking case, with all the best will in the world, to have no investigative powers, you know, not even able to frighten a goose, and I rather feel that's one of the great blotches on the history of press control in this country, press invigilation, that that particular thing, the Guardian being rebuked for doing an investigative piece was a disgrace. The Guardian was doing a tremendous public service.

    So we have to get away from a Press Council which can sort of preach without knowing all the facts. We have to have an investigative power, and do I think that does need some legal sanction behind it.

    The press at the moment, and rightly so, has no power -- we can't summon anybody to a subpoena, we can't force anybody to answer questions, we can only ask them, but I think a supervisory body does need some kind of extra muscle of that kind.

  • But I'm sure you would agree, not only can it not be government-run or subject to government interference, but equally, content must remain off -- there can be no prescription of content.

  • Completely right. Take the BBC, for instance. They have a charter and they have guidelines and stuff. So I agree. No government, no control of content, but we're talking about a Press Commission or a press body which is examining bad conduct or investigating the possibility of bad conduct as a means of restraining it, because the hand-on-heart promises of me as an editor or Paul Dacre as an editor or Alan Rusbridger as an editor are all very well, are all sincere men, are all honourable men, as Antony said, but we need some extra authority to clean up this terrible mess that we're in.

  • Sir Harold, unless you have any other ideas you wish to share with us regarding the future, those were all the questions I had for you.

  • Just one. I did neglect to say that one of the points where we disagreed with Mr Murdoch was that I believed the Times should be open to different opinions, and he thought it should not be. For instance, I -- with the articles I published -- I published one by Mr Ray Buckton, a trade union leader, and he said, "He should never be published because the man was a comic", which was ridiculous. Opening the Times to different opinion, not my opinion, was actually an issue. The issue of diversity.

    Otherwise, I don't have anything to say except I'm glad of the opportunity to correct some records. I'm tired of the defamation of me, particularly Mr Murdoch's statement that I lowered the circulation of the Times when I increased it from 276,000 to over 300,000, which is a falsehood that he's retained, and I think that when the Times newspaper itself refused to publish a correction on that score, we were looking at a newspaper which had lost its sense of moral responsibility.

  • I am sure that your insight into the past has the value that you described it to have. We'll have to think about how far it's necessary to go, but your insight into the present and future has been particularly valuable, coming, as it does, from one who's spent a lifetime in the areas and in respect of whom so much has been written and so many fabulous stories have emerged. I'm very grateful to you for your time, Sir Harry, and I'm sorry that there's been some inconvenience over the technology, but I think we've managed in the end.

  • No, I appreciate the courtesies you've extended me, and the thoroughness of the investigation which you are carrying out.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

  • Monday morning.

  • Yes, I always have to remember if it's tomorrow. Days blur. Monday morning, thank you very much.

  • (The hearing adjourned until Monday, 21 May 2012)