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

  • MR JEREMY LAWTON (sworn).

  • Please give your full name.

  • I understand you're concerned about being called "Jeremy" as opposed to --

  • Have you read my tweet?

  • Well, you've caused a family problem.

  • But your statement does start: "I, Jeremy Lawton ..."

  • So I don't think you can criticise the Inquiry. Right.

  • Mr Lawton, you've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 6 February of this year.

  • And you've signed a statement of truth in the standard form?

  • Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • You've been a journalist for 24 years?

  • You worked at the Grimsby Evening Telegraph?

  • And the now defunct news agency Humberside Newsline?

  • You've worked at the Daily Star for the past 17 years?

  • After starting out at a general news reporter in London, you were appointed northern correspondent based in Leeds?

  • Before being promoted to your current position as chief crime correspondent?

  • You are now not based in London but you have what you describe as a worldwide roving brief from your home in the north?

  • To begin, what sort of crime stories does the Daily Star aim to write?

  • Very similar, really, to the stories that John Twomey mentioned for the Express. Our readers are particularly interested in crime rather than the politics behind police forces, so we'd be more interested in serious crimes that are likely to affect them across the board, everything from benefit cheats to serial murderers.

  • So it's crimes, as such, as opposed to, for instance, the personalities of senior figures within police forces?

  • Yeah, I mean we would probably look at that, but that's maybe something that would be handled by the political brief rather than me, if that was an issue, because arguably it is more political. So I can't recall ever writing a story on -- certainly not in my crime role -- on the politics of Scotland Yard or anything like that.

  • I see. Another question that other witnesses have been asked today: do you see as part of your role investigating the crime yourself and trying to find the culprit, if at all possible?

  • Absolutely not, no. I think that's very dangerous. I think our role is really to report what happens. It's as simple as that. It's to report on the ongoing investigation to the best of the ability that we can and to look into the figures around that and the people it affects, but as far as investigating the case, we wouldn't have the ability to. I mean, that's why the police are there. We report how they investigate.

  • Moving forwards to your contact with the Metropolitan Police Service, you make the point at paragraph 3 on our page 60637 that you spent most of your career outside London --

  • -- so your experience of working with the Metropolitan Police Service is much more limited than other or most crime reporters?

  • When reading your statement, one gets the impression that your contact with the MPS is confined to telephone calls to press officers. Is that right?

  • Yeah, that would probably be about right. On major crime stories that have affected the -- have brought me to London -- I've found most of the stories I've ended up working on have been outside London, but when obviously stories do arise, like the 7/7 bombings, there's a crossover. In Madeleine McCann there has because some of the briefings have been held in London. So in those areas I would get involved but I don't have the level of contacts that, say, somebody like John or Sandra Laville would have on a daily basis.

    When I worked as a crime reporter -- as a normal reporter in London, I probably had more contact because I then would ring them five times a week, the Press Bureau.

  • In your current role, do you have any contact with individual Metropolitan Police officers?

  • Do you feel that that in any way hampers your ability to do your job?

  • You'd probably have to ask my boss, but I would probably say no, because I'm not actually in the Crime Reporters Association, simply because it's London-centric, really, and I don't have that sort of involvement. But if I was working in that -- if my job changed around and I was suddenly asked to work in that sort of brief, it may be that I'd have to join it, or I certainly have good colleagues and friends who are in it, and I would expect them to make sure I had access to all briefings. I wouldn't be a person who would want to be excluded from those briefings.

  • So you would ask to be allowed in, even though you're not a --

  • Absolutely, yes. I'd fight for the right to be in there, to be fair.

  • Do you think then the CRA should be prepared to accept other specialist crime reporters from wherever they are?

  • Yes, actually, yeah. I think it's something they should consider. I mean, some big regional newspapers have specialist crime reporters. It may be a way of taking -- I know John's going to report back to you with his views on how they go forward and that may be something that should be looked into. There's also TV news and very good TV news reporters who work -- specialise in crime. Martin Brunt at Sky.

    Yeah, if it involves access to briefings, I would be expecting to get into those briefings. I would be expected to by my employers.

  • Yes. How effective do you consider the MPS's press office is at providing you with the information that you need?

  • Well, within the limited scope that I've just explained?

  • I've found them very effective. I've found them -- I've not asked to go on specific operations, but with me it's simply a case of ringing up, putting forward requests, and they respond quickly. With the daily papers, speed is of the essence, so a response that's quick, accurate and directed at exactly what you want -- I've found they're good.

  • Do you consider that the facts are sufficiently balanced in terms of not only putting the Met in a good light but also letting you know where perhaps things have gone wrong?

  • Yeah, I've not found anything that's left me troubled that they are deliberately trying to push themselves forward.

  • Do you consider that -- you may have answered this question. Do you consider they apply any spin to the information they give you?

  • Not that I've experienced, no.

  • You've said later on in your statement that part of the press office's role is to ensure that the police force concerned is portrayed in the best possible light in the media, but you're saying that you haven't found that that has had any particular impact on the accuracy or helpfulness of the information that you've been provided.

  • I can honestly -- I don't tend to do the political stories about the police, so I am looking for: when did it happen, who was arrested, or -- who was arrested, preferably, but what has happened, the actual facts.

  • So in light of that, that's what I tend to go for. I don't really feel that the information that's been presented to me has been slanted in any way.

  • So you don't look at, for example, knife crime in Liverpool, or the rise of anti-social behaviour in Hull?

  • Absolutely, I do look into those things. What I would do in those cases, though, is I would ask the press office probably to talk directly to the officers involved in handling that. If there was a knife crime initiative in Liverpool, for instance, I would make a request to the press office to say: is it possible for me to speak to the officers involved? And it would probably be arranged in advance, so I would get the specialist knowledge and then directly from the officers. That would be preferable.

  • Do you have difficulty getting that sort of access?

  • No, I haven't. I really haven't. We've done a number of investigations in certain areas and I've found most press officers will listen to you. It sometimes may be that the senior officer is reluctant to, but I've found it very, very rare. In fact, as I'm sitting here, I can't think of an occasion when it's been denied.

  • I do want to explore further your relations with other police forces in contrast with your relationship with the Metropolitan Police. Before I do, I'd like to touch just briefly on hospitality.

  • The hospitality that you've received from the MPS has not extended beyond what might probably be termed refreshments?

  • So a cup of tea and a biscuit?

  • No champagne. That's been provided at organised press briefings, you say?

  • Yeah, routine refreshments.

  • You have never provided hospitality to the MPS?

  • Have you ever considered arranging a lunchtime meeting, travelling down to London, meeting up with a senior officer or an individual officer?

  • I can say I haven't, but if the situation arose -- Lord Justice Leveson's just mentioned -- where I needed to contact an officer specifically, then I would suggest: "How you would you like to meet? What sort of environment would you like to meet in?" But that situation hasn't arisen with the Metropolitan Police.

  • I see. So moving forwards to your relations with forces other than the MPS, you state that during the course of your career you've had some contact with most police forces?

  • And you continue to deal with many police forces?

  • Logically, the forces you have contact with will depend on what crimes are happening where?

  • Where, geographical, yeah.

  • At paragraph 16, our page 60640, you say:

    "Personal contact with chief constables, ACCs and DCCs is usually restricted to organised police press conferences on major news stories or arranged Christmas 'meet the chief' media events at which they usually ask for feedback on the current state of police/press relations."

  • You use the word "usually", which suggests that's not always the case. Are there exceptions in the regional force to this set-up?

  • Only that I've been to one where I didn't actually meet the chief.

  • I ended up having an orange juice with a colleague of mine and never got to speak to him, so it was a complete non-event.

  • Are there examples of where personal contact is more extensive, or allowed to be?

  • Not really. It really is a "meet the chief" event. If you get to speak to the Chief Constable, he will ask you maybe a question about the press office, whether there's anything that could be provided for us or does it meet our requirements, something general like that, but I've never noticed anything political. That's never come across -- never come across that scenario anywhere.

  • So do no police forces other than the MPS offer the facility for crime reporters like yourself to meet one to one with the senior officers, whether it's over lunch or over a coffee?

  • I'll be honest with you: I wouldn't be particularly interested -- it sounds awful -- in meeting an officer of the rank of chief constable unless I was doing a specific story, like a knife crime initiative. I would be more interested in meeting detectives and people who have the hands-on involvement in individual crimes that I'm looking at at that moment.

  • So are you unable to assist with my questions to the extent to which police forces offer that facility. You've not been interested in it so it might be that it's been offered but it's not come to your attention?

  • I would imagine every police force offers that facility. I would expect to quite openly ask for it and -- as to whether they would grant it to me, I don't know, but I'm aware other reporters have taken advantage of that.

  • I see. Can you help us with the nature and the frequency of the contact that you have with individual police officers, detectives in forces other than the MPS?

  • It depends on the crime. I move geographical wherever the event is and when I get there, I will obviously try to seek contact with the officers involved. I have one or two long-serving contacts with people that have worked on several investigation that I've ended up reporting on, some of whom have retired, and -- but really, I cover a large patch, if you like, to put it geographically, so I have to focus specifically on the job in question.

  • So it will relate to that job and it will be over a relatively short period of time, but I'll obviously try and contact the officer in charge of the investigation.

  • So your contact is more reactive to events?

  • As opposed to maintaining ongoing relations with certain informal contacts in the hope that they will let you know, perhaps tip you off about matters -- not so much tipping off, there's pejorative connotations to that, but in the hope that if you build up a relationship of trust, they may confide in you when there's an operation --

  • Or a problem or whatever, yes. That's really what I'm talking about with mutual trust. But as I say, in terms of continued contact, no, it wouldn't be a series of lunches and drinks and things, no. It would be specific to the inquiry that I was working on at the time. It happens in major forces that those officers come around because they deal with more crime.

  • When you meet with individual officers to speak about the crime that's interesting to you at that time, does conversation stray beyond that crime?

  • Does it stray into gossip or --

  • Nothing to do with police work, in my experience. Football, life. Yeah, I mean because the Daily Star is the newspaper it is, it's targeted towards -- I think they're pretty much aware that we are interested in crime. It's high on our initiative, but it's the crime itself and the investigations surrounding it, so again, if they started to talk about politics, I'll be honest with you, I probably wouldn't be interested. It's not the sort of thing that's my brief.

  • Have you ever received information that might be termed a leak, information that the officer was not authorised to share with you?

  • Very difficult to describe what a leak is. I've received information from officers for guidance in terms of arrests and the nature of the arrest.

  • When I say "leak", what I'm intending to describe is information that that officer, either by force policy or force orders, is prohibited from sharing with you.

  • I would be surprised, though it's possible.

  • It's possible that you have been, but to your knowledge you haven't?

  • It's possible, but to my knowledge I haven't. I can't think of a specific case.

  • If you did receive such information, would you take particular steps to corroborate it?

  • Oh yes, and it would depend on the circumstances it was given. The only circumstance I could imagine a leak would be given really would be for some kind of background information or guidance. That is the only certain area.

    I mean, the area I'm being specific about is if you have a high-profile case where maybe you have a series of arrests but certain elements of those arrests are not directly related to the major crime. Then I have received guidance that the arrests are not related to the actual major crime and are side issues.

  • That doesn't sound so much like a leak as more akin to an off-the-record briefing that the Inquiry has heard about, to give you guidance to ensure accurate reporting?

  • Absolutely. There you are. If you're talking about "have I been tipped off about celebrity arrests", no.

  • In your presence, has a police officer ever put pressure on a crime reporter to bury or ignore information?

  • Not that I'm aware of, no.

  • And you're not aware of anyone else having that experience?

  • At paragraph 49, page 60648, you state that after many years as a crime reporter, you count among your friends a number of policemen, solicitors, barristers and other senior members of the legal profession?

  • Have these grown from the informal contact that you have referred to at all or have these friendships flourished in other ways?

  • A couple have. I play golf sometimes with a police officer. I've never done a job with him. I do -- a former police officer is a very good friend of mine, now retired. A couple have, but it does complicate a friendship, the nature of the job. I find it surprisingly a hindrance rather than an advantage.

  • Well, the terrifying prospect, of course, for your friends is that what they say to you may end up in the newspaper, and you persuading them that actually you're not there waiting to write down anyway they say is presumably the issue that you have to face.

  • Not really, not with my friends, because they know I wouldn't do that. That's why they're my friends.

  • It is the point. I find it also is a hindrance, or could be a hindrance, because if anything, you become more protective towards your friends rather than less protective. So if I was to overhear stray gossip, I would rather probably not have heard it, and if there was a leak and somebody was involved in something, I would hate to be even considered as the possible source of it, whether it was me or not. So I actually think it's a shame, because police officers and journalists traditionally have common -- work in a common field, and so sometimes it does create a hindrance to long-term friendship.

  • So what you have to organise is your lives in such a way that information is available openly, transparently and doesn't require off-the-record or private briefings, so there's no question of anything inappropriate ending up in your newspaper?

  • I agree, except for, as I described in my statement, the off-the-record briefings that are away from TV cameras, which I don't know if we're going to talk about. I do genuinely, genuinely believe that that needs to be looked at. The advent of 24-hour TV, live TV briefings, it has robbed reporters of the facility -- totally appropriately and openly -- to have an open communication with officers. When we get a vast amount of information coming to us on a major crime that will the public are interested in, it's vital we have an open line of communication we can go to to talk to somebody, to say, "Look, we've been told this. If we run it, is it true? Is it going to cause you a problem in terms of your inquiries and your investigation?" And at the moment, one of the fears I have, having heard my colleagues as well today, is that these lines of communication are being shut down all over the place. That is a real concern.

    If the aim of this Inquiry, as I understand it is, is to improve accuracy and standards, I fear at the moment it's having completely the opposite effect.

  • I'm not so sure about that. I can understand that at the moment there is concern on the part of police officers that they should not be seen to be providing off the record or unofficial briefings, and it will have to be -- I think I've used the word "recalibration" of where that relationship is. But the responsibility of ensuring they publish accurate information remains with the journalist, doesn't it?

  • Of course it does, of course it does, but we -- the whole point about it is we do need to be able to check that information, and we are -- that information is out there. You're not just dealing with newspapers; you're dealing with the Internet, as I'm sure you are aware, and that information will go out there and it can be very damaging. It can be inaccurate. I've done stories where we have actually righted wrongs on the Internet.

  • That have got out of control.

  • That's fair enough, but it will get out there if people talk, and if the philosophy should be rather more openness and rather more transparency, subject always to the interests of justice, and the absolutely priority not to prejudice an ongoing investigation, then there is less room for inaccurate material to enter the public domain, whether it be digitally or in print.

  • Absolutely right, but at the moment you're describing something that isn't there, because that information source that you're talking about, which I completely agree with you, that isn't happening. So if you can achieve that, an open and -- more information, then yes, absolutely. But at the moment we don't have that. We're just finding doors being closed.

  • If I may return briefly to your friendships with police officers.

  • I would like to ask you about your reaction to the following, and that's the sense that, human nature as it is, when a friendship is formed, it can affect the independence of the parties to that friendship. So the journalist may be less inclined to scrutinise or report unfavourably on that police officer or perhaps the division in which that police officer works, and in turn the police officer may feel less inclined to secure the investigation of apparently unlawful conduct on the part of the journalist. What do you say to that, being a journalist who has friends who are police officers?

  • I think it's a risk. I think it's a difficulty and I think you need to be aware of it, and hence why I think I mentioned that point earlier. I think it is a risk.

  • What do you do yourself to --

  • I basically take work out the equation. It's as simple as that.

  • So that person ceases to be your contact?

  • Absolutely, yes, yes. I draw the distinction, yeah, absolutely. I think it's important for all of you, otherwise it's not a friendship; it's a work relationship, and possibly an inappropriate one.

  • So there's a line, is there, that one reaches?

  • I'm talking purely for me, but yes, there is a line, yeah. I think everybody should have that line.

  • Hospitality again, just to touch on that, with forces other than the MPS. In terms of hospitality you've provided, you've bought the odd pint or cup of coffee, depending on the location of the meeting?

  • In terms of hospitality that you've received, that's been minimal also, has it, in terms of --

  • It would simply be refreshments?

  • Yeah. I mean, if I met a police officer and we were going to have a sandwich at lunch, all the officers I've ever known have paid their own way and been quite deliberate in doing so. So I don't know if that's a culture that varies between forces, but that it is my direct experience.

  • Across the board?

  • Outside the Metropolitan area?

  • Yeah, pretty much. Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire, Northumbria, Merseyside, yeah.

  • Your experience has been more: "You bought the last one; I'll buy this one"?

  • Sometimes not even that. If you came to a sandwich, then they would just not expect you -- the officers I've dealt with, even the thought of making some improprieties offered to them, it just -- you'd be blowing a contact and risking an arrest, and I can say that completely firmly.

  • Are any financial limits imposed on you? I know you're saying that you don't tend to buy meals, but --

  • Well, obviously there are other people that we entertain other than police officers. I do other stories too. The Daily Star has a small staff, as I think you heard from our editor, and so I have to do stories outside the remit of crime, so I deal with a lot of people from all kinds of walks of life. But yes, we do. We have the same entertainment restrictions that I think Mr Murray described to you, which I think is a £40 allowance or whatever, and they're scrutinised intensely.

  • You say they're scrutinised intensely. Does that mean that part of the scrutiny process would be to ask you who the --

  • Always. I have to name all the people I entertain.

  • Even if they might be a source much information who you would protect generally?

  • On our form, I could put, "Source: known to news desk", or something like that, meaning that if it was required, I would be willing to give that information, but the risk would be -- for me, as an individual, is I may not have that money reimbursed if I was just -- and everything must be receipted.

  • I've been asked to ask you to expand on what editorial oversight or control there is over communications between you and the police.

  • Can you help with that?

  • Well, as a crime reporter -- basically I work the same way that I worked when I worked for my local paper 20 years ago. As a crime reporter, you are expected to have relationships with the police. I've never been told how to have relationships with the police, but any -- the simple rule for me would be that any significant information, from any police officer or police press officer that I dealt with that affected a story currently, presently or in the past, I would immediately pass on to my news editor or the news editor of the day, however that may be.

    In terms of entertaining, as I say, it doesn't really apply to police officers. In terms of a lunch, there would be no direct control of who bought the lunch, I would not be asked that, but as I say, it would show up when I submitted my expenses, precisely -- a running guide as to what your movements are. It's a time-dated guide to how you operate, basically, and if there are any queries, that is checked by numerous people, from the News editor higher up the editorial -- it's rigorously checked.

  • Are there queries? Have you ever been asked to account for your meetings or the lunches that you've had?

  • I can't think of one. It's possible, but it's a long time ago and I can't remember.

  • I don't need to ask you about the details of it.

  • I honestly can't remember one. It is possible, but I can't recall it.

  • If I can move on then to your question of training, which you cover at paragraph 33 of your statement, page 60644, you describe an injunction course?

  • That you say you were put through.

  • I have been asked to ask you to expand on this. What did that entail in practice, insofar as you can remember? It was in --

  • It was a long time ago. I still have the form, believe it or not, which is why I could mention it. I was given a company booklet and I was given a form, which is basically a ticked guide, and it involved all aspects of the job, from the routine things such as: "Do you know where the canteen is? Has expense claiming been gone through with you?" So things like: "Have you been issued with the ..." I think it might have been the Press Council then. I honestly can't remember, but that was included, and you would have a briefing with your news editor, who would take you through these processes and afterwards he would sign it, you would tick it, he would tick it and that would then remain with -- I would keep a copy and I think personnel keep a copy, human resources.

  • Is this kind of induction course a continuing thing?

  • I believe not. I don't know, but I've spoken to a couple of colleagues who haven't had that, so I honestly don't know. I mean, we've obviously gone through a series of changes of ownership. I'm not certain whether it's still in existence, but I believe not.

  • Have you had any updated assistance or training or discussion since 1994?

  • Yes. Continually. Every day. Absolutely every day. Every story.

  • Oh yes, there you're picking it up on every story, but what I'm asking is whether there is any formal continuing training from your employers, as, for example, to bring you up to date in relation to the Bribery Act or what's happening in privacy litigation.

  • Yeah, we get every ruling -- every update of law comes to us directly on our emails, which I access from a BlackBerry, also my laptop, also my PC.

    Also, although we're not in the PCC, we still abide by all the guidelines of the Editors' Code of Conduct, and we get PCC updates -- obviously probably not now, but we were getting PCC updates and immediately that there's any ruling that may affect anybody or any story, that is logged in our own personal email accounts and that's whether you've worked on the story or not. So it might be something to do with Haringey council and you wouldn't be -- you would get a copy of it and then each copy says that the full adjudication is available in the legal department.

    So I would have two or three a day from the legal department. Also applies to injunctions and things like that, and notification of injunctions. It's actually been made easier by modern technology, because obviously now it's very simple just to pop that into your email account.

  • Can I take you forwards to deal with police/media operations.

  • At paragraph 17 of your statement, page 60640, you identify West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester as forces which are excellent at media relations and should be the model for all forces.

  • Your view is that they strike the perfect balance between on the record briefings and off the record guidance. How do they do this?

  • Well, Greater Manchester police -- I mean, I can give an example of this without -- I'll take the details out of it because I'm not sure of the state of the investigation, but last week I received -- there was a major crime in Greater Manchester and I received an email from Greater Manchester police press office that gave the details of the crime. It gave an agreed statement from the victim's family, two members of it. It had an attachment of a photograph that the family were happy to be issued and it also had an attachment of CCTV footage of the incident that the officer in the case had agreed to release.

    Now, in the old days we would have to go around to the family, knock on the door, ask if they wanted to speak, maybe individually, maybe, unfortunately, en masse, depending on the number of news organisations involved and the size of the story, and then we'd have to put in a request for a media briefing. Then we'd have to see if we could get the CCTV footage. That would have to go through a formal process to the investigating officer, who'd have to agree with various people.

    That, for me, is first rate police/press relations. I think that must help everybody all round, including the victims' families, because it has a massive impact, I think. We have information that we know is accurate, trustworthy, is not going to cause an offence to anybody or a problem to people who are already in a difficult situation, and that's really why I would highlight them.

    They're not alone. Other forces are doing this now, largely through the advent of email, which is making things better, but they're very proactive in terms of investigations. I put Greater Manchester police as exceptional.

    The other thing is if you have any further queries, you can go to the press office. They understand. They'll go to the senior officer. They'll maybe set up a meeting if you require it. They'll hold formal press conferences, and I just think that -- very impressive and very helpful to me and it must be helpful to the victims, which I know is of extreme importance here.

  • Are there any other aspects of those media operations which other forces should emulate or have you outlined --

  • I think the embracing of technology, really, and just the fact that they can -- you've been asked to build up trust, that they can release these things and -- I mean, Northumbria police, in the inquest into the crimes of Derrick Bird --

  • Yes. Sorry, Cumbria. That was a very high-tech inquest, fabulous -- a bit like here, really, where all the facilities were laid out, everything was high-tech.

  • So it was the organisation of the inquest as opposed to the way in which they related to the media?

  • Well, what they did was each day of the inquest -- a lot of the problems we have are: can you release certain aspects of an inquiry? Can you release these pictures? Can you release that CCTV footage? All those arguments and discussions had been had prior to the inquest, so each day as the inquest unfolded, a new package, if you like, would be released. It would already have been pre-agreed, already released. All the victims' families had been informed. That would all be released at the end of the day and you knew exactly where you stood, you knew exactly what you were doing, and it doesn't half make the job a lot easier.

  • So it sped everything up?

  • Absolutely, yeah, and Northumbria police were exceptional, in my opinion, in handling the Raoul Moat, which was a very, very difficult incident.

  • I wanted to ask you about that. What was it in particular that was impressive?

  • The real thing that impressed me was they were always available with information and it was an ongoing -- it began to become an extremely dangerous situation, real life situation, and they always had time to talk to you, they always had time to guide you, which was critical.

    There's one example that I have given here, where there was a specific threat made by the gunman. They retrieved some tapes that he left at a previous hideout and it was a threat to execute members of the public whenever he read or heard something about his family that he didn't like. The police had obviously agonised over what to do about this and we had a media briefing that day in front of the cameras that appeared live on TV. Then we were asked to sign a disclaimer and go into another room, and there was a police lawyer there and members of the team, and basically everybody was asked to impose a media blackout.

    I may be wrong, but I don't think they had any legal grounds to actually do that, but they took a chance on trust because the situation was so serious that they could trust the media. They told us what the threat was, they told us the details of it, they told us the serious nature of it. I walked out that briefing and rang my news desk and we pulled a double-page spread instantly. Other newspapers were the same. Coverage changed. As a result, no one -- not one organisation, radio, TV, news, regional -- breached that embargo. There was thankfully no more bloodshed, and at the end, of course, after he'd been surrounded and ended his own life, we were able to report the true nature of the threats he'd made, but it wasn't reported until afterwards, by anybody. And I just thought that shows the level of mutual trust that can exist and the mutual co-operation between all aspects of the media and the police.

  • There are media operations in respect of which you're less complimentary. Paragraph 18 of your statement:

    "The only occasions upon which I have found forces unwilling to engage on what I consider a satisfactory level were Leicestershire police while handling the UK end of the Madeleine McCann case and Avon and Somerset during the Jo Yeates murder inquiry. Unusually, both forces refused to give any guidance on any of the multiple lines of enquiry that came into most newspapers during those ongoing investigations."

    If I take the Jo Yeates murder investigation first. You want to make clear, I understand, that at the time of Mr Jefferies' arrest you were on leave?

  • Yes, I think unfortunately that's a -- you've found out -- I think it was at new year and I was on annual leave at the time, so I didn't actually write the Chris Jefferies coverage at the start. I got involved in the investigation from the point of his release to the point around the time Vincent Tabak was arrested, so my evidence is based on that caveat, basically.

  • Your comment at paragraph 18, are you referring to that period of the investigation?

  • Yes. I'm referring to -- I have to say it's hearsay evidence because it's come from colleagues, but it's not -- it's slightly better than that, in the sense that I was obviously then involved in the ongoing investigations relating to Mr Tabak and I found the circumstances identical to the ones described by my colleagues that were in place when Mr Jefferies was arrested.

  • Because what I want to ask you -- you say that the forces were not giving guidance on multiple lines of enquiry. That suggests that the police force concerned wasn't confirming information that you were putting to them?

  • Can you comment on whether Avon and Somerset were giving any off-the-record guidance at all?

  • Well, I have been told that they weren't giving any off-the-record guidance.

  • Who have you been told by?

  • Most journalists on other newspapers at that time, most national newspapers at the time. I am aware of the evidence given by Mr Wallis to the Inquiry. It is possible the Mirror did have information, but I'm not aware of any other newspaper being given that information. As I say, I must stress I wasn't there for that period, so I make that comment within that caveat.

  • I think it's better if you just talk about what your personal experience was.

  • My personal experience from the moment I arrived was that no, there was absolutely zero guidance from the police about any of the enquiries that came to us.

  • Can you help -- I am, of course, not asking you to name any sources -- with how your newspaper knew that Mr Jefferies specifically had been arrested if no off-the-record briefings were being --

  • I understand the information was relayed to us via a news agency and I understand that the source of it -- well, it certainly wasn't the police.

  • It wasn't the police?

  • It was absolutely not the police.

  • Paragraph 55 of your statement. You have a further comment about the Jo Yeates investigation. You say:

    "Had Avon and Somerset police chosen to give discrete off-the-record guidance regarding Mr Jefferies' background and the nature of his arrest, it is possible he may have been spared the other deal he described to the Inquiry."

    Can you explain what you mean by this, because if Avon and Somerset aren't giving any guidance, then the source of the information is for the journalists to decide what to print and what not to print, isn't it?

  • Yes, that's right. I mean, basically with the benefit of hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, it now seems that Mr Jefferies' arrest was based, at best, on minor inconsistencies and something he may or may not have said. In other cases that I've worked with where people have been arrested and I've had a relationship with officers or with press officers, I would have expected to have been given some guidance as to the forthcoming charges. I think Mr Murray touched on this evidence. There's usually set phrases that are given and I would have expected that to have happened here. It didn't happen because of Avon and Somerset's --

  • But isn't the answer that you just shouldn't be going there? Proceedings are active. To start doing these background pieces, whether it's to write against him or to write in his favour -- I mean, you're trying to bounce the investigation along in a way that may be utterly prejudicial.

  • I agree. I think the realistic position that I -- that seems to exist at the moment -- I mean, I heard what you said to Mr Murray, and obviously you're right, absolutely. The moment somebody is arrested, the case is active.

  • I'm pleased you agree with my interpretation of the Contempt of Court Act.

  • Exceptional. What I would say is that what seems to have happened in reality is that there is a perception that until -- the ground has shifted, and that until somebody is now actually charged, there is a perception that you can still run stuff, although it would not have any direct evidence and it wouldn't have anything that would possibly be detrimental to the individual.

    Now, I know in the Chris Jefferies case that didn't happen.

  • What you're saying is that it may be that the decision of the Divisional Court in that case in relation to two newspapers has identified that the high watermark has been reached and it's gone too far and therefore needs rowing back?

  • I may be wrong, I may be wrong, but I think you've heard a subeditor say to this Inquiry it was a sea change in the industry.

  • You're absolutely right. Somebody said just that. I can't remember who it was.

  • I remember hearing that and thinking: absolutely. I think absolutely. It was a new Attorney General -- he's not now, but at that point relatively new, and he took the decision to prosecute the two newspapers, the Sun and the Mirror, on a case that wasn't even going to court. So it was a contempt of a non-court. But I think it did -- it had a real, real impact.

  • Let me tell you what concerns me about that, if you don't mind, Mr Lawton, and that's this: you can go in the past and have heard people say, "Well, that's had a real impact on how we should do things", whether it's to do with the death of Princess Diana or to do with the McCanns or any one of these really explosive stories, and everybody said, "Oh, that will make a big difference, that's really changed things", until the next big story.

  • Yes, and I'm sure in the past that's happened. I just -- that's not the impression I have here. I was very impressed -- when the -- I forget -- I'm sorry to not be able to name the person who has said this to you, but I remember watching it and actually reacting and thinking: yeah, that is exactly what has happened. It's had a -- we've had people arrested since, and I think you'll find -- you've probably been monitoring, I would imagine, that the behaviour has been slightly different.

  • I don't think it's just because the Inquiry is under way.

  • And the fact that I am watching what's going on is being used as evidence of chilling what journalists should be doing. You've just heard that expressed today.

  • Absolutely, yeah. I might not agree with all of it, but what I am saying is that, yeah, I think -- I actually think -- I mean, I heard you say to Mr Jay on Thursday: "Don't get me started", and don't get me started, but actually, I am one of these people who think there are many rules and restrictions in place governing how we write stories across the board right now and there's a law in place for phone hacking. If the laws were employed, people would listen and those standards would come into line, and I think the Attorney General has acted and I think people have listened, and I think if people do act, many of the restrictions that are currently in place within the statute book -- I think you would find a sea change.

  • But it's not good enough to say, well, the criminal law can be enforced, because it's a legitimate argument, which has been deployed here and in the press as well, that there are many more important crimes to investigate than these, and therefore scarce resources shouldn't be used to look at historic criminal -- even criminal behaviour, if it's not of a real gravity.

    The risk you run there, therefore, is that everybody defaults to a position that standards slip and conduct which is, in fact, criminal, which may or may not have been thought of really as criminal, becomes recognised and acceptable and because it's not at the highest level of criminality, never gets addressed.

  • Absolutely, but scarce resources are not just restricted to the public purse. Scarce resources are prevalent in the media world as well and when -- the threats of fines and High Court actions, et cetera, they have a real impact on the way newspapers operate.

  • I'm going to ask you a grossly unfair question.

  • But it's actually generated because of your last answer.

  • Of course, you're not involved in the PCC because Northern & Shell aren't, but do you think that being required to publish an adverse ruling of the PCC had that effect?

  • It was taken more seriously at our newspaper -- I can only speak about our newspaper -- than I think is the general opinion within the confines of this Inquiry.

  • Every news editor who has given evidence in this Inquiry has said, "Oh, it was a terrible badge of shame to get an adverse adjudication."

  • But I haven't finished my answer.

  • Please finish your answer.

  • I would suggest that it was a thing that we do not like. It wasn't anything that anybody wanted. Newspapers aren't there to upset people. They're actually there to listen to the readers and act for the readers. I mean, Jim described this earlier on, and that is absolutely right. So we don't want disciplinary actions against us, and so the people have stood up here and said that, I would actually agree with them.

    But as you say, I would suggest it's for you to judge, really, passing the buck, as to whether that did have the desired effect or not. I'm just saying that, you know, we do not want any kind of disciplinary action about anything. Nobody does. And we do take incredible steps to try and avoid it, in all cases, on a daily basis.

    I feel like I've not really helped you a great deal, but that's all I can say. It's probably for you to judge. I take it you obviously don't feel that.

  • Well, I'm not expressing a conclusion.

  • Well, neither am I, then.

  • No, no, actually we're actually in different positions. You're giving evidence and I'm entitled to ask you the questions.

  • I don't have to express an opinion now, and I won't express a concluded opinion until I come to the end some time later on in the year.

  • So we're not quite in the same position.

  • And I get my moment now.

  • The answer, I would suggest, is, you know, probably not, in the sense of if it continues to happen, if something continues to happen, then the punishment is probably not achieving the deterrent effect. Is that --

  • I would just like to return to your comments at paragraph 18 about the police-media operations. We've dealt with the Jo Yeates murder inquiry. Why you are critical of Leicestershire police?

  • Saying I'm critical of Leicestershire police -- I just believe that accuracy is only achieved -- or there's a greater chance of achieving accuracy by dialogue. I can't understand how somebody refusing to have any dialogue with you can possibly improve accuracy, and you need to have trust for that, I appreciate that, but for me you do need an open line of communication.

    Leicestershire police in that case -- admittedly, it was a Portuguese police inquiry, it was a very unusual situation, but I just felt, particularly in one specific case, Leicestershire police could have given more guidance that may have changed the way the case was being reported at the contentious time, as we've heard earlier in the Inquiry.

    Did you want me to elaborate or are you happy?

  • Yeah. It was about -- I'm flying blind because I don't know fully what Leicestershire did or did not know, but they were the UK arm of the Portuguese investigation, and it relates to the forensic test results, which became the key aspect. Portuguese police leaked in briefings in Portugal to their journalists that the forensic test results positively showed that Madeleine had been in or linked her to the hire car that her parents didn't hire until three or four weeks after she'd disappeared, and that story became a -- created a sea change, without overusing that word, in the way the story has been looked at.

    Those forensic test results became a bone of contention between the UK and the Portuguese police. I was present when a Portuguese team of forensic experts and detectives arrived in Leicester to discuss these results. Of course, they'd already leaked a version of the results. Leicestershire police presumably knew -- although it turns out obviously that those test results did not prove that and that the Portuguese police had somehow misinterpreted these results. I just felt that had this been -- that Leicestershire police could have briefed, off the record, even unreportable, that the Portuguese police had misinterpreted those DNA results.

  • Are the Leicestershire police not in a particularly difficult position there? Is it for them to divulge the results of forensic tests carried out by police from other jurisdiction, whether on or off the record? Is it right for them to do that?

  • No, it isn't. It absolutely is not. The only issue is, taking it to another crime, in my experience, if a fact has emerged during the course of an ongoing investigation and that fact is actually incorrect but it's sneaked into the media and become more widely reported and then steamrolled as if to become fact, the police have clamped down on that immediately, largely for their own reasons, operational reasons. It's a huge hazard to a police inquiry to have an erroneous fact about an investigation out in the public domain. Because all of a sudden, when you're relying on public appeals, people are being swayed by something that is completely wrong.

    So looking at that many example -- and that's happened on several educations. I don't understand why Leicestershire police, on this occasion, didn't -- even if it was unreportable -- give the guidance that this is not right, this is not how we've interpreted those test results, the leak is wrong. The leak was very specific. I've been told by my colleagues in the Portuguese media that the leaks weren't a case of spurious gossip. Portuguese reporters were shown extracts of police files, hence the detail in some the leaks, which of course subsequently it's turned out to be in the police files.

    So it isn't a case of spurious gossip. That went out there. It was wrong, or it was misinterpreted, entirely innocently, presumably by the Portuguese police, trying their best to solve a difficult case. Leicestershire are in a difficult position, as you've described, because they're a force in a different country handling -- it isn't their jurisdiction, but when you realise, and you can see the steamrolling effect that that fact is having, particularly on the McCanns, Gerry and Kate, I just wondered why Leicestershire police chose not to correct. Even if it was completely unreportable -- it didn't even have to be reported. It could have just been a discreet guidance: "This is not as it is", and I think you would have noticed a distinct change in the coverage of the case.

  • You would have corrected that in your paper, would you?

  • We would have agreed -- we could have agreed a mechanism with the police whereby we would put the situation right, yes. We only wanted to know what happened with Madeleine, and so that would be something that -- we would want to be carrying accurate information. That's the whole point. So if we are carrying something that is misinterpreted, that's maybe leading people in the wrong way -- I just felt the police could have done something. I don't want to be overly critical, but I'm just looking at ways forward in future cases and how things could happen, and if you have that open dialogue, if you have that trust, that is the kind of way you can work to bring -- to remove erroneous material.

  • Do you have any idea why Leicestershire -- if it is a question of trust -- might not have felt they could trust the media?

  • I've no idea. I don't know why. Every time you rang Leicestershire police on that inquiry -- and it was a lot, from every media organisation -- you were told: "It's a Portuguese police inquiry. You'll have to contact the Portuguese police." And of course, they were fully aware that the Portuguese police had judicial secrecy laws and they wouldn't talk about the case. You've addressed all this elsewhere in the Inquiry. But I don't know.

  • Thank you. The last area I want to ask you about is the future, where we go from here.

  • You say in your statement that in the light of the HMIC's finding that there's no endemic corruption, and in the light of new strict bribery laws, you do not consider that there's any need for additional rules; they can only harm police/press relations. Do you maintain that view?

  • Well, I'm interested -- what I've heard today, that if we could have a -- if there was a sort of situation where police generally were allowed to be more open, then the whole rule book could be torn up and start all over again. I'm just looking at the climate that we're in and the fact that the doors are shutting everywhere, and it's already difficult getting accurate information.

    I mean, when we're running a major crime investigation, we're getting -- I get emails and calls from readers, from witnesses, from absolutely everybody you can imagine. Crime experts -- and I have to disseminate that information and try and work out where the inquiry is going, plus dealing obviously with the police. It's vital that I have a route to those police to be able to say, not for publication even: "Look, can I have some guidance on this? Is this right? Is this going to hamper your inquiries? Am I going to trample over them?"

    That does happen now and I've outlined the good forces who, in my opinion -- and it is only my opinion -- who do seem to have a feel for that. I'm just concerned that if you bring in even more rules, if it's not endemic -- there is the old sledgehammer and nut scenario, and that concerns me.

  • If the context is that police officers are positively encouraged to speak more openly with the media within the bounds of the law and guidelines, do you see a difficulty with police officers making a note of their contact with journalists? Not necessarily setting out what information has been divulged, but at least keeping a record of who they've met and when?

  • I can see it -- selfishly, I can see it as just another excuse for somebody not to talk to us. I can also see a danger that hasn't been mentioned, if it's just a recording of the number of meetings, in that -- I mean, it only takes one meeting to leak, whistle-blow, provide information. If that information is then leaked and there's an inquiry, the guy who's met with police once and released all the information is unlikely to have the finger pointed at him, when there may be a guy who has met with the press 30 times that month, entirely appropriately, but he looks exposed because of the sheer volume of information, he's having so many regular contact meetings with the press, entirely innocently.

  • I think that's a rather unsophisticated view. I think people will probably be able to work out that numbers don't necessarily add up.

  • It depends on the system.

  • But the issue is rather more subtle, isn't it? It is: by all means open and transparent meetings, but each time you meet, you ought to be able, in your own mind, to say, "This is entirely sensible and entirely worthwhile", so that you can justify what you're doing and you know that somebody could see -- I'm not saying they would -- that this seems to be sensible; this, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be sensible.

    I appreciate that it only takes one leak, and of course, that might be the one meeting that nobody notes. Of course, if then an officer was caught not having noted, then that might itself create a concern, and legitimately, because why not? If you're encouraging openness and transparency, why not say, "Well, I've met Mr Lawton on this date, a meeting to discuss knife crime or this particular instance", full stop. That's all I'm talking about. What's the problem with that? I'm not necessarily saying I'm committed to it; I'm asking what the problem is with it.

  • Well, I could just see -- the way you describe it: absolutely nothing. I just see practically that bearing in mind -- I've only become aware of the true -- some of the true politics that are at work in various forces through this Inquiry, and it concerns me that that could be exploited in some way.

    I'm also -- I just -- we're getting to a stage with almost too many rules. I mean, if we're talking about senior police officers and I go to meet a senior police officer now, and I say to him anything of consequence, really, or he says something to me of consequence, I would expect that senior police officer to note it now. Whether that happens or not, I don't know, but I would fully expect him, if he's released something to me in an informal briefing, to make a note of that, should it become relevant in any subsequent incident. Should I foolishly go and report something relating to it when it's not been --

  • If you would expect him to note it now, then what I'm just discussing with you is no different.

  • I suppose not, no. I suppose -- my concern is that certain officers -- I mean, if this was across the board -- it's just working within different forces. There's clearly different politics at work in different forces, and I would just be concerned that some people would use it as an excuse not to meet, when there's already loads of excuses been used not to meet and doors shut everywhere we go, and I just find -- maybe it's just my nervousness at the moment to think of more rules that are going to stop more people meeting us when my aim really is getting at accurate information. That's my sole reason to be, and the thing you're describing I don't -- at the moment in my head -- I may go away and think about it and think differently, but I can't see how that is going to help. I just see it as another potential obstacle.

    As far as I'm concerned, of course, I mean, if I meet a police officer, I talk immediately to my news desk, so effectively I am reporting, from my point of view.

  • Yes. The problem from the reporter's point of view is not a problem. You're entitled to go to whoever so ever you want for information.

  • The problem is to make sure that it isn't just a free-for-all in relation to what the police are communicating to reporters. You're entitled, from the reporters to the police, to want a free-for-all.

  • I'm merely suggesting that there ought to be openness, there ought to be transparency, there ought to be a willingness to engage in a dialogue in order the better to promote criminal justice issues and a willingness on the part of the public to engage in the criminal justice system, but that carries with it a responsibility, and therefore officers doing that, as they should, ought to be conscious of that responsibility and be prepared to account to their senior officers as to how they discharged that responsibility. That's the long and the short of it.

  • Can I ask you a question on that?

  • You can ask. I won't necessary answer.

  • Is that from a public perception point of view that you're addressing this or is it from a real point of view, if you know what I mean, ie to stop bad practice or bad cops?

  • It's actually a bit of both. It's to stop inappropriate communication. It's to stop the need for utterly unauthorised and potentially damaging leaks, and it's also to avoid the perception of a relationship which is potentially damaging to the public interest.

  • Well, all I would comment on that would be that if you have a bad cop, is making a note going to stop him?

  • Well, that's as may be. Maybe yes, maybe no. If you have a bad cop, then I would want him or her to be caught.

  • And therefore if the bad cop doesn't make a note, that's prima facie evidence, isn't it?

  • If you find out what went on.

  • But if you don't find out -- if you don't require anything, then you'll never find anything out, because you'll never reveal your source, and I understand the reasons for that.

  • Mr Lawton, is there anything you wish to add to any of the evidence you've given?

  • No, not really. I think that's fine.

  • Thank you. Those are my questions.

  • Thank you very much indeed, Mr Lawton.

  • Thank you. Tomorrow morning, 10 o'clock. Thank you very much.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)