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

  • MR STEWART JOHN GULL (sworn).

  • Your full name, please?

  • Thank you. You've kindly provided us with a statement dated and signed by you on 16 February of this year. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • Thank you. You are currently a detective superintendent, head of crime services for the States of Jersey Police, and have been in that capacity since July 2010. You joined the Police Service in 1981 and you worked your way up the ranks. You were, after 1998, a senior investigating officer; is that right?

  • That's correct, sir, yes.

  • And you were the senior investigating officer, or perhaps more precisely, in fact, the officer in overall command of Operation Sumac, which was in November and December of 2006; is that right?

  • That's correct, sir, yes.

  • What was your rank at that stage?

  • I was a detective chief superintendent and the head of crime management for the Suffolk Constabulary.

  • Thank you. You have experience of homicide investigations, and indeed quite recently in Jersey, the murder of six people on the same day, I believe, in August 2011?

  • Yes, there was, sir, August last year. Yes, I led that investigation and continue to do so, and that's a matter of first sub judice coming to trial in August of this year.

  • I'm very grateful to you for helping me with this Inquiry and for coming from Jersey to do so. I'm grateful.

  • You say in paragraph 2 of your statement, which is our page 05481, that as a senior investigating officer, particularly for complex, serious and major crime, you are inevitably in contact with the media. Is that part and parcel of your role as senior investigating officer, as you see it?

  • Absolutely, yes. As a senior investigating officer leading a major serious crime, you would set a number of strategies, for example, around witnesses, house-to-house, CCTV, suspects, and part and parcel of those strategies would be a media strategy, because your relationship and your work with the media was crucial and the relationship was important because the media, of course, would act as a conduit and a voice for you to make appeals, deliver prevention and reassurance messages.

  • Yes. So the purpose is really twofold, and it's probably self-evident: one, to obtain evidence, if you can, using the media as the means of obtaining it, and secondly, a message of reassurance from the police?

  • In relation to Operation Sumac, the investigation, you tell us, commenced at the end of 2006, following really a missing persons inquiry, but then it escalated after a second victim was found missing, and the first of the five victims was found murdered on 2 December 2006. So we understand or recall the timeframe, Steve Wright, who eventually received five life sentences for these crimes, was arrested on 21 December 2006; is that correct?

  • I think that was the day he was charged, sir. From recollection, he was arrested on Tuesday, 19 December 2006.

  • So the really frenetic period, if I can put it in those terms, is a three-week period in December, but obviously in October and November your concerns were, naturally enough, escalating?

  • That's correct, yes. That intense period was December 2006.

  • You've included in the papers a communication strategy, which is under our tab 18. It's 05486. This is the version which was updated on 17 December 2006, so presumably there were earlier versions in more or less the same form.

  • There were. It didn't change significantly, sir, but of course was a living document, and yes, this is the version from Sunday, 17 December 2006.

  • Thank you. We can see the three aims, which you've already covered in your evidence. Does this derive from a template or was it conceived of specifically for this operation?

  • No, it wasn't conceived from a template, but I guess it would be fair to say that most major crime inquiry media strategies would look pretty much something like this. This was a -- as you can see, a document running to four pages and because of the unprecedented nature of this inquiry, all five victims being found during the course of a ten-day period between 2 and 12 December, and because of the intense attention that the inquiry drew, this was perhaps more comprehensive than I would ordinarily expect, but the broad tenor is there as you described, sir.

  • Well, you have previous examples from high-profile murders, and obviously you take advantage of the experience of your predecessors as officers in charge of investigations?

  • Absolutely, sir. In fact, this investigation was subject to two formal debrief reports led by the National Police Improvement Agency. One was a strategic debrief and the other one was tactical, but actually our relationship with the media and the media strategy sort of features in both, and, as you infer, we were due -- the Police Service would use documents of this nature to help inform future investigations.

  • Owing to the nature of these crimes, as you explain in paragraph 7 of your statement, there was the unprecedented national and international interest descending on the Ipswich area in particular and Suffolk Constabulary as a whole. Were there any particular challenges for the force which this inquiry presented?

  • I think it would be fair to say, sir, that I, and, I guess, the force, found itself in a place that it never expected to be, a relatively safe part of the country, and certainly never having to face events of this nature previously. I'd had some limited experience of Operation Fincham. That was the Cambridgeshire inquiry from August 2002, I think it was, when Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were both abducted and murdered from Soham, and of course that particular investigation came under significant media attention. So I think when the third victim for this case was found on Sunday the 10th -- she hadn't been reported as missing, we weren't looking for her -- I knew what to expect the following day, Monday the 11th, and that's when we really came under the spotlight and intense media pressure, that particular week, and as we now know, the fourth and fifth victims were found on the 12th of December.

    So yeah, it was a pretty intense time, but it was very much a team effort. Whilst I was the sort of face of the investigation and had overall command, and the talking head, of course, there was a significant team that were supporting me.

  • You say in paragraph 7 -- this is on page 05482 -- that you stuck to tried and tested methods, although they required significant escalation in terms of resourcing. What did you mean by "tried and tested methods", Mr Gull?

  • Trying to keep the media informed and ultimately through the media the local document. As I've already indicated, Suffolk is a very safe country and understandably the fear of crime was significantly increased at this particular time, so I recognised the important role that the media could provide us and the through them, whilst it was difficult, in the face of adversity and facing the discovery of five young murder victims in close succession -- it was difficult to deliver reassurance and sort of further precision messages. Our best way of achieving that was through the media, and that was what we sought to achieve. It was about being organised. We held a regular press conference every day at 11 am, which would often, for me, last four or five hours. Main press conference, one-to-one questions from the floor, and then one-to-one media interviews. Again, supported by other colleagues, but there were other media commitments throughout the course of the day, and I think from the start of this investigation, as I've indicated, we recognised the important role that they played, so it was about being organised, professional, as open and honest as we could with the media, and I think on the whole we largely achieved that.

  • In terms of the pressure, though, on your time, you've said that sometimes the sessions lasted four hours, and then on top of that there were one-to-one media interviews. So a significant part of your working day, which I daresay over this period wasn't a 9-to-5 day -- it was probably a 12-hour plus day -- was devoted to the media. Do you think, looking back on it, that placed an unfair or excessive burden on your time?

  • That probably wasn't sustainable, certainly, incredibly long working days, but in many respects, as a senior investigating officer, certainly during the early stages of a major crime inquiry, that's what you would expect.

    Again, I reiterate the point: I was only able to do that because I had a significant team that were supporting me, and in fact there were individual senior investigating officers appointed for each of the five victims, and whilst I worked with them and set the strategy for their investigation, that provided me with the head room to deal with the media and the main interface with the local community but provided them with the head room to get on and investigate the crime and ultimately bring Steve Wright to justice.

  • The follow-on of that question might be this, Mr Gull: as the officer in charge of the investigation and in overall command of everything, you are one of the most valuable resources that the investigation has. Is the balance, in your judgment, right as to what you have to do for the media as opposed to what others can do? And if you're taken off from doing the strategic work on the direction of the inquiry, does that potentially impair the progress of the inquiry because of the no doubt extremely important media work that you were also having to do?

  • As I've indicated, sir, there was a significant team, as you can imagine, involved in this investigation. Dealing with the media can be extremely demanding, and it can be a real time-stealer, but it is necessary, and I think senior investigating officers recognise the importance of that relationship. But there is a balance to be struck. I had a deputy and he shared some of that responsibility with me. In terms of interface with the media, the chief constable and the assistant chief constable, who was the gold commander, also bore some of that responsibility. So it was very much a team effort.

    As I say, thankfully these were unprecedented events, and my level of commitment that I was able to afford with the media, whilst achieved through a significant support team, probably wouldn't have been sustainable beyond that sort of initial three-week period.

  • But this is always going to happen where there are unprecedented events, because it is the fact that the event is unprecedented that attracts the very, very large media attention. I'm sure Mr Jay is going to come on to deal with the question of the problems and the necessary intervention of the Attorney General, but as you deal with that -- and I'll leave Mr Jay to deal with it in his own time -- I am still concerned about the impact that having to deal with all that additional complication has upon the time and mental energy that you have to devote to what is your primary purpose, namely the detection of these murders.

  • Yes, sir, but of course the primary role and the detection of those murders will involve a media strategy, and using the media for appeals and securing information and hopefully turning that into evidence. But again, without wishing to repeat myself, it's about professional judgment, it's about balance. I think as long ago back as the inquiries that West Yorkshire led in the early 1980s and Sir Lawrence Byford's reports on our now Home Office major inquiry system, over the years the Police Service has learnt the lessons from inquiries of this nature and hopefully that's why we see the professional response to unprecedented major crime inquiries of this nature.

  • You discuss the role of the press office in paragraphs 13 and 14 of your statement, 05483. The media channelled all their requests through the press office. In other words, they didn't make any direct contact with you; is that correct?

  • That's correct, sir, yes.

  • But you say the media were, generally speaking, positive and content with those arrangements?

  • In paragraph 15, Mr Gull, you say there wasn't any off-the-record briefing. Is this owing to the nature of the investigation, that it wasn't the sort of case where off-the-record briefings could be appropriate, or was it for some other reason?

  • No, I think it was because despite the unprecedented events, we didn't try and deviate from plans and procedures that were tried and tested and we knew that worked. Clearly, they required some significant escalation in terms of capability and capacity, but we stuck to plans that we knew that were tried and tested and worked well. So there wasn't a requirement for off-the-record briefings. We were organised, the press knew what they could expect from us, and hopefully we were able to deliver that.

  • But paragraph 18 of your statement recognises that in certain circumstances off-the-record briefings might be appropriate, doesn't it?

  • And in terms of your experience, what are those circumstances?

  • I can say in 31 years' police service and as a senior investigating officer since 1998, I never felt the need to deal with so-called off-the-record briefings. That said, I understand the broad nature of the term and generally it's about guidance and direction and no more than that, but it's not intended as specific on-the-record comment or commentary.

  • At paragraphs 20 and 21, you deal with information being released to the media in one circumstance when it shouldn't. The breaching of the embargo in paragraph 21 is not relevant to this Inquiry in any way?

  • Can I ask you about paragraph 22, where you say you're aware of one occasion where one particular media outlet did secure quite sensitive audio-recorded information from one of only two suspects in respect of this investigation. Can we be clear about this? Apart from Steve Wright, there was another suspect who appeared in the Daily Mirror, didn't he?

  • Can I ask you what the information was that you were referring to and which media outlet are you referring to there as well?

  • As you've indicated, sir, there were only ever two suspects in this case. The first man was Tom Stephens and he was formally declared a suspect by the police on Friday, 15 December. I'm just trying to make sure I have the right date. Yes, it was Friday, 15 December 2006. The second suspect and the offender, as we now know him, Steve Wright, was actually identified and declared a suspect some two days later, on Sunday, 17 December 2006.

    To answer your specific point about this audio recording, it was actually a BBC journalist that recorded -- had an audio recording with Tom Stephens. I can't remember the exact date, but it was about that period. Tom Stephens was a man who put himself on offer with the media and was very engaging and would basically speak to whoever chose to engage with him, and this journalist had quite a long and detailed interview with him, which he audio recorded, and I think, recognising the significance of that audio recording, unbeknown the interest that the police had in Tom Stephens, she provided that audio recording to the police.

  • Thank you. So when she undertook her interview, did she know that Mr Stephens was of interest to the police or not?

  • She wouldn't have known that he'd been formally declared as a suspect, no.

  • We've heard evidence from Mr Harrison about the Daily Mirror interviewing Tom Stephens as well. Did they know that he was of interest to the police?

  • Again, they wouldn't have known that he'd been declared as a formal suspect on that Friday, 15 December.

  • Do you have any view about the utility or the propriety, even, of the media interviewing someone like Mr Stephens in these circumstances, if the hypothesis is that they don't know he's a suspect?

  • On that Saturday, knowing that we already had a plan in place to actually arrest Tom Stephens on Monday, 18 December, you can perhaps imagine my reaction. It wasn't -- I didn't think the media were being particularly helpful. There was little that I could do about it because I couldn't afford to show my hand, but it was the -- as we now understand, it was the Sunday Mirror and Tom Stephens was collected by journalists from that paper and, as I understand it, taken to a hotel just outside Ipswich, where they spent some time interviewing him. And then, of course, the following day there was a significant expose where -- or under the headline "Ripper Hunt, the suspect", with a big picture of Tom Stephens. Well, as we now know, Tom Stephens had nothing to do with these murders. Whilst he remained on police bail for some six months, until June of 2007, he was subsequently eliminated, but of course had he have been the offender, that would have been somewhat unhelpful.

  • There's a big argument about whether he was taken to a hotel or just to a car park. Are you in a position to answer that?

  • When I say there's a big argument, it's been raised here.

  • I'm not familiar with the details, sir. At the time I was informed he was taken to a hotel, but whether it was the car park or inside, I'm unable to clarify.

  • No, I just want to forestall a further correction application.

  • So we understand the position precisely, Mr Stephens was volunteering himself to the press; in other words, anybody who might listen to him. Is that fair?

  • What was the nature of his claims? Was he making claims that he had, as it were, used the services of some or all of these women?

  • Yes, he'd been with I think the majority of these women, and certainly knew them all, yes.

  • Okay. There's one other aspect of Mr Harrison's evidence, which we heard, I think, two weeks ago now, about the News of the World using its own surveillance team. Do you know anything about that?

  • I have no knowledge of a surveillance team being used by the News of the World, sir, no.

  • You explain in paragraph 25 of your statement that some of the media reporting was unhelpful, unjustified and unbalanced. Can I ask you to elaborate on that for us, please, Mr Gull?

  • I think, despite our best endeavours and keeping the media informed in a very timely fashion, in a very open style, I found some of the reporting headlines, particularly in the print media, what I'd describe as sensationalist. In fact, I have a montage of some of the headlines that appeared at about that time, and they include "Ripper is bondage beast", "Ripper Hunt: police analyse murder jigsaw", "Suffolk's Ripper Rampage: he kills them, stores them and dumps them in the dark; how many more has he killed?", "Suffolk Ripper Hunt: find the fat man with the BMW".

    I remember that particular headline very well, because at the height of these events, it was an unnecessary distraction and I had to spend some considerable time in correcting other members of the media that I wasn't interested in a fat man, as so described, or a blue BMW, but it was a particular -- an unhelpful distraction, and it took me some time to get the media back on my message, as it were. So I found some of those headlines particularly unhelpful within the context of trying to provide some reassurance to, understandably, a locally concerned community.

  • You say in your statement that both the chief constable and you recall and understand the Attorney General had to issue repeated warnings to the media about responsible reporting?

  • Is that correct?

  • Can you recall how many such warnings came from the Attorney General's office?

  • I can't recall the exact number. I believe it was one. It may have been two, sir.

  • It probably isn't necessary to identify the press titles who are responsible, but first of all, are we talking about the regional press or the national press?

  • It's the national media, sir.

  • And which sections, if any, or was it across the board?

  • Across the board, yes.

  • May I try it this way: are we talking about what used to be called, perhaps still is, the broadsheet press or not?

  • No, sir, no, we're not.

  • You say there was a challenge pre-trial by the defence team. So that we understand it clearly, they argued that there was an abuse of process, that Mr Wright's fair trial rights had been undermined by this reporting?

  • Yes, as I recall it, and in particular about whether these proceedings could be heard locally. Myself and the prosecution team felt that this should be a trial that's heard locally for a range of reasons, but the defence team felt that there had been prejudice because of the media reporting and tried to argue that the case should be heard further afield.

  • This is always one of the great problems of these very, very high-profile criminal investigations. It's a general principle that the trial of crimes should be heard where the crime takes place, but that can create problems. Your case was, in fact, tried in Ipswich, wasn't it?

  • But I personally tried a case where the jury were brought from a different part of the circuit to retain the trial in the area where the offence took place but to use jurors who were not influenced by local vast coverage, which required the device of the trial being nominally heard by a particular Crown Court but in another Crown Court.

  • I recall in this case, sir, both the prosecution and defence team worked together to choose jurors from postcodes outside the immediate Ipswich area, and I think that was the sort of the compromise that was struck in this place. Whether that was right or wrong, of course, is a subjective view, but thankfully -- we did have quite a strong view that this case should be heard locally and thankfully the trial judge agreed.

  • The only point I'm seeking to underline, actually to endorse, is the complication that is caused to the proper disposal of criminal trials by unjustified, excessive or unbalanced media reporting.

  • Yes, sir, that's correct.

  • Did you have occasion to complain to the PCC or any other body about the reporting, as you saw it?

  • No, sir. As I've indicated, we used my chief constable at the time and the Attorney General just to issue those warnings and that was as far as we went.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Gull. Those are the only questions I have for you.

  • Mr Gull, thank you very much indeed for coming.

  • I think we can move straight to Mr Wallis now.