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

  • MR STEPHEN JOHN COOGAN (affirmed).

  • Sit down, Mr Coogan. You've heard me say it before today and I'm going to say it to you, because it's not a general comment; it's a specific comment to everybody and refers to what they've had to say.

    I recognise that you are here voluntarily. I recognise that you feel strongly about some of the issues that you've mentioned in your statement and that inevitably there are issues about what you felt it appropriate to put in the public domain and that balance, but I do want to recognise that I am grateful to you. My thanks to you for being prepared to come forward to help me try and solve the difficult issues that have been placed before me.

    So this will inevitably expose rather more than you wish to expose for the very reasons that you identify, but I hope you do appreciate, first of all, its significance, and secondly, that it is not going without being noticed.

  • First of all, Mr Coogan, may I invite you to give us your full name?

  • I'm going to invite you now to turn up your witness statement, which I trust is in that file in front of you under tab 1. It is dated 9 November of this year and there is a statement of truth at the end of the statement. Are you with me?

  • And is that statement true?

  • We can place it up on our screen. It ends with the code number 2093, please. Just bear with us a moment while we find it.

  • Could I ask, while this is being found, when this will go on the website?

  • This evening, we believe.

  • I think I might want them to go rather more quickly than that, and I'd like consideration to be given to whether the statement can't go on the website as soon as a witness starts to speak.

  • Yes. Sir, may we consider that? There may or may not be logistical issues. It's obviously right in a public forum -- the witness has now confirmed his statement -- that it has now formally been received, but I'm not going to take it as read, Mr Coogan. It is up on the screen which I am looking at. You won't need it.

    First of all, I'm going to run through the statement and bring out certain matters in your own words. I'm going to start by reading out your introduction in paragraph 2. You say:

    "[You] learned years ago that aspects of my personal life, and for that matter my professional work, do not meet with the approval of some tabloid editors or proprietors but I do not believe that gives them the right to hack into my voicemail, intrude into my privacy or the privacy of people who know me, or print damaging lies."

    So that is your starting point. At the beginning of the next paragraph, you tell us quite succinctly that you are an actor, comedian and writer. Quite a lot of us know a bit more about that, but in your own words -- I'll give you a couple of minutes -- tell us more about your professional career, please.

  • Well, I've been working in television and film and in production for the best part of 20 years.

  • I set out -- started out doing stand-up comedy. Then I started acting and writing, and eventually producing other people's television shows.

  • And it's something I've always wanted to do. It's -- I'm a creative person. I enjoy creating programmes, I enjoy writing. It's what I do. It's my vocation. I love it, and it's why I do what I do, because I like to create.

  • I've recently branched out into, as I say, producing other people's television shows and sort of nurturing new comic talent, if you like, and it's really -- it's what defines me. It's what -- it's why I do what I do. I've never sought to be famous, as such. Fame is a by-product of what I do. Indeed, I don't appear on panel shows as myself, I don't sell myself as a personalty. I create characters, and I act and I write, but I -- myself personally, I like to keep myself private.

  • Yes. You go on to say that you never entered into a Faustian pact with the press. In your own words, what do you mean by that, please?

  • Well, one could argue that there are those who make their career from being famous and that those people do enter into a Faustian pact where they use the press to sort of -- to improve and raise their profile, they exploit the press for their own ends and it's a two-way street, and they are -- they exploit the press. They're in the fame game. Those people have entered into a Faustian pact.

    I haven't. I have never raised -- I've never set myself up as a paragon of virtue, as a model of morality. I simply do what I do and that's what I like to be judged on, my work.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 6, please, where you mention the first time you were the subject of intrusive tabloid story. You give the date January 1996 and the paper was the Daily Mirror, and it was a kiss-and-tell story. Do you know how much was paid to the person you mention?

  • I -- I can't remember. I think it was something between £5,000 and £10,000, but I can't remember the exact figure.

  • Right. You say that the journalist in question, who you name as Kate Thornton, also doorstepped the pregnant mother of your daughter several times. Where does that information come from?

  • Well, from the mother of my daughter.

  • Yes, okay, so that's what directly you were told. Does the same apply to the other members of your family and the friends which you go on to deal with towards the end of paragraph 6?

  • Yes. That's all sort of -- they themselves sort of told me directly that these things have happened.

  • Yes. And for about how long did this doorstepping activity last? Can you recall?

  • Well, it lasted -- on that particular occasion, it lasted for a month or so around the story and then they sort of -- they wring the story out. It peters out as they rehash it and dress it up in different ways. So probably the best part of a month, I would say.

  • Okay. Thank you.

    In paragraph 7, you tell us in relation to a separate incident, now two months later, in March 1996, a journalist telephoned your daughter's great grandmother, who was obviously an elderly lady at the time. She was pretending to do a survey, but admitted again that she was from the Daily Mirror. The source of your information in relation to paragraph 7 is --

  • Well, was my daughter's late great grandmother.

  • Who had a phone conversation with someone who was claiming to be from the council doing a survey and started to ask more and more questions pertinent to me and my ex-girlfriend, and at that point she sort of said, "Are you from the gutter press?" That was a direct quote, and the person said, "Look, yes, it is, it's a human interest story, this is the way we do things, just spill the beans", but started out, you know, claiming to be someone else.

  • So to be clear, the phone number, you tell us, was obtained by copying the sender's address from the back of a letter in the communal lobby of your flat?

  • Again, how do you know that?

  • I don't know it for certain.

  • It's a very, very well-educated guess because the envelope was in the hallway. Someone who lived in the block with us had seen people snooping around in the lobby who didn't live there and we found that -- and it stood to reason because that was -- the only person who was phoned was the grandmother, and it was her address on the back of the envelope, so it would stand to reason.

  • So you say that's a very reasonable inference?

  • Thank you for that. Paragraph 8 I'm going to deal with a little bit later, Mr Coogan. This is the Sunday Times profile in their magazine. If you don't mind, I'm going to move to paragraph 10, stalking and surveillance. You tell us that over the years journalists and photographers have frequently camped outside your house day and night. Are you able to give any dates on when these events occurred or is it just a general --

  • Well, I would say over a period of about ten years, it happened from time to time. Neighbours would tell me, "There's people outside with cameras again", you know, in cars. So it would happen frequently and sometimes I would be followed by those people in their cars.

  • Yes. You name one journalist -- he's been mentioned yesterday. Mr Paul McMullan, then of the News of the World. How do you know that he was one of them?

  • And when did he do that?

  • When I was on Newsnight with him in the green room before the programme started. He said, "I used to sit outside your house", which was very nice to know.

  • That's very precise evidence, Mr Coogan. Thank you very much. Then you say towards the end of paragraph 10 that some of these reporters have gone through the rubbish in your bins.

  • I think I called that "binnology" eight or so days ago. It may or may not be the right terminology, but again, how do you know that --

  • I saw them. I saw them from my bedroom window, and they didn't look like tramps. Well, not far off.

  • Late at night, presumably, was it?

  • Very early in the morning.

  • In paragraph 11, you deal quite generally with the phone hacking issue. I'm going to ask you a few more questions about that. Have you seen redacted copies of the Glenn Mulcaire notebook insofar as they relate to you?

  • Could you tell us, please, when you saw them?

  • Approximately when.

  • Approximately. A year ago, perhaps.

  • I was -- I got a court order for the police to disclose the books to me and I was able to look at the information.

  • Right. I'm going to take this bit quite carefully. Did you see what we're calling a redacted copy or did you see the full version?

  • I saw a redacted copy, which had information about money I'd withdrawn from a cash machine, how much I'd paid for a hotel bill, you know, what hotel I was staying in, but the precise amount of money I'd withdrawn from a cash machine, which would suggest someone was looking over my shoulder when I was doing it.

  • Also, there were telephone numbers that belonged -- telephone numbers -- there was a girl I was seeing at the time and her name was in there and there were telephone numbers which were partly redacted. I was able to show her those telephone numbers and she gave me the missing numbers, as it were, which I confirmed with officers from Operation Weeting.

  • I understand. Was there any other personal information there which you can share with us?

  • They had the password to my phone account. My account number was also there.

  • The final question I have, but it has to be a general question: was it possible to deduce from the redacted material you were shown when hacking into your phone might have occurred? Can you give us a year?

  • I can't remember if there was a date. I do know, I'd add -- I had a phonecall from my phone provider about five years ago, five, six years ago, 2005, saying that a journalist -- saying that someone had rung up pretending to be me on the phone to try and get information, and it was around the time that I was seeing the girl in question whose name was in Glenn Mulcaire's notebook, so the dates do tally.

  • Yes, it sounds as if they do. Thank you, Mr Coogan.

    In paragraph 12 -- this is the pubs in Brighton section of your statement, journalists coming in on fishing expeditions, obviously seeking stories about you. Again, how do you get to find out about that?

  • Friends of mine in Brighton would tell me that people had been going up to them in the pub asking questions on a number of occasions, saying, "Do you know Steve Coogan? Do you know anything about him?" This would happen frequently, and on one occasion one of my friends sort of pushed the guy and he said, "I'm from ..." where was he from? "I'm from the News of the World", and he said, "If you have a good story, there could be some money in it for you."

  • Thank you. Now, at paragraph 13 -- can we deal with this sequence of your evidence in some detail? The date is August 2002, and you receive a telephone call from Mr Rav Singh, who you say is a reporter with Andy Coulson's Bizarre column in the Sun. Not that it matters too much, but my understanding is that at that time both Mr Singh and Mr Coulson were working for the News of the World and not the Sun?

  • Oh, okay. That may be my mistake.

  • It doesn't matter, I'm just correcting you. But in your own words, what was the substance of the call, please, Mr Coogan?

  • Rav Singh, who I sort of counted as a casual friend, a friend of a friend, called me and told me that I was about to be the subject of a sting, as it were, in that I was about to receive a phonecall which would come from Andy Coulson's office. There was a girl in Andy Coulson's office who was going to speak to me on the phone, the phonecall would be recorded, and she would try to entice me into talking about intimate details of her and my life.

  • And that I was told by Rav Singh that Andy Coulson would be listening to the call and that I would have to be very, if you like, obfuscate when I had that phonecall without betraying the fact that I knew I was being set up so that I didn't land him in it as having tipped me off.

  • When the call came, you deadpanned it?

  • Obviously successfully, because no story emerged at that point?

  • You take us forward a couple of years, paragraph 15, Mr Coogan, to April 2004. Mr Singh has his own gossip column, you say, in the News of the World, and he telephones you. Can you tell us what happened there, please?

  • I was in a relationship that was breaking up because of an affair I'd had and he called me and said to me on the phone -- he said, "Look, I want to help you." He said, "If you" -- I sort of begged him not to put in some of the more lurid details of the story, and he said if I confirmed certain aspects of the story, in return he would guarantee that the more lurid details would be left out of the story.

  • So I confirmed certain details for him and he gave me his word that the more embarrassing parts of the story, which I knew would upset my then wife's family, would be omitted. After that, I received a -- my manager received a phonecall from Andy Coulson saying that they'd recorded the whole phonecall and they were going to put everything in the newspaper and that Rav Singh giving me his word was just a ruse to get me to speak on the phone so they could record me, as I was in some distress, but -- to record the whole phonecall so that they could cover themselves and put the lot in.

  • Yes, an example of the Faustian pact which went a bit wrong, through no fault of yours.

  • Can I ask you, though: was the story published?

  • You give your opinion about it in paragraph 16 and you say you don't think it was a malicious personal vendetta but it was a dispassionate sociopathic act?

  • Yes. It's like the mafia. It's just business, you know.

  • Paragraph 17, please. You say that you've been the victim of several kiss-and-tell stories. May I ask you approximately how many?

  • You don't have to answer.

  • I couldn't put a number of it. I couldn't put a number of it, but several.

  • We'll keep it as several. Then you say what the pattern is, because they do, in your evidence, tend to follow a pattern. Help us with that?

  • The technique they often use is -- these women are often vulnerable and not canny enough to understand the techniques of the press, and I know anecdotally that they -- what they do is they say, "We're going to run a story about you. It's going to be very unsympathetic. We're going to make you look tawdry." They say this to the girl, "We're going to make you look tawdry and awful and sluttish, but if you talk to us, you can make the story all positive and friendly and nice and we'll make you look lovely and we'll give you some money as well. So what do you want to do?" And they say, "We know what went on", and they'll mention a couple of details, and really, that -- it's my experience that that is a ruse, that they can't publish the story unless the person speaks to them. So it's a bluff, and they -- if they don't speak to them, they can't publish the story.

    And often the information they've gotten is gained by blagging a couple of details, and in the case of the girl I was seeing in 2005, they tried to entice her to sell her story using information that -- well, they tried to get her to sell the story using information that -- information that was in messages that I had left for her and she'd left for me, which at the time I didn't understand why they knew that, but they used that as an enticement, and so -- but they knew they couldn't publish the story because that information hadn't been gained legally, so they had to get her to admit it.

  • I understand. Thank you, that's helpful.

    We're moving to paragraph 18 and the Daily Mail. Can we just get our bearings in terms of timing. You refer to two articles in the Daily Mail which we have printed off and which you've seen, but given their nature, it may or may not be necessary to look at them in any detail.

    The first article was published in the Mail on 30 August 2007. Just so that you have your bearings with it, in your bundle it's directly underneath tab 4. The title is, or the headline -- this is the online edition, so it's not quite as it appeared in print -- "Steve Coogan blamed for Owen Wilson's drug spiral."

    So that's the first one. Then the second one, which you refer to at the beginning of paragraph 19, is the article which appears five or six pages later on in this little bundle. It's dated 1 September, and it's the one entitled "Coogan the barbarian: the truth about the man blamed for 'leading Owen Wilson to the brink of suicide'".

    Obviously, these are very sensitive and private matters and I'm not going to go into this in any unnecessary detail, but Mr Wilson was -- perhaps still is -- a friend of yours; is that right?

  • And it's clear from what is in the public domain that -- can I approximate out it in these terms -- he took some form of drug overdose; is that right?

  • I don't really want to talk about what happened with him.

  • Okay. But you make it clear in your statement -- and this is the evidence you wish to give -- you make it absolutely clear five lines in to paragraph 18, you say:

    "There's absolutely no truth in the allegation. I had not been on the same continent as Owen [that's Owen Wilson] for nine months prior to his episode and I have never taken drugs with him or in his presence."

    So that is your clear position?

  • You issued a curt denial. I'm asked to put this to you: did you ever complain about this particular article, either to the Daily Mail directly or to the Press Complaints Commission?

  • I didn't, for several reasons.

  • Primarily, I didn't want to give the story legs, and my chief concern was my friend at that time, and I didn't want to shine the spotlight on him when he was in a particularly vulnerable state, and I thought any emphatic courting of the press to protest my innocence beyond that short, curt denial would make life difficult for him. So that was part of the reason I didn't do anything.

    The other reason is -- and it's the way I've treated many of the stories over the years that I've found upsetting and intrusive -- is I take advice from my lawyers and on this occasion, the potential soap opera that would ensue outweighs any benefit I might get from having some form of retraction and also the efforts involved in going through legal action. Really, it's as effective sometimes to do nothing because the story sort of goes away.

  • But, of course, these days -- in the old days, of course, it would have been tomorrow's fish and chip paper, but of course, things are online these days so things stay there forever. But the main reason I didn't do anything is because, on balance, what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts, because by taking action, you can might the story and you might get some sort of retraction, but you also push the story forward and you keep it up there on the -- in the newspapers, and that's something I didn't want to do, and on balance -- it's also cheaper to do nothing.

  • There's a whole series of reasons you've clearly given which we've all noted.

    In relation to the second piece of 1 September 2007, I've been asked to make these points, so please bear with me, Mr Coogan.

  • The first point is -- it may or may not be obvious -- that the reason why inverted commas are placed around the phrase "leading Owen Wilson to the brink of suicide" is that the Mail there are reporting someone's statement. I'm not going to identify that someone else; you know who it is. Would you agree that that is a fair point or would you disagree?

  • I would disagree. They're doing that -- I would suggest they're doing that to cover themselves. The whole article -- basically if you have a headline that says "The truth about the man blamed --" first of all, it has the word "truth" in the sentence, so their defence in something which is scurrilous is basically punctuation. That's what they're saying they've done to sort of -- that gets them off the hook. The fact is someone reads that headline, they see "the man blamed for leading Owen Wilson to the brink of suicide" and most people would be left with one impression from that sentence. They wouldn't say, "Ah, it's in quote marks. I can see that Coogan's not really responsible for that."

  • I'd also add that this -- a cursory examination of this story by that newspaper would have revealed that there was no truth in this whatsoever. They even, I heard, tried to defend themselves by saying that they questioned the reliability of the source within the article, as if somehow that got them off the hook, but in actual fact, if they questioned the reliability of the source, then that suggests that they questioned the entire veracity of the story, in which case, why did they print it?

  • Of course, you've had advance notice of the lines I'm taking. They say at the bottom of the first page:

    "There are two ways of looking at her comments. One of them is to view them as motivated by revenge."

    So they're putting up the proposition that she may not be reliable because she's motivated by revenge. Is that not fair?

  • I refer you to the answer I gave before, which is: if they regard it as being unreliable, then that means that they question the whole nature of the story. As I say, I don't think they're interested in what the facts are, they're interested in good copy, and that's what they got.

  • They also recorded your strong denial of the truth of the allegations, didn't they, in this --

  • Yes. It wasn't a headline, though.

  • Thank you. This article --

  • They also don't seem to know what the fourth commandment is.

  • It's the seventh, I think, isn't it?

  • It is. They say the fourth commandment is "Thou shalt not commit adultery".

  • I could say what the fourth one is, but it's one of the ones I've breached so ...

  • You make then, Mr Coogan, some general points. These articles are still on the Mail website, you say.

  • I'm sure that's not disputed. You can see when we printed them off, which was only a few days ago. You then make some general points starting at paragraph 21. Tittle-tattle and entertainment. Can I ask you, please, to elaborate on a broader general point, the fear of tabloid revenge? What's the basis for those fears?

  • Well, if -- in respect of what? Tabloid revenge in respect of me being here or me taking action? In what respect?

  • First of all, please, if you deal with the more general point, not the point about you being here. You can deal with that, if you wish, a little bit later.

  • But at a higher level of generality, the fear of tabloid revenge. Could you help us on that, please?

  • That if you make yourself -- if you stick your head above the parapet or you criticise the papers or you make a point of taking action, then they'll come after you, you know. Insofar as my legal action is concerned, I was -- I was advised by my publicists that -- they actually said to me, "Do you --" When I was considering taking action against News International, my publicists said to me, "Do you really want to make enemies of these people?" By implication -- well, the inference being that if -- and when I asked them to elaborate, they said, "Well, in the future if they decide to run another story, we can use it as a bargaining chip. We can say that you could have taken legal action and you didn't, therefore why don't you drop the story?" But when they said "these people", they meant that -- the inference was clear, that if you make life difficult for them, they will use their newspapers as a weapon against you.

  • Yes. You almost invited the next question. Do you have fears about giving evidence today? Obviously you're here to give evidence, but in terms of the possible repercussions?

  • A little bit, but I know that there's a lot of other people who -- and I feel I'm here -- I'm not someone who particularly wants to get involved in waving a banner for, you know, a right to privacy. It was just that I felt no one else was doing it -- not many other people of my -- similar to me were doing it, so I thought I ought to get involved. And the reason a lot of other people don't want to do it but share my views and have told me -- many other celebrities, for want of a better word, have told me that they agree with me and they'd like to come here but they don't have the stomach for it, and they fear -- they fear what will happen. Ironically, because of the stories that have been run about me, most of my -- well, my closet is empty of skeletons due to the press. So in a way, unwittingly maybe, I may be immune in some ways.

    In fact, when I appeared on Newsnight, I mentioned Paul Dacre in a slightly less than flattering light, which is a very unwise thing to do, and the next day in the paper there was a big story raking up all the old tabloid stories about myself and Hugh Grant, and it appeared to me he'd probably gone to his office and sent the memo round, saying, "If you want to throw any dirt at Steve Coogan, be my guest", and Amanda Platell and Melanie Phillips duly obliged.

  • We have those pieces. They are at the back of tab 7, I think, Mr Coogan. Maybe you could confirm we have the right ones.

  • Yes, at the back. Yes, I see then.

  • It's dated 11 July, which would make your Newsnight appearance on 10 July.

  • Approximately. It was a day or two after the appearance.

  • Yes. I'm not going to read those out. People can form their own view about them. We draw them to your attention.

    You mentioned a publicist. I asked Mr Grant about this yesterday, but in your own words, presumably you have a publicist. What is his or her role?

  • If I have -- well, first of all, I'll say for the record I try to avoid publicity as much as possible. You won't find me on a panel show, you won't find me -- you know, I get invitations to openings and premieres all the time but they go straight in the bin. I'm not really interested in that.

    But my publicist, his job is -- if I have a television programme or a film to promote, and I'm contractually obliged to promote that as part of my job, they will -- sometimes actually my publicists' job is to try and minimise the amount of publicity I'm obliged to do. I'll say, "What's the least I can get away with?"

  • And they'll arrange an interview to support that film or television programme in a newspaper or a magazine, and I'll try -- I normally try -- say, "I'd like to avoid the tabloids", but sometimes the people I've made the programme for insist that I speak to a tabloid and do an interview, and the their job is to arrange those things. Primarily. I mean, there are other things too, of course.

  • You referred -- I said I'd come back to it. This is paragraph 8 of your statement, your profile in the Sunday Times. This has been printed out and I hope you have the version which I have provided to Mr Sherborne. It looks like this, Mr Coogan.

  • Yes, I've seen that. I saw it before.

  • Sir, I hope you --

  • I think it's here, actually. I don't know if it's worth handing it to Mr Coogan.

  • I think you should have the same copy we're working from, and obviously I'm grateful to Mr Davies for providing it.

    To be clear, Mr Coogan, as we can see from the bottom of the left-hand page, this is a profile of you in the Sunday Times magazine which came outlet on 27 April 2008. Indeed, you specifically refer to it. Were you shown this? I'm not quite sure how these things work. Were you shown this in draft before it was published?

  • Would you expect to have seen it in draft before it was published?

  • Not especially, no. No, I wouldn't.

  • Thank you. Again, I'm not going to dwell on much of the detail, but I'm just going to explore the way this material is put together, as it were. It seems to be clear from the text that there was an exploratory chat with you, which was very much informal -- no tape recorder running, no notes taken -- and the author says that he conducted that at your club in February. Does that make sense?

  • Then there was a more formal phase, which again the author talks about. Apparently this was at a vegetarian restaurant in Brighton?

  • And maybe there was a tape recorder running on that occasion?

  • As would be standard practice. Again, I draw the inference that the author does quite a lot of online research about you -- well, there is quite a lot of material online, presumably -- and then the questions start. Some the questions related to your personal life, didn't they?

  • Some of them, it's right to say, you didn't answer for that reason?

  • It may be unfair to ask you this general question, but aside from the issue about the photograph, which you address specifically and which we're going to come to, do you have an objection to the article itself? Strip away all the photographs. Just consider the text.

  • I did have an objection.

  • The reason I did the interview was because -- I did it reluctantly.

  • I was naive, perhaps, in that I had received some bad advice saying that this person wants to redress the balance of the negative publicity he'd read about you and I myself, feeling misrepresented in the press, agreed to do it, but I think he just sort of rehashed -- and I was told he was very keen on talking about my work, which he does for a portion of the article. But no, I wasn't happy with the article, really. It was -- it wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. And really -- and also I did the interview reluctantly because -- to somehow -- really, as a counter-point to publicity I hadn't wanted in the first place, as I say, to try and redress the balance of negative, unsympathetic stories.

  • Yes, so from your perspective, it didn't work out. The substance and perhaps the tone hadn't met your understanding of what it might be; is that right?

  • I felt that the journalist in question was disingenuous in the way he represented himself.

  • It might be said -- and can I just put this as gently as I can -- that you were taking a bit of a risk even allowing this sort of interview to be conducted because there was a prospect that this sort of spin might be put and you would see this sort of end product. Is that completely unfair?

  • It's a question of judgment. If I say nothing, then the negative stories go uncontested and so I have to take a risk and I naively thought that -- but perhaps I should have known, seeing as it's News International -- that the Sunday Times might take a more mature approach. But I was wrong.

  • Yes, okay. You have a particular point about a photograph. I'm just going to invite you to look at the photograph. It's really not necessary for anybody else to see it because by its very nature it's an intrusion on privacy. But it's the second A3 page and it's the caption "The mother ...", and we see maybe a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old -- it doesn't matter, really, but two young children in the picture?

  • And you objected to that?

  • Well, I didn't give my permission for them to put a picture of my children in, and that particular photograph was taken on a telephoto lens by a paparazzi photographer whom I approached on the day and challenged. I said, "Were you taking photographs of me and my children?" and he said, "No, I was taking photographs of the pier", and he showed me his camera and obviously hid the photographs and showed me photographs of Brighton pier, pretending he'd been photographing the pier. So I took him at his word and then the photographs appeared in this article, which is a clear breach of the existing guidelines.

  • Yes. So we understand your evidence, the photograph was taken with for the specific purpose of this article in the Sunday Times?

  • Sorry, I misunderstood.

  • No, the photograph was taken by a paparazzi photograph, who then sold it to Big Pictures --

  • -- who then sold it to the Sunday Times.

  • Yes, my apologies. In the article -- and I have been asked to draw this to your attention. It's on the next page. There's some pagination. It's page 17, the very bottom of the left-hand side. You're noted as saying that -- I quote:

    "He's most talkative about his daughter's schooling. She attends a school in Brighton."

    So I think what I'm being asked to suggest to you is: well, you're giving some information out quite freely about your daughter and therefore it's not unreasonable to make the mistake and publish a photograph.

  • I can -- well, I can explain that.

  • Thank you, yes.

  • The conversation about my daughter was not part of the interview. It was intimated to me by him that this was off the record, because he started the question by saying himself: "I'm thinking of sending my children to such-and-such a school", or: "I'm looking at schools for my children", he said to me. Then he said, "Do you know any good schools?" and then he spoke about his children. And this was -- it was -- the conversation was couched in terms of -- and initiated with where he wants to send his kids to school. It was over dinner and we'd just sat down, and although he didn't say, "This is off the record", that was the inference I drew. I wasn't -- I would never present that kind of information in an article about my family. I don't talk about my family.

  • So I felt I was misled about that.

  • Of course, this article isn't put together in chronological order, no doubt, but it's in the section which precedes the formal part of the interview, which is in the vegetarian restaurant in the Brighton.

    There was then an apology. It's the last page, Mr Coogan, of the little sheaf of A3 pages we've provided to you.

  • Oh yes. Yes, indeed, yes.

  • Just orientating myself, we are no longer in the magazine section of the Times. I think we're in the first section of the Times, on the second page of the first section.

  • It's on the left-hand side under a heading "News in brief". It says -- we're now on 11 May 2008:

    "An interview with Steve Coogan was illustrated with a photograph of Mr Coogan taken in 2004 with Anna Cole, who was described as his then girlfriend, and her children. In fact, the relationship had ended in 1996. We apologise for any distress caused by the error and by invading the privacy of Ms Cole and her children in publishing the photograph and information about the schooling of Mr Coogan's daughter."

    So they apologised?

  • Yes. I had to point out to my friends where to find the one-inch column in case they missed it. It's never -- it's not quite the same as the -- it's not quite the same status as the four pages of the article.

  • And also I would say that all these apologies are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. You can't give back the pound of flesh you've taken.

  • No, no, quite. One doesn't want to take that too far because that would be an argument for there being no need to apologise at all because it could never achieve any utility.

  • No, they should apologise. They should just do it bigger.

  • Yes. Where do you think such an apology should have gone in the circumstances of your case?

  • It should have been more noticeable, you know. Two pages like that would probably satisfy me.

  • I won't pursue that further. We have your evidence clearly about it and of course we'll consider it.

    There's another piece or interview I would like to ask you about, and this is -- you've had notice of it, but because of the nature of the Internet printout, it's not that easy to follow in the bundle you have there, so I've printed it out yet again and I've given it page numbers so we might be able to navigate it. So you know what we're talking about, it's an article by Mr Piers Morgan in a magazine called GQ, originally published in January 2006. For some reason -- indeed, the reason is given:

    "Reprinted in 2011 to mark the release of Alan Partridge's memoirs."

  • Can I hand you --

  • Sorry, I'm not sure that that date is correct, the first date.

  • I'll show you where it is, but what I am going to do to avoid confusion -- and I had a lot of trouble printing this out, but that's just the way the Internet works -- is hand you another version which is paginated. This was emailed through last week, but we're going to struggle a bit. (Handed)

    Would you kindly, please, look at the 10th page at the very back.

  • Yes, I've written it in.

  • You will see that the piece was originally published in the January 2006 issue of British GQ. Are you with me, Mr Coogan?

  • Then at the start, it's reprinted -- to my belief, it was --

  • It's 31 May 2011, because if you go back to page 10, it says both dates.

  • Thank you. I was going to say this year, but you've kindly confirmed that.

    It was reprinted to mark the release of your character's memoirs. Indeed, one can cross-reference this, if that's the right way of putting it, with pages in Mr Morgan's book, which I have read, which we may or may not be hearing more about.

    This was an interview which took place in what Mr Morgan describes as an excruciatingly trendy club in Soho.

  • Yes. He chose the venue.

  • Thank you, Mr Coogan. It's clear, if he's right, that it lasted for two hours. Is that fair enough?

  • He's not suggesting you were under the influence of alcohol because he says you ordered two glasses of wine, which, over two hours, is hardly --

  • Fair enough. Have you had the chance to read this piece?

  • I've not read it for some time.

  • Right. Did Mr Morgan tape the interview, again in line with standard practice, or can you not recall?

  • I can't recall. He may have done. He may have taken notes. I can't -- I can't recall. I can't remember, is the answer. He may have done. He may have done.

  • Can I ask you some specific questions about it. I'm conscious of fact that the interview is, in some respects, quite probing. Would you agree with me that it covers a range of topics which bear on your private life?

  • And those topics range from what I might describe as lifestyle issues to partners and other matters?

  • Did you feel that the interview was unfair or intrusive, Mr Coogan?

  • A little, but it's Piers Morgan, so I suppose it's what -- you know, it's what you expect when he interviews you. So a little, yes.

  • Yes. That might mean a number of things. One thing might be that he's a charming man and he's able to bring the best out of his interviewee, or it might mean something else --

  • The something else is the ...

  • Well, it's up to you. Do you want to share that with us, or would you rather not?

  • Not particularly. I mean, it's -- you know, when you do an interview -- again, this was to support a movie. I didn't choose to. It was part of the set up, I was told --

  • And when you do an interview like this, you -- once the cat's out of the bag, as it were -- I was sort of covering ground that's already in the public domain. I certainly wasn't doing an expose and spilling my guts. I was talking about things that had already been aired in the public domain.

  • Yes, that's absolutely right. This might be a bit of an issue here. Can I try and deal with it at a level of some generality, which may or may not apply to your particular case. You reach the point with someone who is, rightly or wrongly, in the public eye where information about them has entered the public domain by a variety of routes. Some of those routes might be illegal ones and some of those routes might be friends or former friends who have spoken to the press in a way in which was other than discreet, and some other routes are entirely ethical and legal.

    So we had reached a position, certainly by 2006, where a lot about you, which is now all mixed up -- the illegal, the unethical and perhaps the legal -- and there's now a persona which you're then asked about.

  • That creates, you would say, a bit of a dilemma for you, because on the one hand you don't want to talk about it; on the other hand, it's damage limitation. Is that how you see it?

  • I'd rather not talk about it, but if you're doing an interview, you don't want to come across as being curmudgeonly or precious and you want to support the film, so you try to be agreeable and open and not obstructive. But would I rather not talk about these things? Yes, I'd rather not talk about it.

  • Would you agree -- please contradict me if you disagree with what I was trying to put to you -- that the sort of problem we face here is that the sources of information about you are a melange of various things -- and also, one should add, a melange of untruths, because added to this potpourri of sources is material which is untrue, exaggerated or whatever. So you then are confronting all of this and having to confront it, deal with it in a certain way.

  • Well, I very rarely take action about these things because -- I could expend a lot of time and energy on the existing systems of redress, but I don't want to channel all my energies into this. I'd rather spend my time writing and doing what I do for a living, because it's quite time-consuming and it drains you of energy, and that's why often times I've just walked away and got on with my job, but it's not that I'm -- you know, I'm unhappy about it.

  • Thank you for that answer. You do deal with the issue of privacy in the Piers Morgan piece at page 4, about three-quarters of the way down. Do you see that, under the question: "What is the issue about privacy?"

  • Page 4, working from the little red --

  • -- pagination. He asks you the question: "What is the issue about privacy?" Are you with me?

  • And then your answer is:

    "The issue is if you set your stall out in a certain way and lead a rather different life, then fair enough, you bring it on yourself. For example, I have a young daughter I'm only going to mention once in this interview out of respect of her. Now, I could, like some celebrities do, use her to paint a picture of myself as some sort of wholesome figure. That is playing a game. I don't need to convince anyone that I'm like that. Those who need to know, know, and if people want to think of me as some sort of twot, then so what. I have enough friends who don't think that. I don't get free kitchens from Hello. I think that's a dangerous game to play."

    So you're making your position there absolutely clear after a very intrusive question about a particular partner, which I'm not going to ask you about.

  • That's fair enough.

  • Yes. I mean, if I can elaborate on that --

  • Yes, please do.

  • Given a choice between constantly engaging with the press and trying to mount some sort of campaign of self-justification and saying nothing and retaining a little privacy, even though there's misinformation out there, I choose the latter. It's the lesser of two evils.

  • That's, in one sense, entirely understandable, but you'll have to accept that speaking as somebody who spent 40 years of his life in the law, it's also a bit concerning. If wrongs are not righted then we ought to think of a way of righting them, of correcting them.

  • Yes. If the ways of righting them were easier -- I mean, there's two issues, I would say. One is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is -- only does so much good. You can't put the genie back in the bottle, so I'd rather these things weren't printed in the first place. But if they have, then the system of redress, if it was more straightforward, I would have engaged in it. It was the prospect of legal action, which is expensive, and the PCC, which -- I mean, I was -- you know, I looked at that. I have to say, the fact that Paul Dacre sits on the PCC and I'm going to take a complaint about the Daily Mail, even though I know he wouldn't sit on that particular case and I know editors don't do that when it pertains to their newspaper, doesn't fill you with confidence, and I think that's borne out by the fact that they -- the biggest test in the last 40 years of their ability, the hacking scandal, completely passed them by. So I don't feel my suspicions and prejudices about the PCC are without foundation.

    If the mechanism for redress was more straightforward and had -- I had more faith in it, then I'd use it.

  • I'm going to move on to another piece. I only have 15 or 20 minutes left, Mr Coogan, but I think that given our stenographer, we should probably break. Or would you like to continue?

  • No, I'm very happy -- Mr Coogan's been there for an hour -- to give him a break. I think his last answer is a fitting answer upon which to cogitate for five minutes. So that's what we'll do, but it is five minutes.

  • (A short break)

  • Mr Coogan, under tab 5 in the bundle, there is another piece in the Mail. If I could kindly ask you to turn it up.

  • Sorry, I don't have the -- oh, is this -- I have it, sorry.

  • Do I have this right? Is this an interview that you're giving to the Daily Mail as a result of which a piece is published on 23 August 2009?

  • Could you tell us the circumstances in which you gave this interview and why you gave it?

  • It was, again, supporting something -- it was definitely something, a film or something. Yes, it was a film I had -- I did in America that's called "Hamlet 2" that I was promoting.

  • Yes, and it was arranged by my publicist and the journalist is a -- was a friend of mine.

  • Right. Do you feel --

  • And is a friend of mine.

  • Still is a friend?

  • Is the journalist freelance or does the journalist work --

  • Freelance. And this was for the magazine, to clarify.

  • The Mail magazine?

  • Is this published at weekends?

  • In terms of the content of the article -- maybe it's quite a wide question -- do you have any concerns about it?

  • I think it covers the same ground as the article in the Sunday Times. The cat's out of the bag. It doesn't do to come over all "poor old me, the tabloids won't leave me alone". It doesn't particularly endear you to people, so in an interview, one tries to be philosophical, as the most politic approach.

  • In this piece, you do deal with the earlier Daily Mail articles which we've looked at. If you look at the pagination on the Internet printout, at the top right-hand side. It's page 6 of 9, Mr Coogan. At the very bottom, without raking over old ground, you are recorded as saying that you're scathing of the press you got. This is in relation to the subject matter of the August and September 2007 articles we had looked at earlier.

  • Then on the next page, you say:

    "That story gained more credence over here than there. It was a complete fabrication put about by someone who had a different agenda."

    Then you say:

    "In America, they realised it was ..."

    Well, we can work out what that is:

    "... as soon as they established it was spread by someone who was trying to throw a grenade in my path. The industry made it very clear to me that they knew, so thankfully it had no effect on my career or on your friendship."

    So those in the know in the States were not impacted by the 2007 article?

  • As I've said in my statement, it did have an initial negative effect, quite damaging.

  • The reason they realised it wasn't true was because I had to make representations to people to illuminate them as to what the facts were.

  • Once I'd done that, they quickly realised there was no substance to the story.

  • But had I not done that, it would have been damaging, and initially it was. I had to, you know, contact certain people and tell them the truth. And once I'd done that, the damage was avoided.

  • Yes. At the very least, it might be said about this article that they are giving you the chance to put the record straight insofar as it can be put straight. They are recording faithfully what you're saying, although of course it's two years after the article, the damage has been done, but you have been given a limited platform to rectify the position. Is that a fair observation or not?

  • I would say it's not a fair observation. It's -- you know, denials and corrections, again, after the damage has been done. The damage has been done. It can't be undone. It can be mitigated, and that's all I tried to do.

  • Yes. That's certainly true in relation to privacy for obvious reasons, but in relation to defamation, the damage can be rectified by a successful claim, can't it?

  • Yes, it can, it can. It's expensive and it's unwieldy, but yes, it can be done if you have the time and wherewithal.

  • This article certainly does present a rather different picture of you:

    "I've never claimed to be a paragon of virtue but my behaviour has changed, not because of what a newspaper says about me but because I thought it ought to be. I use it to be wiser and realise that it helps me to be creative."

    That's effectively one of the things you've said today.

  • But I understand the point you're making.

  • Thank you. To go on to the point about defamation -- this is picking up now what you're saying in paragraph 29 of your witness statement when you're really sort of giving us your opinions. You make two points, really, in relation to defamation, although there's obviously a third one. (a) Litigation is expensive. We all know about that. (b) You run the risk of antagonising the press further. This is the revenge or retaliation point. And (c), of course you're giving additional oxygen to the story by litigating over it. So those are factors which will always play in the balance whenever a litigant decides whether to sue or not to sue for defamation.

  • You don't deal -- and please do so now -- with what your solutions or recommendations might be, particularly in a genie out of the bottle situation. Maybe your solution would be to ensure that the genie never departs from the bottle. Now is your chance. Tell us what you think.

  • I don't want to come up with -- I'm not an expert on what mechanism should be in place. I mean, I wish that there was no need for regulation outside the press. I wish the press were able to regulate themselves. I would like that. But they've been given many opportunities and have failed. You know, if the press suddenly had a Damascene conversion and decided to behave themselves, that would be great, but I think that would be me perhaps me being naive again.

    I think whatever's in place needs to be wieldy, and people should be able to use it whether they have money or not, because of course, many of the people caught up in these stories don't have the same disposable income that I have to take action. They just have to -- they just get caught up in it and there needs to be something to help those people, some sort of redress for those people, and I think obviously, whatever the solution, it needs to have some industry people in, of course it does, but also I think it needs to have some sort of lay or independent component that can counter that in a meaningful way.

    But quite what that is, I don't know. I just -- and as I say, I'm not sort of even -- because what's very important to me is press freedom and I don't think that -- it's often used as a smokescreen to legitimise invasions of privacy. There's some brilliant journalism in this country, and there needs to be a mechanism, really, in the interests of protecting genuine public interest journalism. For that reason, there needs to be a privacy law so that genuine public interest journalism isn't besmirched by this tawdry muck-raking, and so I think that people -- there needs to be a change and it's something that should both simultaneously protect genuine public interest journalism whilst also protecting the worst excesses of the press, and none of these stories about me -- none of them can be described as being in the public interest.

  • Yes. So the sense of your evidence -- is this right, Mr Coogan? -- is that you're inviting the Inquiry to consider recommending a privacy law which would protect, self-evidently, privacy unless a specific public interest justification were demonstrated in individual cases? Is that the gist of what you're communicating to us?

  • Yes, and I would also add that transgressions need to be punished meaningfully, because I'm sure that newspapers -- some newspapers factor in potential damages when they decide to run a big story. They can afford to take the hit. So that -- in that respect, it doesn't work.

  • Yes. The existing state of the common law, if that's the right way to describe our burgeoning privacy law, is that exemplary damage losses are not recoverable for breach of confidence or breach of privacy. Are you inviting the Inquiry to consider recommendations which might move the law forward?

  • I think so, yes, because --

  • Yes, because people have a right to privacy. People have a right to -- and people shouldn't be punished just because they have a high profile.

  • Okay. We have two specific ideas, recommendations, coming out of your evidence, and that's very clearly expressed. Thank you very much.

    I'm going to give you this final chance, really -- because I've been through your witness statement, I've taken you to material others have wished me to take you to and you've dealt with it all very clearly. Is there anything either I have missed out or which you feel in any event you wish to say?

  • I'd just like to add that this is not a case -- the press tried to portray it that way -- in terms of people with a high public profile, or celebrities, if you like -- it's not the Steve and Hugh show. It's -- we're here, and not with great enthusiasm, because somebody has to represent all those other people who haven't the stomach to be here. So when -- I would just make it quite clear -- and I know I can speak on behalf on Hugh as well when I say this: of course there's a personal element to it, but we're -- it's not just about us; it's about other people.

  • Mr Coogan, I understand that, and when I thanked you at the beginning, I was really reflecting that feature of your evidence.

    I want to make it clear that when Mr Jay asks if you have any ideas, I'm not in any sense casting the responsibility on you or indeed anyone else to come up with solutions, but I felt it was right that those who had been prepared to step forward -- and indeed some of those who are going to be required to step forward, who aren't coming voluntarily but would be coming because I've required them to come -- also should be able to enter the debate as to how we move forward, because as I have said many times, the system has to work. It has to work for the industry and it also has to work for the public.

    So it's in everybody's interest that we try to find a solution, but I wouldn't want it to be thought that I had suddenly dumped the weight of this Inquiry onto your shoulders to come up with a solution. That's not the reason you were asked the question. But thank you indeed for your time.

  • Right. Does that conclude the work we have to do today?

  • Yes. There's plenty to do, though, behind the scenes, and indeed we have four witnesses tomorrow. I might lose track where we are, but the core participants know who they are.

  • Right. Thank you.

    Mr Sherborne?

  • I was only going to assist Mr Jay to name the individuals and the order in which they're giving evidence tomorrow.

    The evidence starts with Mark Lewis, to be followed by Sheryl Gascoigne, then Tom Rowland and then finally Gerry and Kate McCann.

  • Thank you very much.

    Mr Sherborne, I'm conscious of the concern that statements haven't been put through the system to be made public as quickly as I'd originally hoped. I've been addressing that problem -- sorry, I've not been addressing it, but the problem has been being addressed during the course of the afternoon. I can only say that as one starts one of these enterprises, some things take just a little bit longer to smooth out than others.

  • Sir, I understand that and I understand that as you said earlier, in an ideal world, the witness statements will be available as the witness gives evidence, as Mr Jay says.

  • It obviously has to wait for the witness to say, "Yes, that's my statement."

  • Thereafter, I would hope we'd be able to do it. Thank you.

  • Just going back to the evidence of Mr and Mrs Watson, you heard this morning about a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. In fact, the complaint regarded the Sunday Mail, which is a sister paper of the Daily Record, and it is different newspaper from the Mail on Sunday.

  • Yes, I'm very happy to recognise that fact, which actually I knew. I do recognise it.

  • No, anything that uses up the 35 minutes so that I can't be criticised for knocking off early. Yes?

  • I promise to be much shorter than that. I just wanted to raise the question of attribution of questions asked by counsel for the Inquiry.

  • We think that the general rule should be that questions are not attributed. That is partly because it's the quid pro quo, in a sense, for the person suggesting the question not being able to put it themselves and follow it up as they would wish and so on.

  • And also it might inhibit people suggesting questions in future.

  • We completely understand that there is an exception, I think, if there is a point where a core participant or possibly anyone else wants it to be made clear that evidence on a particular point is disputed or an allegation is challenged. In that situation, obviously there's no point in that being anonymous. If there is an allegation against News International and we want it to be known that we don't accept that, then that has to be attributed to us for it to be useful. But apart from that exception, our understanding is that questions put by counsel for the Tribunal will not be and should not be attributed.

  • I think that's absolutely the right balance. Mr Caplan?

  • Yes, as long as Mr Jay doesn't say "a source close to him" or some similar phrase, then we're perfectly happy with that.

  • Right, I've got that. Do any of the other core participants want to say anything about that?

    Right. I had hoped first thing this morning, and indeed at lunchtime, to look at the anonymity protocol, because the last representations came in yesterday. For reasons which I think you'll probably understand, I was looking at other things instead.

    Tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock. Thank you all very much.

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