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

  • MR DAVID JOHN MELLOR QC (sworn).

  • Mr Mellor, once you are comfortable, could you confirm your full name, please?

  • Yes. David John Mellor.

  • Are the contents of your witness statement true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • You are a non-practising broadcaster, journalist and football pundit --

  • You were a Member of Parliament between 1979 and 1997?

  • And whilst a Member of Parliament, you were a junior minister in several departments in the 1980s, including the Home Office. You were made a Privy Councillor in 1990 by Margaret Thatcher. You were briefly the arts minister, chief secretary to the treasurer, but of particular importance to the Inquiry, between 11 April and 22 September 1992 you were Secretary of State for National Heritage; is that right?

  • Can I start, please, by asking you about a comment for which you have become famous, which was describing in a television interview the press, particularly the tabloid press, as being in the last chance saloon. In your witness statement, you say that there was an element of bravado in making that statement; could you explain why, please?

  • Yes, I think that is pretty clear from what happened around the first Calcutt report, the second Calcutt report. I think the most sensible people in politics and outside of politics were aware that something had to be done to curb the excesses of some of the tabloids, but there was really no stomach within government to do anything about it, and that is pretty obvious from what happened afterwards, when Calcutt 2 reported and the whole thing petered out. I read with interest what John Major had to say about that, and I don't think he undercooked that particular pudding. I think there were all kinds of reasons why, when push came to shove, politicians were reluctant it to do anything about this, which was one of the things, actually, that actuated my putting in my statement and desire to say to this inquiry that it is absolutely crucial that whatever comes out of this, it is so clear-cut that politicians can't slither off into the undergrowth, because slither off into the undergrowth is what they will do, given half a chance.

  • It might be as well to remind ourselves of the first of Sir David Calcutt's reports --

  • -- which we have in the bundle at tab 7. The report was, of course, the work of a committee comprising seven people. They had 10 days of oral evidence from 30 organisations --

  • How lucky they were, compared to this.

  • And if we look perhaps, first of all, at the problems that were identified. I'm looking here following the internal pagination at page 10.

  • Section 4. Under paragraph 4.2, there are 13 subparagraphs setting out the main complaints which were made to the committee. I am not going to read them all out, but once you have found the page --

  • Actually, I am looking at the -- areas of complaint? Sorry, yes. I was looking at the summary recommendations.

  • Do you have the areas of complaint? What I would like you to do is to cast an eye over paragraph 4.2. My question is: are the sorts of complaints itemised in 1990 in this report very much the same sort of complaint that this inquiry has heard about more than 20 years later?

  • Yes, self-evidently so, yes.

  • Then if we go, following internal pagination, moving backwards to the Roman numerals, to page 9, to the summary of recommendations.

  • You will see that in the first report there was a section on physical intrusion.

  • Which recommended that a number of criminal offences should be enacted. It is right, isn't it, that initially that recommendation had the support of the government?

  • Yes, and then they slithered off into the undergrowth, yes.

  • Secondly, reporting restrictions should be tightened up. No right of reply, no tort of infringement of privacy at that time?

  • The foundation of the Press Complaints Commission --

  • "One final chance to prove", perhaps a more prosaic way of talking about the last chance saloon, yes.

  • I was going to point that out. So the last chance was self-regulation. Over the page, we see, at paragraphs 24 to 26, the statutory complaints procedures and at 27 onwards, the press complaints tribunal that David Calcutt thought ought to be set up if self-regulation didn't work at the last chance.

    Now, we have heard a lot of evidence about what happened with those, so I will not ask you. What I will ask you about is the debate which we have at tab 6. The minister was David Waddington, but it is right, isn't it, that you were his number two?

  • Yes. The Home Secretary did all the big gigs, but I sat alongside him.

  • And present at that debate?

  • Now, again, the language which you had initiated recurs. If you look at page 2, following the internal pagination --

  • Yes, "positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation", yes.

  • And that, a few paragraphs further down, is endorsed by the opposition. Over the page, page 3, between the holepunches, Mr Waddington says, in the middle of that paragraph:

    "That is not really an idle threat because Calcutt goes on to set out quite plainly what further steps should be taken in certain eventualities. I shall make those successive steps clear to the House."

    And so he did.

    So it is clear what the minister was saying, despite what you have said a moment ago, was that it really was a genuine threat, they really were on their last chance?

  • I don't know whether everybody reads Ambrose Bierce's dictionary but an ultimatum is defined in Ambrose Bierce's dictionary as "the final step before resorting to compromise". I think this was an Ambrose Bierce style ultimatum, in truth.

  • We may get a clue as to why it went in that direction by looking further on in the debate, page 4. We see a diversity of views being expressed. I will not touch upon them all but in the second paragraph down, Mr Ivan Lawrence -- I will let you scan what he said.

  • But one detects a degree of impatience, doesn't one, at a last chance being given at all?

  • It attracted always a good quality of back bencher, these debates, and Ivan was a very robust one who spoke his mind. The ones you always had to worry about were the ones who wouldn't appear and would only make their views known in private, and those views were generally pusillanimous.

  • Whereas if you look towards the bottom of the page, in the penultimate paragraph, Mr John Gorst, who seems to think that the idea of proceeding with these recommendations is at odds with fundamental tenets of Conservative Party faith.

  • So the divisions within the party clear even then.

  • You see, there are always going to be divisions. I myself, as I hope my statement, which I know we will come to, made clear -- no one is looking to crack down on the press. I personally think that a free press is probably the only thing that stands between us and a whole lot of awful things going on, given the regularity with which other institutions of the state -- like Parliament, government, the police -- fail us. It is a question of trying to draw a line and a little bit of scalpel-like surgery, rather than a bludgeon, to try to keep the best of the freedom of the press whilst avoiding the worst excesses of over-mighty subjects drunk with power, which is what a lot of this red top stuff is all about.

  • We will come back to ideas for the future towards the end of your evidence, but at the same time, as the Calcutt report was being produced, you were involved, weren't you, in the passage of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

  • And we can look at that briefly?

  • There are some extracts at tab 8 --

  • -- from the Act?

  • And I am going to take you to particular features. The first is at page 8, following the internal pagination at the top left.

  • This is schedule 2, part 2, paragraph 1, subparagraph 2, right at the bottom --

  • Such a joy to be rediscovered.

  • Indeed, and these were the provisions for foreign ownership.

  • Subparagraph 2, if one reads it, including going over the page, its effect, wasn't it, was such that a foreign owner of a non-domestic satellite service was not excluded from operating in this country.

  • Exactly. There were various attempts made to impose what was then quite a strict -- although, as it turned out, unsustainable -- regime on domestic services, and the argument was about whether to extend that to satellite services. There were plenty of people who wanted to do that, but quite a lot of them, to be fair, actuated by a dislike of Mr Murdoch.

    I myself took the view that Sky was such a brave commercial venture and it nearly bankrupted the News Corporation that it needed all the help it could get, because good would come out of Sky, and whatever anyone says about Rupert Murdoch -- and I am certainly one of those who has said quite a lot about him in the past -- Sky is a marvellous service. It really is. And when I am quoted in one of the debates of saying, "Well, it is employing 1,000 people, what is the point of driving them offshore?", as would have happened, if you look at the size of Sky now -- and I think quite a lot of things we did in politics when we were ministers were wrong and we were stupid and we didn't see far enough ahead. But with this, I stand by every word of what I said then, which is that Sky is a tremendous thing to be based in Britain, because the alternative was it was going to go to Luxembourg. You need to bear in mind that at the beginning of all this, there were two satellite broadcasters: there was British Satellite Broadcasting and Sky. British Satellite Broadcasting hung out in a sort of late Roman imperial triumphalist building, which still exists, although British Satellite Broadcasting doesn't, to the south of Chelsea Bridge, and I remember going there with my private secretary and saying, "Fascinating. All the trappings of success without the need to be successful first."

    You then went out to Sky, which was then a series of Nissen huts, literally Nissen huts, out in Hounslow, where they still are, though the Nissen huts have been replaced with shiny buildings. I admired the energy of Sky. I also admired them realising they were blazing a trail, so I didn't have to have my arm twisted round my neck to do this, though I daresay if I had shown any reluctance, my arm would have been twisted around behind my neck. But I was a willing victim of all of this.

  • At page 18 of the same Act, following the internal pagination again, we see the other important section, which is schedule 2, part 4 --

  • -- paragraph 2, subparagraph 1, which deals with cross-media ownership.

  • The effect of this subparagraph, together with the one at the top of the next page -- the one at page 18 deals with proprietors, the one at 19 with licence holders -- was such that it didn't impose a restriction on a satellite broadcaster broadcasting from overseas, however much of an interest he or she had in the newspaper industry.

  • Yes, it was -- it didn't count against, which, again, you know, you can say was a mistake. I mean, I think one of the things that -- I mean, I think the nub of so much of the problems that have happened, certainly the Murdoch press, was that he was able to buy five newspapers. I don't think anyone would say Sky poses a great threat to individual freedom in this country, whereas some of the Murdoch newspaper titles have done. It is a shame in a way that it was not possible, because of circumstances in the newspaper industry when Murdoch bought in, to retain a much broader ownership structure where more people were empowered to come into newspapers.

    I also think it is a shame that people are free to own newspapers in this country without any real connection with this country, or a long-term connection. Mr Murdoch changed his nationality from Australia to America because in America, the land of the free and free enterprise, they do have a rule that you can't own certain media assets without being a citizen. I think some of the problem with coarsening of newspaper culture in this country has been that Rupert Murdoch never really bought into the society in which his newspapers had so much influence. He was an occasional visitor you know. The plane would land and he would either go to his office or Number 10, depending on his fancy.

  • We have looked at the debate leading to the Act. We have looked at the two provisions which show how Mr Murdoch was able to continue with his Sky venture, and you have explained to us your reasons for supporting those --

  • -- which we also see in the debate. But it is right to say, isn't it, that the debate, which I think you have had a chance to refresh your memory --

  • -- prominently featured Mr Murdoch and it prominently featured people who plainly didn't want him to be able to broadcast and pursue --

  • Again, there was some -- it was my dear old university friend, John Watts, started the debate when he became a minister and would have gone on to better things if he hadn't had a terrible stroke. Again, reading that debate -- you know, there are a lot of debates where you think, "My gosh, how awful they are and how trivial." I think it was a good debate. I think there were a lot of people attracted to this debate and it was argued on a point of principle. I don't say that there weren't some people who just wanted Murdoch -- anything that had to do with him, they were against, but generally speaking, Broadcasting Act -- those were the days when it was possible to take a very long bill through Parliament without a guillotine, because you got everybody in the committee and others who were interested engaged in a process where they thought if they put forward sensible opinions they would be listened to.

    And we made really quite serious changes to a whole lot of requirements. For instance, the pre-qualifying for television licences, domestically, the establishment of national commercial radio stations, where diversity was introduced at a very late stage, which meant you didn't have three pop stations but you had a speech station, a pop station and Classic FM. Little did I know how much I was going to benefit myself by allowing that.

  • Taking you back before the days of Classic FM to the 1980s and you tell us in your witness statement that Margaret Thatcher was ready to bend the rules for Mr Murdoch to enable him to establish a commanding position over the UK media. I am looking at page 3 of your witness statement.

  • The Inquiry has seen a note of a meeting between Mr Murdoch and Mrs Thatcher prior to the takeover of the Times and the Sunday Times, as heard from Mr Murdoch. Are you able, from your time as a politician in the 1980s, to tell us anything further from your direct knowledge about this alleged bending of the rules?

  • When I said "bending of the rules", the rules are there but at the end of the day, it was a simple choice for her. Was the Times and Sunday Times going to go out of business or was she going to allow Murdoch to own them? I don't think she saw Murdoch as any kind of threat. And don't forget, she was under a great deal of threat herself, because, you know, there was always a significant section of her Cabinet that were against her. Quite a lot of the time that she was in office, she was unpopular, under hostile attack of a kind that has almost gone off the agenda these days, in terms of the vituperation against her. I think she saw Rupert Murdoch as a kindred spirit.

    I also think, you know, without wishing to be cynical about any of this or disillusion people, what happens in these minuted meetings isn't really what goes on. What goes on is people come and they have a chat through various intermediaries.

    I mean, I gather you have been hearing about the activities of Monsieur Michel, who is getting the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised us all. But you know, people like him, though hopefully of a rather superior kind, were always involved in going between Mrs Thatcher and people like Rupert Murdoch. I myself was used as a conduit for various bits of information when they were building up to what ended up one of those things we have to thank Rupert Murdoch for, which was the destruction of the print unions in the way that they then behaved by his move to Wapping.

    I think an awful lot of what goes on between government and powerful interests like Rupert Murdoch goes on when senior executives talk to other people within the administration and information is passed on in that way. I think minuted meetings are the last place on earth where you will get what really happened.

  • You tell us, a little bit further down the same page, that by the time of the Broadcasting Act that we have just looked at, Mr Murdoch was used to ministers doing his bidding. What is the basis for that assertion?

  • I think a sentiment that -- I mean, in my own case, you know, when I was -- the broadcasting bill lost both its parents in an inconvenient reshuffle, so I was taken out of the department of health and put back into run it and had to get myself going and all manner of people -- powerful people from the press and television came in to see me. Mainly television. But there was one person that I had to go and see and there was no question of him padding round to our department, and that was Rupert Murdoch.

    I also think, you know, that the influence of Murdoch is clear. It was carefully cultivated. "It was the Sun what won it." That was the impression. Why would someone like Tony Blair fly to the middle of Australia to address a group of Murdoch executives if it wasn't a sign on his part that he needed the support of Mr Murdoch, and a sign on Murdoch's part that he could do it? You know, it's like the old story about why does a dog lick its private parts? Because it can. Why did Murdoch exercise this overt power over leading politicians and force them to go to tedious conferences that they didn't need? Because he could. Because he could.

  • I am going to move now from the topic of Mr Murdoch on to what happened to you in 1992. Now, in the summer of 1992, in July, you announced that there should be a second Calcutt report, didn't you?

  • And shortly after that --

  • Well, more than 18 months had elapsed. I do think it is important to remember, Calcutt said -- and it is important, when one thinks of the number of last chances we have had -- Calcutt said 18 months of the new press complaints arrangements. After that, there should be an assessment, a reassessment, and he was asked to do the reassessment.

  • Shortly after you had announced that he would be undertaking the reassessment, two stories appeared successively in the media. The first was a kiss and tell story provided by Antonia de Sancha, and the second was a hospitality issue concerning a person called Mona Bauwens. Following the second one, it is a matter of record that you resigned.

  • Can I ask you first of all: it has not escaped the Inquiry's notice that this took place very shortly after you announced Calcutt 2.

  • Are you able to help us or not as to whether that timing was deliberate --

  • No, I think it was coincidental, because interestingly, the News of the World had the first chance at the de Sancha story and elected not to publish it, so... I think it was just, you know, an inconvenient moment for one's private life to fall out of the cupboard.

    Then I think, after it didn't had happen, after what happened, I think the temptation then -- with the benefit of hindsight, what I should have done, which is what I offered to do the first night it came out -- if I had had to resign, I would have been perfectly happy to contemplate life away from the ministerial cars. John Major, for reasons that I now think I understand better than I did then, was very keen that I didn't, not setting an undesirable precedent about ministers resigning when they were found with inconvenient girlfriends.

    So I stuck it out and then I think it became a subject of amusement for the press. And this was where, I think, we got to the point -- at the end of the day, as I say later in my evidence -- and I will say -- I don't think politicians should be protected from this stuff, actually, and I gather someone has already anticipated me, giving evidence this morning, talking about France, which I hold as a very necessary thing for us to appreciate, about what happens in France and I will come back to that.

    But in relation to me, I stubbornly clung on, and even when I decided I had to go, there were plenty of efforts to persuade me not to, and I thought at the time they were all meant and actually they probably were, but actually, I hung around too long, and while I was hanging around, the truth was not enough for some of these newspapers. They decided to go and invent it. And that is where -- if I have any resentment about any of this -- you know, generally, I think if you walk a bit on the wild side in your personal life and you are in politics, you should expect to get into trouble. What shouldn't happen, though, is it then becomes a sort of vendetta and people then go around thinking because you are a wounded animal, rather like in those nature films -- you know, the beast can sort of rip you to bits without any worry about fairness, truth or anything, and you know, we come to the wretched Chelsea shirt, you know, which I am -- fan that I am of Chelsea Football Club, I have never owned a Chelsea shirt. Never felt the need to -- and that was a total invention and I gather you had Mr Clifford. I read some of his evidence in front of you. I mean, Mr Clifford -- I am amazed -- he doesn't take his oath very seriously. It's already been admitted on previous occasions this was all totally cooked up. It was cooked up between him and the then deputy editor of the Sun, Mr Higgins, because the then editor -- now, of course, a serious statesman on all these matters -- Kelvin MacKenzie was on holiday. And I have it on very good authority from someone who was a very senior person there at the time, who I won't embarrass by saying who he was, but quite a well known name -- he said it was a bidding game. "If she says this, what you will you pay? If she says that, what will you pay?"

    That, you see, is when it all becomes mischievous. You see, you can argue that politicians who have irregular private lives -- although there is no shortage of irregular private lives in the media, or indeed in the law from my remembrance of my time at the Bar, but you know, not all of us have to confront that, and of course, the recruitment agencies for politicians are not full at the moment because a lot of people don't want their private live dragged around.

    But the point that nevertheless has to be faced is this: the press is not running a morality patrol to cleanse public life. The press are running a morality patrol for their own squalid reasons about their circulation. As the press came under more pressure from television, the press became much more part of the entertainment industry -- I am talking here about the red top tabloids -- than the news dissemination business, and as a result, anything goes.

    And because they knew that politicians were afraid of them -- I think it was Douglas Hird who said, you know, Britain today -- he said some years ago -- was characterised by strong journalists and weak politicians, and that is so, so true.

    So why should they worry about inventing a story? It is all just a laugh, isn't it? And anything about the Chelsea shirt -- which, to be honest, I am sick and fed up with. You know, I really don't want to go to my grave with the only thing people remember about me is some bloody Chelsea shirt, but the point is -- the point is that that is a sign -- that is the highwater mark of the arrogance of power without responsibility, because they made that up. They made that up with total cynicism, and that, you know, is something which you cannot say in a free society is justified, because that has nothing to do with the other work of the press, which I also speak about in my statement, which is: without the press, this would not be here. The government -- I am sure the government bitterly regrets setting up this inquiry. The government never wanted to expose all of this hacking stuff. It was inconvenient to them.

    Members of Parliament, as politicians, become more and more creatures of the system and become more and more just paid hacks, rather than having some independent substance outside politics. They weren't looking for trouble and the police -- and I gather I have attracted the ire of the counsel for the Metropolitan police by suggesting that the failure of the police in dealing with this matter was abject. But abject it was. So who has put it on the agenda? Why the press?

    So what we have to be aiming for here is a press that actually does the job of exposing the things that a lot of people would rather not have said, but also a press that has some respect and integrity of its own. Insofar as my rather sad and pathetic little Chelsea shirt incident has any relevance to that, it shows a press that was out of control and had to concern with the truth whatsoever, no concern with the public interest. They were just having a laugh and I was stupid enough to put myself in a position where they could have a laugh at me, fool that I was.

  • Moving on to some of the methods used to obtain that story, you tell us there was some phone tapping. Now, I understand you are not asserting that it was illegal phone tapping, because it was done with the consent --

  • So I believe. But again, you know, I come back to this point. I am old enough to have been foreign office minister responsible for Eastern Europe, and it was very interesting to have my glass of beer with Herr Honecker and wait upon Mr Ceausescu. But, you know, so much of the way in which those people kept control of their countries was through all manner of intrusions which were justified just by the need to keep tabs on people.

    I think one of the things that surely must be of interest to this inquiry is to ensure that the methods that are used to deal with what is basically no better than tittle-tattle, you know -- the distinction we all talk about, which is so -- almost impossible to actually honour, what is of interest to the public and what is in the public interest. A whole lot of the methods that are used by the tabloid press are totally and utterly -- maybe they are not so bad now as they were -- totally and utterly unacceptable in terms of their intrusiveness and which justifies what Princess Grace once said, you know: "I don't object to the freedom of the press, as long as it leaves other people some freedom as well."

    And we end up, I think, in a situation where -- all of this is so old now and all of this is still hanging about as unfinished business. Why did Calcutt recommend three criminal offences against intrusion? Because he was equally, I think, as struck, as I always have been, that the methods that are used cannot be justified by any of the product. The product is merely titillation.

    Then we come back, of course, to the real problem here. The real problem here is the British people, because the British people love to read this stuff, you know, and the annoyance that the British people have with the tabloids is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass. You know, why do we queue up to read this stuff? I think because it is the last big throwback to Victorian England and repressive lives, in the sense that the tabloids produce this stuff not because it is fun for them; they produce this stuff because they think they will sell more papers.

  • My last question about that period in late summer and early autumn 1992 is just to give you the opportunity, if you wish to take it, to tell us about any other of the methods that were used by the media not just to obtain either of the stories but in the subsequent coverage?

  • Well, you know, I think that -- I think anyone who is in politics is aware that all manner of different intrusions are used and -- you know, trying to get details of your bank accounts and stuff like that. I fortunately never, although it may come to that, suffered from what is really the absolute worst in all of these things, which is, of course, what particularly excited, I think, David Calcutt and his team, which is what happened to a poor comedy actor, now probably long forgotten, called Gordon Kay, and the extent to which, for no better reason than just wanting photographs of some fellow on his deathbed -- you know, all manner of intrusion is used by the tabloid press to get into bedrooms and stuff, to get into the hospital wards and stuff like that, and you know -- no, I don't think I have anything much more to say about my own personal experiences.

    By the way, my sense about my own personal experiences doesn't make me -- I am probably about as sympathetic to a free press as anyone can be because I spend a lot of my life now being appalled at the impotence of Parliament, at the inability of people to actually -- indeed, the restraint, dare I say, that the courts are imposing on the publication of an awful lot of stuff that should circulate. The press is our only guarantor against that, but I do think we can't go on with the press fouling its own nest by being incapable of behaving appropriately in relation to their desperate desire to feed the British public's equally desperate desire for gossip.

  • You have made clear, I think, in your evidence the importance you attach to the freedom of the press. Would you agree with me that it has a vital role to play holding the powerful to account, getting to the truth of matters of public interest and facilitating democratic debate?

  • Absolutely, and indeed, you know -- and that is one of the reasons why -- it amazes me that I think there are still parts of the press who don't want statutory regulation. Now, of course, Professor Joad, you know, I quote -- I don't know if anyone remembers Professor Joad now, but, you know, it all depends what you mean, so we can have -- statutory regulation covers a variety of different possibilities. But I'm amazed that some of the newspaper companies that apparently don't want some kind of better and more effective Press Complaints Commission or tribunal don't realise that the thing that most damages the press are these sort of antics. Otherwise the press can strut heroically through any street because the press are telling us things we need to know.

    You know, I revisit the point -- I am sorry, tedious and repetitious. This inquiry would not be here if it weren't for the press. If we had to rely on the police, on Parliament, government, none of all this stuff that has so shocked people about the extent of phone hacking would have come out and I think that, you know -- and perhaps the saddest thing is that even some of those who were supposed to protect us from this stuff were actually engaged in trying to suppress it.

    Of all the things that I think shocked me about the activities of the Metropolitan Police in all of this is the fact that Sir Paul Stephenson and Mr -- the other assistant commissioner, Mr Yates, separately went to see the editor of the Guardian to tell him he was completely barking up the wrong tree and it would be better if he stopped it.

    So, you know, what more -- what better example of the need for a free press can one provide to this?

  • Before we come very briefly to that subject, can I ask you about the third paragraph on page 5 of your witness statement, please, Mr Mellor. You say:

    "With a few honourable exceptions, politicians in and out of government were too frightened to expose what many of them well knew was going on."

  • Could you clarify for us what it is that you are alleging some politicians well knew was going on but failed to expose?

  • Well, I am -- I would be pretty certain myself from the common gossip around Parliament when I was there that people were only too well aware that the dangers they faced were often from illegitimate attempts to obtain information. And anyway, anyone who read the papers would know about this, because of what happened with the royal family and hacking into their messages and I think it is astonishing that people -- that anybody in politics who is presumed to be well-informed was surprised at the extent to which this went on.

    Indeed, I remain surprised, actually, that when you think of the money that the mobile telephone industry makes, why they themselves never saw it as part of their function to try to advise their customers as to the dubious security of texts and other messages, or indeed why they didn't do something to make it less easy for these hackings to take place.

    Politicians are quite sophisticated, whatever appearances some might have to the contrary. The House of Commons is a den of gossip. A lot of them are locked up in there, all these full-time MPs, which is always said to be a virtue, but they are locked up in there, drinking in the bars, eating subsidised food, and chatting amongst themselves. All of this stuff was common gossip.

    Not necessarily the specifics -- I think people were shocked, but you see, where the shocking thing came with all this phone hacking was once it moved out of show business and politics and really hit real people and I think, you know, the way that one or two murder victims and their families were treated, that is what really pushed the public into a sense of revulsion. Did they care about my phone being tapped if it was, or other politicians, showbiz celebrities? Absolutely not.

  • You devote five paragraphs on page 5 of your statement to your comments on the conduct of the police.

  • Can I ask you this: are any of them based on direct personal knowledge of the conduct to which you refer, or are they comment on material which has been put into the public domain?

  • They are comment on what the police themselves have said. You know, for instance, take -- well, first of all, the comment I make when I feel particularly appalled was made by the editor of the Guardian, who -- I didn't sit in his office when he received these two gentlemen, so I wasn't to know.

    Similarly with DC Yates -- I remember very well having to bone up on this because it coincided with a newspaper review I was doing, ironically for Sky, and when he said that he couldn't be expected, a man of his seniority, to be going through bin bags, and it would have taken six officers a couple of months to go through the bin bags. Well, I think, frankly, if that is all it would have took it would have been much better if they had done that.

    So it is comment based on their comments which lead me to draw conclusions adverse to the manner in which they conducted themselves -- and I have said I think their performance on this was abject -- but also to make it clear that where then is the last line of defence the public can rely on to be told all of this? Why, with the press.

  • Moving to what you say about circumstances in France.

  • Do I accurately distil your point if I say that it is that an excess of privacy for figures in public life can have an adverse effect on the public interest?

  • Self-evidently so. It is an amazing thing that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could, but for this ill-judged lunge at some poor maid in a New York hotel -- he should have been president of France now, and yet it seems obvious that he'd made a sort of study of ill-judged lunges during -- and worse, it would appear. None of that was printed in France, and had his ill-judged lunge been in Paris and not in New York, it would not have been reported.

    Well, I can't see that as being in the public interest and of course, the interesting thing is that Monsieur Chirac, subsequent to his leaving office, has been convicted of financial corruption. Monsieur Sarkozy is under investigation for a similar offence. I think the culture of secrecy -- however inconvenient it is for politicians to have their private life, trivial aspects of their private life -- you know, if every adulterer in this country was stoned, the streets would be 10 deep with dead bodies. Let's face it, it is not exactly a sport that only politicians invented.

    But you know, if a politician has to put up with inconveniences over his private life, that is a small price to pay for the bigger benefit, which is scrutiny. People must never think that what they do is not going to be published. I France is a classically bad example of what happens when a culture of privacy encourages the over-mighty to think they can do pretty much what they like.

  • Is it for that reason that essentially your concern is not to stop investigation of public figures but to regulate the methods --

  • And also, you know, when I think all the technology and effort and man hours that was used, you know, over my sex life, and then you look at some of these things -- which I was actually quite shocked by. I thought I had got to an age where I wasn't readily shocked -- quite shocked by these dreadful peculations that the Daily Telegraph finally showed of, you know, institutionalised corruption on a very large-scale in the House of Commons over expenses, and some people were brought to book and an awful lot were not brought to book and some of the worst offenders are government ministers.

    You look at this and you think: you know, this is worthy of the investigation. I am not saying that if, you know, some woman steps forwards and says, "He done me wrong", that shouldn't be published, but I do think that some of the methods used have to be proportionate and reproducing some of the circumstances of Ceausescu's Romania just in order to put someone's love life over the front page is not worthy.

    In fact, not only does it demean the press and humiliate the victim; it demeans the whole of society. I have a riveting recollection of all the conversations I have had, one with dear old Ray Sykes, who was the only professional diplomat to be the American ambassador, and we were meeting for breakfast during the course of one of these scandals -- I don't think it was mine; it was another one -- and he, like all professional ambassadors, was going through the world's press and saying this was this and this was this. When he came to the British papers -- and by this time, whatever this was had reached the broadsheets -- he said, "This is what the rest of the world is talking about and this is what you are talking about in Britain", and he said, "However much of an Anglophile I am, I can't tell you that I think this is edifying for the reputation of your country." And I think that is so true.

  • That takes us on the question of what should be done in the future, which you deal with, in fact, at the start of your witness statement.

  • You say that the status quo is not an option and that a new regulatory commission is needed which is free form press ownership.

  • Do you see any room for press involvement, as opposed to ownership?

  • I think that -- it depends what you mean by "press involvement". I don't think anyone who is presently employed by a newspaper should be part of a regulatory regime. But of course there are plenty ex-editors -- almost as many ex-editors as there are ex-football managers -- and there are plenty of them who I'm sure would do a useful job, and plenty of other people.

    But I would -- I think -- I just think that -- I mean, I just can't understand why there is really an argument about this, 20 years after Calcutt said to the press: "Come on, prove self-regulation can work." Do people carry placards down the street saying, "Hooray for Press Complaints Commission. What a wonderful job it is doing"? Of course they don't. So some change has to be made.

    For me, that is not the issue. The issue is the extent to which there is a statutory base for it, and I do believe that a line can be drawn between establishing the structure and the range of penalties that it can offer and actually not having any statutory code of practice or something like that that I personally think would be impossible to -- look, let's face it: how can anyone seriously defend a press complaints arrangement where one major is out of it and has been out of it for two years? How can that be justified? It can't be. It can't be.

  • Do you have any thoughts about how such a body should be resourced?

  • Obviously it has to be resourced by the industry, but Calcutt, I think, recommended that the amount should be settled by the body themselves or by those who appoint them, and then, of course, there should be a levy on the owners. I am not sure I would necessarily object, actually, if there was some element of public money on a matching basis that went in.

    What I do think is, you know -- I hope I prove that I don't come here actuated by some spite about some 20-year old thing that happened to me. Indeed, my life in many ways has been rather better because one has able to make a bit of change in one's life. But the point is that 20 years is too long a time to wait for sensible regulation and what we have to try to do is have regulation that has teeth. I mean, you know, you have the electronic media, where you have Ofcom. Heaven knows -- I haven't looked up what the budget of Ofcom is but it will be many tens of millions.

    Look, as I understand it, the last time I had a conversation with the then chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, the Press Complaints Commission has 15 employees, a budget of 1.9 million, a chairman, five investigative officers and a support team. That is derisory, and inevitably ineffective.

  • You say it should be obviously independent; can I take it you mean independent not only from the government but also from the press?

  • Absolutely, and one of the things that I do think is that, you know -- I think it should have a judicial basis, both in terms of the way it is appointed, with the same scrupulous concern for objectivity that the judicial appointments processes in this country have. I also think it is inevitable, if it is to be serious, that there should be judges on it. I think judges and other people deemed to have something useful to contribute -- which would include people who had worked in the press, and there are a lot of distinguished people who don't currently have jobs in the press. You have one on your panel of assessors for this inquiry, George Jones. I don't know anybody in politics, whatever their political stripe, who doesn't respect George Jones. There are people like him who would make a major contribution, but I just think it has to be independent, it has to be properly resourced, it has to have the ability to investigate.

    Also, why does it have to wait for a complaint? If you have a code and you have, I don't know, a panel of a couple dozen people who are involved, in some shape or form, in the press complaints arrangement, one of them sits on the train and reads something and says, "That is contrary to the code", why should he or she have to wait for a complaint? Why not be able to go and say, "We need to look at this because this is manifestly contrary to the code."

    The other thing, I think, sorry, while I am on all of this -- I think they have -- there has to be a power to fine. I think just publishing some apologia is something and nothing, really. I think if there was a financial sanction, that would mean that these requirements would be taken more seriously, and there should be proper responsibility where it is clear that an editor is responsible for what -- and the owner -- is responsible for what his journalists do.

    It is too easy to set the journalists some impossible assignment, or impossible to do without breaking some rule, not ask how the information was obtained, not ask how he proposed to obtain the information and then say, "Oh, it is just a rogue employee" when it all goes wrong. I just don't think that is sustainable any more. I think there has to be some form of strict liability on this.

    This is designed not to muzzle the press; it is designed to ensure that the press lives up to the standards it expects others to live up to and that the press is able then to basic in the glory of protecting a free society and not having this ghastly underbelly of unacceptable practices by the red tops.

  • My final question is about the code itself, which you deal with in the antepenultimate paragraph on page 2. You say the code itself should be a living thing, capable of being changed in the face of experience and changing circumstances?

  • Could you expand, please, on what you envisage?

  • Well, I think that -- I think that there is not much wrong, actually, with the basic code they have at the moment. But once again, I think it would be enormously helpful if the Inquiry was to take a view on what parts of the code were justifiable, what parts of the code needed to be changed, and in effect produce a draft code for consideration and then, in the light of circumstances -- because circumstances do alter cases, it is not just a cliché -- it is possible to amend the code, either to strengthen it or maybe in some instances to think that it needed liberalising a bit.

    But it should be left to those individuals who comprise -- and I would envisage it to be quite a substantial body of people, a couple of dozen, so they weren't required to do this as a full-time job -- sitting in panels, that they would, in conclave, as it were, be able to determine whether or not they thought the code was too tough in certain respects, not tough enough, and that could change. Obviously, people who felt affected by that would be free to petition them on these changes.

    The code -- if an attempt was made to ossify the code in some statutory instrument, it would be a big, big mistake. Neither Parliament nor parliamentary draftsman are really equipped to do that job anyway, as I discovered -- I made the point in my -- when trying, under pressure from Mrs Thatcher and Mrs Whitehouse, a powerful combination, to try and find some new statutory definition of "obscene publications". Almost impossible to do. But most of us, if we sat with a group of like, you know, well qualified people and this was put across and this was put in front, you would know which was obscene and which wasn't. But defining it? Almost impossible.

  • Thank you very much. That is all my questions.

  • Can I just ask a couple of questions?

  • First of all, you have spoken about what some regulator might look like, but does it follow from what you have said that there can't be anything optional about it; it would have to apply to everybody.

  • Absolutely. I just don't understand how anyone can defend the present press complaints set-up, where a major newspaper publisher has opted out for, what, two years now? I also think that although it's ingenious my old colleague David Hunt talking about a contractual basis for compliance, what happens when the contract reaches its end? No, I think it has to be absolutely that they have to be in by -- and that is a bit where it is in everybody's interests that there is a statutory base for it.

  • Then that raises the question: compulsory for whom?

  • Well, compulsory -- I agree there is a definitional basis, but I think it would have to be anybody who publishes a newspaper.

  • What about then -- my second question, my follow-on, is that that raises the question of the Internet. I am not talking about Twitter, but other sites which look like newspapers but perhaps are run differently, perhaps like blogs, whatever.

  • I agree. I think the one thing that I don't think anybody quite anticipated, certainly no one in the legislative business, was quite how influential the Internet would be. I suppose in a way my strong advice would be to opt out of that one. There is enough problems trying to resolve the traditional print industry. But leave open, plainly, the fact that at some point somebody is going to have to seriously consider how that applies on the net, especially when newspapers more increasingly find, if they can find some way of monetising it more effectively, that they will get a bigger audience on the net than those of us who still like buying one at the stall and getting one's hands filthy and black reading it.

  • That is the point, that actually the query whether there should be a difference between the mechanism whereby you get your news and the news you get. I think one of the witnesses talked about dead trees, which one can understand, rather than electronically.

  • I can't deny that my thinking is probably still very much rooted in yesterday in terms of the newspapers. I think it is one of those questions -- one used to say when seeking refuge from impossible to answer points in the House of Commons "I need notice of that question". It is almost that the problems of the net are unavoidable, but what we are trying to do here is only a starting point because -- as the lines become ever more blurred between a newspaper as a physical thing and a newspaper as something you call up on a screen.

  • One of the ways you could think about it, and I only offer it to you for a view if you have one, and I recognise that if you have not had notice then it is difficult, is to talk about those who are in the business of providing news. In other words, who make money, whether by advertising or otherwise, through the provision of news or the like.

  • Yes, I know, because, of course, some of the -- I mean, the most difficult to handle sources of news are those which are not newspapers as such, but where someone specialises -- you know, I don't single him out because I have anything particularly against him, I only single him out because I can remember him and I can't remember a lot of the others, Guido Fawkes, people like that, where he is effectively in the business of publishing a newspaper.

    But, of course, he only publishes it in -- I mean -- at first blush, that sounds like a good way of doing it, because it would be quite clear who you were referring to and I certainly agree it is extremely difficult for the net to stay out of this, and as is well known, you know, all of these gagging orders that are done to protect certain celebrities from the consequences of their actions and which I don't -- not that it matters any longer what I think, but I don't particularly approve. But, of course, all of that is set at nought because they are published on the net and everybody looks at it now.

  • Well, then you can add another layer of the problem, which is that if you put your servers in a different jurisdiction and operate from a different jurisdiction, even though that is all available here, you may not be bound by about a single rule here.

  • Yes. That was always the issue, actually, about satellite television and why it was better to have them operating from here. Although I don't think, and again I am relying on my rusty memory, that didn't stop government trying to legislate for unacceptable content on satellite broadcasting. Of course there are ways, even if it sometimes seems overcomplicated, of acting against people who receive such stuff, even if, as you rightly say, it is actually sent out, disseminated from, a place outside the jurisdiction.

    But the Internet has not made, I think, your business any easier, sir.

  • Well, you could say that.

    Mr Mellor, thank you very much indeed.

  • I made an application to ask Mr Mellor some questions.

  • Yes, yes, I think Mr Mellor has foreshadowed that you wanted to.

  • You make a number of broad criticisms of the Metropolitan Police. As I understand your answer a moment ago to Mr Barr, you do so not on the basis of any first-hand knowledge.

  • I don't know what you mean by "first-hand knowledge"; I read the papers, I listen to -- how would I sit in Mr Hayman's lap while he decided not to do anything about --

  • Mr Mellor, that is rather my point. You are in no better position, are you, to comment on this than any of the rest of us --

  • Well, I mean, comment is free.

  • The point is when someone makes a decision --

  • Will you just answer my question, Mr Mellor; you are in no better position to comment than anybody else, are you?

  • Well, it depends who you mean by "anybody else". I am probably better educated than a lot of people and have a lot more experience. So am I in a better position? I don't know. I'm not quite sure where this is getting us.

  • What is it about your experience that makes you in a better position to comment?

  • Because I spent half a dozen years as a Home Office minister rubbing shoulders with the police. I think I know the nature of the beast better than most people who haven't had those exciting experiences.

  • What analysis have you gone into when looking at this evidence before forming these broad criticisms?

  • Look, at the end of the day, when the editor of the Guardian says that the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner went to see him and told him that he had got it all wrong and to desist, closely to be followed then by DAC Yates, I think all of us are entitled to comment upon it. I am not quite sure why we shouldn't, or why those comments are inaccurate, because plainly what those two men did was totally and utterly wrong.

  • That assumes, Mr Mellor, that what you have recorded about that incident is what the judge will find happened, because there was another --

  • You have had the editor of the Guardian; did you challenge him on the point?

  • We have indeed had the editor of the Guardian, he has indeed given his evidence and it has indeed been challenged. But so was Sir Paul Stephenson in his evidence, and in fact the distance between them is not very large.

    You make criticism about the press; do you do so for their conduct throughout this period? Do you say, for example, that the Metropolitan Police were wrong to stop the investigation of phone hacking in 2006 when they did?

  • Do you say, then, that they should have not continued with some of the 70 plus terrorist investigations they were conducting at the time -- let me finish the question, if you would.

  • Don't worry, I am intelligent enough to know where you are getting to.

  • Very well, then. Give me the answer, if I don't need to finish the question?

  • Well, I will. The idea that there is a choice between dealing with terrorist incidents and therefore not dealing with this is just a pathetic cop out about resources that as a Home Office minister I am fully entitled to tonk ad verilium(?). But I appreciate somebody has to do it and you have to do it, so do it.

  • On the contrary, I am not relying for the moment, in making that question, on what I have said or what the chairman has said in answer to questions being put at the time when DAC Clarke was giving his evidence, when he explained why it was that the police made an entirely rational decision at that stage in 2006 not to continue with this. Is there anything you can tell us from your position of privilege, from your background, that would explain otherwise why that decision was wrong in 2006?

  • I think it is -- you obviously have your story and I have mine, right.

  • I am just trying to establish what it is.

  • Mine is that the police had no enthusiasm to deal with this. They had a cozy little relationship with the Murdoch press and they certainly weren't going to put it at risk for any of this stuff.

  • What was the basis of that bald assertion, Mr Mellor?

  • Which facts? Tell me. That is what I am asking.

  • The facts that they accepted that this was just a couple of rogue journalists. They didn't send -- look, at the end of the day all of the information that ultimately the Guardian published, all of the information that News International was shamed into presenting, the police could have gone in on a warrant and got. But they weren't interested.

  • When they made the decision in 2006 they do so not for the reason you have just suggested --

  • Are you giving evidence or just putting stuff?

  • If you would be kind enough to let me finish the question before you start the answer I would suggest to you they were not doing that for the reason you suggest but because they had to deal with other and more pressing matters?

  • You suggest it. I hear what you suggest and I don't believe a word of it.

  • Fortunately, Mr Mellor, it is not whether you believe it or --

  • This is probably not very helpful. I have been dragged into this, it is not my ...

  • That is all I have.

  • I understand the points. Thank you very much indeed.

  • Sir, is now a convenient time to give the shorthand writer a break?

  • (A short break)

  • Sir, our last witness today who is giving oral evidence is Jillian Brady.

  • Thank you very much indeed.