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

  • JOHN LESLIE PRESCOTT, BARON PRESCOTT (affirmed).

  • Thank you, Lord Prescott. Your full name, please, for the Inquiry.

  • Thank you. You provided us with a witness statement dated 17 February this year, underneath a statement of truth. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • Thank you very much for the effort you've obviously put into this statement. I'm grateful.

  • You, of course, were a Member of Parliament for 40 years, Deputy Prime Minister for ten years, and you're now a life peer; is that correct?

  • In paragraph 36 your statement, you touch on one aspect of press intrusion into your personal life. Do you consider it was appropriate at all for the Daily Mirror to publish information relating to your personal life?

  • I didn't object; I didn't like it.

  • Is the implied objection that you make in your statement in paragraphs 3 and 4 to the extent and nature of the publications rather than the fact of the extramarital affair to, as it were, cut to the quick?

  • No, I recognise I'm a public person and it would be of interest in the way the press define what is the public interest. I didn't complain about that at all. The other person involved had gone to the story, had clearly been paid for it, and I just admitted to it immediately and tried to deal with the difficulties obviously personally.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 6, please, of your statement and paragraph 7. We're about now 2006, when of course you were deputy prime minister. Did you have some concern at that point that your voicemails may have been hacked into, Lord Prescott?

  • No. I think I'm a figure of attention to a lot of the press over a lot of my lifetime, so I had to deal with many stories. Some I thought: "Where did they get the information from?", but I never thought for a moment it was anything like phone hacking.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 8, the reports in the Guardian on 8 July 2009, the claim that a large amount of information was obtained about a large number of individuals, many of whom were public figures who had been targeted by Goodman and Mulcaire. Guardian sources revealed that your name and the names of other politicians were referred to in the documents obtained by the Metropolitan Police in 2006.

    So you, as a result of that the information, wrote to Mr Yates on 9 July 2009?

  • Your personal assistant at the relevant time was Joan Hammell --

  • -- and she features significantly in this story.

    The letter you wrote, exhibit JP1, which I hope you have in front of you, this was to the Commissioner, dated 9 July 2009, referring to the allegations in the Guardian. It also states that:

    "The Metropolitan Police have in their possession the names of all those whose phones were targeted. I would like to know if you have such information and, if so, why we were not informed and why no action was taken. It's important that you make the police's position on this issue clear."

  • Yes, I think he did it in a few hours. He gave me a telephone call and he said, "I've done an investigation and there's no evidence against you at all in phone tapping."

    I thought it was a rather quick inquiry, but that's what I got (inaudible).

  • So that was a conclusion that you had with Mr Yates on 9 July when you were in your car; is that correct?

  • Yeah. He rang me and told me he was doing a press conference this afternoon, going to announce that there was no evidence. I thought it's a rather unusual way but accepted it but did ask him to put it in writing to me. It took him seven weeks and another reminder before I got a reply in writing.

  • Can we be clear, because this may be important in terms of what happened on 9 July, when exactly was that conversation with Mr Yates? Was it the morning or the afternoon?

  • I think it was the afternoon. It was 15 minutes before he was going to make his -- do his press conference.

  • So it was probably about 5 in the afternoon?

  • I thought it was earlier than that, because I think I've got in my mind something like 2 or 3 o'clock.

  • Thank you. You say in paragraph 11 of your statement, Lord Prescott, that he gave the press conference he'd referred to in his conversation with you and he made the following comment:

    "There's been a lot of media comment today about the then deputy prime minister John Prescott. This investigation has not uncovered any evidence to suggest that John Prescott's telephone had been tapped."

    Then he later said:

    "Where there was clear evidence that people had potentially been the subject of tapping, they were all contacted by the police."

    Were you, at the time, concerned by that statement?

  • Yes. I mean, they were reluctant to give me any information. What they were suggesting there's no evidence at all, but I think the play of the word is on "tapped". They would say, properly so, that my phone wasn't tapped because I never took messages on it and they didn't have my phone number. That comes from the evidence that has taken place. So they got the number of my chief exec, or chief of office, and followed all my messages, which they did not admit to at all, not even that.

  • This is the Joan Hammell we've been speaking of a few moments ago?

  • To be clear, did you use the voicemail on your own mobile phone for any purpose or not?

  • No. Means you have to reply to them if they leave you a message.

  • Okay. Your solicitors were then involved, and on 10 July they wrote -- we shouldn't pass over the letter at page 2 of the exhibit bundle. This is a letter back from the Commissioner's office. The letter which you sent on 9 July, which I think your statement suggests you wrote to the Assistant Commissioner Mr Yates, was in fact to the Commissioner, and what happened was the Commissioner passed it on --

  • To -- to Mr Yates. But then on 10 July, your then solicitors were involved and wrote to the editor of the News of the World, Mr Myler.

  • And this contained a standard request under the Data Protection Act.

  • The essence of the request at page 4:

    "Would you therefore please inform us whether any personal data of which John Prescott is the data subject is being held by or on behalf of the News of the World."

    So that was a request to the News of the World, not, of course, to the police?

  • Yes. It was an attempt to find out if they were prepared to tell us whether they had information or not. By then, I believed that these acts had occurred. I just wanted to hear whether they would admit it or not because I knew that eventually it would come out.

  • A letter also went to the DPP by your solicitors at page 9.

  • This is under the appendices, is it?

  • Yes, your exhibit.

  • Do you have these, Lord Prescott?

  • Mr Starmer, Queen's Counsel, was the DPP. Of course, he still is the DPP. A copy of the letter is enclosed.

  • You're seeking, at that stage, access to the material allegedly sealed in the Taylor case; is that right?

  • Partly, yes. I did enquire with the Data Commissioner as to whether I could get this information via that route, and he said probably not, but try and write to the public prosecutor. Failing that, as we come to later, he advised me to write to the legal officer of the Metropolitan Police.

  • Thank you. The CPS write to you at page 11 on 16 July and we can see from the first page reference to the DPP's statement on 9 July.

  • Last paragraph:

    "You have asked the director give consideration to making the appropriate application to gain access to material allegedly sealed in a civil case involving Mr Gordon Taylor."

  • Then on the next page:

    "The CPS was not a party to any litigation that may have been conducted by Mr Taylor. Your letter is also vague as to the details of what may or may not have happened in the course of the litigation. Additionally, the CPS does not have any powers of investigation."

    All that may or may not have been technically correct --

  • But it was part of the agreement in the civil case that no information be given to anyone about the settlement, which is quite normal with these people.

  • Thank you. Then, at page 17 -- we needn't look at the DPP's statement, we can look at that with him in due course -- solicitors acting for News International write to your solicitors on 7 August. Do you have that?

  • Where reference it is made to the Assistant Commissioner Mr Yates' statement on 9 July. That's referred to at the bottom of page 17. Then, the middle of page 18:

    "In the circumstances, your client was, in July, acting under the misapprehension that his mobile telephone had previously been tapped on behalf of the News of the World. The police have corrected this in clear terms."

    Was that denial, as it were, correct or not?

  • My concern with the public prosecutor is that I got the view they were working very closely with Mr Yates in their common description of what had happened to me; namely: "Your phone has not been tapped and that's all." Now, is it an offence for your messages from your phone to on one of your own staff -- is that illegal? I would have thought it was illegal for the person who has the phone, but tapping into my messages -- I was trying to get them to tell me what the position was, and then we got that silly nonsense: "If you've heard it first, it's not illegal."

    Now, the police wrote to me with that excuse and so did the public prosecutor, which was unsatisfactory and was evidence of them working together on it.

  • Okay. Paragraph 15 of your statement. You say:

    "John Yates had still not responded in writing to my letter of 9 July."

    Well, that was the letter to Paul Stephenson which was passed on to --

  • -- Mr Yates. On 21 August, you wrote to him again, enclosing a copy of your previous letter and asking for a response. That's page 20. You get a response on 11 September 2009 at page 21.

  • He apologised, at page 21, for not replying to your letter of 9 July. He says this:

    "... but I'd assumed that your enquiry had been answered by my telephone to you on that day ..."

  • Nonsense. The first thing I said to him: "You don't give me that sort of information over the telephone. Put it to me in writing." "Right," he said. Now he's ducking behind that.

  • Thank you. I read on:

    "... when I informed you that out investigation in '05/'06 did not uncover any evidence to suggest that your phone had been tapped. For your information, at the time of our investigation, police did inform and provide briefings to those individuals who fell into the category of royal household, MPs, cabinet office, police and military."

  • Am I in those categories? I was a bit confused about that. Perhaps they didn't like me being the Deputy Prime Minister. I would have thought I'm supposed to be in those categories.

  • I suppose one goes back to the use of words, because there may be a distinction between your phone and a phone of a member of your staff.

  • But is it an offence to tap a member of (inaudible) with my messages?

  • No, is it? I'm asking, because that's what I was trying to get at.

  • So they always use "your phone", and in that sense you could probably say that's right, but the offence was committed with the messages between, interception.

  • In terms of what Mr Yates said -- because I'll probably have to ask him about this on Thursday when I come to question him.

  • He might say, "If you look very carefully at what I said at page 21, there's a reference to" -- do you see the fourth line of the second paragraph?

  • This is the business about informing royal household, et cetera.

  • "... who we knew and could evidence had had their voicemail ..."

    You see that personal pronoun, "their"?

  • So he might say that although you fall into at least one of the foregoing categories, it wasn't your voicemail; it was your agent's voicemail.

  • Well, it's interesting. Later, they were to change their position and say I'd been -- that I had been offended. An offence had been -- certainly, Commissioner Akers actually made that clear and gave me that apology when we changed. But I think what's happened with Mr Yates, he had one position and didn't want to change from it. So he kept it and kept narrowly to that. But we now know all the evidence and clearly they had all the evidence. He just didn't want to look in the bag.

  • Whatever emphasis is put on the personal pronoun "their", it might be said that that surely includes an agent of yours.

  • It requires them to have made the link, doesn't it, between the lady whose voicemail was the subject of interest and Lord Prescott?

  • But there was more than that because they were later to tell me -- when I wrote to the legal department of the Metropolitan Police, I asked them, did they have any evidence at all that payments concerned myself? And then she told me, despite what Yates had been saying, they'd found two envelopes with my name on and payments of £250.

  • We're going to come to the evidence as it unfolds in your statement, but that was Mr Yates' position as at 11 September 2009. On 24 November 2009, you wrote to the director of illegal services at the Met police, so that's page 22.

  • You have that. You say:

    "I understand that Scotland Yard has now analysed and logged the contents of all the material which was seized by Metropolitan Police officers from Mulcaire and Goodman in the course of enquiries into the interception of voicemail messages. This is a formal request for you to notify me of any reference of any kind to myself in the material, including but not limited to references in computer records, paperwork, audio or video recordings dealing with any and all instructions, actions, recordings, notes, messages and payments concerning myself."

    But the point was made later on --

  • That's pretty clear. You've put everything in.

  • Yes. It was -- because I thought a legal would not lie but the police probably would.

  • It's certainly pellucidly clear. I think the point was made later on, as we'll see, that you're broadening your request here. You hadn't been quite as clear and as broad before. Do you accept that or not?

  • I do, because the story was coming out all the time. I mean, the Guardian particularly was bringing out every day different parts of the stories, so that was reflected in the requests we were making. But there was one good reason why I did it this way. The Data Commissioner told me that he couldn't do anything, had no power. "Why don't you write to the legal arm of the Metropolitan Police?" So I did.

  • So at this time you were in contact behind the scenes, as it were, with the Information Commissioner, who I think now had become Sir Christopher Graham; is that correct?

  • Yes. I'm sorry, it is the Information Commissioner.

  • Page 23, more and different information comes back from the police on 15 December 2009, where they say -- this is the second paragraph:

    "Having now done a further search of all the material that was seized as part of the investigation into Mulcaire and Goodman, I can confirm that we have no documentation in our possession to suggest that Mulcaire attempted to intercept any of your voicemail messages. The only documentation in our possession to suggest that you may have been a 'person of interest' to Mulcaire is, firstly, one piece of paper, on which is written the name John Prescott. The only other legible word on this document is 'Hull'. Secondly, the name 'Prescott' appears on two self-billing tax invoices, which we believe are from News International Supply Company Limited to Mulcaire's company, Nine Consultancy Limited. One appears to be for a single payment of £250,000 on 7 May 2006 with a reference containing the words:

    "'Story: other Prescott ...'"

    I think that must be "assistant"?

  • But that's short for "assistant", is that?

  • And that again is your PA, Joan Hammell, or it might be. Then it says:

    "'-txt.'"

  • Yeah. I did suspect at first they meant my son, because the Murdoch press and the Times had done a couple of number stories on him, so I was wondering whether that was the connection. I think I've since been assured it's probably not. Same Murdoch group.

  • "... and the other, again, appears to be for a single payment of £250 on 25 May with a reference containing the words:

    "'Story: other Prescott assist-txt urgent.'

    "We do not know what this means or what it is referring to."

  • It would have been a good clue to any policeman that perhaps there is something there.

  • Thank you. You say in paragraph 19 of your statement --

  • Paragraph 19. Sorry to dart around from your statement to the exhibit:

    "To my mind, it is perfectly clear that this documentation alone shows that the Met police were in possession of some evidence that my phone could have been compromised in some way and my privacy might have been invaded."

    That, of course, may be correct, although we know that the compromise related more specifically to the phone of your personal assistant.

  • Not that it makes that much difference, you would say?

  • By then I had accepted that as probably what was probably true, as I said at the time.

  • You would say it was also clear that by then you had become, in evidential terms, at least, a person of interest to Mr Mulcaire; is that right, Lord Prescott?

  • Yeah, I think that's right, yeah.

  • Okay. A pre-action protocol letter, as it's formally called in the judicial review proceedings, was sent to the then Commissioner on 5 August 2010. We're now back to page 256 the exhibit bundle. This sets out the relevant history, most of which we have looked at. The rest of it is in the public domain. The basic point that was made at the top of page 28, really:

    "Our client, even on Mr Yates' analysis, was and remains entitled to know how his privacy had been invaded so that he can protect himself from further violations and seek remedies in respect of past violations. The information our client requires would include not only the documents naming our client or containing his mobile telephone numbers but the documents showing how and when those numbers were accessed, by way of information such as Mr Mulcaire's telephone records and those of his contacts at the various newspapers. Our client would also require information to assess whether his contacts were also targeted, as he suspects from the behaviour of the press at the time, in order to listen to messages left by him or to ascertain information about him. Your failure to provide this information represents an ongoing breach."

  • The police, or their solicitors, rather, wrote back, page 30 on 15 September, where they make a number of points. The first point that is made on page 30, in the first paragraph. Under the heading "Previous correspondence", they say:

    "The MPS investigation in 2005/2006 did not uncover any evidence to suggest that the claimant's mobile telephone had been unlawfully intercepted. This remains the position today. The MPS does not have in its possess any information to suggest that the claimant's mobile telephone voicemail had been unlawfully intercepted by anyone, or that any attempt was made to intercept the claimant's mobile voicemail messages."

    I think, strictly speaking, that's right, isn't it, lord Prescott? Or is it right?

  • Well, I suppose the way I look at it, in a simple way, is they found an envelope on which there's payments made to me, actually billed through an international company. My assistant, Joan Hammell, clearly they had information. It's now known, in the information -- and it's said today between 2006 and '7 -- that the messages from me to her were intercepted. If you're sticking on the strict interpretation that you must have the phone hacked and messages then received, the type of messages I was receiving between the two parties, it's quite proper to do that. It's that kind of thinking, I think, that gave us -- you know, you don't prosecute if you've heard the message first.

    So I've got all this in my background, looking at this, and you're not in this -- this is the category you're in but you're not going to be named or given the information. I have a further one with Mr Hayman. I mean, I was working with this man in the cabinet office when Tony Blair was away and we had the problem of the 7/11 difficulties that came from that, of course, terrorist difficulty. But he was the man I was working with, and they might have just said to me: "Watch your phone."

    So I was beginning to feel they were hiding things, not telling me the truth, and as we'll see later, conspiring with the press to conspire to hide the truth.

  • Thank you. Then you refer in your statement to the evidence Mr Yates gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee, this time on 7 September 2010?

  • Sorry, can you give me the number?

  • Paragraph 22, Lord Prescott?

  • His statements -- obviously they're in the public domain and may have to be considered when he comes to give evidence. You say in paragraph 24:

    "These misleading statements and the continuing failure of the police to investigate this matter fully and provide me with the information I was entitled to left me deeply dissatisfied, so I decided to join the judicial review of the Metropolitan Police and instructed Bindmans to make an application."

    So that's what happened. But initially, the application for permission to apply for a judicial review was refused by Mr Justice Foskett, I think, on 4 February 2011?

  • On the withholding of information about the Metropolitan Police. This just all fed my suspicions constantly. The first judicial review was refused.

  • The second judicial review was granted simply because the police had not given them the information about the Inquiry that was underway, and the second judge in the judicial review accepted that was wrong.

  • Yes. Sorry, I've got the wrong judge. It was Mr Justice Foskett on the second occasion which you just referred to and I think Mr White is right; he's reminding me it was Mr Justice Mitting on the first occasion.

    But part of the developing picture -- we can see this now from the exhibit bundle, if you don't mind at page 34A. There's a reference to reopening the investigation. Now, of course, Operation Weeting has started, Lord Prescott, there are new and continuing enquiries, I quote from the letter.

    About four paragraphs in, Page 34A:

    "Leading counsel has advised that in his opinion, the new material does not affect the decision made by Mr Justice Mitting in relation to the relief sought in grounds one and two of your claim for judicial review. However, owing to the new investigation, we can make the following additional disclosure in relation to your client, which we were not aware of previously. In the recent material supplied to the MPS by News International, there's an email dated 28 April 2006 which contains the subject line 'Joan Hammell (adviser for Prescott) [the name wrongly spelt there]'. In the body of the email that contains the information, there's a mobile number, there's a mailbox number and then there's reference to a PIN number."

    So this is all information -- do I have this right -- which would lead one to suggest that the mobile of Joan Hammell could have been hacked into. Is that right?

  • I would have thought it's a fair interpretation, yeah.

  • It's then said on the bottom, on page 34B, the conclusion of the letter:

    "The situation remains the same, in that at present, to the best of our knowledge and belief, the MPS have no other material indicating that your client's voicemail messages were intercepted, but obviously there's now material that your client's adviser may have had her messages intercepted. This is being investigated by the new investigation team."

    So we have the first recognition there that your agent, as it were, her voicemails may have been intercepted. Is that correct?

  • It is, but what is the date of that letter?

  • It's 9 February 2011. It's five days after --

  • It's five days after the judicial review application had been refused.

  • Well, I think there's already been evidence that that information was known before. It didn't simply come in an email from the News of the World. It just wasn't acted on.

  • Mm. This is documentary evidence which may or may not have been part of the original seizures from Mulcaire and News International on 8 August 2006, but I think the inference is that it probably was part of that material but they had re-examined it and had noticed something which, by implication, had not been noticed before?

  • Let me be clear what they have. There's all sorts of evidence we know is there. There's a blue book with all the names on, we've already heard. It wasn't just one rogue; it's hundreds of them. So they have all this information.

    Now they're saying, "We only got it through another source", and as late as that, and that's having told the courts basically, I think in the misleading of the first judicial inquiry. So I think that the information was there. Whether it's payments to be made, names to be used -- I mean, how much evidence do you want unless you don't want to look for it?

  • Thank you. We're now back to paragraph 27 of your witness statement.

  • You had a meeting with officers from Operation Weeting --

  • -- on I think two occasions, you say, both the 9th and 11 February 2011.

  • They showed you various materials --

  • -- and one of those materials was one of the 11,000 pages, is this right, in the Mulcaire notebook?

  • Which had Prescott adviser Joan Hammell and her mobile number. Have I correctly understood what you're saying there?

  • You're right, and the extent of the messages.

  • But the material which is referred to in the letter at 34A and 34B, that was material which they were stating had only been recently provided to Operation Weeting by News Group; is that correct?

  • I'm not sure. Can you take me through that again? From the date that she came to see my, Assistant Commissioner Aker --

  • The letter we've just been looking at, 34A and 34B --

  • Yeah, got it. That was dated the ...?

  • It was sent by fax, so you may or may not have known about this when you had your first meeting with Operation Weeting officers, Lord Prescott, because it bears the same date.

  • You're absolutely right, that may well have been the case because this is almost admitting -- until I saw Assistant Commissioner Aker, that was the first time I realised that they were saying, "We got it wrong."

  • You don't say this in your statement, but was it DAC Akers who attended one or both of the meetings in February 2011 with you?

  • She said to me: "We want to tell you we're going to make an announcement tomorrow about an Inquiry", I think it was. "A new Inquiry is being set up and I wanted to tell you personally that we now have information that it was 44 times that the messages were tapped into. We're going to do an Inquiry," she said, "we have the evidence." She showed me one or two papers but I didn't take too much notice of the papers because I made a judgment about the lady. I thought she'll do a good job and I frankly think she has. She said to me at that time: "You'll have to trust us to get on with the job, we want to do it properly", and I said, "Fine", and I think I went on the radio the next day, Radio 4, to say I had faith in this woman, that she'll get on with the job, and I think she's proved it.

  • Thank you. Then to go back to your statement, at paragraph 28, you refer to Mr Yates' evidence, this time to the DCMS Select Committee in March 2011. Again, this evidence will be considered with Mr Yates, or the key points will, when he gives his evidence on Thursday. Then you draw attention to the fact, paragraph 30, that Mr Yates sent a letter to the Select Committee on 13 April 2011 which confirmed that only 36 people were told about the way in which their private information was unlawfully accessed.

    I think it might be helpful to turn up this letter, because it's at the very end of the exhibit bundle at page 45, dated 13 April. If you go to page 46, four lines down, we get to the 36 people:

    "28 people were notified in 2006/2007 that they may have been affected. In 2009, we revisited this issue, resulted in an additional eight people being contacted and a number of attempts being made to contact others."

    It's quite interesting there, the formulation "may have been affected".

  • Well, those formulations clearly didn't involve my name.

  • Am I right -- I think I'm right in saying that, and given the dates we have, it wouldn't have been possible to include me when they say they first got the information. So those amount of people there -- that makes me believe on a number of these things: "What the hell have they got against me?" I mean, if you've got that information and the information about the 36, 40, who's making a decision who should be contacted? We've already been told who the categories are. Clearly, I fit in the categories, but I don't appear as a name, except to simply use this narrow interpretation whether it was my phone but not my messages that were intercepted.

    By the way, I think that enquiry was also about the dispute between the prosecuting and the police about whether -- who gave advice under what piece of legislation you can prosecute on, which seemed absurd to me, and we've already heard the comments about it today.

  • Yes. This is advice on the true interpretation of section 2 of RIPA as to which arguably there isn't a consistent position as between the CPS and the MPS, but it's not something that we need go into.

    Mr Yates gives other quite interesting information about his dining activities with the editor of the News of the World at page 45. Went to a restaurant, well-known restaurant, the third bullet point. Again, that's something picked up on to ask him about on Thursday.

  • That was probably what was taken as an interjection by myself, for which I apologise. I thought it was, just mention it, quite common, but it was really about: if you're investigating somebody, do you have a meal? But I think that was answered by Mr Paddick later.

  • Again, I'm just putting a marker down. It's arguably of some note.

  • May I just give you one other point which began to influence my mind at this, which it wasn't right?

  • As I go to each body -- and I went to the prosecuting office. They sent a letter to me, and I think it's not Mr Starmer, but one before, Mr Macdonald --

  • Ken Macdonald, yes.

  • -- to comment on. The same answers coming from the police were coming from the public prosecutors. If it's right, I can understand that, but they gave me one answer, which they tried to say, "Look, there's an understanding between us" -- and I think it's been referred to today -- "that if we prosecute two and we do six more, we don't have to do anymore, because that's common practice." They only get a few of them and leave the rest on the side, and I just found that very difficult to accept.

  • One could visualise: if somebody has been stealing money from a company for five years, you may very well get all the evidence for one at the beginning, one after one year, one after two years, three years, four years. To get all the documents together for every single instance of theft would be extremely expensive, very time-consuming, so one can understand people taking a view about the overall position.

    What is more interesting is the question that I asked this morning about what you do, first of all to demonstrate to the person who can control this what you're doing about this, and secondly to-make sure you have got the four corners.

  • It's the four corners that concern me. Everything has to be in the perspective of that time. We all knew there was a blue book with all the names in. That's what the Guardian was really referring to. So we knew there were more than just a few. So when I asked of that, with my suspicious mind wondering -- you know, we're getting no response, et cetera, things we've been dealing with -- I actually accepted your interpretation that that was probably right, that in some of these mass cases, then you deal with those at the top and perhaps have to leave the rest. But what we have to answer in this case: didn't they think this there was anything in the sacks of evidence? Didn't they open the blue book and say, "Well, this is bigger than one or two"? The story from the police, from the useless Press Complaints Commission, all of them accepted the argument it was a rogue company -- a rogue individual.

  • Yes, and that's why I made the fact that there were two points. First of all, those who might have been affected needed to know so they could make appropriate arrangements.

  • Secondly, the company that was employing those that were involved in this activity needed to know that actually there was far more to it than, on the face of it, it appeared.

  • Those were the two points --

  • I think that was the proper way they could have done it. They chose not to, and it's when you don't take these other avenues that you get a bit suspicious about it. It's like when we had to have an extra interview with Yates and the public prosecutor over who gave advice about what legislation can be used, both of them writing to me, saying, "This is possible", and then the other one blaming -- "Well, I acted on the advice I received", and then the other party saying, "I didn't give it." So I mean, when you hear these things going on, you just believe it's not straight talking.

  • I'm sure you've heard the phrase "cock up and conspiracy" before.

  • You sound more charitable than me.

  • No, I've not reached any conclusions, Lord Prescott.

  • Yeah, I'm just saying I don't call it a cock up. These are highly paid, highly intelligent people. I think there's more a conspiracy of silence to hide the facts and frankly I'm stronger of that view in the last few months.

  • Let's go back to the JR proceedings. They were renewed on the basis of that further information?

  • Mr Justice Foskett granted permission. There was disclosure in the judicial review proceedings on 30 September last year and you began to see some documents.

    There is one very interesting document at paragraph 33 of your statement, you refer to it. This is the interview of Mr Mulcaire on 8 August 2006.

  • Sorry, paragraph? I missed you.

  • Paragraph 33. We needn't turn it up, but it's on page 660 of our bundle. Mr Mulcaire gave a "no comment" interview, but a document was put to him and you've correctly quoted from it verbatim in paragraph 33 of your statement.

  • You don't have this, Lord Prescott.

  • It's within one of the interviews which took place. You've got the date wrong, Lord Prescott; it's 9 August, not 8 August.

  • Well, assuming it's this. 6...?

  • The top of page 660. Do you see "DC Gallagher"? DC Gallagher is putting a page of the notebook to Mulcaire. He, DC Gallagher, says:

    "Another page here, this has got the name John Prescott. There's another name underneath. First of all it says 'adviser' and then the name 'Joan Hammell'. You've got her telephone numbers and DM1 numbers, password numbers and Vodafone passwords that I've already mentioned, and an address [in a London postcode]. Have you got that information to access John Prescott's network or that of his advisers?

    "[Answer]: No comment."

  • Yes, well, he's entitled to say "no comment", because ---

  • No, no, but I'm saying I'm a bit surprised at the "no comment" because in the evidence I was reading recently he'd actually said that they'd got the number -- they hadn't got Prescott's number and couldn't get it, and then -- so I think the papers -- was given to me, and they couldn't get it, but one of the reporters apparently said that, "I've got Joan Hammell's number", and that's how they broke into it.

  • What this is, this is the formal police interview under caution, so "no comment" simply means he's exercising his right to silence.

  • But you're entitled to make the point that they've joined the dots --

  • -- as early as 9 August 2006. That's entirely a fair point.

  • Yes, and equally importantly, paragraph 33, with respect, doesn't do full justice to the citation of the question from DC Gallagher, because you need all of it. Well, we have all of it now.

  • Paragraph 35 now, Lord Prescott. You brought a claim for damages for breach of privacy, and you've referred to a draft application for a warrant which referred specifically to you, and that's correct, and this is at tab 139, which is this time in file 3 at page 716. Whether it's necessary to turn it up, I'm not sure, but this is the draft application for a warrant under case.

  • What paragraph am I looking at?

  • It's the paragraph 16 at the bottom of 716. The reference to Lord Prescott is the top of page 717.

    The result of the High Court action for damages was that settled and you received damages and cost?

  • I joined the group, they were already in the process of doing it, a little later, but yes, it was concluded against the News of the World, or News International. My concern all that time, and why I was late in joining in the action, was I thought the most important thing was the role of the police and they hadn't carried out their responsibilities and that's why I pursued that as the main course of action.

  • And the point wasn't taken in the privacy claim that your breach of privacy hadn't been proved because it was your assistant's voicemail that was hacked; is that correct?

  • Yes. Yes, that was -- yeah. In the News International case.

  • I assume that's the assumption they came to. They gave me the same damages as they gave the press(?) so perhaps they even --

  • It's a point of law which --

  • -- saw a connection between it.

  • -- might or might not have been tested with interesting results, but fortunately for you it wasn't, Lord Prescott. I'm not suggesting that the settlement was on any wrong legal basis; all I'm suggesting is that it's not wholly clearcut.

    Your paragraph 42, if I can move forward to that, Lord Prescott, you set out in bullet point form the matters which arise subsequent upon the MPS's failure to warn victims or properly to investigate. All of these are in the public domain, but you're right to highlight them: a public statement made by Mr Hinton, for example, on 6 March 2007; what the managing editor said in 2008, which is, in effect, the one rogue reporter; what Mr Yates said in July 2009; News International's own statement in July 2009; and then the Andy Hayman statement in the Times newspaper, which we've seen with Mr Paddick.

  • I don't know if it was the same article in which he attacked me in saying there's no truth in this. Having left the investigation and joined the Murdoch press, writes for the Times and said, "If there's any truth in these accusations that Prescott is making, I'll eat my paper", so when he appeared before the Select Committee, they asked him to do that. I don't know whether he did.

  • I think you probably do, Lord Prescott.

  • But it was really scandalous, that here's the guy in charge of the investigation joins the Murdoch press and then writes constantly attacking you. I haven't heard from him since, but up till then it was.

  • It's not in the Times piece, but there is a piece in the News of the World which Mr Hayman wrote, which we haven't managed to get hold of, but your recollection is write about the offer made to the Select Committee to eat the piece of paper.

  • Sounds like the News of the World offered a better deal.

  • And then you refer to other similar matters in relation to the editors.

    It's intending now -- there may be some questions from others which relate to that which your witness statement covers, but I was intending now to ask you a few general questions which bear on the relationship between the politicians and the press; in other words, what we're calling module three of our Inquiry.

    Do you think there was too close a relationship between, in particular, News International and, let's take that which directly concerns you, if I can put it in those terms, the Labour government in 1997 and 2010?

  • Well, Murdoch operated with all governments, but if I can just make this first point: I'm not the best to ask about the relations with the press, because mine's never been good, but I'll give you my opinion.

    In regard to Murdoch press, I always thought it was wrong that politicians at the highest level were just too close to Murdoch, because Murdoch asks the price. It might be about Sky, it might be about, "Will you reduce legal aid?" which he's just convinced this government to do, about the costs of legal aid for the press. I think that's wrong, so there's always a price.

    And I did used to say it in my case, in the circus I had, to say it was wrong. Politicians always argued -- and indeed if you look at Coulson and Cameron, that there's always a price. It's not exactly corruption and I'm not confusing them of that, but they do have interests, they do have power, they do have -- and in the Murdoch press it's particularly organised to achieve that, so they have good relations. It's all the social dos. I never ever went to one. I thought you paid too much of a price for it. But all the leaders of parties -- and it's the present one as well, Mr Cameron and others -- they believe you have to have access to all the editors that he controls, as if somehow those editors would act independently. I don't think the evidence is that.

    But then it was like the paper might say, "We won it." I don't know the exact term; you know, the Sun used to claim which government they put in. I thought it gave a kind of corrupting influence, not in the payment sense, but in the political sense, that they had too much influence and power and I think it corrupted the relationship between the press and indeed the leaders.

    But I might say, when it was asked in earlier evidence being given, what about the relation at the top, it didn't take much to encourage the journalists below to work within that framework, because they buy papers. I mean just look at the Telegraph, bought by those brothers and they changed it from the Telegraph into the Daily Mail 2. They do politically act and politicians look at this and say, "We're not going to get a fair crack from them", and I can give you a dozen instances in the last six months which has happened, that's particularly with me. They give you apologies or they might put something on page 2, but it sours the relationship when they're not fair in any way, and then you're invited either to sue them -- sue them? For God's sake, unless you've got a lot of money, be very careful, you go down that road, because they will carry that story, might put it on page 2 if it's an apology, and then you go to the PCC and you think that might -- the Press Complaints Commission, go to them and you think, well, perhaps they will deal with it. Well, as you know, as evidence has been given, they were lying to her anyway, Baroness Buscombe, and quite frankly the whole damn thing is useless and I hope you'll give some indications of change with the framework as you have said and which I agree with, Mr Leveson.

  • You said there was always a price. Can you be more specific about the consideration?

  • Yeah. Well, look at -- let's take Murdoch, because that's the one we're actually considering particularly, though most of them would agree. One was whether Murdoch should buy -- have more than 50 per cent of control of the press. Everybody basically went along with it, because they were too scared to say no, quite frankly.

    Secondly, if you want another one, the evidence we've just received from every newspaper about the legal aid, there's a proposal now, which we rejected as a government, but this one has accepted it, that they will --

  • Tiny bit slower.

  • Sorry to cut you off in full flow.

  • No, I can feel the sympathy for the Hansard writer.

  • We have one here as well.

  • I went to see it before, and that's it. I hope -- they always tidy up my grammar because I never get it right. Allows the press to have something to write about.

    But anyway, if you look at the case of the legal aid bill that we have in the House of Commons today, they asked the Labour government, we said no, they're asking this government and we're dealing with it in the House of -- in Parliament. That is, they believe the legal costs should be cut. And what we're going to reduce is limit the damages on risk (inaudible), which I won't go into all the details, to those who the papers who say have got a complaint against them. What they're going to do is put the costs on the person who wins the case in complaint against them. Now, you've got to have influence to get that. One government refuses it, another gives it. I've got to tell you, there is an indication, it depends how you fit out with the Murdoch organisation.

    The other one is Sky. We have to fight in Parliament to say they're not fit and proper person -- this is publicly a big debate that went on -- and whether they should increase their share of Sky.

    It's that kind of relationship and power that influences the relationships between the parties and the press. It's not limited to Murdoch, but in the main he's the one that uses it most effectively.

  • Could you give examples, though, of inappropriate influence exerted by the presses on the workings of the government in which you were directly involved?

  • Well, I could give you Coulson on the other one, but I'll leave that, but if it comes to my own government you're talking about, they did ask particularly -- the competition one, I think, was involved with us as well, but we believed that they could have a greater share -- monopoly usually was defined as 30 per cent -- they can is have a greater proportion of that in the regions and the centre, and it was given to him. That was the Murdoch press, because that was important to them.

    Now, he could legitimately argue, and I would accept, he's going to ask the government, the government of the time, "I want this", and if -- they can say "yes" or "no". I don't think that's corruption; it's just political influence of a considerable kind to get what is a legislative requirement.

    And so that and other ones that I've mentioned are obvious. Why do they have these relationships? I mean, he's not interested in the dinners, is he? He just wants what he wants. That's: selling newspapers and influence over political parties and play a part in influencing the politics.

  • The example that you referred to, I think, is the Communications Act of 2003.

  • The effect of which you've summarised, but was there direct evidence -- evidence that you yourself have received or heard -- of improper influence being --

  • No, I can't say it's improper. I think it's an exercise of political power over an interest group which I don't like and argue against and did do at that time.

    But I have to -- the one I've given you is before what we are voting in Parliament today. Why is it now that we want to actually strengthen the strong party in such deals over the legal aid changes and weaken those who win the case but have to pay more of the costs? Now, you can't say that's corruption, but every newspaper and every television have sent a petition to the House of Commons with exactly the same words, exactly asking the same thing. That's not just Murdoch. That's the lot of them.

  • Sorry to go back to 1997 to 2010, if I can focus on that. You've explained what happened in relation to the Communications Act of 2003, but did the Murdoch press in particular, in your view, give anything in exchange for --

  • -- what might have happened?

  • No, to be honest, I can't think they gave them an exchange, but they will be hoping that the paper comes for them in the election. That papers actually believe they win the elections, and so I think the politicians get to think it best to have them on your side than against you. That's proper political influence. I can't argue about it, but I should say you should resist it and not accept it.

  • But was news, for example, reported in a certain way -- take the Murdoch press -- to reflect the fact that favours may have been given in the commercial field, for example in the context of the Communications Act 2003, or whatever other context one might choose to --

  • If you take the debate that's occurred over this, about Sky. There was a very vigorous debate, both in the Commons and in the House of Lords, where we made clear that -- what evidence we had that this man wasn't a fit and proper person to have majority control of SkyB. Now, that is an argument about Murdoch. He's not offering us any favours. I don't think he should be given that, although frankly some might say what was also wanted for Sky Television was some of the jewels we talk of: the National, the football. These are all part of Sky Sport.

    Now, these are arguments in the political field. I can't say that that is what you get if you do that, but politicians are very sensitive, I think, about what the papers think. I think that's unfortunate. It's never troubled me, quite frankly, but it is the a problem.

  • Is the difference between genuine lobbying -- all businesses and all interests will come to you, as a minister or you as an MP, and say, "Please take on board my arguments for my industry or my business" -- is the problem that actually politicians might see that the press can give them something back in return?

  • Whereas for the normal lobbying, there is no possibility of getting something, except you might say, "I'll build a factory in your constituency" or whatever. I'm just trying to get to grips with whether there's a difference here, because I'm not going to be able to affect the way in which interest groups work across the piece, am I?

  • In a democracy, it's absolutely essential that interest groups work that way. Take the health bill we've got at the moment. The doctors may be against it, others may be for it. There are debates going on. We have them in Parliament, we'll get it again today and we'll deal with controversial bills, and that's quite proper. Trade unions, I come from -- basically will come and ask for certain things they want to do and the politicians have to make up their mind what they want to do.

    Now, it's from the unions -- there are people who accuse us that we do it because the unions are lined up with us. It might be the businessmen with Tories. That is the rhetoric and the debate that goes on, but you have to connect the corruption direct. When I say the corruption of press, not money. I don't think there's in any way an exchange of money.

  • There is influence. It's different from a few constituents getting together or even the doctors' organisation, and a big media operation like Murdoch, who will then say, for example, whether this government is worth supporting or not -- and it happens. You can see it with the Coalition at the moment. They're picking different sides. That's politics. But they have excessive -- if you give them the right to reduce their costs when they're very a wealthy organisation and put the burden, this legal aid, onto those that have won the case but still get penalised in it under the no win, no pay, which is an effective way of pursuing an action against the press, that's a different kettle of fish to ordinary interest groups. That's giving them something they want. You could say the health people are getting what they want if you scrap the bill, but that is particular to that interest. But the press go much further. They actually give a judgment, very often against Labour Party. Some did once, regretted that but it did do it, and every paper acts politically and the statements throughout -- the statements -- you only have to read out a paper to see what side they're on and see how they present the stories, and that's why politicians get annoyed. There's no appeal. There's no fairness you can go to. I'm not on about whether a fellow hits somebody in a bar or -- perhaps I should keep off that -- or kind of salacious things that we're talking about. I'm really talking about real political influence used to their interests.

    Now, politicians have to make the judgment what the proper balance is, but if it's solely because you're scared you're going to offend Murdoch and his press, then I think it gets a little bit of corrupting in the political influence.

  • A proper balance, which you're going to have to address yourself to anyway. I think we will be quite happy -- you see, I hear the arguments going on about the PCC at the moment, press complaints people as if somehow it's about statutory. I don't want to see a statutory control of the press. I have as much reason as anyone to have a go at the press. But basically what we need is a regulated framework, not for the politicians to decide -- and you might have to find where that balance is. And I think from what you said before, there's an awful lot of common sense. It must be common sense that applies.

    But if they go beyond what the definition of "public interest" -- I do believe it's a judge that should make that judgment and the judges have been attacked by Dacre and the Mail simply because they exercise the function we've given them in Parliament, and then attack them as a judiciary for defining what the public interest is, and I'll leave out the human rights argument, but just public interest.

    So you have to find a balance that people think is fair. It's not fair at the moment and it doesn't apply to every paper in the press complaints thing. See, you've got to find a framework -- they either come in because they're willing -- and there's got to be a form of sanctions if you get it wrong. Why should I have to decide -- or ordinary citizens have to decide -- that the only way I can get the truth out is to sue the press? They're quite contemptuous of you. What's made the difference now is no win, no cost. I mean, in that sense, people can do that and it's causing alarm now and the expenditure through that in the legal aid framework. Now, I just think if you can't get redress -- and I know people have given evidence here and I might even take the opportunity you offered us this morning to put some of my own ideas into what it could be, but you have to have a sanction.

    Let me give you an example. If you look at the business secretary --

  • Vince Cable. The two people were sent in to take a recording, quite against the Editors' Code, no doubt about it, and then the apology given by the Daily Telegraph put in the paper actually says, "Yes, we knew the Editors' Code didn't allow it", but it had not been used against anyone so they went ahead. But what the hell is the Editors' Code if it's all on a voluntary position like that, with useless people chairing it like Baroness Buscombe and Redsocks before her? I can't remember what his name was.

    So you have to have an authority, really, in the press complaints and I think I can't just moan about it. I'll give you my thoughts on the matter, as you've invited us to do so.

  • I'd be very interested to receive them because you bring to the issue an enormous amount of experience, both political experience and practical experience, and you may have heard that I've said to many people that it's critical for me that I develop a suggestion -- it will be for Parliament to decided whether they adopt it or not -- that works. It has to work --

  • -- for the press, but it has to work for everybody else as well. It has to work for the public.

  • And that, to my mind, is extremely important.

  • I talked to a number of people about that, and I've been thinking, and then this morning you sparked me off to say so long as you get it in before May, we could give some comments too, and I'd like to take that opportunity.

  • I'd be very interested to read them.

  • I've been asked to put this to you: in your view, did the press, in particular the Murdoch press, report the true extent of the dysfunctional relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Brown?

  • I acted as a kind of bed and breakfast from time to time, you know, get another story in the journalism, but I mean, look, these were two brilliant men who had different agreements about certain aspects of policy. Of course they disagree, and I would look at the record and say it was very good, but when they had a disagreement -- I'm a trade union negotiator from my past and I'd like to see the party going forward, the government balancing, and these two guys, you know, have got a disagreement, so --

  • I won't ask which one was the employer and which one was the employee.

  • I think you could say the one who became the master thought he would be the pupil, and the man who became the pupil thought he would be the master, and that was the problem.

  • Thank you very much.

  • Sir, I don't apply to cross-examine, but there are two matters. The first is Lord Prescott referred to the blue book as if that was a document produced by Mulcaire, whereas it was a document produced by Met police.

  • The second is that Lord Prescott appeared to say at one stage that Mr Yates was lying. For the record, that's not accepted.

  • I understand that. Mr Yates will come and give evidence and we'll go through it all.

  • Oh yes. I won't say that he's lying, just withholding the truth.

    The second one is that on the blue book, I thought I heard when evidence was given that it was the police who decided to lock away the book. They may have got it from Mulcaire, but they had information in that book that told them.

  • We'll look at all that.

    One of the advantages of this Inquiry is that I'm looking at culture, practice and ethics, so to make decisions of fact about every single detail, which would take me literally years and years, is not going to be necessary.

    Lord Prescott, I'm very grateful to you for your assistance, and I'll be even more grateful if you have some very clever ideas.

  • I can't promise the clever. I'll certainly give the contributions.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

    Right. Is there anything else?

  • There were some statements we're taking as read, tail end of module one, which will be on the website from the very near future.

  • Do I gather, from the fact that you are asserting that fact, that you're not now in a position to identify the names of the witnesses?

  • You're correct, yes.

  • Right, well, doubtless you will. Thank you very much. 10 o'clock tomorrow.

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