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

  • MR NICHOLAS LEE OWENS (sworn).

  • Mr Owens, once you've made yourself comfortable, could you tell the Inquiry your full name, please?

  • Yes, it's Nicholas Lee Owens.

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

  • You tell us that you are a reporter on the Sunday Mirror. You've worked for the Sunday Mirror since April 2006. Before that, you worked at the Lancashire Evening Post as a newspaper reporter. You were named Press Gazette Regional Journalist of the Year, North West Report of the Year and Johnston Press Journalist of the Year. You received those awards for a range of articles, including working undercover as a traffic warden, investigating life inside a prison and sleeping on the streets for a week to expose the problems facing homeless people in Preston.

    You give us three examples of undercover work you've done, including exposing hygiene failings at a turkey factory, the production of cheap clothing in Bangladesh, and a courier firm which was swindling the National Health Service out of money for phantom trips.

    Can I ask you a little bit about your training to become a journalist. Is it right that you undertook both undergraduate and postgraduate training?

  • That's right, at the University of Central Lancashire.

  • How familiar were you in March 2009 with the PCC Editors' Code?

  • Very familiar. The PCC code is interwoven into my job, so it had been part of my job from day one.

  • You were aware of what it says about privacy then?

  • And you were aware that medical records are especially sensitive?

  • Sorry, was I aware at what point of that, sorry?

  • Were you aware that medical records are matters of especially sensitivity?

  • I was aware that it was within the code, yes.

  • You tell us in your witness statement that when someone rings the Sunday Mirror, you are often interested in speaking to them, possibly for what they tell you when they ring up but also in case they have other material for you; is that right?

  • Often we go and meet people, yes.

  • Can I just examine that a little bit further? Would you go and meet someone who, on the telephone, hadn't told you about anything which seemed to be interesting to some extent?

  • I mean, within our office -- I obviously work in a busy London newsroom -- we get lots much calls coming in every day from members of the public with information of a varying nature, and often it's not until you go and meet the person and you listen to what they have to say and you find out the full element of that information that you can make a decision moving forward, which, as I say in my statement, is why I'm often keen to meet somebody face to face.

  • That's not quite an answer to my question. What I'm getting to is whether you go and meet, face to face, every caller or whether some sort of filter is applied?

  • Well, you don't meet every caller. You deal with everything on a sort of case-by-case basis day to day.

  • So it follows they have to tell you something interesting before you'll go to the trouble of meeting them?

  • Normally, it will be something interesting, yes.

  • You also tell us that one of the things that you might keep in mind is whether or not you should be stinging the person who's come forward. We heard, when senior members of your organisation gave evidence a couple of weeks ago, that articles have been published about people offering information illegally. I'd like to ask you: if that is going to happen, is the approach recorded in writing before it is adopted?

  • Any matter like that, where we would be exposing somebody, I would immediately be dealing with my news desk, talking to my news desk very closely about that. We would be talking to the lawyer. So I don't feel I'm able to really give much insight into that. That wouldn't be a process I'd be involved in.

  • But you'd speak to the news desk about that?

  • And you would perhaps record any conversation with someone that you were going to sting?

  • I'm not sure. Again, as I said there, every story you deal with on an individual basis and make a decision on the best way to act.

  • But we know that on the occasion that you spoke to the person whom you now know as Mr Atkins, you didn't speak to the news desk first, did you?

  • I said I was off to meet someone. That was it.

  • And you didn't record the conversation that you had when you met Mr Atkins?

  • So does it follow from that that at the time you decided to meet him, you didn't have a sting in mind?

  • I just thought it was -- I was going to meet someone with some information to give to me.

  • A final preliminary question: it's right, isn't it, that celebrity stories are very popular in the tabloid newspapers and are regarded as important for reporters like you to look into?

  • They are important, but I feel, as my statement sets out -- I've tried to make a -- you know, do lots of different stories, and I've been involved in some really very serious, good investigations as well. So it's not the only thing that matters to me or the only thing that matters to tabloid journalists.

  • Can we move now to tab 5 of the bundle, to start with the telephone conversation that you had with Mr Atkins on 20 March.

  • Mr Barr, before we do that, could we deal with a more general point? I wonder if you'd permit me to interrupt for a moment.

    You've spoken about the undercover work that you've done, Mr Owens.

  • And the important stories that you have been able to report upon as a result. But I'd like to understand, both in relation to your experience in the north west of England and in relation to your experience in London, what protective measures are taken by you and your editor before you embark upon any such story. So maybe we could start with what happened in Lancashire.

  • Of course. Before we set out on any investigation, including the ones in which I've mentioned there in my statement -- the traffic warden, prison and some of the other work that I conducted there -- I would be having meetings with my news editor about the idea of embarking upon that investigation and the stages we may need to go through. The editor would often also be involved in that.

    Moving on to when I then came to the Sunday Mirror --

  • No, just carry on with -- that's a little bit too general for me. I'd like a bit more detail.

  • Were these stories stories that you just came about, or things that you thought might make good features --

  • -- and good stories, or were you relying on information? How did they come about?

  • In regards to the traffic warden investigation, for instance, that came at a time when many of our readers were contacting the newspaper with concerns about the local parking enforcement officers and the way they were acting. So that was the basis at which we decided to proceed with that story.

    Now, of course, that involved getting a job as a traffic warden, and I remember -- it's a long time ago but from my recollection of the meeting with my editor and news editor at the time, we realised that in order to fully investigate what our readers were telling us, probably the only way to do it was to get a job there. If we were to approach, for instance, the parking company and said, "Can we come in for a week and see how you operate?" we were worried that they might not operate in the way they normally would, for instance.

    With regard to the prison investigation, that came at a time in our city where the prison was-- it was a very difficult situation for them. They had very high drug rates, very high re-offending rates, and I approached the governor of the prison, who I had a relationship with, in a sense that I'd dealt with him on stories before, and he said, "It would be good to let you in for a week to investigate the way the prisoners lives worked, how their families were affected by it, what happened to them and how staff worked."

  • But you didn't go in as a prisoner?

  • You went in as a journalist.

  • So there's nothing undercover about that.

  • Yes. It wasn't so much an undercover; it was an expose of life inside prison, in the sense of you wouldn't normally get that access. We were given privileged access.

  • But in relation to working undercover as a traffic warden, you were obviously going to have to lie or at least be economical with the truth to those who were going to employ you.

  • Economical with the truth, I feel, yes.

  • That's a phrase which has entered into our history, which we all understand.

  • Can I just say on that point, the balance we felt -- that to be economical with the truth we felt was fair in the level of responses we were having from our readers and the need to investigate that.

  • I understand the public interest, and presumably all that was spelt out with your editor, was it?

  • All that was spelt out with your editor?

  • Absolutely, yes. That was discussed.

  • And was it written down so there was a contemporaneous note of precisely what you were intending to do and what you were authorised to do?

  • I'm not sure what my editor at the time wrote down, I'm afraid.

  • Well, I began to go about the process of applying for a job.

  • I see. All right, so that's the north west. What about London?

  • Very similar, actually. I mean, I would speak at the outset to my news desk. There would be a -- the newspaper lawyer involved. The difference with the local newspaper was we didn't have a lawyer in the office all the time. At the end Sunday Mirror we do; a very, very approachable lawyer who we can talk to at any time with concerns we have on stories.

    So before embarking on any investigation, I would talk to the news desk, go through the elements of it with them, and if necessary, we'd involve the lawyer in that as well.

  • Well, there's one you mention: going undercover to a turkey factory. Presumably that was also getting a job?

  • It was, yes. I mean, just to give you a few more details, that was a Bernard Matthews factory, six months on from the bird flu outbreak, which was obviously a serious public health issue, and we decided to go in six months on from that to investigate what changes may or may not have been made by the company in those areas.

  • And you had some information upon which you could rely to justify, again, this deceptive approach?

  • On that particular occasion, I feel that we decided that we wanted to put to the test reports that had come out that things had been changed and that things had moved on and got better.

  • I see. Again, discussed with your editor and this time the lawyer?

  • Certainly the news desk and the lawyer.

  • Yes. Did you keep a note of what you'd been authorised to do here?

  • Again, after that discussion and we decided to move on, I went about the process of applying for a job.

  • So you don't know whether there was any audit trail in particular?

  • I don't know about an audit trail. I know that there were a series of discussions that we had and certainly everywhere was aware that I was beginning to embark upon this process of investigating the factory.

  • All right. I've understood how you do it.

  • To pick up with the telephone conversation that you had with Mr Atkins, can we go to tab 5, please?

  • Looking at the first page, we see the introduction to the telephone conversation. It's fair, isn't it, to say that what you were told by Mr Atkins was, first of all, that he knew somebody who worked in a private cosmetic surgery clinic, that that person had fairly high-profile clients and wanted to do a story about the celebrities she treated.

  • I don't think it's fair to say that. It was unclear what was really going on here.

  • I'm picking those three things up from the material in the transcript between the hole punches. At that point, you asked whether she was still there. Mr Atkins said that she was and at that point, at the penultimate paragraph, you replied that you would be very interested in meeting him, didn't you?

  • According to this transcript, that's what I said, and -- but what I also said, very early on in the conversation, was the extremely sensitive nature of this whole issue.

  • We will come to that in a moment, but it's right, isn't it, that on the basis simply of being told that there was a source within a clinic who wanted to do stories about celebrities, that was enough for you to decide that you wanted to meet Mr Atkins?

  • I can't recall what was going through my mind at the time of that conversation. I mean, you're attaching quite great weight to an individual comment there. This is a phone conversation which happened over three years ago. All I know is that when he rang, I thought that this was a sensitive matter and that it was important that in order to get, you know, more information and find out what was happening, that I met him and listened to what he had to say. As a journalist, we have a duty to do that, and engage with people and hear them out, and that's all I was seeking to do.

  • That doesn't quite answer my question. My question was: simply on the basis that you'd been told that will there was a source who wanted to come forward and do stories about celebrities she's treated, you were keen to meet Mr Atkins?

  • But I didn't see it like that, you see. I didn't see it in them terms. I just saw it as somebody contacting the newspaper with information which I immediately identified as sensitive and felt that we should meet and discuss it.

  • Go over the page. On the third paragraph over the page is where you make the comment about extreme sensitivity. You say:

    "I mean, to be honest with you, it's extremely sensitive in the case of that patient confidentiality thing, but, you know, if you want to set up a relationship with a journalist to start feeding information through, then that's absolutely fine. Could I ask you to call me?"

    Now, looking at that utterance, I want to ask you what information you were referring to Mr Atkins feeding through. It was information from the clinic, wasn't it?

  • I can't say it was that. I can't remember exactly what was going through my mind when I said that utterance, as a term you used.

  • It must have been, mustn't it, Mr Owens, because that was the only thing that you had been told about by Mr Atkins by that stage in the conversation?

  • As I say, I can't recall what was going through my mind but looking back at the transcript before that, he talks about celebrities and information, and I just felt that we were dealing with a person here who might have some information which would be interesting to hear. I certainly didn't see it in terms of the clinic at that stage at all.

  • We move to the bottom of the page and see how you follow things up. Just below the bottom hole punch, you say:

    "I mean, is there anyone recently that's had anything done that would be particularly interesting to me?"

    So you're plainly there referring to the surgery, aren't you?

  • Again, I can't recall and sit here what I was referring to in a phone conversation from three years ago. What I know is that we were engaged in a conversation over the phone which was, you know, a two-way thing, and I was simply trying to set up a meeting where we could get more information from him and find out the full nature of what it was he had to offer.

  • Is that really right, Mr Owens? Isn't it plain from that comment that what you were really after was something recent because it would be particularly newsworthy?

  • That wouldn't be fair. That's not what I was after.

  • Over the page, Mr Atkins says:

    "She works for -- she does the admin, so there's a lot she can see. So yeah, I --"

    And then you say:

    "Great."

    That records, doesn't it, your reaction to being told that will here's a person who has access to the clinic's records?

  • That's certainly not what my intention was. I mean, I think one thing you need to bear in mind -- I referred to it a moment ago there -- is that I work in a very busy London newsroom where we get dozens of calls a day, and I have to say that when someone rings up, you listen to them and you engage with them, and every single word that comes out of your mouth, there isn't this level of kind of reaction to what you said before. I was simply engaged in the conversation and what I wanted to do, certainly by this stage in the conversation, was meet up with him and find out more. None of this would represent a final conclusion on anything.

  • You're not suggesting it represents a final conclusion, but what I'm suggesting is that you were delighted to be told that there was a potential source with access to the records of this clinic.

  • I certainly wasn't delighted to be told that at all.

  • Why did you say "great"?

  • Why did I say "great"? I can't say why I said that word three years ago, I'm afraid. I just couldn't tell you.

  • Can we turn now to the meeting itself, which took place six days later. We need to move to tab 7. After the preliminaries, if we look at paragraph 21, we see that you make an early offer, don't you, to provide a confidentiality agreement to Mr Atkins?

  • Then at paragraph 25, you make an early mention of money, don't you:

    "Before we publish anything, then we can get working on it, to be honest, so we can get an idea of how much money it's going to be worth."

  • Yes, according to this, that's right.

  • So if we go over the page, page 2, of the transcript, at paragraph 43, you say:

    "I think the best thing is for you to give me some information about what you have got, and we can see on the basis of that. I'll let you have a confidentiality agreement. I'll go back to them and see what we can do with the information and how much it's worth."

    So we see there an early interest, don't we, in exploring exactly what it is that Mr Atkins can get his hands on or has got?

  • Just the information that he had, yes.

  • At paragraph 48, you refer at the bottom of that paragraph to having covered a lot of health stories and working with a lot of health professionals. What were you referring to there?

  • I was referring to the fact that in my role as a general reporter, I covered a lot of health stories -- I referred to one in my statement with regards to the Lewis Day investigation -- and as part of my work, I often talk to people within the medical profession who don't want to be identified. They want to talk to me anonymously -- sorry, they want to talk to me about being identified, and I wanted to make it clear that I was aware of the -- of that as my background, as having a background in that.

  • Had you had any such conversations about celebrities in the past?

  • Had you had any such conversations about celebrities in the past, by which I mean conversations with medical professionals?

  • No, these are standard -- I'm talking about standard health stories that I'd worked on are to the newspaper.

  • At paragraph 50, you start talking about the public interest.

  • Let's examine that in some detail. You say:

    "Let's give you an example, right? You take Fern Britton. She's on the front of the papers, she had a gastric band. That was a big story, not only because it was Fern Britton had a gastric band and everyone was amazed by her weight loss, but it was a big story because she had said in public many times that she had got a huge keep fit regime and all that shit. Turned out to be wrong. There's a public interest in reporting that story. What there probably isn't a public interest in doing is just reporting that someone had a gastric band operation."

    I'm going to come in a moment to what you said immediately after that, but before I do, does that correctly record your understanding and belief as to where the public interest lay in the Fern Britton story, that she was fair game because she'd portrayed herself as someone who had lost weight in another way?

  • I can't say whether it reflects that I felt she was fair game. What I was doing here simply was making it clear to Mr Atkins that I was alive to the fact that there would need to be a strong public interest justification in moving forward with any of the information that he was offering.

  • What was your view about the coverage of Fern Britton's gastric band? Do you think that was appropriate or not?

  • I didn't really -- I didn't have a view about it, to be honest. It was another newspaper's story.

  • Why didn't you have a view about it if it was precisely the sort of journalism that you were involved in?

  • Sorry, can you repeat that question?

  • Why didn't you have a view if it's precisely the sort of journalism that you're involved in?

  • I don't think I am involved in that kind of journalism.

  • Let's move on to what you went on to say. You say:

    "Unless they are a massively big name, then you might make a decision."

    Bottom of page 2, end of paragraph 50. Do you have that?

  • Isn't the position that there you're saying: despite everything you've just said about the public interest, if the name is big enough, then the paper will publish?

  • Well, that's certainly not what I was referring to, and also, when you say "the paper publish", it's not my responsibility to make the final decision on what the newspaper publishes, Mr Barr. What was happening here was that this was an informal meeting between myself and Mr Atkins and we were discussing information which did not lead to any story being published at all, and I was simply engaging with him and trying to get to the bottom of what it was he had to say.

  • We'll come to the circumstances in which nothing came to be published in due course, but at this stage you are telling Mr Atkins, aren't you, that the public interest doesn't matter if the name is big enough?

  • That's not what I was saying to him, in my opinion. That's certainly not the impression I would want to give.

  • If we go over the page and look at paragraph 52, please, where you say:

    "The key is when we know who we are dealing with, we can make a judgment on whether we can move forward with it as a story."

    Then you say:

    "That is why it is quite important to get an idea of who we are looking at. We have celebrities, obviously, at the top of the list."

    So it's right there, isn't it, that you want more information so that judgments can be made?

  • What I'm referring to -- and it's -- I expand upon it later on, I believe, in this transcript --

  • Yes -- that we can then go and look at maybe something that the celebrity may have said before and see whether there's a clash on that.

  • Is it because you think if there is a clash, then there is a justification for publishing?

  • It's not because I think there is; I'm thinking that I was, at that point, alive to the fact that there could be a way of moving forward on them terms. There could be.

  • Does it amount to this: at this stage in the conversation, you want it find out more in case there is a publishable story about somebody's cosmetic surgery?

  • Not about somebody's cosmetic surgery, Mr Barr. I just wanted to see whether there was anything that Mr Atkins was saying that might be of interest to me and the newspaper.

  • Doesn't this amount to a fishing expedition? You're talking to a man who's offering you confidential clinical information and what you want to know is what is there, in case there's something that you can use.

  • I wouldn't say fishing expedition. It was just a meeting in a very informal environment between two people to see whether there would be anything at the end of it that we would want to get involved in publishing. As has been clear, we didn't.

  • Do you think, with the benefit of hindsight, it was ethically appropriate to be pursuing your conversation with Mr Atkins on this speculative basis?

  • I think it was appropriate to meet him, as I've made clear, because without meeting him I wouldn't be able to get a full assessment of what the information was that he had, and then of course, until the meeting ended, I wouldn't have known what the information was. So I -- as a journalist, you have to listen, engage, sometimes go along with people, keep their interest. Of course, this is a guy who was talking to other newspapers, and one part of your job is to try and make sure they don't go to other newspapers with this story, so I felt important and right to engage with him until the end of the meeting.

  • So you thought it was okay to be told what confidential information there might be?

  • Sorry, can you repeat that?

  • You thought it was okay to be told what confidential information there might be?

  • I thought it was okay to listen to what he had to say. I think the key is what you then do, and what we did was we didn't publish the story and we didn't use any of the information. I can't really help listening to what he had to say to me.

  • If we go to paragraph 54, please, you start discussing some the ways in which the information might be used. You say:

    "Sometimes it almost goes without saying that we will run the story. If we were rewinding six months, if you, sitting here, saying you know that Fern Britton has had a gastric band, great story. And you can put that one on and she will have to admit it. The other option is that you might come to me and say that Fern Britton is in the process of having a gastric band operation. How do you know that? Well, she arrives at the clinic at this time every week for a treatment, her consultation, and if you are there at such and such a time down the road, you will see her. Great."

    What you're talking about there is the sort of information that would tip you off so that you could alert a photographer to go and photograph the celebrity using the clinic, isn't it?

  • No, it's part of what was, as I've said, a general discussion we are were having in an informal setting. We were just talking generally about the information he had. I certainly did not alert any photographers to any information.

  • What's general about that? You're talking about a very specific way in which your newspaper might value the information that Mr Atkins might have.

  • I wasn't talking on behalf of the newspaper. I was having a conversation one to one with an individual. It's not reflective of what my newspaper do.

  • Mr Owens, you were working for the Sunday Mirror at the time. You were meeting Mr Atkins in your capacity as a reporter at the Sunday Mirror, weren't you?

  • You then go on to give assurances that you would never reveal the source of the information, didn't you?

  • I spoke to him on a number of occasions about the fact that I wouldn't reveal who was providing me with information to reassure him because he was very nervous about that.

  • And that's standard practice for investigative journalists dealing with people who want to remain confidential sources, isn't it?

  • Again, every investigation is different but you can be asked that by some people and often you will do that.

  • If we look at the bottom of the page, the last time you speak on that page you come back to another use to which you might put information. You say:

    "If someone has had that operation and it is true, correct, and you go to them, the probably you can have -- you always have -- you can come to me and say, 'Fern Britton has had a gastric band.' We go to Fern Britton and she says, 'No, I haven't', and her agent says, 'No, she hasn't.' We are in a difficult spot then, because it is a flat denial and it can happen. Often they lie. But then you are faced with a situation whereby we might say to you guys: 'Look, we are not going to use this is information, but can you give us anything else other than just your word? Is there a document somewhere, a piece of paper? Is there an email, something that would prove she had it?'"

    You continue over the page in that vein. The point there is you're telling him, aren't you, that if you have a document, a record of the cosmetic surgery, then you can use it to counter a denial by a celebrity?

  • That's not what I was doing. What I'm doing here -- and again, I do stress that this meeting was three years ago, so it's difficult for me to establish what was going through my mind so long ago -- was that I felt at some point in time I may need to have a conversation with my news desk about this guy, and the meeting, and I felt that there may be questions asked of me about who he was, what kind of information it was that he was claiming to be able to pass on. So we went down this road of discussing the information it was that he was claiming to have. It was simply so that I knew the full facts of this meeting.

  • Mr Owens, if I stop you there. You're not there asking him what he's got; you're telling him what you might do with it.

  • Sorry, at what point am I doing that?

  • The bottom of page 3. Through the illustration of a hypothetical Fern Britton story, you're saying that the information could be used to stand up a story in the face of a denial.

  • What I'm doing there, actually, is reflecting and talking about my understanding of how the News of the World story worked. Now, from memory -- because again, it was about three years ago -- there was an issue whereby they printed that story after a denial from the agent, and I believe that Mr Atkins and I were talking in general terms about that.

  • Mr Owens, if that were right, why do you use the words, in the fourth line up:

    "We might say to you guys: 'Look, we are not going to use this information, but can you give us anything else other than just your word? Is there a document somewhere?'"

    Are you really being candid with me in your answer to this?

  • I am being candid with you and what I'm saying here is that, as I just said a moment ago, I was trying to establish exactly what evidence it was that this chap was saying he could get, so that if I was going to have a conversation with my news desk about it at any point, I'd be able to answer their questions.

  • Mr Owens, there are a number of places in this transcript where you mention medical records. Can we turn over the page and look at paragraph 60, please. You say:

    "If I'm honest, they'll think it's not someone from inside the clinic. I think that is the last place they'll think, although they might think it at some point, so that's another process that whereby if you work on staff, it's just worth remembering we may well come back to you and say, 'We need a bit more', and then it becomes a bit more risk."

    Then your next answer:

    "Yeah, you could be, exactly, substantiated, I guess. Difficult, isn't it? I have never had any cosmetic surgery but I suspect there is a record in the clinic of that surgery taking place. It is not like the NHS, obviously, where you phone up and they tell you about an operation and that's happened on such a date, as it's private. What we would not want to do is contact the clinic at all, as if we contact the clinic, it is also suggests you also know where it happened and that might be quite worrying for you guys."

    Then you say:

    "So we would not be able to contact the clinic, but what we would do, if he were to get a denial from the agent, then we would come back to you and say, 'Is there any more information that you can give us?' And if you can say you could give us some kind of confirmation that that treatment was taking place -- your friend would probably know more about this sort of thing than ours."

    "She works in the admin section," says Mr Atkins, and then you say:

    "So there is going to be a document?"

    He says:

    "Yeah."

    It's plain, isn't it, that there, again, you're explaining to Mr Atkins that if he enters into the business of providing you with information, there may come a time when you come back asking for documentary proof?

  • Again, that's not what I believe to be the case. What I believe to be the case is that we were having a general discussion about what evidence it was he could obtain so that I would be able to safely and fully answer any questions I might have on it from my news desk at a later stage, and I just remind you that after the meeting we didn't publish anything at all.

  • At the risk of repeating myself here, at this part of the transcript you're not him what he has. That comes later. You're telling him what you might do with it and what you might ask for.

  • We're having a general discussion in an informal setting. This certainly wouldn't reflect upon what my conclusions were about what was happening at that moment in time.

  • Can we now turn to page 5 and look at paragraph 70. Second time that you speak under that paragraph number. You say:

    "Exactly, so -- hey, look, it is not just a case of you saying that this person has had X surgery. There could be a situation whereby we'll need -- perhaps you'll have to produce something. Have you got anything available now? Do it in one? That is a way around it. And if she says, 'Well, I am happy to tell you who has had the surgery but I will never, under any circumstances, produce any documents', then fine, just let me know."

    Mr Atkins says:

    "And that is a game we play."

    You say:

    "We might get to the position, unfortunately, where they deny it and we can't run it."

    We can take from that, can't we, that first of all you're referring again to the possibility of asking him for documents?

  • Sorry, can you just repeat what part of the conversation you're at there?

  • Page 5, paragraph 70.

  • The second time you speak, so the second N. I read from the word "exactly" down to the end of "run it", which was the second time you spoke. Do you have that?

  • Yes, I am looking at that.

  • I want you just to absorb it. Make sure you've absorbed it so you can understand the questions.

  • Yes. (Pause) Yes, so I've read that.

  • You're asking him: has he got anything available now?

  • I'm not asking him has he got anything available then at that point, I don't believe. I'm sorry to refer again to what I'm saying. I'm in a general discussion here about what evidence this guy has so that I'm able to answer any questions that might come up at a later date with my news desk.

  • Well, you use the words "Have you got anything available now", don't you?

  • Sorry, at what point is that?

  • It's the third line of the paragraph beginning "Exactly, so ..."

  • According to this transcript, I do, but I'm just saying that I'm not sure whether I meant at that point does he have anything available. What I'm saying is that I was involved in a discussion to see whether -- the full extent of the information it was that he had.

  • It seems natural that the meaning of that is you were asking him that, but we'll move on because immediately underneath what you're saying is to the effect that you would still be interested in a relationship with Mr Atkins as a source even if the nurse wasn't prepared to produce documents; you just warn him that in those circumstances, if there was a denial, you wouldn't be able to publish. That's right, isn't it?

  • We hadn't really got into the realms of discussing stories of which we were or were not going to publish. This was a meeting that we were asking to discuss what the information was that he had, so I wouldn't really seeing it in them terms at all.

  • Mr Owens, how else do you explain the words:

    "... 'Well, I am happy to tell you who has had the surgery, but I will never, under any circumstances, produced any documents', then fine, just let me know, and we might get to the position, unfortunately, where they deny it and we can't run it."

    It's self-evident, isn't it, that what you were telling Mr Atkins is that even if his source wouldn't produce documents, you were still interested?

  • Having the information, but that the problem would be that if there was a denial, then you wouldn't be able to publish.

  • I don't think that's -- I don't think that's what I thought at the time. Again, because it's so long ago, I can't sit here and tell you what was going through my mind at all. So it's difficult for me to answer that, really.

  • The nub of it will is that you were expressing an interest in having confidential medical records, and if you couldn't have those, you would settle for simply being told who had had what surgery?

  • I don't believe that to be the case. What I was doing was trying to get clear in my mind the information and evidence this guy had.

  • Move over the page, please, to page 6, right at the top. I'm going to pick up from the second line.

  • "Look, this is how it works. Sometimes they are going to need a little bit more as agents are not going to roll over, so it may be we can get this done in one. If you can get a document -- if you -- if you have got in mind a person or persons you think are the most interesting, just ask her what she can get hold of. If she can't get hold of anything, or if she's not happy, then fair enough."

    So here you're actively encouraging Mr Atkins, aren't you, to see if he can get his source to obtain a document?

  • I don't think I'm actively encouraging him. What I'm doing, as I've said, is trying to work out in my own mind at that time how far this chap was saying he was going in this situation. I mean, I -- you know, I might just say that at another part of this transcript, Mr Atkins makes clear that he's going to go and get the young lady drunk in order to get the information out of her. So it was a very odd situation, Mr Barr, and what I was trying to do was trying to get clear in my mind what was going on, so I would have a full assessment of the situation.

  • Mr Owens, if the words, "Just ask her what she can get hold of" aren't active encouragement, just what is?

  • Sorry, can you repeat the question?

  • The words that you use in the penultimate line of the first paragraph on that page, "Just ask her what she can get hold of" -- you've denied that that was actively encouraging Mr Atkins to get his source to get hold of clinical documents. I'm asking you: if that's not active encouragement, what is?

  • I don't know what active encouragement is or isn't in this situation. What I'm saying is quite clear, that I was trying to get clear in my mind what this chap had to offer in the information he had, and that's why I was engaging in the conversation I was.

  • Can we move to paragraph 72, please.

  • Here you start talking about how to make a relationship with Mr Atkins work in the longer term. You are talking about publishing everything all at once or in close sequence one after the other, and you say:

    "It would be a disaster. So what I would say to you would be just to go for two or three of the best and we would do two or three and then have a gap, a big gap, like. I reckon that if you'd got consultations, then that kind of takes care of itself, as you say. Right. We will try and do that story when they comes in."

    Below that, the next time you speak:

    "If you get a picture of Fern Britton coming out of your mate's clinic, you end up writing sort of speculative stuff saying, 'What is Fern having done?' and that is quite weak, really. That is what I think personally. This is why --"

    Mr Atkins says:

    "Yes."

    You say:

    "People will go: 'She's a celeb. She might be going to have a look at -- she might be having botox, might be having anything.' What you need is -- in my opinion, you need a big celebrity who is having something big done. I don't know whether you have got any gastric bands on your list, but that would be best. They are the best stories."

    So you're clearly explaining to him that what you would be most interested in is a number of stories about big celebrities. You're telling him what sort of procedures most interest you -- gastric bands -- and you're coming up with a strategy for dealing with the information by publishing the stories with gaps, aren't you?

  • I'm certainly not coming up company a strategy. What I'm doing is engaging in a conversation with somebody.

    You know, as journalists, you do often have to listen and go along with what people say in order to keep their interest, and I believe that's what was happening in this particular part of the conversation.

  • You're going into very particular details, aren't you, about a future strategy for publication?

  • But we didn't publish any stories, and moreover, as soon as I left the meeting, nothing further happened at all. So there was no strategy.

  • Can we go to paragraph 76. You say:

    "That's it. We need obviously names, when it happened, possibly where it happened for us, just for our own -- so we can assure ourselves that we are dealing with all the information and stuff which won't be disclosed and any documents that your source can get, and then money-wise -- I mean, it is difficult."

    So that's your wish list, isn't it: names and substantiating information, documents?

  • It wasn't my wish list at all. My wish list was to try and get my head clear on what the information was that this chap was offering and that was it.

  • Over the page at paragraphs 79 and 80, you start talking again about timing. You say:

    "It may be that one of them's a consultation, that they're not having anything done for a month or something. So you might say, 'Well, let's just wait for a month until that's done', and I think that might be the case with the band. I think that is the case."

    Sorry, that was Mr Atkins, and you say:

    "That's fine. If it will work better, if we can wait then, I'm fine with that. There won't be the situation where I go up and say, 'Oh, I met this guy and he told me this', because then there'll be pressure to run it, if it's good, so that won't happen. Don't worry about that. It's just basically as far as they're concerned, I met up with someone, we're just -- let's see how things go, which is basically the case anyway. So don't feel rushed by it."

    That explains, doesn't it, why you didn't mention the matter to your news desk after this meeting, because you had wanted to wait?

  • That's certainly not the case. Parts of this element of the conversation made clear what I've said to you previously, in that I saw this just as very much a meeting with somebody where I was trying to get to the bottom of what was happening. My statement makes clear that -- the reasons why I didn't tell my news desk about it.

  • Can we move on now to page 9. In this part of the conversation you're moving on to names. This is where Mr Atkins starts telling you what he says his source can say. I should just point out that, of course, these are all fabricated stories.

  • First of all, second paragraph:

    "Well, one of Girls Aloud."

    And then he says that it was a boob job consultation. He says that Hugh Grant has had a bit of a face tuck, Rhys Ifans has had a tummy tuck, Guy Ritchie, chemical peel, and then that they turned down Trudy Styler.

    Your reaction, if we pick it up at paragraph 112, you say:

    "I'm not sure we could run that story, as it would be too obvious where it had come from."

    Mr Atkins says:

    "Yeah, yeah."

    So the reason there that you're not interested in what he says to say about Ms Styler is simply because it would disclose your source if you, the newspaper, published that story?

  • I don't think it was. I think, re-reading this, that's just -- I don't think Trudy Styler would be a name that our newspaper would be interested in, anyway. But obviously this isn't a story that we published, so ...

  • If we go to paragraph 113, you take stock. You say:

    "So, just running through: Trudy Styler, we can forget. Guy Ritchie, probably forget. Rhys is quite funny, but dunno. Hugh, need to check. Real potential. Girls Aloud is potential. Very, very good story. Depends who it is. If it's Cheryl, then it's massive. With Cheryl, you can expect a big pay. That makes it less dodgy for your source. It's almost worth the wait till she's had it done. Have they had it done or is it just a consultation?"

    It's quite plain from that that you think that the story about Hugh Grant and the story about Cheryl Cole are potentially very good stories and you're plainly excited about them?

  • Not excited. He just reeled off a series of very bizarre stories and I was reacting to them. There was no Cheryl Cole story.

  • You can on to press him about whether it was Cheryl and you're told that in fact it's Nicola, aren't you?

  • That's what he tells me, yeah.

  • You say at the bottom of page 9:

    "Now, Nicola, that is still a good story. That is the best one, Nicola, and Gemma [that's Gemma Atterton, isn't it]. The other three are like maybes, but definitely not Trudy. So you would be looking at Gemma. Gemma is dodgy, as she has not had it done, so we would almost have to wait. They are both consultations, so we would have to wait. That makes sense."

    So the position is that the two stories you're most interested in, Nicola Roberts and Gemma Atterton, are stories you're going to have to wait for because you've been told the work hasn't been done? Is that right, isn't it?

  • Can you just repeat the question, please?

  • The position is the stories that you're most interested in, Nicola Roberts and Gemma Atterton, are stories that you're going to have to wait for, because they're both at the consultation stage and haven't had work done?

  • I haven't made any judgment at all on what was a good or bad story from this. I was simply listening to the information that it was that he had, and -- I mean, I know you've not pointed any of this out yet, but I do take great time in other parts of the meeting to explain to Mr The Atkins that -- you know, the very sensitive nature of everything he was saying to me and that we would need to have some strong public interest justification in moving forward with any of it.

  • We've been through the extreme sensitively passage. We've been through a discussion of public interest, but here you are positively analysing the information that he's giving you and saying that you would have to wait. Those are your words, aren't they?

  • I'm reacting to a string of stories that have just been thrown at me there by somebody. I don't see it as any more than that, really. It's certainly not my final conclusion on anything that was happening and we didn't go and do anything with the information that he was saying to me.

  • On the question of public interest, what we see you say next on page 10 -- it's the first time that he see a paragraph starting with N:

    "I think Rhys is funny, because, you know, Rhys Ifans wanting a tummy tuck is a very funny story. Then again, is it justified in the public interest? That's the problem. We could get away with Gemma Atterton -- that's massive. Good story that, because, as you see, she does not need one. You have got to ask yourself: why? Why is she bothering? That age, as well. So that's all great."

    So your conclusion on the public interest seems to be that with Gemma Atterton, a cosmetic surgery is a massive good story?

  • It's not a conclusion. I mean, as that stream of that -- that little bit of text shows, it was more almost what was going through my mind, the thought process that I was saying to him there. As he was sitting there, I was just reflecting upon what he'd said. I hadn't drawn a final conclusion on anything.

  • You're certainly not saying there's no possible public interest in publishing a story about Gemma Atterton's cosmetic surgery, are you?

  • I'm not saying that, but I'm trying to engage with the person. When you do meet people, you have to listen and go along to a certain extent about the things they're saying, just to keep their interest.

  • And you go on keeping him interested by talking about money, because you next say:

    "Think you are looking to get over 3 grand minimum. That is a start."

    Then you explain to him how it works from the money side of things.

    If we move to paragraph 120, you confirm to him that the numbers you're talking about would be per story, and then you say:

    "The Rhys thing, I like that story a lot, actually, but I wonder whether it is worth it if you do too many. Do you know what I mean?"

    Then you carry on:

    "Hugh is good as well, but I would need to find out what he's had done and what he's spoken about before."

    So your concern about Rhys Ifans seems to be that you don't want to do too many stories; you're only keen to pick the best?

  • I can't really recall what I was thinking at that point, whether that would be right or not.

  • In relation to Hugh Grant, you're realising that you would have to find out what he's had done. Is that so you could compare the information you were being provided with with Mr Grant's public utterances to see whether there was any inconsistency?

  • Yeah, it's another example, I feel, of where I was alive to the fact that there would need to be a public interest justification for using any of the information that this guy was saying. As is set out in the transcript, I took great length to explain that to him on Hugh Grant.

  • You seem to show no such qualms about Gemma Atterton, but you were showing such qualms about Mr Grant. Is that because Mr Grant was well known to be defensive of his privacy?

  • That wasn't going through my mind, I don't believe. As I say, it was three years ago, but I don't think that would have gone through my mind, actually.

  • You go on at paragraph 122:

    "These celebrities, you know they have got money, and Hugh -- obviously the people coming through her doors are fucking AA list, but what I was slightly concerned about, to be honest -- I was worried that you might come here and talk to me about someone from Steps or something."

    Then Mr Atkins says:

    "They might have, but I --"

    And you interrupt:

    "We are talking about kind of celebrities we rarely get stories about because they're so well protected, but you are in a really good situation, personally, to have that sort of story, and that is why I am keen to keep talking."

    That was the position, wasn't it, that here you were being offered information which you thought was dynamite celebrity information?

  • I didn't believe it was dynamite celebrity information. I was simply there to try and work out what the information was.

  • If we go over the page to page 11, paragraph 125. You talk about the way in which the paper approaches stories about breast enlargement. You say:

    "If it's a boob job, then that goes without saying. If you say to me that she has had a boob job in May and we know about it and then we put pictures on her very early on, then we would be the first paper to fucking run that story, do the before and after pictures -- because what you do with boob job stories is: has she or hasn't she had a boob job? And we know she has, which means I can write it quite strong."

    So what you're postulating there is if you have an inside source telling you before the work has taken place about a breast enlargement process, you can arrange for the paper to take before and after photographs and you can write a story very strongly because you know what the true position is.

  • I wasn't suggesting the paper go off and do anything at all, and indeed we didn't.

  • That would be a surreptitious use of this confidential medical information, wouldn't it? Because you wouldn't have to deploy the information at all; you'd just use it to stand up the story and to obtain it.

  • That wasn't anything that was crossing my mind at the time, from my recollection.

  • You carry on in that paragraph:

    "With Gemma Atterton, it is slightly more tricky because it's a consultation for a gastric band and obviously it goes without saying you can't see it because then we do have to go to her. With her, we might need some documents. We need to know when it happened with the others. Hugh's had it done already, so I need to work out if he has ever said anything and work out how we can run."

    And so again we see another reference -- we've come to similar references before -- warning Mr Atkins that you might need documents in some cases. It seems that you were very keen on the possibility of getting documentary proof, weren't you?

  • No, I was very keen to try and work out what Mr Atkins was involved in and trying to ascertain what it was.

  • Again, you're making a second reference to Mr Grant of the need to check whether in his case there's been any hypocrisy?

  • What I'm indicating there, I believe, is the need -- and being alive to the need -- to see whether there would be a public interest defence in any story that Mr Atkins was offering.

  • If we go down to paragraph 126 -- it's a long paragraph but I want to pick up on where you speak just below the bottom hole punch, where you say:

    "I don't think we would need anything more on Nicola because it would be there in plain view for all to see."

    Do you have that?

  • Page 11, just below the bottom hole punch.

  • I don't, actually, sorry.

  • You say:

    "I don't think we would any anything more on ..."

  • Yes, I can see that, yes.

  • That's referring back to the way you've said that the paper would deal with a breast enlargement story. What you can do is use the information to set the story up --

  • You wouldn't actually need any documents?

  • I wasn't giving any view to Mr Atkins on how the paper acted. I was just engaged in a conversation with him.

  • Let's follow that up by looking at what you say towards the bottom of page 11. I'm looking at the last but one time you speak on that page. It's a paragraph that begins:

    "Yes, the thing is --"

    Do you have that?

  • "Yes, the thing is with that she'll need, in my opinion, is that with an operation like that -- it is quite a big operation. They will normally need a couple of weeks off, so it will come when there's a gap in their thing. We'll be able to work it out. No one has seen them come in for a few weeks. Where has she been? I think we will be fine on that. I mean, I think we will be all right. And obviously, if it looks like she has got bigger tits, we can easily say she has had a boob job and we would be all right. Gemma Atterton, we'll need, if possible, some documentation. The thing so say to your friend is: 'What did you get?' Because the more the better, really. If she can't get anything, then fine."

    Mr Atkins says:

    "She is be a administrative nurse. That's the thing. So she probably can."

    And you say:

    "If she can, yeah, get a document on everything."

    That really is the bottom line, isn't it, Mr Owens? You're trying to encourage Mr Atkins to get the nurse to get as many documents about cosmetic surgery as she can lay her hands-on?

  • It's certainly not the bottom line, but what I was trying to do was ascertain the information he had, and I should remind you, as I've made clear in my statement, that newspapers do often investigate and expose people that are involved in something we believe to be wrong. This was a guy who was sitting in front of me, claiming to go and -- he was going to get a young lady drunk so he could obtain information from her, and I felt at some point down the line, when I spoke to my news desk, as I've set out in my statement, we may want to expose what this guy was up to. So I needed to be in full possession of the facts.

  • Let's examine that a little bit. You've told us that in fact you set off to meet Mr Atkins without talking to your news desk at all?

  • No, I said to them I was off to meet someone.

  • And you didn't record this conversation?

  • So you plainly didn't have a sting in mind when you embarked upon the inquiry?

  • When I went to meet him, at that stage it was a general meeting, trying to work out what information there was there.

  • And here you are expressing interest in the stories, discussing the details of how the information might be used and concluding with an invitation for the nurse to get documents on everything?

  • That's not the end of the meeting. I mean, as you'll see, towards the end of the meeting he refers again to the fact that he's going to go and get her a little bit drunk, and that was one of the main things that he was --

  • Where had he already said that?

  • Further in towards the middle of the conversation.

  • Just pause. (Pause)

    Thank you.

  • I mean, as he says here:

    "I'm going to need to sit down with her, take her out, get her drunk."

    These were comments, by the way, that were initially not disclosed in the transcript of our conversation, and I feel that it just underlines the very odd situation that I was in there with this chap. You know, he was claiming that he was going to get somebody drunk so he could get information. By the end of the meeting, he referred to it again and I went away thinking that we may need to expose he was doing.

  • You think that's a proper construction of this conversation, do you?

  • You think it's a proper construction of this conversation, do you?

  • That you've just explained.

  • Because it was so long ago, I'm not able to recall whether it's a proper construction or not, but I can only work from this transcript.

  • Let's just assume for a moment that that was running through your mind. If we go over the page to page 12, where you're continuing, a paragraph that starts "If she can, yeah, get a document on everything":

    "With Rhys -- if you want to do Rhys, ask her to get something on Rhys."

    Then you go on to say that you're going to have to read back on Hugh over the next couple of days. Why, if you were having qualms about his methods, were you positively encouraging this man to get a nurse drunk so that she could get as many documents as she could, including specifically about Rhys Ifans, and telling him that you were going to have to read back on Hugh Grant?

  • I wasn't positively encouraging Mr Atkins to get her drunk. He was --

  • No, that's not what I said. That wasn't the question.

  • Why you were positively encouraging this man to get her drunk and obtain the note, because you're telling him: "Ask her to get something on Rhys, get a document on everything"?

  • The meeting was coming to an end and the point I'm trying to make here was as we drew to the end of the meeting, alarm bells began to ring, especially when he repeated the fact that he wanted to get her drunk again, that this was a guy we may want to be investigating.

  • Isn't the true position that you were very happy about the methods that were proposed; all you wanted was to get the information?

  • If we go over to page 13, we see that again you start planning for the long term. Paragraph 144. You say -- we'll start with what Mr Atkins says. He says:

    "Yes, I could see the thing being one every six weeks, six months, every year, something like that, and more people are going to come through the doors and you can also tell us who you want to look out for."

    And you say:

    "Yes, that is a good point for you, for the celebs, think around telly, TV, Eastenders, Coronation Street, the big ones, the big programmes. Obviously people like film stars. Goes without saying. Ramsay is huge. I'll just give you the top five celebs: Becks, he is not going to go there, Ramsay, Lewis Hamilton, Linacre is big and just TV."

    You go on then to talk money again, couple of lines below:

    "10 to 15, which is a lot of money for a good story."

    So even here, towards the end of the conversation, you're actively discussing with him which celebrities you're interested in and talking about a long-term strategy, aren't you?

  • I'm just engaging with him, and for several points in this meeting he was mentioning money, so I was just engaging with him, and as I've said in my statement and said here, as a journalist you do sometimes have to, when you're meeting people, go along with them a little bit and in order to engage with them.

  • If you turn to the very last page, page 14 --

  • -- it says:

    "Subsequently Nick Owens made several phone calls to my mobile phone, leaving messages explaining they were very keen on running the story."

    It's right, isn't it, that you did telephone Mr Owens and left messages for him?

  • I don't recall making several phone calls. Obviously it was a long time ago. I think I made two phone calls. The first one being that -- you know, bear in mind Mr Atkins was extremely nervous throughout this meeting. As you'll see, at one point he spilt a cup of coffee over his trousers, and we also agreed to talk at the end of the meeting, he asked me to ring him, so I was honouring that. And then on the second occasion that I rang him, it was just to see how he was and if he was still okay. As a journalist, I feel you have a duty of care to do that if you're meeting someone who sounded a bit nervous about things.

  • Isn't the real position that you were interested in following up this information which you had been offered?

  • No. I mean, by that point I'd come to a conclusion that it was very unlikely we would be able to do anything with Mr Atkins at all.

  • You say in your witness statement that by this stage you'd looked at the PCC code?

  • Had you really had to look it up?

  • No, it's not a case of looking it up. Obviously all stories are different and all situations are different, so, you know, when I came back from the office, obviously I was reflecting upon what had happened. Very unusual set of circumstances, as I've said, a man offering to get a young lady drunk to obtain information, and I just in the cold light of day looked at the PCC code again and realised it was very unlikely we'd be able to do anything at all here apart from perhaps again looking at the possibility of exposing Mr Atkins.

  • It's right, isn't it, that after you'd met Mr Atkins you didn't mention the matter to the news desk?

  • If you had been contemplating a sting, you would have done so, wouldn't you?

  • I would have done, if I was contemplating -- I was contemplating a sting, but, as I've said in my statement, the more sort of pressing matter in that particular week was that after meeting with Mr Atkins I became involved in a very big story about a mother-of-two who had been jailed in Dubai, wrongly jailed, we had information to suggest, which ended up being the front-page story for us that particular week, so I became quickly involved in another story and I decided that it was a better allocation of my time to work on that than spend any more time on this.

  • Isn't the true position that the matter didn't go forward because Mr Atkins didn't return your calls and didn't in fact ever come up with the goods?

  • That's not right at all.

  • What did happen, though, in October 2009, is the film Starsuckers was released, and at that point the matter came to the attention of your editor, Ms Weaver.

  • She says that you met; is that right?

  • Sorry, I met Ms Weaver?

  • She says that you were apologetic.

  • And that you told her that you'd said some unhelpful things.

  • And she describes her reaction as being unhappy. Was she unhappy?

  • I can't remember if she was concerned. She was unhappy.

  • She thought that you'd acted unwisely and made misjudgments; did she tell you that?

  • If it had been your intention to do a sting, you wouldn't have been apologetic, would you?

  • I wouldn't have been apologetic?

  • Well, at that particular moment in time when I spoke to the editor, I've just said to her that I've felt, you know, I'd made some misjudged comments, some slightly clumsy comments, and I explained to her that I was sorry for any embarrassment that it had caused, and I then explained that I'd never mentioned the matter to the news desk and the reason being for the reasons I've just set out: that I looked again at the code, I also then got involved in a very big story for us that week; and that was what I said to her.

  • Isn't the true position that you were taken in by Mr Atkins and you let your excitement at the prospect of celebrity stories get the better of your moral compass?

  • Can we turn now to a completely different matter, and the coverage by the Sunday Mirror of the Christopher Jefferies story?

  • I'm looking now at the very last page in the bundle and this is a copy of the Sunday Mirror from 2 January of last year. There is a story in the bottom right-hand corner of the page:

    "Suspect in poem about killing wife."

    And this is where we have a story about Mr Jefferies, an English teacher, teaching Oscar Wilde to his class, but it's portrayed in somewhat sinister terms. It carries the byline of yourself and Alastair Self. Did you in fact write this article?

  • Did you have anything at all to do with it?

  • Apart from moving it across to the next stage in our production process, no.

  • Why then does it have your byline?

  • I mean, as my editor has explained, that was a production error.

  • And is this sort of thing common at the Sunday Mirror?

  • I'm not able to say. I don't -- it's not my job to keep a record of things like that.

  • Thank you, Mr Owens. Those were all the questions that I had for you.

  • Thank you very much. Thank you.

  • Sir, we've finished the witnesses that we have this morning. I think that Mr Dacre is going to be available at 2 o'clock.

  • Right, 2 o'clock. Thank you.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • (Proceedings delayed)

  • Mr Jay, I understand that there is an IT difficulty, so that although the proceedings are being recorded, they are not presently being streamed live. This is a problem that hasn't previously arisen, and I don't feel it's appropriate to wait any longer while it is resolved. What it will mean is those who wish to follow this afternoon's proceedings will be able to do so but not contemporaneously. As soon as the link is restored, it will happen, and we will make sure that the recording in any event is placed on the web so that it is available for anybody to see thereafter.

  • Sir, may I mention some evidence which is to be read or possibly read at this stage. You will have seen a statement from Ms Jemima Khan dated 27 November 2012.

  • There's no difficulty with that statement.

    Then on Friday and Saturday there was a late flurry of evidence. The second supplementary witness statement of Mr Hugh Grant, together with an exhibit, which also contained a statement of Patricia Owen and a voice file. That arrived at about 4.30 in the afternoon.

    Then there was a supplementary witness statement of Mr Paul Dacre, together with an exhibit. That arrived in my inbox at around 9.00 in the evening. It wasn't received by the solicitor to the Inquiry, since the email bounced back, but in any event it was far too late. So there's that statement to address, and then there's a second statement of Mr Mark Thomson, which I understand you haven't seen, of Saturday's date, 4 February.

    All I would wish to say is that it's disappointing that this evidence has come so late, but it's for you to decide how to address it.

  • I can't pretend that I have studied it at length, although I have seen at least one of the statements to which you have just referred. I'm very anxious that this Inquiry is not diverted into a dispute between one of those who's given evidence and one of the newspaper core participants. I think we should proceed to hear the evidence that we need to hear. Mr Dacre has a lot of ground that he can cover and has already demonstrated in the seminar how he has been thinking about the future. I am not prepared presently to publish any of these statements until I've heard some argument as to how far they take the issues that I have to resolve, and I'm prepared to do that at some stage that is convenient to the parties.

  • Indeed. I'm asked to point out -- this, I think, is implicit in what you know already -- that there is no sound going to our annex. I think it's part of the same syndrome as the streaming problem you mentioned.

  • I didn't know there was no sound. I am also getting information to the effect that there is sound.

  • Then I will ignore that last message. Maybe the sound has just arrived.

    Sir, may we press on then with Mr Paul Dacre?