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

  • MR PETER WRIGHT (sworn).

  • Your full name, please, Mr Wright.

  • Nigel Peter Glanville Wright.

  • Thank you. You provided a witness statement to the Inquiry, which under file 1 of the three bundles in front of you will be under tab 5. It's signed and dated by you on 25 October of last year. Is that correct?

  • Thank you. You haven't put a statement of truth on your statement, but is your statement true?

  • First of all, Mr Wright, you are currently the editor of the Mail on Sunday. You have been since 1998; is that correct?

  • And before then, you were working at the Daily Mail in a number of capacities since 1979, and before that you were at a local newspaper; is that correct?

  • That's correct, yeah.

  • So you must be, if you don't mind me putting it in these terms, one of the longest-serving employees of the Mail Group?

  • I think that would be right, yes.

  • And so are coming to this Inquiry with, as it were, bags of experiences which you can share with us; is that right?

  • Can I ask you one general question? I appreciate we're dealing on the one hand with the Daily Mail and then the Mail on Sunday. Over the years, 32 years, you've been at both papers, how, if at all, has the culture changed?

  • I think the subject matter that newspapers cover has changed enormously. When I joined in 1979, the star reporters on the Daily Mail were the industrial correspondents. These days newspapers don't even employ industrial correspondents. So newspapers change as the political climate changes, as society changes, and as the law and the principles of self-regulation change in regard to news coverage.

  • Has there been a greater interest in celebrity and some would say gossip, or does that not apply to your paper?

  • Apart from the industrial correspondents, one of the biggest stars on the Daily Mail when I joined was Nigel Dempster, who was the gossip columnist. There has always been interest in celebrities. Where there is probably a difference is that there are a great many more of them today. Proliferation of television channels in particular creates a very large number of people who would claim status celebrity.

  • And also those who aren't really celebrities at all but have been on the television programmes not because they're film stars or --

  • No, I mean people like reality TV contestants who -- red top papers in particular, whose readers are enthusiastic watchers of those sort of programmes, and they treat them in terms of news coverage in much the same way they would film stars or footballers.

  • Yes. Although your statement doesn't say so, we know that the Mail on Sunday continues to make money; is that right?

  • Yes. It's become harder in recent years, but we do still make money.

  • Thank you. Are you involved at all with the online editions, or is that someone else's responsibility?

  • The Mail Online has its own editor and its own journalistic staff. It takes our content, but it also produces a lot of its own content.

  • You are obviously a long-serving editor, 13 years. Some of the papers we've seen the editors move on more quickly. Is there a reason for that, apart from the obvious one, that you're good at what you do?

  • Well, I hope I'm good at what I do, but the Mail on Sunday is a large and successful newspaper, and on the whole, successful newspapers don't change their editors very often.

  • Thank you. And the other general point about the Mail on Sunday, this is paragraph 3 of your statement, that you're not so much as other papers under pressure to produce big exclusive stories; the emphasis is less on that and more on the need to maintain a spread and balance throughout the paper that will appeal to your readers; is that right?

  • Yes. We are both a newspaper and we publish two very successful magazines. Of course we want to publish groundbreaking exclusive stories, but readers buy us for many other things: columnists, puzzles, human interest interviews, financial coverage. We're a very, very broad church newspaper.

  • And that's what you mean by spread and balance?

  • The paper's managing editor, Mr John Wellington, he's been there for how long?

  • He's been managing editor for about 10 years. Prior to that he was deputy managing editor.

  • Thank you. And one other general point about the Mail on Sunday that's in common with other Sunday papers, you tell us this in paragraph 4: there's usually more time available to investigate stories?

  • Yes. Sunday newspapers operate in a rather different way to daily newspapers. Daily newspapers have to tackle a very large daily agenda of news, and the editing job is more a matter of what you select, what you don't put in. The Sunday newspapers don't have that. As far as on-the-day news is concerned, Saturday is the quietest day of the week. You have a large newspaper to fill, and you are looking for stories that the daily papers haven't covered and won't cover, but will set the agenda for the following week. So you have to look beyond what is hitting the news editor in the face, and that involves finding stories which require more work, but at the same time you have more time to look at them.

  • Yes. Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 6? I'm going to pass over paragraph 5. Six lines down:

    "Equally, editorial judgments have to be made quickly and often on partial information. Sometimes in matters of judgment, as with matters of accuracy, we do not get it absolutely right."

    What do you mean by "partial information" in that context, Mr Wright?

  • Well, editing a newspaper is not like hearing a case in a court of law. You very often have certain pieces of information of which you are certain, other pieces of information which are the subject of dispute. You have person A claiming a certain thing, person B denying that that certain thing is true. And then areas of a story where you would like to have information, but you simply don't have it. And even if you have been working on a story all week, the judgment normally has to be made on a Saturday afternoon and the full array of information on which you're going to base that judgment is not normally in your hands until that point.

  • I think by "partial information" you really mean that the strength of the evidence supporting a particular proposition is going to vary between very strong evidence, evidence which is disputed and then evidence which is more speculative, and the editor's job, confronted with such a situation, is to make a judgment as to whether the story has properly been stood up or not; is that right?

  • Well, there may be areas in which you simply don't have evidence. So you may have a story where you know certain things for a fact, and you would like to know other elements of it, but you simply don't have them.

  • What makes you think that isn't exactly what happened in court?

  • Maybe it is but I've never had that experience. But if you are a newspaper or a journalist, you don't have the benefit of being able to question people under oath, and very often people will either not answer your questions or give you an answer which is not an answer to the question you've asked.

  • That does happen in court.

  • But there is the oath, and I understand the point. There's a limit to how far we'll take that. Yes.

  • Thank you. You've given us a flavour.

  • To take another analogy, if you're a scientist, you would hope to have absolutely conclusive proof of something you want to publish, and you then subject it to peer review. I mean, we don't, I'm afraid, have that luxury.

  • No. You touch on the PCC in paragraph 6. Is it the policy at the Mail, and that includes the Sunday Mail, the Mail on Sunday, to settle complaints immediately so they don't get to the PCC?

  • As far as we possibly can, yes.

  • Thank you. And how do you do that?

  • Well, John Wellington is our managing editor. If we have a complaint, normally it would either come to me or to him, but sometimes it comes to the journalist who wrote the story, we pass it to Mr Wellington, he gets in contact with the complainant, he speaks to the journalist involved, he tries to establish the strength of the complaint. And if we have simply got it wrong, and that does happen, we publish a correction or a clarification straight away.

  • Is it the policy to publish that just online or in the print edition?

  • Oh no, we always publish them in the print edition, but we've within the last few months introduced a regular corrections and clarifications column, which appears on page 2 of the paper.

  • And that's in line with your sister paper, the Mail, isn't it?

  • So the corrections page is page 2?

  • Regardless, really, of where the original article lay; is that right?

  • We changed our policy. It was our policy for many years to carry corrections and clarifications on the page on which the original article appeared, or close to it. This would sometimes lead to disputes, and we were aware that other newspapers had introduced corrections and clarifications columns, and we decided that the time had come to introduce the same policy ourselves, and I have to say I think it helps to correct things quickly.

  • May I ask where this is in relation to page 2? Is it in the middle of the page, at the top of the page; how does it work?

  • It's at the bottom of the page.

  • The bottom middle or the bottom left or right?

  • Bottom middle of the page. What is the banner, if anything, which tops the correction?

  • "Corrections and clarifications".

  • This was a policy that you introduced, it was announced, indeed, at the seminar?

  • Just to give us a flavour, how many of these on average do we see in an edition of the Mail on Sunday?

  • It does vary. I think the most we've carried was in the first week when there were about four or five. Last week we didn't have any. The average week there may be two or three. I mean, it's fair to say a lot of them are things that you might regard as trivial, but they're important to somebody.

  • Do you tend to negotiate the wording with the complainant or is it your decision?

  • We negotiate the wording with the complainant unless it is -- and we do get quite a lot of these -- it's somebody writing in to say that we got the score line wrong in a football match, or -- but if there's anything contentious, we agree it.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 9, please, Mr Wright, "Sources of information".

  • Just before you pass on from that, you said you think that this is a good idea?

  • Why have you reached the conclusion it's a good idea?

  • Well, we found that previously you would have a debate about where the correction was going to appear, what sort of prominence it would have, and this delayed -- it often delayed really quite unreasonably the amount of time it took to get the correction in the newspaper. The advantage of having a corrections and clarifications column is you can say, "Look at last week's paper, that's where it will go", and so far everybody we've dealt with has been very happy to see is it in that slot. They feel it's given prominence, taken seriously, and it seems to work.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 9 you deal with the issue of sources. And your evidence is not dissimilar from many others'. But can I ask you this general question: how often are stories published on the basis of only one source?

  • You mean one anonymous source?

  • If it is somebody who's given you a story about themselves, I would not have great problem with that. That quite often happens with political stories and sometimes with showbusiness stories. If you have a source and they're giving you a story about somebody else, then I would be uneasy about publishing a story based on one source, and you would certainly want to go to whoever it is the story is about and discuss it with them and get their reaction.

  • Yes. That was really my next question. Is it the policy of the Mail on Sunday to give the subject of stories prior notification of the story you're going to publish about them?

  • Yes. I am not completely happy with the term "prior notification".

  • Modify it as you see fit.

  • I mean the news room term is "put it to people". I believe very firmly that if you're writing a story about somebody which is in any way contentious, that you should go to them and put whatever matters of concern to them, seek their reaction, and make a judgment on what you're proposing to publish on the basis of what they tell you.

  • Thank you. And as with all policies, there may be exceptions. What, if any, are the exceptions to the principle that the story is put to the person?

  • A lot of what we publish is completely uncontentious, and you may -- you may publish a story which is about person A, but includes background which concerns person B, which has been published before and which hasn't been challenged. In those circumstances, you wouldn't go back to person B and put to them again matters that would have been put to them in the past, either by our newspaper or another newspaper, unless you had reason to think that the previous story you were basing your background on was for some reason -- had been challenged or was inaccurate.

  • Yes. Thank you. Stories are, of course, read by the legal department. As a general rule, do you follow the advice of lawyers or not?

  • I know it's difficult to speak in generalities. What are the sort of situations which might arise where you don't follow legal advice?

  • We employ our legal director, Liz Hartley, who you'll be talking to this afternoon, and a number of senior in-house lawyers whose advice I would nearly always follow.

    We also, on a Friday and a Saturday, we have two duty lawyers who read every story in the paper. They take slightly different attitudes, because they're different people coming in. Sometimes they are overcautious, and in particularly on celebrity stories, you have to take a view to -- we're talking about libel here -- there are certain individuals who are very likely to sue and other individuals who, for whatever reason, are very unlikely to sue, and because I've been doing this job for a very long time, I may have a better knowledge of that than the duty lawyer.

    The duty lawyer will point out to me, "Look, this could be -- there could be a risk here", and it's their job to point out the risk. It's my job to take the decision.

    Equally, I sometimes, not infrequently, go to duty lawyers and say, "Have you read this story?" "Yes," they say, "it's fine". And I say, "I'm very worried about this bit, can I go through it again?" So sometimes I take a more cautious view than duty lawyers.

  • Paragraph 10, please, Mr Wright. It's really the second sentence. I'll ask you to explain or clarify that:

    "The rule on the Mail on Sunday is that journalists must reveal their sources to the editor if asked."

    That's a bit more bullish on one level than evidence we've heard from other editors. Would you like to explain that, please?

  • Well, I am well aware that if you run a story based on anonymous sources and you as editor don't know who those sources are, you can find yourself in a very difficult position, post-publication, where you have nobody to go back to. It's important to me to know that because -- I'm thinking here probably particularly about political stories -- the source may well have their own agenda, and if I'm going to make a judgment on a story, I need to know where it's coming from and where the person who's giving it to us is coming from.

    I may also need to know whether the person who has given us the story in the event of a libel action is going to be prepared to go to court and give evidence. It's not uncommon for people who give you stories not to want to be identified in the story as the source of the story, but who feels strongly about the issues concerned and would be prepared to give evidence were the story to be challenged.

  • Thank you. This is a related question, but it doesn't quite bite on the issue of sources. Will you tend to know from your journalists the means which they used to obtain a story?

  • Yes. The question I often ask in our news coverage is, "How did this come to our attention?"

  • And particularly since the phone hacking scandal, I will quite often want to know what means were used to obtain information in the first instance.

  • Thank you. I think I may be entitled to ask this question, that if phone hacking had occurred at the Mail on Sunday, would this follow, that you would have known about it, assuming that you weren't lied to by your journalists?

  • Yes. I mean, it's a little bit difficult for me to answer that question because I have absolutely no evidence that phone hacking ever did occur, but I would hope that if phone hacking was going on, it would have come to my attention.

  • That may be one deduction to be drawn from the answer you've given, which is: yes, phone hacking did not occur.

  • I follow that. Can I ask you about paragraph 11 and your reference to, four lines down, a hypothesis or a gut feeling about a set of events?

  • It might be said in relation to some, if not many, stories that the tendency is to start off with a presumption as to what happened, because it feels right or meets with a particular world view, and then the temptation is to go and get evidence which supports that preconceived position. Is that a failing which you would accept or reject?

  • I would reject that. I mean, I do often -- there can be an assumption on news desks that newspapers or editors are looking for certain sorts of stories, and I sometimes have to tell our news desk, "Look, I appreciate this looks as though it's a certain sort of story, but you must approach it with an open mind". You do have to -- in choosing what sort of stories you're going after, you begin with very partial information and you then have to go and look for further information.

    Now, something has to guide you as to what information to look for, so you have to have -- unless it's just a breaking story that, you know, a plane has crashed on a Saturday afternoon, but even then you have a hypothesis. And if, for instance, God forbid one of the new super jumbo jets crashed, one of the things I would ask my reporter is, "You must check for engine failure because we know there has been a problem a year or so ago with one of these planes that had an engine problem, so will you ask, make sure you ask the people investigating, the air traffic control, the airline, whoever, were engines a problem". It's fairly straightforward.

  • But you would repudiate the suggestion that you start off with a working hypothesis which fits in with a particular world view and then you move on to establish it? That's something which you, as it were, drum out of your reporters, is it?

  • I think you have to tell reporters sometimes, "I want you to -- you must go and look at this with an open mind", and if circumstances are not as they appear to be, I want to know that. But it doesn't mean that it's not a story. It may well be a better story.

  • Or a different story.

  • Or a different story.

  • Thank you. I'll move on to paragraph 12, inquiry agents. Paragraph 12, you tell us a number of things which you pick up later. The banning of inquiry agents we know was in 2007. The last sentence:

    "In respect of payments for information, we have a checklist that department heads are required to fill in before authorising a payment."

    Are there still cash payments made to sources of information at the Mail on Sunday?

  • Yes, in limited circumstances.

  • And in what circumstances?

  • There are sometimes people for various reasons who have information which is useful to a story who want to be paid in cash. Sometimes they don't have bank accounts. Some people just like being paid in cash.

  • What sort of levels of payments are we talking about here, Mr Wright?

  • I think it could be anything -- I think the biggest cash payment we've made in the last year was £3,500, but they would mostly be a lot less than that.

  • What's the largest payment that's been made to a source?

  • Well, I've given you the answer.

  • Yes, but it would be a non-cash payment then.

  • I'd have -- I don't have that information with me.

  • You don't have a recollection of a super-duper story for which you really had to pay a lot of money?

  • It depends what you mean by a payment to a source. I mean, would you include a payment for an interview with somebody?

  • Well, I think I would, but I'm assuming that those payments might be a bit less, but I may be wrong.

  • No, they would be more.

  • They would be more? Okay. Just give us a feel for sort of the top end of the range.

  • In the last year -- I'm a bit reluctant without checking, but off the top of my head, the top payment for a major interview would be about £50,000, or a big book serialisation.

  • The Lord Triesman case which you mention later on in your statement, we can turn it up at this stage, how much did you pay to the woman concerned? Can you remember?

  • I can't recall, but it would be of that order. I mean, I can come back to you with that.

  • So approximately 50,000? The precise amount is not going to matter much.

  • It would be something of that order, yeah, certainly.

  • The use of inquiry agents, you start on this theme under paragraph 13 of your statement. You were unaware of the use of inquiry agents until we heard of the Information Commissioner's investigation. You make it clear later on that that was in 2004; is that right?

  • First sentence paragraph 14.

  • Yes. It was around the end of 2003, beginning of 2004.

  • How did you come to learn of the Operation Motorman inquiry?

  • The Operation Motorman prosecution concerned a story -- or part of it concerned a story that we had run, and we heard that the police were making enquiries about that story.

  • Can you tell us, please, about the story? What was the nature of the story?

  • It was a story about Bob Crow, the General Secretary of the RMT Union. There was some sort of industrial dispute going on, I can't quite remember what, and he was getting a ride to work on a motor scooter.

  • How did that story lock in with the circumstances of Operation Motorman?

  • When the Operation Motorman investigation went through Steven Whittamore's log books, he had logged in his log books that the name of the owner of this motor scooter had been supplied to us by Whittamore.

  • So the name of the owner of the motor scooter had been supplied to you by Mr Whittamore?

  • It follows, therefore, that the information obtained from Mr Whittamore was used to source a story, wasn't it?

  • No, it was used to -- no. I think we had the story that he was riding on this motor scooter, and we had a picture of him on the motor scooter, but we didn't know who the motor scooter belonged to. Then Whittamore supplied that information.

  • Did that information, namely the identity of the owner of the motor scooter, find its way into the story?

  • So it might be said it wasn't quite to source a story?

  • But to provide information which entered a story?

  • Yes. Whittamore didn't supply stories. He was used primarily to find names and addresses of people who we needed to speak to in the course of trying to research stories.

  • Yes. I'm going to come back to that, but you've just given us an example of Mr Whittamore providing information which led you to know an important fact which could be used in a story, namely the identity of the owner of the motor scooter; is that correct?

  • Yes. But I want to get the sequence correct. He didn't volunteer that information to us. I mean, I have to be slightly careful here because we know what was in his log books. We don't actually know who, if anyone, on the newspaper asked him for this information. We know he'd logged that he had supplied it to us, but we don't actually know that anybody on the paper asked him for it. It would be a simple assumption that they did, but I want to give you very accurate answers.

  • Can I unpick that answer, Mr Wright, that Mr Whittamore, of course, didn't volunteer information to the Mail on Sunday, he always responded to --

  • That's not quite accurate either. He would -- as I now know, some years after the event and after many conversations about this subject -- he didn't ring up and offer stories, he simply offered a service where he would trace, as I say, in most cases names and addresses and telephone numbers. But reporters would ring him up and say, "Can you supply me with an address for so-and-so?"

  • And he then might offer other similar information. So if you ring up and ask for an address, he might offer you a telephone number as well.

  • But he didn't, as far as I know, and I've never spoken to the man, he didn't offer stories.

  • We're agreed about that. But he had a range of -- an array of information at his disposal, didn't he?

  • Which might range from names and addresses to ex-directory numbers, to vehicle registration numbers, to friends and family numbers to criminal record checks; is that so?

  • When did you know all of that, though, Mr Wright?

  • All of the latter, in August this last year, 2011.

  • Okay. I'm still on the first sentence of paragraph 14. You told us the circumstances in which you discovered from the Motorman inquiry that "we were regularly using the services of the iinquiry agent". What we've established so far is one case, namely Mr Crow on the back of a motor scooter.

  • Did it follow from the revelation to you of that one case that you then carried out further enquiries which showed that the Mail on Sunday was regularly using Mr Whittamore's services? What happened?

  • I asked whether we were regularly using this man and I was told that we were. I asked our managing editor to check the invoices and see how regularly he was being used.

  • And I was uncomfortable that it appeared that he might be using methods of which we wouldn't approve, with or without the knowledge of people who had commissioned him. So we -- as I say in my witness statement -- early in 2004 we issued an instruction to staff that he wasn't to be used unless department heads were consulted, there was an extremely good reason to use him, and other means of finding out the information had all been exhausted.

  • Yes. Thank you, Mr Wright. Can we again just analyse that? The analysis of payments which you refer to is dealt with under paragraph 13 of your statement.

  • I think what you're telling us is that you smelt a bit of a rat, and so you therefore caused certain enquiries to be undertaken, and those included enquiries of payments made. You say in the penultimate sentence of paragraph 13:

    "Payments to inquiry agencies for research and information were classed with payments for taxis, flights, accommodation, et cetera, and were monitored by our managing editor."

    Is that right?

  • What do you mean precisely by the term "classed with payments"?

  • We have, in my view, a rather complex and a very thorough accounts system, which lists payments and analyses them under all sorts of headings. The payments to journalists -- this is probably slightly unusual for editors, but when I first became editor we had difficulties with our editorial budget, which was overspent, and I felt that the information that I was getting about our budget was coming too late and not in a form that I could monitor properly, so I set up a system whereby I would get weekly sheets of information on what the accounts department would regard as direct editorial expenditure, which would be payments to journalists, photographers, which is where the budget overruns were mostly accrued.

    But, like all newspapers, there are a lot of other incidental expenses, taxis for reporters, flights, hotels.

  • And payments to Mr Whittamore, because he wasn't a journalist, fell into that category, which I didn't exercise personal control over.

  • Once you discovered this, am I right in saying that you discovered this in early 2004?

  • Was it clear what the payments were for, even though they were located in, as it were, the wrong place or a slightly misleading place?

  • No, the invoices were very vague.

  • But what could you deduce by looking at the invoices?

  • By looking at the invoices, really only the sums of money paid to him.

  • How did you know that they were being paid to Mr Whittamore? I mean, I suppose there was his company, JJ Services?

  • Yes, his name was on them.

  • Did you then make enquiries as to the extent to which these payments were being made to Mr Whittamore's company?

  • Yes. It seemed to me that we were asking him to do things that should be done by reporters themselves.

  • Can I just run through this? When we talk about extent, was it clear to you that substantial sums of money were being paid to him?

  • In relation, for example, to the transactions which the Information Commissioner identified positively as being illegal transactions, the sum he gave was at least £20,000. Does that sound right?

  • That would be over -- it's a global sum over several years, I think, but yes, it would be about right, probably.

  • I'm not putting to you a precise sum of all the transactions involving Mr Whittamore because they went much wider than the positively identified illegal ones, but I think we're agreed we're talking about a substantial sum of money, are we?

  • Yes. You are using the phrase "positively identified as illegal". I think I would modify that and say "might be illegal".

  • At this stage I'm not going to argue about the terminology; we might come back to that.

    Was it clear to you what Mr Whittamore was doing?

  • His main use to us and the reason that our news desk had been keen to use him was that at this point in time a lot of information that previously you had had to laboriously go to places like Somerset House or to town halls where electoral rolls were kept, he had on databases, which meant that if you were a reporter and you were out of town on a story -- bearing in mind at this point the laptops we issued reporters with didn't have Internet access, people didn't have BlackBerries -- they could ring up Whittamore and he was very good and very quick at cross-referencing electoral rolls, phone books, and supplying reporters with basic information they need to do their job, which is where to find people.

  • Is that last answer based on what you've learnt recently or is it based on investigations you carried out in 2004?

  • That's what I was told then.

  • That's what -- who told you that?

  • The managing editor and the then news editor.

  • How did they know?

  • Well, the managing editors spoke to reporters and asked them why they were using him.

  • Did you know how many reporters were involved in the use of Mr Whittamore's services?

  • At that time, I can't honestly remember, but I know that a number of reporters used him.

  • You say that the information you received, mainly from the managing editor but also the news editor, was that Mr Whittamore was using what might be thought to be legitimate sources --

  • -- for his information, but how did they know that?

  • Well, that's what they believed to be the case, and this is why I was alarmed when I heard about the investigation into the Bob Crow incident, because it suggested he might be using sources that weren't legitimate.

  • Yes. But didn't you have the sense then, once you knew about the Operation Motorman inquiry, that whatever you were being told by the managing editor, there might be a problem here, namely that Mr Whittamore was indulging in illegal practices, either part of the time or the whole of the time, and therefore the Mail on Sunday shouldn't be dealing with him at all?

  • Possibly you were also alerted to the slightly unusual nature of all of this by the payment system or practice which had been deployed, namely that these payments were classed with payments for taxis and accommodation, because they were, as it were, being or possibly being concealed in some way. Isn't that fair?

  • No, I don't think that was the case. I think that was just administratively how they had been classed. I don't think there was any deliberate attempt to conceal them.

  • Okay, but if you were concerned, as you've just told me, that the Mail on Sunday might be associating itself with someone who used illegal practices, what further enquiry did you undertake then to satisfy yourself that your journalists weren't using illegal practices?

  • Well, I issued -- or got my managing editor to issue an instruction that enormous care was to be taken when commissioning Whittamore, and that he was only to be used in a closely defined set of circumstances, which I've already explained to you.

  • I think there must be some misunderstanding here, because the instruction given in February 2004 was well after Operation Motorman started.

  • I think that Mr Whittamore was arrested in March 2003, and I've seen no evidence that the Mail on Sunday was still using his services in 2004. Your instruction must have related to other inquiry agents, don't you think?

  • No. No, I think you've got your sequence of events slightly wrong there.

  • I'm sure I haven't, actually. Indeed, I'm positive I haven't. But it may be -- and tell me if I'm wrong -- that you were using Mr Whittamore, even in 2004. Is that really the case, though?

  • The instruction from -- the Bob Crow story was published in February 2003. The instruction from the managing editor was February 2004. From that point onwards, Whittamore was rarely used. We stopped using him altogether in September 2004, apart from two payments which nobody can quite explain, but effectively he was used only on very rare occasions from February 2004, and virtually stopped altogether in September 2004.

  • If you were using him as late as 2004, weren't you running a risk here, Mr Wright, since we know that Mr Whittamore had been arrested and, I think, charged with offences by then, hadn't he?

  • You're asking me questions that I can't entirely answer, but I know that we became -- you know, our action dated from the point at which we became aware that Whittamore was going to be prosecuted. Whether that was after he was charged, I simply can't recall, but it was around the turn of the year 2003/2004, and in February that year we took steps to stop the use of Whittamore or at least only use him when we were extremely sure that what he was doing was legitimate and there was a good reason to do it.

  • Given the scale or possible scale of the unlawful activity involving the Mail on Sunday here, why didn't you take steps to identify the journalists who were using Mr Whittamore's services and make enquiry of them as to whether or not they might have been committing offences?

  • Well, I thought the most important thing to do at that stage was to ensure -- I mean, what had happened in the past had happened, and you talk about illegal enquiries, but there is a public interest defence under the Data Protection Act, and I would very much hope that had Whittamore made illegal -- possibly illegal enquiries on our behalf, that there would be a public interest defence. But I was concerned that it had become apparent we were dealing with somebody who was acting in ways of which we were not completely aware, that this was a situation which put our staff at risk and that we needed to take steps to stop that situation as soon as possible.

  • Okay, but you didn't know one way or another, did you, particularly without asking the journalists, whether there was a public interest defence?

  • I mean, I suppose what we would have had to have done is hold some sort of star chamber court and call in every journalist on the paper and ask them whether they'd ever used Mr Whittamore and give us all the circumstances in which they'd done so. I'm not sure that was entirely practical. The thing that was uppermost in my mind was to make sure, once we were in possession of this knowledge, that going forward we were acting in a way that was not going to put any of our staff at risk of possible prosecution.

  • Yes, but were you aware that the Mail on Sunday had commissioned criminal record checks from Mr Whittamore?

  • In those circumstances, the strength or otherwise of the public interest defence was at best highly debatable, wasn't it?

  • Well, without knowing the full details of the circumstances, it's impossible to tell, but I mean that information we didn't have at that time. It only became available in August this year.

  • It might be said that you didn't have the information because you didn't try and seek it out, did you, Mr Wright?

  • Well, at that point nobody had suggested to us that Mr Whittamore was able to do or had done criminal records checks.

  • But you could have found that out, couldn't you?

  • But why would I go and look for something that hadn't been suggested to me? I mean, I could begin from the assumption that every single enquiry that we make involves illegal activity of some sort, but I can't do that.

  • Okay, but certainly by the date of the first Information Commissioner's report, which I think is May or June 2006, did you read the report then?

  • You could see the sort of things which were going on, namely criminal record checks, couldn't you?

  • There were -- according to the Information Commissioner, there were some criminal record checks. But by this time we had effectively stopped using Whittamore two years previously.

  • I appreciate there may not have been any risk of future wrongdoing, because as it were Mr Whittamore had been closed down, but this goes in relation to journalists who might still have been employed by the Mail on Sunday having carried out unlawful activities, namely breaches of Section 55 of the Data Protection Act. It was within your power to find out whether that was the case, wasn't it?

  • I think, you know, you have to apply a rule of proportionality in these things. I can only repeat that I was concerned for the good reputation and the proper function of the paper going forward. I was aware by the time "What price privacy?" came out that the appropriate authorities, ie the Information Commissioner and the police, had conducted an investigation into this, that in I think two or three cases they had found evidence that they thought warranted a prosecution, which resulted in a conditional discharge. I didn't see the need to go over ground that they had gone over themselves, bearing in mind also that we didn't have and weren't shown the evidence, Whittamore's log books, on which the Information Commissioner based his research.

  • Okay, there are two follow-up questions from that. The first is that the second report, "What price privacy now?", which came out in December 2006 had the Mail on Sunday high up in the list, didn't it, of what the ICO called "positively identified transactions", which in their view were in breach of the Data Protection Act. We're talking there of a considerable number of transactions, and I think 33 of your journalists, isn't that right?

  • You're conflating two things there. I think 33 journalists is the number who used Whittamore, isn't it?

  • No, it's 33 journalists, 266 positively identified transactions. I think that is correct, Mr Wright.

  • The precise number might not matter much.

  • -- isn't that the total number of transactions?

  • The total number of transactions involving the Mail on Sunday was a higher number than that.

  • But the table was concerned with a slightly more limited cohort. I think we heard somewhere in the region of 3,700 transactions. This was in questions asked by Mr Davies. But at that point you were aware that I think the Mail on Sunday was second from the top, with the Mail at the top.

  • Oh fourth, okay. Whatever precisely it was, the finger was being pointed firmly in your direction, wasn't it?

  • I think the point here, Mr Wright, is this. It's not merely a retrospective on Mr Whittamore, which I understand what you've said about, but that something was going on in your newsroom which you clearly hadn't been aware of.

  • You may have given some instructions, but that something might have been going on might give you rise to be worried that you had to get to grips with it. I think that's the point that Mr Jay is trying to get at.

  • Yes. That's why we issued instructions to stop using Whittamore.

  • Okay. When these two reports came out in 2006, did the Mail on Sunday take any steps then to query the ICO's findings and conclusions?

  • To query them with the ICO or --

  • I think we accepted his overall findings. We -- not me personally, but the managing editor's office of the Daily Mail asked on behalf of the group whether we could see the evidence on which this report was based, and we were told that we couldn't, because it was covered itself by the Data Protection Act.

  • I think the Freedom of Information Act would enable you to see the information if you'd sought it, but is it your evidence that you did expressly seek out this information but were refused by the ICO?

  • Okay. Rather than accepted their findings and decided to move on? Is that the position?

  • Well, we asked to see -- I mean, I didn't personally ask, but the group asked, because, you know, this covered the Daily Mail and a lot of other newspapers, magazines and so on. But, overall, we accepted the findings of this report.

    I mean, if I may say so, there was something of a learning process at this period. We were coming to terms with very rapidly changing technology, and reporters and other writers in our newsroom were finding ways of -- or were adapting to technology more rapidly than editors were aware that that they were doing so, and rightly or wrongly, it took us a time to catch up with what had taken place.

  • But the banning of all external search agencies, you tell us, took place in April 2007 with immediate effect; is that right?

  • Can I ask you this: you are aware that in August of this year a number of individuals referred to in Ms Hartley's statement went up to the Information Commissioner's office to carry out further investigations?

  • Were you aware of that at the time?

  • Whose decision was it to initiate those investigations?

  • Whose decision was it to send people to the Information Commissioner's office? It was taken jointly by me and the editor of the Daily Mail.

  • And why was that decision made?

  • We were offered the opportunity to go and look at this evidence, which we'd never seen, and we felt we should go and look at it.

  • Was it a unilateral offer by the ICO or was it pursuant to a request that you made?

  • To be perfectly honest, I can't remember the complete circumstances of it. I think it came via the Society of Editors, but I'd have to refresh my memory.

  • I think there is some reference to that. Were you party to the decision as to who should go up?

  • And why was the managing editor, Mr Wellington, I think, why did he go up?

  • He went up because prior to becoming managing editor, as deputy managing editor, part of his responsibility was for what we call systems, which is information technology. He had a particular skill at looking at payment systems and finding -- and generally finding things in our computer records.

  • You tell us in paragraph 13, the final sentence, that he was the man who you rebuked for failing to alert you to the practice of employing inquiry agents; is that right?

  • Might it not be said that he might not be altogether objective, therefore, given the rebuke you had given him?

  • Well, that was many years previously, and I would take the opposite view. I think he was very anxious to show that he was doing a proper job.

  • But it might be said precisely that, that he was overanxious to demonstrate that he'd done nothing wrong in the past, because --

  • -- part and parcel of that was that you'd rebuked him. Is that not fair?

  • Yes, I mean, the reason I rebuked him was over the cost of employing Mr Whittamore, and that was a conversation we had at the time. He didn't -- you're reading something into this which I don't intend. He didn't cover up the use of these people; he simply didn't alert me to them. There's a difference.

  • But wasn't it part and parcel of your concern that there might have been illegal activity going on which you were unaware of?

  • Yes, but the managing editor didn't -- it hadn't occurred to him that there might be illegal activity, which is why he hadn't alerted me. He had taken the activities of Whittamore at face value. In fact, I don't think it had occurred to anybody that he might be doing illegal things. But over the years between 2004 and 2011, our managing editor had done a lot of work on this subject and, you know, I have to give you my assessment of an individual who I work with. He's not somebody who deliberately hides things from me. He's somebody who sometimes doesn't mention things to me because he doesn't see that there's a possible risk in them.

  • The last question on this theme: was the timing, though, of the visit to Cheshire and the ICA's office in August 2011 not more to do with the announcement of this Inquiry?

  • No. I mean, it's not totally unrelated, but I think we had only recently received the offer to go and look at this. I mean, clearly the fact that this Inquiry was taking place was a matter that was in our minds, but as far as timing was concerned, I think that was governed by -- and it may well be that the Information Commissioner decided to make this information available because of this Inquiry. I don't know.

  • Is this right, that you would have sent four people up to Cheshire to carry out this investigation even had there not been this Inquiry?

  • I can't answer that question. I mean, the circumstances are what they were and we took the decision we did.

  • Okay. May I move on, please, Mr Wright, from that topic.

    Payment of public officials, paragraph 15. Can you just identify, please -- you make it clear you've never paid a police officer, have paid public officials on occasion in the past. What sort of public officials are we referring to there?

  • I want to be a little bit careful about how I answer this, because I don't necessarily want to identify the individuals. I think the most common cases would be people in the armed forces who have played a part in or been party to something that has happened in a war zone which they think needs to be brought to public attention. They're very -- because people don't serve in the armed forces for very long, they often find themselves in a situation where they're coming back to Britain, they're going to be leaving the armed forces, they're short of money, they have witnessed something very interesting, and they want to tell you about it.

  • Okay. So that's the standard situation you're referring to?

  • That would be, I think, in the majority of circumstances which I can think of.

  • Okay. Paragraph 17, balancing private interest against public interest. You list there a whole range of factors which you weigh in the balance. Many of them are derived from the PCC code, but one or two of them may be your add-ons.

    Is this right, without going through these factors, these are factors which have built up in your mind and in your thinking over many years of experience; is that right?

  • I don't think you've included a public interest in freedom of expression itself, have you?

  • You have in the free press.

  • But I would include that.

  • Of course, without looking at particular cases where the balance falls, it cannot be discussed in isolation, but you have given us three cases. I'd just like to discuss, if I may, two of the three, probably before lunch. It's (b) and (c), Lord Triesman's case.

    This is where a woman approaches you, she's had a relationship with Lord Triesman, she wants to talk about that relationship, and had already made a recording of a conversation with him on her mobile phone, in which he had made a series of allegations about bribery in the World Cup; is that correct?

  • And the price for the story was financial consideration. Just can I understand this: why was it necessary for the Mail on Sunday to publish anything about the woman's relationship with Lord Triesman, given that you had the hard evidence on the mobile phone of what he said?

  • Well, the simple logic of the story demanded that you had to explain why Lord Triesman was in a restaurant with a woman 30 years younger than him, who wasn't then in his employ, and why they would be discussing these sort of matters.

  • Thank you. So a certain amount of information had to be given out, otherwise the story made little or no sense, is that what you're saying?

  • Are you also saying that some of the private detail, as it were, was not included in the story?

  • This is an example of you weighing up the public against the private?

  • Because I think it's obvious from the story that the underlying facts, as it were, that Lord Triesman had made a series of allegations about bribery in the World Cup, those allegations, whether or not they were true, were clearly in the public interest?

  • Then you explain what happened, that there was litigation over this but the --

  • Yes, I'm sorry, he began with a legal complaint, which he then didn't pursue.

  • Yes. There was then a complaint to the PCC and a resolution of the complaint on the basis that certain information was removed from the online version of the article; is that right?

  • Presumably that information, without going into it, since it would agitate, arguably at least, the breach of privacy, these were private matters which you excised, did you?

  • They were matters which he felt were private. I'm in a difficult situation. If I tell you what they were --

  • Of course. Then we'll move on to the Lord Mandelson story.

  • This was the story of Lord Mandelson buying an expensive house, £8 million house in an exclusive area of London. Can you define to us, please, what was the public interest in that story?

  • I think there's a public interest in knowing how somebody who until a year previously had been a government minister on a generous but not overgenerous salary was able to afford an £8 million house.

  • Certainly. And what was Lord Mandelson's argument?

  • His argument was that as he was no longer a government minister, this was a private matter and nobody had any business knowing about it.

  • The information you published, was all of that in the public domain, namely the value of the house in particular and the fact that he had purchased it?

  • At this point he hadn't actually purchased it, I don't think. Oh, I've said he had.

  • Your witness statement suggests he had.

  • I think, to be honest, he'd made an offer on it. The amount of money was supplied to us by the person who gave us the story. We put that to Lord Mandelson and that aspect of the story he didn't query.

  • I'd assume reading this, Mr Wright, that you had got all the information from the public domain because had he purchased the house, you would know from a publicly available source how much he'd paid for it and it would be in the Land Registry somewhere, but is it the position that this came from a source?

  • This came from a member of the public, yes.

  • Right. Do you know how that member of the public had obtained the information?

  • I do, but it would be putting them in a difficult position if -- but it was by proper means.

  • So it didn't involve any subterfuge, did it?

  • Do we know the outcome of the PCC complaint?

  • There isn't an outcome. As far as I'm aware, the complaint hasn't been pursued.

  • Does the complaint encompass the photograph?

  • I think it was simply on the fact of the story. As far as I recall, there wasn't a particular issue about the photograph.

  • I'm about to move on --

  • Just let me understand. It's only just so that I understand how the system works rather than anything else, Mr Wright.

  • He makes a complaint to the PCC. On 25 October 2011 you say, "We will fight the case vigorously"?

  • That's in paragraph 18(c). So since then, two and a half months have elapsed, and you say it's not being pursued. Does that mean it's been withdrawn? Does that mean it's just gone into abeyance? How does it work?

  • Yes. It's not uncommon for people to make complaints to the PCC and then not pursue them. They just lose interest.

  • But what would they have to do to pursue it? Do you mean that he's not responded to correspondence? I'm just quite keen to understand, because this is I think probably the first occasion we've really talked in detail about one of these.

  • Yes, yes. I mean, I -- it might have been helpful if I'd rung the PCC before coming here to ask them what the state of play was, but we've had no communication on this for some months now.

  • Certainly in October you were expecting it to fight, because that's what you said.

  • Yes, yes. Well, I wrote this witness statement earlier than that.

  • We certainly would fight it, if he pursued it. And maybe as a result of hearing me give evidence today he decides he will, but ...

  • No, no, I'm not encouraging him or you or anyone. I'm just keen to understand how the system works.

  • Yeah. How the system works with the PCC is exchanges of letters, sometimes phone calls. If somebody makes a complaint about the story, the PCC will talk to them. They sometimes help them in formulating the complaint. They will then write to us and say that "So-and-so has complained under section whatever it is of the code; could you please explain why you've run this story and why you believe it is not in breach of the code". You are obliged to respond within seven days.

  • Even quicker than court! Yes.

  • And you do so, and sometimes that's the last you hear of it, because you've explained your reasons and the complainant has looked at your explanation and looked at the code and decided that perhaps it's not in breach of the code after all.

  • But isn't it rather important that you're told that?

  • What, that he hasn't --

  • Yes. That it's not pursued. I mean, I give an analogy not infrequently that the only way one gets better is by being able to look at the answer at the back of the book, and therefore knowing the outcome is itself significant.

  • Yes. I mean, this happens with legal complaints as well. I mean, people often don't pursue complaints.

  • I understand in relation to litigation, because as the bills start to ratchet up, interest diminishes and therefore they just drift off and are eventually struck out. But somebody who is mediating for the industry -- I don't say regulating, I say mediating --

  • -- one would have thought would be quite keen to keep everybody informed. More particularly, obviously, the complainant knows what's going on, but that you should be able to close the file, that you should know, well, actually, that letter, our explanation's been accepted, or, well, we've not heard, therefore we're not taking any more action.

  • If we're going to break for lunch, I could check whether we have heard anything.

  • I'm sure that's right, and that would be quite interesting, because I've not merely got an editor in front of me, I've got a commissioner, as I understand it.

  • So I'm quite keen on knowing how all this operates.

    I think that's probably a convenient moment.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Mr Wright, a series of possibly disconnected general questions under a number of headings. First of all, in your view, is there a correlation between --

  • Just before you go on, did you solve the issue?

  • Yes, I did. The story was published on August 21. Lord Mandelson made his complaint the very same day. It was sent to us on August 22. We put in a very vigorous response on September 3.

  • As opposed to a not vigorous response?

  • All our responses are vigorous. This was very vigorous.

  • That's the point I was making.

  • No, well, sometimes you may concede that the complainant has a point and negotiate a settlement, but not in this case.

  • There were a series of emails and phone calls between the PCC and Lord Mandelson until the end of October, when he indicated that he didn't want to pursue it. They asked for written confirmation of that, which they haven't received, but in the absence of that, the file was closed at the end of the year and I think in the normal course of events we would have received notification of that, but we haven't as yet.

  • All right. Thank you. Sorry, Mr Jay.

  • Sir, I'd overlooked that point.

    Is there in your view any correlation between stories, in particular exclusive stories, and increases in circulation?

  • Probably the best answer I can give to that question is to tell you that in the last year only three stories we published gave a noticeable increase in circulation. One was the royal wedding, one was the Japanese tsunami and one was a particularly unpleasant and tragic crash on the M5 motorway. So exclusive stories of the type you are referring to would be part of the mix of things which readers would buy the paper for, but it wouldn't move individual sales for us.

  • You're commenting, as you only can, on the Mail on Sunday, aren't you?

  • I don't think the Mail on Sunday was particularly interested, and I don't mean that in any disparaging way, with the McCann story, was it?

  • We covered it, but we were not the subject of any complaint from the McCanns.

  • And it's possible our coverage just differed in tone slightly from other newspapers.

  • It might have differed in content as well, Mr Wright, but do you have any comment to make on the approach that one of your competitors, namely the Daily Express, took to the McCann story?

  • They gave it a great deal of coverage, more than I would have thought was warranted. I'm sure they'll be able to explain to you why they covered it in the way they did.

    I mean, I -- it certainly reached a point -- I'm not referring here directly or particularly to the Daily Express, but the coverage and the progress of the story itself reached a point where I felt it would be a good idea to send a very senior journalist out there to do what you might call a cold case review, and we sent David Rose, who is one of our top people, former Observer man, and told him to go out without any preconceptions and start afresh.

    He filed a major investigation into the case, which focused in particular on the way the Portuguese police had handled it, and the fact that the Portuguese policeman in charge of the case had been involved in another case a couple of years previously involving a Portuguese woman whose daughter had gone missing, who had been under a great deal of pressure from the police to make a confession and ended up being jailed. This case was then subject to review, which cast a lot of doubt on the way the Portuguese police had handled the McCann case, and I think formed a signal part in the change of attitude generally towards the reporting of the McCanns' situation.

  • As a result of this work by your reporter in Portugal, obviously a story resulted.

  • Published in the Mail on Sunday.

  • Probably at the back end of 2007 or early 2008, was it?

  • I can't remember the exact timing, but it was around that time that the tone of the coverage began to change and people's perceptions began to change.

  • And also letters before action had begun to fly, I think.

  • That may or may not have been a factor.

    Can I move off that topic to a different topic, namely your relations with politicians, particularly those in high office or opposition politicians in shadow positions. How frequently, if at all, do you meet with politicians in that way?

  • I generally go to two out of three of the party conferences and have meetings with as many senior politicians as I can cram into 48 hours. Apart from that, I don't meet them very often.

  • We've heard of editors going out to dinner with politicians. Is that a practice you have partaken in?

  • Apart from party conferences, I don't think I've ever been out to dinner with a politician.

  • My policy is to have perfectly cordial relationships with politicians, but to try and keep the newspaper completely independent of both parties, all parties, and certainly not to, as you might say, get into bed with individual politicians.

  • Can I ask you a couple of general questions along the same or similar lines to questions I've asked of others? What is your vision for the paper, and in what way will you realise that vision in the way you lead your organisation?

  • Well, I've been a journalist for 38 years and I've never had higher ambition than to produce the best possible newspaper for the greatest number possible of people. I think our role is to inform, as accurately as we possibly can, to surprise, to entertain and campaign, and occasionally to make people laugh or cry in the process. You should always be the voice of people whose lives are affected by those in power, but who are not in power themselves.

    The Mail on Sunday is somewhat different to other papers. It was only founded 30 years ago. Our 30th anniversary is in May this year. It nearly folded in the first six weeks, it was a disastrous launch, and since that time it's grown to become the biggest selling Sunday paper in the country, and I feel very proud to have played a part in that.

  • In what respects does the organisation reflect your leadership?

  • Newspapers are inevitably hierarchical organisations. It can't be otherwise because the decision-making process has to be very quick and very precise. I am aware that I am, if you like, a suburban chap with a family, and the newspaper represents the things that interest me, and I hope they are things that will interest a large proportion of the British population who live lives not that dissimilar to mine and have interests and concerns not that dissimilar to mine.

  • What is your greatest priority going forward, do you think, Mr Wright?

  • It is to secure the future of the newspaper in a very, very difficult environment. I've seen how changes in technology and in people's habits can turn newspapers from very successful, highly profitable operations within the space of no more than four or five years into loss-making, struggling businesses, and my main task for the next few years will be to find ways of ensuring that the pool of talent which we've put together over the last 30 years continues to exist and that we can continue to produce the sort of journalism that I want to produce.

  • Before questions are asked about the future and the way forward, can we just touch on or go back to the chronology in relation to Operation Motorman? We have looked at this again. This is paragraph 14 of your statement, Mr Wright. You say in the third line of paragraph 14:

    "The instruction to staff in February 2004 that inquiry agents were not to be used without clearance from departmental heads had to be satisfied that other means of obtaining information had been exhausted."

    But it's a matter of record that charges were brought against Mr Whittamore in fact in February 2004, so that may or may not have been a coincidence. Probably wasn't, was it?

  • I simply don't recall, I'm afraid.

  • Okay. At that stage, Mr Whittamore could still be used if (a) there was clearance from departmental heads, and (b) satisfaction that other means of obtaining information had been exhausted; is that right?

  • And aligning your evidence with the next witness's and what you said to us earlier, I think it's right that Mr Whittamore was not used after September 2004, although there were two straggling payments which went into early 2005; is that correct?

  • Yeah, I think they were later 2005, but he -- apart from two payments, which we, I'm afraid, can't explain, apart from those two, we stopped using him in September 2004.

  • So notwithstanding the scepticism which I may have shown earlier, you were using Mr Whittamore even after he was charged, weren't you?

  • In a small number of cases. I mean, the use of him became much less frequent after February 2004.

  • As for the future, your reaction to the evidence the Inquiry has received thus far and your recommendations for the future, are you in a position to share some of those ideas which you must have, Mr Wright, with us now?

  • Yes. I sit on the Reform Committee of the Press Complaints Commission, so I've given a fair amount of thought to this. I don't want to pre-empt what I hope will be the reaction of the industry as a whole, but I think it's very clear to me that what the phone hacking episode showed was that the Press Complaints Commission under its existing constitution didn't have a proper means for dealing with the systematic problems at a newspaper or any other publication. It was and is a complaints body. There was no complaint about phone hacking, because people who had been victim of it preferred to go down the legal route.

    The PCC did ask News International whether it went beyond Clive Goodman. They assured the PCC it didn't. We didn't have really a proper means of testing whether there was any substance to that assurance.

    So I think most definitely whatever body replaces the PCC needs to continue the complaints mediation and prepublication work that the existing PCC does very effectively, but it also needs a standard and compliance arm which would be able to call editors and other newspaper executives in to give evidence about things that have been happening at their newspapers and, if necessary, impose sanctions if editors refuse to co-operate or give false evidence, and to issue, where evidence has been given truthfully and willingly, to issue reports and possibly even in those cases impose sanctions, both to inform the rest of the industry about what has happened and prevent it happening elsewhere, and to make sure that from the publication in question it doesn't happen again.

  • Do you have any ideas about how to deal with what has been described as the pariah problem?

  • I think many will be aware there's a proposal that membership of the PCC should be put on a contractual basis, which I think would make it a lot more difficult for individual publishers to pull out of it. It still does depend on publishers joining voluntarily in the first place.

    I think there are strong indications that all the major publishers will join a reformed PCC. I'm afraid I don't have an answer to -- there are always going to be some small publications which make a selling point out of being mavericks, and how you get Private Eye in I'm not quite sure, and I can understand why they would think they can't be part of any sort of collective organisation.

    But the other arm to this, which I am also attracted by but which I think needs a lot of careful thought, is if the PCC can be made through some sort of arbitration system an alternative to the very, very expensive, time-consuming business of litigation, that may well be an added spur to publishers who might think they have some desire to be a maverick and not be part of it.

  • The constitution of any new body, if there were to be a new body -- the current constitution, I think, is ten lay members and seven editors. I may be wrong about that, but I'm searching my recollection.

  • Some would say that that is in danger of creating too cosy a relationship, even though I know that when adjudicating on Mail on Sunday complaints, you of course would recuse yourself.

  • And Daily Mail complaints.

  • First of all, there are two questions. (a) would you agree with the suggestion that the relationship is too cosy? And (b) what are your ideas, if any, for the future constitution of such a body?

  • I actually don't think the relationship is too cosy. I think some the people who have made that comment have made it on the assumption that the majority of the Commission are editors, which they aren't.

    I sit through Commission meetings. Editors are very often harder on other editors than the lay commissioners are, and certainly editors who have been in receipt of adjudications against them frequently complain that the editors on the PCC must have it in for them. So I don't --

  • Doesn't that underline why it ought to be absolutely independent of all of you? You're all competitors. Isn't it rather odd that you're sitting on complaints in connection with those with whom you are competing in business?

  • Well, you have to put that out of your mind. Doctors sit on the GMC --

  • Yes, Mr Wright, that's true, and a consultant plastic surgeon from Burnley may very well sit on a case to do with a consultant plastic surgeon from London, but they're not in competition with one another at all, really, are they?

  • They might be, but nevertheless the -- for any system of regulation to succeed, the people who are being regulated have got to feel that the people making the judgments have a complete understanding of the industry in which they work.

    The positive thing about the present system is that when editors are adjudicated against, they publish the adjudications. They don't publish them with editorials attacking the adjudication, which regularly used to happen under the old Press Council system. And editors feel that this is a system of regulation which they've signed up to, which they play a part in. It's a code which they've devised, and despite grumbles, it is accepted.

  • But the public don't think much of it.

  • Well, you say that, but you've heard from a lot of high profile celebrities. They're not the public.

  • I've not just heard from high profile celebrities at all. Would you say the reaction of Mr Jefferies, was he a high profile celebrity? Or Dr and Dr McCann, were they high profile celebrities?

  • They're people who have been involved in major stories and have clearly been on the receiving end of stories which shouldn't have been written.

  • But that's the point. They're the only ones who are really in a position to comment upon the adequacy of the system. If you've never touched it, then of course you won't have a comment.

  • Well, when you were talking about the public, I thought you meant the public at large.

  • I'm talking about the public who actually are involved and concerned with the way in which complaints are dealt with.

  • The PCC receives about 5,000 complaints a year.

  • How many of those are ruled out as inadmissible?

  • I can give you the figures, but a lot of them are inadmissible because --

  • Well, we get a lot of third party complaints.

  • Why shouldn't you listen to third-party complaints?

  • Well, because if you -- people don't always want to complain.

  • Yes, then you can take it up with them and say, "If you positively don't want to complain, say you don't want to complain".

  • That sometimes happens. I mean, the -- sometimes when there are third-party complaints -- I mean, these are matters, really, for the director of the PCC, but they do sometimes go to -- if a story has run, I mean the Stephen Gately case, with the Daily Mail, where there were a lot of -- very large number of third-party complaints, and the PCC -- there wasn't initially a complaint from Stephen Gately's family, so the PCC went to his family and said, "Look, a lot of people are complaining on your behalf; would you like to make a complaint?" which he did. Well, they did.

    But, I mean, the PCC do regular polling on the public perception of the PCC and how it deals with complaints, which -- I don't have the figures to hand, I can get them for you.

  • I'll doubtless be getting them.

  • Yes, I think you will be.

    But the PCC does deal with a very large number of complaints where people are very happy with the outcome, and the majority of these are from people who are not celebrities, are not politicians and are not people who, through no fault of their own, have become involved in a very big crime story.

  • Yes, and a retraction or a correction may be sufficient.

  • But there are more than a few where it clearly isn't.

  • Yes. I mean, the McCanns chose not to use the PCC. They actually were in the rather odd situation of going to the then chairman of the PCC and asking his advice, and he advised them, for whatever reason, to go down the legal route.

  • Why should there be one or the other?

  • Because in my view, and the PCC has sort of -- it's slightly varied its policy on this over the years. But you should not -- it's a sort of double jeopardy thing. You should not be simultaneously being sued and have to fight a PCC complaint.

  • With great respect, that's just untenable, isn't it? Think about doctors, lawyers, everybody else. They can be disciplined by their professional body and sued. Why not?

  • Why should you be different?

  • It has happened. The policy of the PCC at the moment is that if people prefer to go down the legal route, they tell them that, "Well, that's fine, but you go down the legal route".

  • But it's a different issue, isn't it, because there may or may not be an invasion of privacy, there may or may not be a tortious claim, but there is equally a regulatory issue.

  • Yes. And there certainly have been -- I've been involved in cases where we have -- we have dealt with both a PCC complaint and a legal complaint. But the PCC process at the moment under the present constitution is a voluntary one, if you like, and some newspapers, if an individual is making a complaint and they are pursuing legal action at the same time, newspapers will tell the PCC, "Well, this individual is suing us through the courts and we're going to respond to that action and not to the PCC" --

  • It raises the question whether it should be voluntary. If you can say, "I'm not prepared to participate in this because I'm being the subject of litigation", I don't think a lawyer could say that to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, or a doctor to the GMC, or an accountant to the accountancy regulatory authorities.

    I appreciate I've given three professional examples, but one could give other ones. Policeman, in relation to police discipline.

  • Yes. I mean, we're not dealing with criminal matters here, but --

  • I think this is a point open to debate, and, as I said earlier, the policy of the PCC has varied over the years on this issue, but currently, rightly or wrongly, they tend to take the view that a complainant has a choice of either taking legal action or pursuing a complaint through the PCC. If we were to introduce an arbitration arm, you would not expect someone to be both going through the arbitration arm of the PCC and going to the courts at the same time, I would have thought.

  • It may be one of the attractions of some arbitration arm is to preclude going to the courts. That would require some sort of statutory authority. Now, precluding going to the courts deals with the enormous expense of which you and others have complained.

  • What do you think of that?

  • Well, that has great attractions, but that is also one of the attractions of the PCC to us and, to be honest, to complainants as well, that it's a cheaper and quicker way of achieving a result than going through the courts. But it's not a cheaper and quicker way of achieving a result if the individual chooses to go through the courts as well.

  • Yes, we've probably gone round the track on it. The interesting question is why the press should be different from anybody else with whom the public have to deal if they want to make a complaint about. In many, many other fields, there's a body to whom they can go, and they're not precluded from litigating.

  • I'm afraid I'm not an expert --

  • No, it's fair enough. You're dealing with questions because I think you're the first person who's actually a serving commissioner who has given evidence, and I'm not asking you to foreshadow what the PCC are going to suggest or what editors are going to come up with, or to second guess what I'm going to come up with either.

  • Yes, thank you very much, Mr Wright.

  • I found it very interesting.

  • Lastly it's Ms Liz Hartley, please.