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

  • MR PAUL PEACHEY (affirmed).

  • Please give your full name.

  • You provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 31 January of this year. You've signed a statement of truth in the standard form. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • Beginning with your career history, you say you've been a journalist since 1994.

  • You've worked at the Worcester Evening News as an editor for an international news agency, you've worked as a researcher/assistant producer for two television documentaries and as a producer for two radio documentaries. You are on your second stint at the Independent now, having previously worked there as a general reporter and as an assistant foreign editor; is that right?

  • I've worked in this current stint as the assistant foreign editor.

  • In this current one, but you're now the Independent's crime correspondent?

  • And you have been since November 2011?

  • You were also the crime correspondent for the Press Association between 1999 and 2000?

  • And are you a member of the Crime Reporters Association?

  • I've been asked by one of the core participants to ask you what you needed to do to join the Crime Reporters Association?

  • You just have to be a full-time crime reporter for one of the media outlets. It can be television, press, radio.

  • For what reason did you want to become a member?

  • It's useful as a conduit between the police and -- between the police, there are briefings that are organised perhaps to make it less unwieldy, just purely for the crime reporters.

  • Full-time crime reporter? That means that if a journal can't afford a full-time crime reporter, they can't get in?

  • I thinking it used to be fairly strict. I think it's less strict now. There are freelancers, for example, as well on the association. It's a fairly broad church now, I think.

  • So your contact with police officers and press officers, you say, has generally been at formal events such as press conferences, briefings, conversations outside court, that sort of thing; is that right?

  • Certainly for the last four months it's been -- since I was taken back on the job, it's been largely the context, yes.

  • Please remember to keep your voice up. It just dropped a little at the end there.

    But it hasn't been, even in the few months that you've been in this present role, your contact hasn't been exclusively confined to formal contact?

  • What sort of informal contact have you had with police officers or police staff?

  • Well, it could be meetings around events, it could be meetings at court, it could be going out for drinks, that sort of thing.

  • What is discussed at these informal meetings?

  • Could be a range -- just a range of matters. It could be about current cases that are ongoing, future events, perhaps areas that might be of interest coming up in the future. I'm obviously still working out where the best avenues and directions of policing are going. So a broad range of subjects.

  • For what purpose are you attending these informal meetings? Are you seeking to establish long-term relationships or is it more an impromptu meeting and you attend to see what information you can get on that particular day?

  • Again, a range of things. It's about getting information on current cases, getting information on particular stories that I'm trying to write. It will be to make long-term contacts, you know, identifying people who obviously are key to providing information that I may require in the future.

  • You say in your statement that you have in the past had the home telephone numbers or mobile telephone numbers of the director of public affairs, some deputy assistant commissioners and some assistant commissioners, but you say you've been provided those as standard contact numbers on business cards?

  • Yes, home numbers I don't think so, but mobile telephone numbers certainly, yes.

  • Right. Page 00764, paragraph 5 of your witness statement. This is where you refer to the phone and home numbers. But you'd like to correct that, would you? You don't believe you've had the home land line numbers?

  • No, sorry, I don't think I've had the home numbers for those.

  • You say in the last sentence of paragraph 5:

    "It would not be possible for either side to do their jobs without having such contact details."

    Why not?

  • Well, part of our job is through contact with police officers that we are dealing with on a daily basis. Obviously it's important for them to be able to get in touch with us on particular stories on an hourly basis.

  • Because the MPS's press department is open 24 hours a day, isn't it?

  • But that's not sufficient for you to be able to do your job?

  • Because you need to have that contact with officers who are dealing with the operations, you say, themselves?

  • For what reason do you consider that police officers have contact with you and other reporters?

  • What we're building here is a relationship, it's a better relationship between press and police. I mean, it would -- you know, as well as us being able to contact them, they may wish to contact us to highlight particular stories or take issue with something that's been written, for example.

  • At paragraph 7 of your statement, again on 00764, you say:

    "Speaking from my relatively limited experience I think there is no doubt that the Met's intention in its contacts with me -- as with other reporters -- has been to seek to control the information available to the press."

    One could read that with slightly sinister connotations. Is that what you're meaning to convey, that there's an attempt to control what you're reporting?

  • I don't think it's an attempt to control what we're actually writing, but there's certainly an attempt to provide certain information that put their organisation in the best light.

  • Similarly in a later paragraph you say there's an opportunity to attempt to mould coverage?

  • There are thousands of stories out there, I'm sure, every day, through the Press Bureau, through their releases and through their contacts with us. There are limited numbers that are put through to us, mostly the most significant ones of the day, but obviously there's an element of selection that goes along with that.

  • Is there anything else you wanted to say about why the police have contact with you, things about them having an opportunity to give you stories and to paint the organisation in the best possible light? I don't want to put words into your mouth. That's as I understand your evidence to be.

  • No, it's broader than that. It's about a full range of contacts between the press and the police. I mean, you know, there's policing by consent in this country. We are acting as a conduit between the -- to an extent in sort of writing about what the police are doing and also holding them to account, but, you know -- so in order to get the biggest picture possible, you have to have as many contacts as you can.

  • I see. At paragraphs 8 and 9 of your statement, you describe the really very moderate hospitality that you accept. You say that during briefings at New Scotland Yard, you would accept tea and biscuits or drinks during an informal meeting. Is there a reason why you don't enjoy more generous hospitality than tea and biscuits or --

  • No, I think this is the nature of the -- this is just referring to the nature of the meetings that do take place in an official capacity at Scotland Yard. This is within the building, sort of set piece events that are made, whether it's a briefing with officials that's been organised by the Press Bureau, by the DPA, or whether it's a briefing with the Commissioner, that is the sort of thing that they will provide. That is purely for how it works.

  • I see. Page 00766, paragraph 24. The third sentence that begins:

    "While there are no formal mechanisms for monitoring hospitality I may be offered, the Independent is a small newsroom and I believe it would be fairly obvious if I was regularly being wined and dined by police officers. Moreover, I am obviously expected to explain any absences from the newsroom. It is also made clear in our internal code of conduct that I must uphold high standards of integrity at all times -- I take that obligation seriously."

    Is a fair reading of this paragraph that if you're being wined and dined by police officers, you are not upholding high standards of integrity?

  • No, I'm -- that's very different. You know, the idea of being -- of going out and having meals with officers is a perfectly proper and essential part of what I would do as a journalist, although if there are issues of me being -- you know, police officers paying for large sums of -- being paid for expensive meals, then obviously that is an issue of concern, but that doesn't happen.

  • So you say that having meals with officers is an essential part of your role?

  • I would say it was potentially, yes. I mean, the -- if, you know, meeting an officer on a regular basis is -- you know, or officers on a regular basis is an essential way to go ahead and depending upon the situation, time of day, et cetera, then, you know, or their choice of venue, that's fine.

  • Adopting Lord Justice Leveson's question, why does it have to be over a meal? Couldn't there be a meeting just over tea or coffee? Why does there have to be an evening meal?

  • It doesn't have to be an evening meal. It can be over coffee. I've gone for coffee plenty of times with officers. But if it's the end of the day, we've both finished our work and we're meeting outside of work, I think a perfectly reasonable thing for me to do is pay for dinner.

  • I'm not ignoring the reality of human relationships, and I'm not opposed to people meeting in whatever circumstances they think is appropriate. But the risk is that if it's always expense account dining, somebody is expecting to get something out of this.

  • Depends on the level of the expense account.

  • Well, I think absolutely, you know. For example, at the Independent we have a £30 a head rule. I think the idea of a meal at that level being a potentially corrupting influence I think would be --

  • No, of course it isn't. I'm not even suggesting that a meal rather more expensive would be corrupting somebody of integrity. But if you're saying, "We're meeting somebody regularly", and you've just said a moment ago, talking about meeting officers on a regular basis, and you're constantly providing something, whether it's a drink or a meal or whatever, then don't you think there is inherent within that a risk of the perception of obligation?

  • Obligation on them to supply me with something?

  • Well, when I talk about meeting regularly with officers, I'm not talking about a single officer, I'm talking about regularly with other people, you know, the number of range of --

  • It may be I misunderstood the answer that you gave. But you understand the point I'm making --

  • I understand the point.

  • If you think there's nothing in it, say so. But if there is something in it, then how does one cope with that?

  • I don't think there is anything in that, in that, no.

  • Just to complete the picture, at paragraphs 10 and 11 you describe the hospitality that you provide as part of meetings as very low level.

  • You said that at the Independent there's a limit of £30 per head?

  • It's rather greater than the Guardian, which was £40 to £45 for two. I mean I'm not looking at the precise sum of money. I'm looking at the underlying issue rather than anything else.

  • I think it's also fair to say that what I'm talking about here is the last four months in which I've been in the crime reporter's role and, you know, the Commissioner of Scotland Yard is talking about a period of austerity and that is certainly the picture that we are -- that is the scenario in which we're operating in. The -- you know, the opportunities for dining with officers are very limited.

  • Are you able to comment on whether the position is any different with forces other than the Metropolitan Police Service in terms of the level of hospitality that's offered and accepted?

  • I can't give any great insight into that, into the period of time that I've been working in this -- I've largely been focused on the Metropolitan Police over the last few months.

  • And you say you're beginning to build up your contacts with --

  • You say at paragraph 22, page 00766, that you have occasionally been given prior warning of a raid, although not in your current role. You say:

    "I cannot recall the particular circumstances and feel confident that I did not, in fact, attend raids about which I was forewarned since they were not regarded as sufficiently newsworthy, or another reporter was sent."

    Can you recall the particular circumstances in which you were given that prior warning? Was this a secret tip-off or was this more official?

  • No, my -- it was -- no, it was an official tip-off. My recollection was that it was something like Operation Bumblebee, which was about stolen goods and the recovering of stolen goods, there were a series of raids across London. There would have been a -- this is while I was at the Press Association, that we probably wouldn't have covered it for news judgment reasons.

  • Do you know whether you were chosen exclusively or whether other titles or journalists were offered the same opportunity?

  • It could possibly have been other organisations, but most likely it was because I worked for the Press Association, which supplies pictures and text to everybody, really. So by -- if I went along on such an event, then the details of that operation would be disseminated widely anyway.

  • Have you ever yourself been involved in a police operation or witnessed a police operation on the invitation of a police source?

  • Do you see a benefit to that involvement?

  • Possibly. It depends on the operation, it depends on the story, depends on the context.

  • You consider there could be benefits in the public interest to members of the media shadowing police during operations in order to write an article from their perspective of what they've witnessed, it's not something that you see as without any merit?

  • Yes. I mean there's -- you know, it could be of interest for some newspapers in certain circumstances. I mentioned earlier the Evening Standard and, you know, covering stories about, you know, local crime in London.

  • Can I ask you then, Mr Peachey, about off-the-record conversations or briefings. First of all, the preliminary question. What does "off the record" mean to you?

  • It's a term that needs clarifying. I work for an American organisation and they have very different views about what "off the record" means. "Off the record" can mean that that detail cannot be used for writing, so -- shall we say "off the record" means it's just for your knowledge and you don't use it for an article or it's often confused with background, which can be used in an article. So most situations it has to be defined, so often, you know, it can mean purely for my own background use, it could mean for something to be printed unattributably.

  • So it's not that you have a definition in your mind. You will ask the person you're speaking to what they mean by it?

  • I have a definition in my mind, but I think it's a term that is often confused by other people, particularly not in the profession.

  • And are there dangers associated with officers providing information on an off-the-record basis?

  • Yes, I mean there are, yes. I mean, if something's been given off the record, then it's not attributed to anybody particular, so they are perhaps handing over that information without the responsibility that it entails, so, you know, so such information would always have to be checked perhaps more thoroughly than information that would be given by a named source and in the name of a particular organisation.

  • Are there any other dangers or is that the main one?

  • Well, I mean off the record, you know, particularly in political spheres, we've seen off-the-record briefings being used as a sort of way of targeting an opponent, so you have to sift through why that information is being given to you and, you know, how you would use it.

  • Do you consider there are advantages to off-the-record communications?

  • Yes, I mean it's part of that -- part of the relationship of trust that you have to build. I mean, that's part of the job that I do, is try to build trust between myself and officers in the organisations. To enable a free flow of information in the knowledge that some things will be told to you not for use, but so that they could effectively allow you to write your story.

  • We've heard other witnesses describing them as a useful tool for providing context, preventing incorrect reporting or errors being made. Would you agree with that?

  • Yes, that's a fair way of saying it, yes.

  • In terms of the future, what is your view on how relationships can -- or what needs to be done, if anything, to ensure that relationships between the media and the police remain appropriate or are or remain appropriate?

  • Well, we have -- you know, we are in a situation at the moment where, certainly the situation I've inherited, where there are very tight restrictions on what officers are saying to members of the media. Obviously our great concern is that it will lead to lessened contact, which has knock-on effects with police being answerable to the public and being accountable for a full flow of information that will provide the full story for any particular issues that we're examining.

  • What are the restrictions now that you're alluding to?

  • The fact that there is an eagerness for communications between press and police to go through official channels such as the press office, who obviously have -- as previously mentioned -- a vested interest in putting a gloss on those news events.

  • Is this something of which you have direct experience, an eagerness to channel contact through official channels?

  • Yes, yes, I have, yes. You know, you speak to officers on an informal basis and they will say, "No, I can't speak to you, talk to the press office".

  • Is that without exception at the moment?

  • It's not without exception, but it's certainly, as I understand it, more common than it has been over the last few years.

  • One of the recommendations of Elizabeth Filkin is that there is greater openness and transparency accompanied by a wider ranging permission to police officers to speak to the media. What is your reaction to that as a recommendation?

  • Well, I would certainly welcome any wider ranging contact between police and press. And, you know, for those links to be built up and that trust to be built up. Any restrictions that go with it is a matter of concern.

  • Any restrictions that may go with that is a concern.

  • Well, there has to be a balance, hasn't there? I mean in the same way you may have heard me before, that there's no doubt that the way the press are reporting matters is at the moment rather different to the way in which matters used to be reported, for entirely understandable reasons. There's a nervousness about what's happening and there's likely to be a similar nervousness in relation to police officers who are, after all, only human beings. But doesn't there have to be a system which allows for sensible, intelligent contact, but not a free-for-all? In other words, there has to be some mechanism whereby that contact is at least monitored. Not what you're saying, but if you are meeting a police officer three or four times a week, that would legitimately, if I were a senior police officer, raise concerns. Or do you think that, well, that's quite unnecessary, we just have to be allowed to do our job irrespective?

  • No, I accept that is the case, but no, that would be understandably a cause for concern. But looking at the wider picture as well, if we're looking at the broader issues of contact between press and police in this country, there is no right to information in this country, you know, as a right we have, for example, no access to police disciplinary hearings. There are a lot of things about the police that we can't report. So in order to restrict that flow of information further I would suggest is a worrying trend for the way that we hold police forces in this country to account.

  • Yes. Of course it also requires somebody to be guarding what the guardians are doing, if I use a phrase I've used before, because of course the police must be held to account as much as everybody else, but who is holding the press to account?

  • Well, the -- in the issues that we're talking about here in terms -- there are laws that exist, you know, there are laws that are enforceable. The question of whether or not they've been enforced or not is pertinent to this Inquiry.

  • But the criminal law identifies a minimum standard. It doesn't seek to identify what may be an appropriate standard.

  • No, but we have a code of conduct. We are -- there are acceptable norms of behaviour, and part of our contract have to abide by that and there are sanctions that our employers can take if that is not the case.

  • So one goes to a press code of conduct?

  • That is one part of it, but also internal rules of conduct as well, yes.

  • You say that the suggestion for note-filling and monitoring would inevitably discourage already hard-pressed officers from taking further steps. If there is a culture of wide-ranging permission to speak to the media, do you consider, if I can test it in that way, if the officer is encouraged to be open to share information with the media, would that officer be discouraged from speaking to you on an informal basis by the fact that he or she needs to make a pocket book entry of what information briefly they've given to you?

  • I think you ask if you're adding to the -- it depends what they're being asked to fill out and, you know, what point will that have? A full note of the discussion that takes place, obviously that's impractical -- I would suggest that's impractical and adds some extra burden on an officer who has agreed to meet you on that particular occasion.

  • You say in the final paragraph of your statement, 00768:

    "Provided that media organisations and police forces remain vigilant, I believe that situation will continue [that's relationships remaining above board] especially given the recent, renewed scrutiny of the relationships."

    If you're concerned about note-filling, overbureaucracy, do you have any proposals or suggestions for how the police can remain vigilant without hampering the free flow of information?

  • It's previously been mentioned that, you know, senior officers already do take -- make diary notes of who they are meeting, and, you know, very briefly for -- you know, potentially for what purpose as well. I don't see why that should be any great, you know, problem to do.

  • So a diary note of the fact of the meeting and the purpose of the meeting?

  • Certainly a diary note of the meeting, yes.

  • Thank you. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

  • I think that's everything.

  • Thank you, I have no further questions.

  • Thank you very much indeed.

  • Sir, the next witness is Mr Ungoed-Thomas, please.