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

  • MS TINA LORRAINE WEAVER (sworn).

  • Good morning. Could you confirm to the Inquiry your full name, please?

  • Tina Lorraine Weaver.

  • You have provided statements to the Inquiry, two of them. I understand that before you confirm the accuracy of their contents, there are two corrections that you wish to make to the first statement. The first one is in paragraph 20, on page 6, and I'm told that you want to make a correction to the sentence:

    "The last government agreed to a study for the children and grandchildren of the vets."

    What is the change?

  • It originally was a study of the children and grandchildren, but it changed to just a study of the vets.

  • Paragraph 42, page 11. I understand that you wish to make a correction to the number of in third line, where it says:

    "The PCC currently deals with 10,000 complaints each year through a system that is fast, effective and free of charge."

    Is it right that you wish to make an amendment to the number?

  • Yes. I think the number is incorrect. It's 7,000 or thereabouts.

  • Subject to those corrections, are your witness statements true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • Can we start, please, with your career? Page 3 of your first witness statement, you tell us that you've worked in tabloid journalism for over 20 years?

  • Your first national paper was the Sunday People, now the People, and then you moved to the Daily Mirror to Today, and then you moved back to the Daily Mirror and were promoted before being promoted in April 2001 to be become editor of the Sunday Mirror. I asked Mr Wallace about whether journalistic culture in the tabloid papers was the same across the tabloids or whether there were discernible differences. He couldn't discern differences. Do you agree with him?

  • Whilst we're on the subject of your work for the Daily Mirror, I'm helpfully informed that you can help us with the allegation that Mr Campbell seemed to make in his evidence, or at least a question he posed about what was the source of the story about Cherie Blair's pregnancy. I understand that you wrote the story?

  • Can you help us with the source, please?

  • The information came in through the then editor, Piers Morgan. I was his deputy and he asked me to write it. He purchased it from Max Clifford -- I think that's a matter of record -- and he told Mr Morgan where he received the original information from, I believe.

  • Thank you. If we now move to page 4 of your witness statement, where you tell us that you are and have been a member of the Press Complaints Commission since 2008, and you tell us a little bit about the PCC and its work. The Inquiry is quite familiar with this, and so please forgive me if I don't go into the details, but can I put these points to you, please? First of all, it is said in some quarters that one drawback of the PCC is that it doesn't have teeth. Would you agree with that?

  • You will have heard me discussing and exploring with Mr Wallace as to what type of teeth in the future a regulator might have. Do you have any views?

  • I agree with the three-column structure that seems to be emerging from the various discussions that have been had here and outside of the Inquiry. I do think that the PCC has been very effective as a mediator. I look at the number of complaints that come in from members of the public, and -- when you sit on the Commission, you see the complaint from the original day the person has got in touch with the PCC. They are often not sure how to formulate or articulate the complaint, they're not clear about where it comes under the code, and I think the officers do a very good job at helping the public articulate that, and I think that element of it has been successful and should stay.

    It clearly doesn't have the power that is needed -- that was made quite clear during the phone hacking lack of investigation, where the PCC was misled by News International -- so I think if we kept the Complaints Commission largely as it is, perhaps looking at the panel, the commission and the make-up of it, but actually giving the standards arm greater teeth, with perhaps financial penalties against publishers or -- who consistently breach the code.

  • I see. What about the criticism that it is really too dominated by the press and is not independent?

  • There's a greater majority of lay commissioners than editor -- I think the figure is 10 to 7 -- and normally, at any given time, there are less industry members in the room because you leave the room if the adjudication is about a paper within your group. We have 165 papers at Trinity Mirror, including the regionals. I don't sit in judgment on any of the regional papers.

    I've been around the table. We have very, very robust debates about the rights and the wrongs of the story, and it's very rarely that the editors agree, so it normally goes to a vote and sometimes I'll agree with another editor, sometimes I won't. So I don't think there's a dominance of industry figures swaying the opinions.

    If you look at the make-up of the Commission, you have a very high calibre of Lay Commissioners. We have a retired judge, a headmaster, a former chief superintendent. We had until recently a bishop. They're not the sort of people who are going to be swayed by newspaper editors.

  • How were you appointed to the PCC?

  • The NPA. I was invited to join about three and a half years ago, I think. Editors rotate after three years but as it's in a state of flux, we've stayed on until we know what the new --

  • Are they all nominated by the NPA?

  • Yes, they are. It works quite well in that there's a fair representation of the industry in there. They have a red top editor, myself, a mid-market and the Sunday Telegraph editor too, because the challenges and issues facing different parts of the media are quite different at times.

  • Who appoints the lay commissioners?

  • There's a nominations committee.

  • So it's self-appointing? A nominations committee of the PCC or PressBoF or what?

  • I'd have to check with the director of -- actually how that works, would --

  • When we are looking or the Commission are looking for new members, they're normally inundated with applications, and we just -- I mean, Sir Michael Grade has just come on, Lord Grade, and -- a retired judge, as I said, and a senior lawyer from a law firm, retired lawyer.

  • How do you answer the criticism that was raised by Mr Desmond, that it's judgment by one's commercial rivals?

  • He's obviously entitled his opinion --

  • Well, he's certainly right. That's not an opinion. He's right. You are judging your commercial rivals.

  • Yes. Yes, we are. He's right. Sorry. But all I can say is in the three and a half years I've been on the PCC, I've never seen any evidence of commercial rivalry displayed when making judgments on adjudications. I think the editors -- you know, I hope we're too professional to be that petty.

  • If your experience is that there is no bias as a result of commercial rivalries, would you agree, though, that a system, if it's going to be robust and hold public and industry confidence, should not only be impartial but also be seen to be impartial?

  • Well, it has to be effective, and I'm not sure how it can be truly effective when so many of the decisions that are being made by the PCC are about the sort of workings of a newspaper. I think the lay commissioners agree that the input from the serving editors is vital during the decision-making process. They'll often assume there's a process when we have to explain that that really wouldn't have happened and give our expert, if you like, insight into how a newspaper operation really functions, and I would be really loath to lose that from a mediation body.

  • Can it be substituted by the use of retired editors as opposed to serving editors?

  • I've heard that suggestion, obviously, at the Inquiry, but if you just look at the evidence of the two Sun editors last week, the former editor, Kelvin eventually McKenzie, and the current editor, the approach is entirely different now just to 20 years ago -- well, even five years ago, so I think you really need somebody who is serving with the challenges we face today to give proper input into the decision-making process.

  • And voluntary membership. At the moment, there are various publications that have decided not to join the PCC club and therefore are effectively not controlled except by the law. Is it better to have compulsory membership than to have people electing to sit outside any form of regulation?

  • Yes. I think self-regulation can only really work if everybody's in the tent.

  • We've heard various suggestions as to how that might be affected. One theory is: make it so attractive that it's a no-brainer, everybody will join. The other is: make it literally compulsory. Now, there are obvious problems with the first, in that how do you make it so attractive that everybody will always want to be in the club, and there may be some difficulties which need to be navigated in the second. What's your view on that particular dilemma?

  • Well, as we're talking about a new three-pronged approach to future regulation, the third prong of that being the sort of arbitration panel, if you like, which would hopefully deal with libel and privacy claims -- I mean, that would be a very attractive option to any newspaper publisher, if you could reduce the onerous costs we face in legal fees, and I think if you only had access to that arbitration panel if you're a member of whatever the new regulatory body is called, I think that would be the carrot, the incentive, to encourage membership.

    I think everybody so far, including Mr Desmond, has indicated they would be willing to look and join a new regulatory body. I think there is a real willing in the industry to work together. I think we've heard the call to get together and come up with a solution. I think people really are doing that in consultation with Lord Hunt.

  • Of course, you would want, wouldn't you, to require those who wished to complain about the press to go through that arbitral system. This was a discussion I had with Mr Barber, who expressed concern that that his newspaper could be squashed by somebody with enormous amounts of money who would therefore put enormous pressure to suppress a story or not to publish a story or retract a story. How could you make it compulsory unless the law said, "This is the route you have to take"?

  • I agree with you. I think the arbitration arm, you would need legislation to underpin it to force -- to make it mandatory for people to use that before resorting to the courts.

    I am sort of -- I have thought about that arbitration arm and it does seem extremely appealing. I'm still sort of not quite clear -- I know these are very much rough and ready solutions that need to be worked on --

  • We're not really into solutions; we're into thoughts, ideas.

  • Yes, thoughts, ideas. I'm not quite sure how it would work in a prepublication way, whether there would -- you would -- would it have any --

  • What you could do is you could go and say that if an editor wanted not to pre-notify, he would have to get the support of one of the panels or bodies.

  • Yes, that would be a good idea.

  • And if he did, then that would be relevant to a hearing. If he didn't, or chose to ignore what they said, that might be relevant to damages, if it got that far.

  • There are various mechanisms to do it, but again it requires, somewhere in the background, a piece of legislation. A long way in the background, I agree, because one doesn't want any suggestion of government regulation.

  • No, I agree, and I think if there was some way you could keep the other two columns which have been discussed, of mediation in some form based on the current process and the standards committee -- which incidentally I don't think should have serving editors on -- if you could keep those free of legislation and then --

  • All you need do is say that they are set up. But if one is going to say that the court, the arbitral mechanism, is entitled to have regard to what one of the other two says, then they have to be at least recognised.

  • However much you say that the industry, the public, whoever, in some other way nominates people who serve on these things, they have to be recognised, otherwise there isn't a hook on which you can hang the use of that material, if you follow what I'm saying.

  • Yes, I do. I think I do and I think I'm in agreement, but I was hoping there was a mechanism in which there wasn't any legislation controlling the standards arm and the mediation arm. Are we in agreement there?

  • I'm not agreeing about anything. I'm still thinking about everything. You're not going to catch me out quite like that.

  • I meant agreement in our thinking.

  • I think the important word in your sentence is "controlling" the standards. I don't presently believe -- this is my reaction -- that legislation should control anything except provide a potential arbitral arm, but that it provides a framework in which everybody else decides what the standards should be and how the mediation works, with people elected into those arms entirely free of improvement. Do you see the difference --

  • -- I'm trying to portray?

  • Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I think there's just concern, I think, generally if the industry that any outside government interference at all as a backdrop is a sort of thin end of the wedge.

  • I understand that, and they say, "Well, you could change the statute", but actually they could always pass a new statute, so it doesn't actually go very far. One of the things that's concerned me about the debate is that everybody talks about the statutory regulation or self-regulation as though they are binary, that you either have to have one or the other. I'm not sure that there isn't, in the type of way that I've been discussing, some alternative mechanism that allows the industry, the business, with independent support, with perhaps some legal support, to identify the standards and to mediate short of resolving disputes.

  • But if you're going to have a mechanism that does allow fining somebody for lying to the standards people or whatever, then that has to be the law because otherwise you could never enforce it.

  • Could you not -- if you all sign up to it, if you all agree there are a set level of fines -- I mean, we have talked outside about a commercial contract under civil law. Would that not enforce it?

  • There are all sorts of issues there of contract law which --

  • I'm not an expert on that.

  • No, I won't ask you to discuss.

  • -- which are not insignificant. The other snag with that, of course, is that that may or may not bind those who sign the contract, but it certainly wouldn't bind anybody who didn't sign the contract, which would include all those people who are complaining. They're not in a contract with you at all.

  • You mean non-industry people?

  • But they wouldn't have to be part of --

  • No, but you'd want them in on the complaints mechanism and you'd certainly want them in on the arbitral mechanism.

  • The arbitral mechanism would need legislative support, because there's no way I can see that you could force somebody to use that, to cut out the huge legal fees we all face, unless there was some sort of legislation.

  • Once you're going down that route but you need a hook to bring the others in because it's relevant to decisions that are made in the arbitral system, then that may be sufficient. But it may require that much. Anyway, I'm only raising ideas.

  • No, it's very interesting, sir.

  • I'm not making decisions.

  • No, I appreciate that.

  • I won't make decisions until the summer, and indeed, it won't be a matter for me ultimately anyway.

  • Can I ask you now to imagine a world without CFAs, or at least without CFAs as we know them. Would your point about legal costs, in principle, still hold good?

  • It's a CFA with success fees and our old friend after-the-event insurance as well. I don't know. I'm sure there would be some other mechanism to be hit by huge costs, whatever. I don't think CFAs are going to completely disappear. I know there is reform under way and discussions under way, but I ...

  • I'm going to move on now from the PCC. You tell us in your statement a little bit about the Sunday Mirror. You sell approximately 1.85 million copies each week, although there is a much larger readership, and you have a team of 68 staff, so significantly smaller --

  • That's full-time staff. I do have part-time staff as well.

  • But it's a point that you're significantly smaller than the Daily Mirror?

  • You work Tuesday to Saturday, so I should apologise to you for ruining your weekend. You then go on at paragraph 18 to say:

    "Each day, I chair an editorial conference."

    And you describe how you reject some stories and accept others for various reasons. Can I ask you: on a paper with a staff approximately a third of the size of the Daily Mirror, does that mean that you, as the editor, make the decision on every story or not?

  • No, absolutely not. No.

  • At paragraph 19, you're talking about your paper and you say:

    "Readers for many decades have come to expect revelations and exposes of wrongdoing and bad behaviour of the rich and famous from their Sunday paper."

    Can I take it there's therefore a pressure on you to deliver such stories?

  • It's not really a pressure, no. It's just something that's traditionally been part of the fare of a Sunday tabloid. It is less so now.

  • Is that anything to do with developments in the law of privacy?

  • Partly. I think we just try and reflect public opinion. Our readers vote for us every week by buying the paper, and sometimes if there's a revelatory story they don't like, I will receive many letters complaining, so I try to form my judgments on what I believe the readers will like and find acceptable.

  • I see. You then go on to tell us a little bit about the sort of campaigns that the Sunday Mirror has been involved with -- Atomic Veterans, Respect Our Seniors, Homes For Heroes, Justice For Our Troops and The Lost Generation -- again, making a point that Mr Wallace made.

  • That we're not all bad.

  • That you're a force for good.

    We move on to corporate governance and the Sunday Mirror at page 8 of your statement, where we move into grounds where that force for good assertion needs to be scrutinised. At paragraph 29, you explain, as Mr Wallace did, the action that was taken by Trinity Mirror after the convictions of Glenn Mulcaire and Mr Goodman. Convictions, as we know, for intercepting communications.

    Turn to tab 19 of the bundle, please. This is a story published by BBC News on 23 July 2011. It's headlined:

    "Sunday Mirror phone hacking claim revealed by Newsnight. Evidence of possible phone hacking at the Sunday Mirror newspaper has been found by the BBC's Newsnight."

    The source is not revealed -- it's an anonymous source -- but it describes routine phone hacking in the newsroom, celebrities including Liz Hurley and footballer Rio Ferdinand being a target and there's a description, under the subheading "Dark arts", that the source, one afternoon in the newsroom, saw Liz Hurley's phone being hacked and a reporter listen to her mobile phone messages and take a note of what was said. Do you know whether or not that allegation is true?

  • I don't believe it to be true.

  • Does it follow from your choice of words that this is not a matter which has been the subject of an investigation?

  • Well -- no, no, it hasn't.

  • Has the BBC's article been the subject of a complaint by either your newspaper or by Trinity Mirror Group?

  • A complaint to the BBC?

  • Has any action been taken about it?

  • No. I think they know that we were unhappy about unsubstantiated, non-specific, anonymous allegations from seven years ago being presented as unearthing evidence.

  • The article goes on to say:

    "Designated reporters would be doing it pretty much every day."

    Are you able to help us one way or the other as to whether or not that's true?

  • I don't believe it to be true.

  • "One reporter who was very good at it was called the master of the dark arts."

    Have you ever heard that nickname?

  • No, I haven't heard that term.

  • Those paragraphs are general, but there's a specific allegation about one particular person, so presumably it would be possible to research all your stories about this particular person and see whether -- but you've not done that?

  • Sorry, which specific --

  • On the bottom of the first page.

  • Leslie Ash? Yes, I did ask someone to look through the cuttings for that year to see if there's any story it could be relating to, but we drew a blank.

  • We're looking at the same names?

  • The bottom of the first page.

  • There's Liz Hurley and Leslie Ash, the same --

  • Well, it was a pretty unspecific allegation -- unspecific detail about Liz Hurley. The Leslie Ash one I did ask somebody to check out, yes.

  • Sorry, which one?

  • The Leslie Ash allegation.

  • With what result?

  • I said they drew a blank as to what it could be referring to.

  • Moving to the section of the article that's subheaded "Voiceover artist", it says:

    "At one point in 2004, it seemed like it was the only way people were getting scoops. If they didn't just randomly hack people in the news, they would use it to stand up stories that people had denied."

    Have you ever heard any gossip to that effect?

  • Are you able to help us as to whether or not it's true?

  • It then says that the source claimed that the Sunday Mirror hired a voiceover artist to imitate famous people in order to get information about them. Is that true?

  • I've never heard of that, no.

  • "'I was told he had successfully managed to get health records too,' the source said."

    Have you had in the Sunday Mirror's possession people's health records?

  • I don't believe we have, no.

  • It says:

    "He was such a god of a voiceover artist that he could pretend to be famous people or, failing that, he'd pretend to be their lawyer or someone related to them."

    Are you aware of blagging being used by anyone employed by the Daily Mirror --

  • Sorry, the Sunday Mirror -- to obtain confidential information?

  • I don't know. We will occasionally make subterfuge calls if there's a public interest which we think is legitimate.

  • Is it restricted to cases of public interest, so far as you are aware?

  • Yes, it is, and staff are instructed that there has to be a good public interest and more recently, just as part of good business practice with everything that's been going on, they've actually been instructed to come and discuss it with myself or the lawyer.

  • I've asked you a general question. Forgive me for putting it more specifically in relation to Leslie Ash. To your knowledge, did the Sunday Mirror ever obtain Leslie Ash's medical records?

  • No, to my knowledge, they didn't.

  • Can I take it from your answers that what you're telling us on the question of phone hacking at the Sunday Mirror is that to the best of your belief it hasn't happened, but it hasn't been fully investigated and you are not in a position to give us a guarantee that it didn't happen?

  • We heard from Mr Morgan, and in his book he talks about listening to a recorded message left by Sir Paul McCartney for Heather Mills. Did you ever hear such a message?

  • Did you ever speak to Mr Morgan about such a message?

  • There are allegations that on the Daily Mirror Mr Hipwell witnessed phone hacking by the showbusiness team. Were you ever aware one way or the other about whether or not the Daily Mirror showbusiness reporters were hacking phones?

  • No, I wasn't, I'm afraid.

  • We're going to hear later on evidence from Mr Browne about the People. That will was phone hacking on the People. Do you know anything about that?

  • I wouldn't know, I'm afraid. We're completely separate papers.

  • You're actually competitors with the People?

  • Moving now to the question of self-certification. We heard from Mr Wallace that every year, as an editor of a title in the Trinity Mirror Group, you have to sign a certificate. I'm looking at page 9 of your witness statement, if that helps. Your evidence points to a qualification at page 32 that you've added to your certificate?

  • It's essentially pointing out that you can't give guarantees --

  • Yes, I am always nervous of giving assurances.

  • -- that everything will be all right. It reads:

    "It is not always possible to identify which stories are significant. All potential stories include an assessment of both downside and upside risk -- however, it is necessary to make judgment calls on the appropriate degree of risk identification, evaluation and management of on a story by story basis. Many potential risks fall into the realm of the genuinely unknown or unforeseeable -- as such, it will never be possible to have a foolproof system of risk identification, evaluation and control in this area of our business."

    So you're pointing out here that by certifying that your controls are in place, you're not giving a guarantee that everything is going to be all right?

  • Yes, I'm just pointing out that there are no certainties. You're never quite sure where something might go wrong. You try your best to ensure it doesn't, but occasionally it will do.

  • I'm keen to explore why you felt it necessary to add this qualification. I'm thinking from the point of view of: what is the purpose of the certification? Can you help us with why you wanted --

  • I'm possibly just a cautious person. Before I sign anything, I would probably take legal advice and put something like that in. I think I'm just trying to point out that while we do everything we can to check that there are no mistakes and -- there will occasionally be times that there are mistakes made.

  • If I can put it very bluntly, is this a mechanism which helps, in the event of some major problem, very senior managers to pin accountability at editorial level, or is it genuinely a mechanism which serves to reinforce and remind you of your responsibilities and to help you to raise or maintain your game?

  • I don't think it's either, actually. I think it's just good corporate governance, it's good business practice. The chief executive has to ensure that the risks are assessed throughout the company and assure the board that everybody knows their responsibilities.

  • This is all about process. Do you have a mechanism to make sure you minimise adverse risk? Well, you have a mechanism.

  • Your words say: "Actually, we have a mechanism but we can't guarantee it will always succeed."

  • That's right. In fact, it probably does need a good sub-down(?) to address that.

  • At the end of paragraph 33, you're telling us about stories in general. You talk about using instincts based on years of experience, whether as a whole the story feels right.

    First of all, a technical question. Do you require a minimum number of sources before publishing a story, or will you publish on a single source?

  • There's no specific rule. I look at each story and judge it on its merits. I mean, some -- if a story's come from -- it's about an individual and they're giving us a story, that's a single-source story. I look at how legally dangerous it is and consider a whole range of factors.

  • You say you consider a whole range of factors. That goes to my next question. I want to know whether, in this paragraph, you're really quietly aligning yourself with the McKenzie school of editing: if it feels right, lob it in --

  • -- or whether you're trying to tell us about a rather more sophisticated approach.

  • No, I'm not. I'm just trying to say that -- I think I'm very risk averse and very cautious, but there will be he times that even though you've completed checks and you've tried to verify the stories to the best of your ability, and you've taken a legal view on it, that a story just doesn't feel right, something about it troubles you. It's just instinctive. When you've been editing for nearly 11 years, you sometimes can almost feel where a problem is going to come from. There've been a few occasions when I haven't trusted my instincts and I've put something in the paper and I've regretted it. So that's all I'm trying to say, that if it feels right -- I'm not trying to -- there's no lobbing of stories into the paper.

  • I see. Thank you. At paragraph 34, you say you're not aware of any changes to the system of corporate governance recently as a result of the phone hacking media interest or prior to that. You say the use of private investigators was banned by the company a few months ago, as Mr Wallace told us.

    Can I ask you in that regard then a bit about what happened when the ICO published its two reports, "What price privacy?" and "What price privacy now?" in 2006. First of all, is the position the same as with the Daily Mirror, that there has been no specific investigation by the Sunday Mirror as to whether or not its journalists acted illegally in its dealings with Mr Whittamore?

  • The table, if it helps you, ranked Sunday Mirror six in the table, with 143 transactions from 25 journalists. When were you first aware that there was an issue about Mr Whittamore?

  • I'm not sure of the exact date. I would say it was early 2004 when I believe he was being charged; is that right?

  • Forget the precise date. If we take the point in time at which he was charged, did your newspaper use Mr Whittamore after was charged? Do you know one way or the other?

  • No, I do know we hadn't used him for about two years prior to that.

  • Would you agree with me that if the matters concerned are matters which need to be justified by the public interest, if they are to be legal, 143 transactions with 25 journalists raises a very big question about whether or not transactions were illegal?

  • And it would be rather surprising if all of them were?

  • It would be surprising, but I don't know.

  • Does it follow from paragraph 34 that apart from the reminders that we've heard were issued to behave properly and there would be zero tolerance of data protection breaches, there was no actual change to the systems of corporate governance when the ICO published his reports?

  • Well, I think it was an industry problem and the industry reacted. There was a change to the code to explicitly ban hacking into --

  • My question is about corporate governance in the Mirror Group. Is it right there was no change?

  • I don't quite understand what you're asking, I'm sorry.

  • I'm asking if there was any change to the way the Sunday Mirror did its business in relation to private investigators?

  • Oh, the -- well, we weren't using private investigators then, I don't believe, anyway, but I certainly spoke to my staff and explained the need or reminded them of the need to ensure that whoever they were using to glean material from, that they too were following the law and the code.

  • I am going to move on to the question of apologies. You have a "Get It Right" section on the letters page --

  • -- you say at the top of page 10. Have you resisted the temptation that the Daily Mail has succumbed to, to move it to page 2?

  • I'm sorry, actually last month we have moved it to page 2. That was correct at the time I wrote my statement. It's actually -- it's something we'd carried on the letters page for many years. We carried it on the letters page because it's where the correspondence from the readers is published, so that's where people would normally look, but actually we now put it on page 2.

  • Do you have anything to add to what Mr Wallace said about the prominence of apologies?

  • Nothing particular letter, but I would say it works both ways. If you have a mistake on page 40 of the paper, the apology or the correction will now appear on page 2, so it -- so actually sometimes the apology can be more prominent than the original article.

  • That won't help the person who is complaining about your front page splash, will it?

  • No, it won't, sir, no.

  • Moving to the question of the perception of the PCC, you tell us that newspaper editors take adjudications from the PCC very seriously and as a member of the PCC itself, it would be surprising if you didn't, but one of your staff appears to have said rather disparaging things to Mr Atkins about the PCC. Do you think that there is a perception amongst journalists that because it doesn't have teeth that it doesn't matter all that much?

  • If you don't mind, could I just correct that she wasn't a member of my staff, but -- I don't know if that's relevant. She's a member of the People staff. I don't thinking it materially matters. But no, I don't think that's the case at all. I think -- judging by the conversations I have around my newsroom with my reporters about the code and their striving to stay and comply with it, I don't think that's the view at all, no.

  • Moving to the question of sources, are you an editor who will publish a story without knowing who the source is?

  • The simple answer is yes, but it also depends on a whole range of other contributing facts.

  • How common is that?

  • Quite common. A lot of stories are just innocuous and unremarkable by their nature, so I wouldn't know the source, but on the more controversial, contentious larger planks of the paper, if I don't know the name of the source, I will know where the source is in relation to the story. I will try and ascertain how they've come about hearing the information.

  • Do you agree that for you as an editor to shoulder the responsibility for a story without knowing the source gives rise to risk?

  • It does if I was just printing information without any idea who was supplying it, but -- or how it had come about, but I normally know a lot about a story which has a potential risk before I publish.

  • Can I move now to the question of prior notification. This is really in stories which might invade privacy. What I'd like to know is: when you give prior notice in a case which might have a privacy aspect, do you hesitate about giving notice for any reason?

  • Can you tell us more about your thinking?

  • What I'd say, the majority of times, in fact nearly always, we would go to someone before publication. It's actually -- often it's essential because you might think you know everything about a story and you'll go to someone and they'll put a whole new complexion on it. So the majority of times it's something I will insist on.

    Occasionally -- and this is not the norm -- there will be commercial reasons you might not go to someone. We work in a small, incestuous business where agents, PRs and representatives have relationships and friendships on other papers and it might be something that your staff have worked for weeks on, it might have cost a lot of money, and it's very commercially damaging to see that information, which is your commodity, your wares, appear elsewhere as someone tries to sort of stop your story.

  • So how are you suggesting that in those circumstances the story gets out?

  • Well, there's obviously no proof, but if you go to somebody and then, within half an hour, your rivals, say the News of the World when they were in existence, or the Mail on Sunday, know about it -- I mean, you can only make assumptions.

  • You're suggesting there are leaks?

  • No, I'm suggesting it's sometimes in the interests of a person to put a story with the complexion they want on it, so if you went to an industry leader, for example, with a series of allegations, and they didn't really like what you were saying, it might be in their interests to ring up a rival paper and present your story with their slant on it, so that your work then appears elsewhere -- and it might be your exclusive, it might be your front page. That's occasionally a consideration, but as I said, that is not the norm.

  • Is fear of an injunction a consideration?

  • So if the fear of an injunction is occasionally the problem, what's the difficulty with submitting to legal process?

  • Well, we're not not submitting to legal process in that it's not mandatory. This issue, as we know, went to Europe and it was decided that prior notification could have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and censor the way we operate.

    The other problem occasionally -- and I don't have any examples I can give you, because as I said, this is not the norm, but occasionally it could happen that if you go to somebody on a Saturday afternoon, they will seek injunctive relief, a duty judge will be called and naturally they will err on the side of caution. They will perhaps want more information than can be reasonably provided at that time, and so they will grant an injunction, an interim injunction, and if you want to challenge that as a paper, the law as it stands and the costs as it stands, within 48 hours you'll suddenly be look at £50,000, if not more.

    There is one famous case, I believe, Cream Holdings, which involved our company, where it took two years to challenge an interim injunction, and I can't remember the legal fees, but I think it's safe to say they were running into hundreds of thousands of pounds and eventually it was decided there was a public interest.

    So it's a very difficult area. I know the Select Committee have considered this as well, but I think the fact that Europe came back and decided that it shouldn't be mandatory sort of speaks for itself.

  • Well, they decided something slightly different, didn't they? They decided that it wasn't a breach of the Convention not to notify, rather than to say they decided it shouldn't be mandatory.

  • No, they put it in Convention terms.

  • Which takes me to the other side of the coin, which is someone who is deprived of any meaningful opportunity to get an effective remedy for an irreparable breach of privacy. You do see the other side of the coin, don't you?

  • There's a real ethical issue there, isn't there?

  • Yes, there are ethical considerations too. It's not an easy subject.

  • And so how, in your experience, have you made judgments about whether or not to give prior notice?

  • How I've explained, really. The majority of times we do, it's not normally an issue.

  • Forgive me, you have said that, but what I'm getting at is whether the ethical side, fairness to the person whose privacy you are about to invade --

  • Oh yes, definitely -- I will consider -- well, with good public interest reason, I hope --

  • You think, and the other person hasn't an opportunity to challenge unless you give prior notice. Does that ethical point, that the other person should have a chance to say something in the name of fair play -- does that cross your mind?

  • Is that taken into account?

  • Where does it stand alongside the considerations such as "my rival might get the story", "we might be sucked into an expensive legal dispute"?

  • It depends what the story is, really. It depends how serious it is, how sure we are of it. In Rio Ferdinand, for example, you know, I felt it was true, I felt there was a good public interest and the judge agreed.

  • Sir, I'm about to move on to a different topic --

  • But as I said, it is very rarely that we do not go to somebody. It is not the normal situation.

  • Had you pre-notified Mr Ferdinand?

  • I mean, the point that's been made, as I'm sure you appreciate, is that once it's out, the damage is done.

  • All right. That's a convenient moment to leave it until 2 o'clock. Thank you.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Yes, Mr Barr.

  • Thank you, sir. Before I resume my questioning, I should say Mr Browne has helpfully confirmed the precise date when he says that his clients, certainly on the Sunday Mirror, last used Mr Whittamore. It was 2002.

  • That is the Sunday Mirror.

  • Ms Weaver, relationships with the police. You explain in your witness statement -- I'm looking at page 14 -- that there is an important relationship between the press and the police, and you explain the relationship and its importance as you see it.

    At the end of paragraph 57, you say that you yourself have had very little personal contact with the police. Can I ask you, have you ever met a chief constable?

  • I think I had lunch with Ian Blair with a number of other people but it is so long time ago I'm afraid I can't remember much about it.

  • Have you met with any of his successors?

  • Do you know whether any of your staff have met chief constables?

  • I don't know, but I would have thought the crime correspondent would have.

  • I see. You explain in paragraph 58 that the relationship is mutually beneficial and based on trust. What is it that you are seeking from the relationship with the police?

  • Stories. Information.

  • And are off-the-record conversations between your reporters and the police things that are commonplace?

  • I'm not an expert on this, because it is something that would happen between my crime reporter and the police, but sometimes I think the off-the-record guidance is very important. One example that springs to mind is if somebody had been arrested and we think that's particularly significant, it could transpire that it's not at all and then the sort of appeals to witnesses decrease and people don't come forward. So sometimes the guidance would just be: "We've arrested somebody but we don't think it's particularly significant." I think everybody's aware of their mutual responsibilities and the legal process during those conversations.

  • But there is a risk with all that, isn't there? You must have heard the discussion that I had with Mr Wallace. There must be some concern that off-the-record gets translated and is potentially harmful?

  • Yes. Yes, you're absolutely right, sir. I'd have thought that is the case. However, I would add that I think any off-the-record guidance tends to be restricted to the crime reporters, who are members of the Crime Reporters Association, and they sort of know the framework in which we're allowed to operate. Often the police would give some information to the Crime Reports Association and they wouldn't use it. I think it relied on trust and respect in both ways, but I think because of what's happened at the moment, the News International situation, it does worry me it's almost moved too far the other way. There's an almost paralysis in the contact between the media and the police and all the useful functions of that -- we just won't have those benefits going forward.

  • Can we move on now to relationships with politicians? You explain that you rarely have lunches with politicians. You've had one meeting and one lunch with the current Prime Minister before he was in power at his invitation. You met Gordon Brown on several occasions whilst he was in office, and equally, at several meetings and lunches with Mr Blair. Again, does that reflect the political leaning of the Sunday Mirror's editorial line --

  • -- that you've seen much more of the Labour prime ministers?

  • What is it that they were seeking from you in these meetings?

  • I don't think they were seeking anything. I think it's a healthy exchange of views between an editor who has access to, say, 5 million readers, and the Prime Minister's views, and -- we might want some clarification on a policy. We might address our readers' concerns. We are representing our readers, and so if -- and we do a lot of polling of the readers. We have something called Mirror Mouthpiece, so all the issues that are primary in their minds we get to know about. So we might raise those sorts of concerns with them, or if we campaign for better treatment for amputees or if we consider there's been breaches of military -- it's something we might bring up in those meetings, so -- I think they work well. I don't think there's been a real issue outside of the recent controversy.

  • So do you explain to the politicians what stories would meet with your approval as an editor and those which would not?

  • Do I explain what stories would meet with my approval?

  • You like this subject, not this subject, like this policy, not that policy?

  • We might talk about policies, yes. We might discuss policies. I don't have many meetings, to be honest.

  • Do you get the impression that the politicians listen carefully to what you say the editorial line will be in relation to a particular policy?

  • I think they probably pretend to but I suspect they meet an awful lot of people and I'm not sure it has that much impact.

  • But would you agree with other witnesses we've heard from that there's no doubt that as the editor of a newspaper with a seven-figure readership, your paper has influence over people's views and therefore is of importance to politicians?

  • I can see why politicians would want to communicate with 7 million or less, about 5 million readers, but I think our readers are very intelligent. I think they form their own views and I don't think it's really impacted by a health minister writing a piece for us.

    Sometimes we will ask cabinet ministers to write a piece. It often explains this complicated issue in the news. I think we asked Yvette Cooper to write a piece for us at the weekend about police cuts, for example. So it works both ways, and it directly puts across views and explanations and background reasonings to the readers.

  • But it must be of importance to the politicians what your editorial line is going to be on matters within the Labour Party, for example of party leadership?

  • I don't -- yes, I suspect with party leadership it is, but it doesn't really -- they don't influence what we do. Well, they don't influence what I do, and I don't think our editorial line or our stories really influence them. I think it's quite a healthy relationship.

  • Why are there such interactions between very senior politicians and very senior journalists, editors, if you're not influencing each other?

  • Are you talking generally or specifically the Sunday Mirror? Because I think they're quite different questions.

  • If you do think there's a difference, could you explain, please?

  • I think we know about what has been perceived as the News International situation. I know Mr Wallace talked about that this morning and I think everybody perhaps did become too close, but I don't believe that's the case at the Mirror. I don't think our circulations -- we don't have as many papers as News International so I don't think that's the case. The Mirror traditionally for many years now has supported the Labour Party so I don't believe Conservatives would think it would be worth coming anywhere near us. They probably wouldn't want to.

  • If the details are perhaps a little different for News International and for Trinity Mirror and the Sunday Mirror in particular, the general principle holds, doesn't it, that you have a large number of readers in whose votes the politicians are interested?

  • Can we move now to the public interest test. You set out various examples of how you have applied it, starting at 73. This section of your witness statement is page 17.

  • All right, sorry. Yes.

  • It starts with a preamble in paragraph 71 in which you say that you think that a privacy law has been introduced as a result of a series of judgments and you don't appear to be a fan of this development; is that right?

  • Sometimes I think the interpretation of what's in the public interest is too narrow.

  • So you're not saying that there shouldn't be a law which takes privacy into account?

  • Not at all, no. I think everybody is entitled to a private life. It's just as editors we spend probably a disproportionate amount of time trying to balance up articles 8 and 10 in a way editors probably never used to 10, 15 years ago, and give it a lot of consideration. The Rio Ferdinand story we mentioned before. I think I sat on that story for a couple of weeks while I wrestled with the competing tensions and I decided to publish.

  • But isn't it good that you did that? Isn't that exactly what you should be doing?

  • No, it is good. It's what we should be doing. No, I agree.

  • Everybody says it's judge-made law. The fact is that the Convention, which was written by English jurists in the aftermath of the war, has been part of the international responsibility for years and what happened by the Human Rights Act was to bring it into our domestic law, so there it is.

  • Exactly. As I said, it's just the way the law is at the moment. The section 12, which is meant to have -- of course, being lawyers, you have particular regard to freedom of expression. Sometimes I feel that's not giving enough consideration.

  • If I understand you, you're saying in principle you're happy for freedom of expression to be balanced with rights to privacy in individual cases, but what concerns you is where the line is being drawn and the additional time that it takes you to --

  • No, the additional time is not an issue. I think it's really where the line is being drawn. I mean, it is very subjective, but it's really where the line is being drawn that concerns me. It's less of an issue now, but about a year ago there was a series of injunctions which seemed to rain down on us like confetti from rich, powerful men trying to keep their infidelities or wrongdoing out of the papers and I personally didn't agree with some of those injunctions.

  • Feeling rather better about life since the Rio Ferdinand judgment, are you?

  • I'm feeling a lot better, yes.

  • Actually, it's the same law; it's just how you try and balance the factors.

  • It is subjective but I do think there is -- a wider test could be really: is it in the public benefit? And I think the readers should have a greater say, in many ways, what's in the public interest. The interpretation is decided by judges, quite rightly, sir, but sometimes --

  • You don't have to say "quite rightly", but the fact is that if you say it's decided by readers, then nothing would be kept out of the public --

  • Because they have to decide.

  • Well, within reason and obviously subject to people's rights, but I do think that perhaps what the readers think is acceptable -- and that's the general public -- is a pretty good barometer of what, in this day and age, we should consider is in the public interest.

  • Can I be clear about exactly what you're saying here? Are you aligning yourself with Mr McMullan, who came along earlier to this Inquiry --

  • No, not at all. Not at all. I'm promoting an idea, a suggestion that -- we are talking about suggestions and ideas going forward -- that I think at times the public interest is defined too narrowly today.

  • I'm not promoting -- obviously people are entitled to privacy. Of course they are. It's not a black and white area. It's a grey area. Each case turns on its facts. So I wouldn't be that stupid. But -- of course it's subject to people's rights, but sometimes it feels that what the public consider -- and I think they're the greatest barometer of what really is in the public interest -- isn't considered and there's a narrow definition under the PCC code that makes it quite clear it's not confined to that and I think sometimes --

  • You're getting quite close to saying what's in the public interest is what the public are interested in.

  • I am getting close to saying that but I am not saying that. I think the two overlap at times, obviously, but I just think it's been interpreted too narrowly at times and I think things which I would consider in the public interest and I think readers would consider in the public interest are often deemed to be private by judges. Is that fair?

  • Well, it's your view, which you've made clear.

  • You're entitled to your opinion.

  • It's just simply that, it's my opinion.

  • I can't go through all of the examples, many of which will have to be taken as read --

  • They're all in your statement and they'll all be available for everybody to see.

  • Indeed. Can I ask a question arising out of paragraph 76, which is about a kiss-and-tell story. Do you think there are ethical considerations about kiss-and-tell stories?

  • Could I just say we don't really use the word "kiss-and-tell". I will do a story about a relationship in which there's a legitimate public interest. It tends to be a word that commentators on broadsheets use to describe tabloid stories, if you don't mind me just saying that.

  • Let's get down to the details. We're going to be dealing with theoretical mundane details before anybody gets excited. The version you give an example of, page 18 of your statement, Lord Strathclyde, is someone, a woman who comes forward to you --

  • -- wanting you to publish a story.

  • A volunteer. Perhaps the next grade is when a newspaper advertises for people to come forward to reveal infidelities. Does your paper do that?

  • We don't advertise to reveal infidelities. We do ask people to come forward if they have stories we might like to publish, but that's not necessarily about celebrities. That could be about any wrongdoing. In fact, I think we had a very good expose of bailiffs and the way they were treating the debtors as a result of one of those call-ins, so -- I mean, this story I wouldn't actually call a kiss-and-tell. It's a woman who's come forward who is a single mother, who turned to a cabinet minister for help with a CSA, so it's not quite a --

  • It's quite clear that this is a category, your story, of a volunteer. I'm asking you now about people who come forward because you have advertised that you are interested in stories and prepared to pay for them?

  • As I understand your answer, you're saying you don't specifically advertise for what I might have called kiss-and-tell stories, but you do advertise generally for stories?

  • And that would include people coming forward --

  • Yes, you're correct, yes.

  • -- with stories about infidelities.

    Finally, it would be a positive encouragement taking someone under the wing of the newspaper and giving them a bit of a steer as to who they might want to go out and try to seduce.

  • No, we've never done that.

  • You've never done that. Do you think that's unethical?

  • As I said, I judge each case on its merits, but I can understand one thinking that the principle of that is unethical.

  • I see. Your fifth example, which I think is the one you've just adverted to, the bailiffs, can I ask you about that? You used subterfuge in that story. Was it your decision to use subterfuge?

  • This was a few years ago. No, I don't think I was involved in the decision. I think the news desk would have probably taken advice from the lawyer.

  • When someone in the editorial chain takes a decision that subterfuge is going to be used, is that recorded in writing?

  • Do you think that it might be good practice in the future for the use of subterfuge to be documented in advance and the public interest reasons for it recorded?

  • Yes, I wouldn't be opposed to that at all.

  • These aren't very common, presumably, in the light of what you say?

  • No, they're not, really. The way the PCC code is that if -- for example, you can't just go on, as you call it, a fishing expedition. You have to be acting on specific information, which ironically -- I hate to refer back to something you asked about me earlier, but -- it is a bit of an irony, but the Starsuckers situation, for example. If a newspaper had done that -- I know there's a legitimate public interest in what he was trying to achieve, but it was largely a fishing expedition which -- sadly, had we done it on a newspaper, we might have found ourselves in breach of the code.

  • Yes, of course the risk of all that is that the reporter says, "I have rock solid information about X. I'm not prepared to reveal who told me or why he or she told me, but this is all solid and therefore I want to do this", and without going to go back to it, one can't really test.

  • No, you're right. It's very difficult to make the decision in advance. I think in this particular case we were acting on information from a whistle-blower who had approached us, so we knew. But it is the difficulty of investigative journalism. You're hoping there's a public interest at the end of an honest endeavour to try and expose wrongdoing.

  • No, I don't think I'd worry so much about that, because if there is a public interest in doing what you're doing, then you have the public interest even if the story doesn't emerge at the end. That, I think, is why Mr Barr was asking you whether it was a good idea to record your public interest reasons -- it might be subterfuge, it might be some other conduct which would otherwise be in breach of the code -- so that you have a record before it all happens --

  • -- as to what you thought, so that if nothing does come about it, then you can say, "This is why we thought what we thought."

  • Yes, that would be a good idea. It would be very helpful.

  • Moving now from the examples that you've chosen to give to another example. This is the case of Mr Jefferies. Although your paper wasn't the subject of the contempt proceedings, it was nevertheless the subject of criticism for its covering of the story, wasn't it?

  • Yes, it was. It doesn't diminish the crime, if you like, but we did a very small five-sentence story, and -- I know you've heard from other editors, sir, but I'm afraid I was off at the time. It was new year and I wasn't in the office.

  • We said his favourite poem was Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" and there's obviously an issue with that and we apologised.

  • On reflection, an English teacher teaching Oscar Wilde is not something from which anything much can be --

  • With the details. We apologised and we did get it wrong, obviously. It was a bad decision.

  • The articles are at the back of tab 5. It's rather lengthier than you'd remembered, if you look at pages 6 and 7. That was the actual coverage. I think you were referring, were you, to the column at the bottom right?

  • Sorry if I'm mistaken. I understood that the complaint was about the small story on the right. Obviously it doesn't diminish the impact it had on Mr Jefferies.

  • Could you help us with where things went wrong and how a repeat of this sort of coverage could be avoided?

  • I'm sorry because I wasn't in the office. It was new year's eve, I think two nights before -- I was off that week. I wasn't, on this particular occasion, involved in the editorial decision-making so I don't quite know why that happened but I think people recognise it was a poor misjudgment.

  • I see. Can I ask you now about whistle-blowing. You have a whistle-blowing policy, Trinity Mirror does, as a group.

  • Yes, a whistle-blower's charter, yes.

  • Does it get used much on the Sunday Mirror?

  • I don't know. I don't believe so, but I believe they'll probably approach HR. No one's come back to me.

  • So as far as you're aware, can you recall a single instance of the whistle-blowing policy being used?

  • Your second witness statement deals with the exchanges between Mr Owens and Mr Atkins. We are, for the reasons that Mr Browne explained this morning, treading carefully on this ground and I don't want to ask you about Mr Owens' state of mind. But you do say in this witness statement -- I'm looking now at page 5 --

  • Sorry, I was looking at clause 5.

  • Look at paragraphs 17 and then 20. You say in paragraph 17 that while you were concerned by some of Mr Owens' remarks and he too realises that he did make some misjudged comments, it's only fair to point out that he did try and explain that a lot of information would be private and he did show he was conscious of the issue of public interest, and then you quote.

    What I'd like to ask you is: what realisation did he communicate to you that he had made some misjudged comments?

  • Sorry, I have -- I don't understand the question. What realise -- at what point --

  • You say:

    "While I was concerned by some of Mr Owens' remarks --"

  • "-- and he too realises he did make some misjudged comments ..."

    What I want to know is: what comments was it that Mr Owens realised were misjudged?

  • I can't recall which specific comments. I think there are a number, but I only became aware of this story when the Guardian contacted us and I spoke to Mr Owens at the time and he apologised and explained he had said some unhelpful things. But of course he didn't, at that time, have the benefit of a transcript. He was responding to the story in the Guardian.

  • But his reaction when first questioned by you was apologetic?

  • Yes. He'd already realised -- obviously, you'll go into more detail when Mr Owens gives evidence but he realised that it wasn't in the public interest at some stage and he didn't even report his meeting to the news desk, and -- so the news desk were also unaware of this until the Guardian contacted us. And even if it had -- I would just like to say this story would never have been published.

  • Yes, you make that very clear in your witness statements and set out the reasons. You say you formed the judgment that you don't think Mr Owens acted wisely and you say that you did speak to him --

  • -- once the story came to your attention.

    Having spoken to Mr Owens about the matter, did you circulate any reminder to your staff about anything arising from the Starsuckers film?

  • I didn't actually feel it was necessary because I think at the time there was sort of -- not disruption in the official but concern, and so we discussed it among ourselves but there was no formal email. But I did speak to the desk and individual reporters who I spoke to about it -- who I was talking to about it.

  • I think they realised, and I think Mr Owens did -- and I know he's not here but I would like to say: apart from this incident, he's a very, very good and professional reporter.

  • The film was released and the Sunday Mirror didn't cover the release of the Starsuckers film or review it. Why was that?

  • We have one page of -- we're a weekly paper, we have one page of film reviews a week and to be honest, I don't think our readers would be that interested. I think it was a Channel 4 film, wasn't it? We tend to cover the big main releases which would have mass appeal. I don't think the film did very well. I think it had a quite limited appeal, if I recall. There's no specific reason not to.

  • There were very many things discussed between Mr Owens and Mr Atkins. One was that Mr Atkins expressed a real interest in celebrity stories. Is it right that a newspaper like yours is very interested in celebrity stories in general terms?

  • Yes. I mean, we try to reflect a national conversation and most of our readers are interested in celebrity but actually it's not the prime reason for buying the paper. All our surveys say that big news stories is a first reason, sport the second and celebrity comes in third. So it's always been part and parcel of tabloid coverage for many years, but ...

  • If I can ask you to turn in tab 3 to page 9, paragraph 50. Mr Owens said -- do you have that yet?

  • Sorry, I'm in the wrong place.

  • Sorry, I'm working off my bundle, not the one today. There are no numbers on my pages.

  • It's 49004 in the bottom left-hand corner. Right-hand corner, I'm sorry.

  • Looking at paragraph 50, it says:

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

    It seems there that Mr Owens is raising two possible uses of the material that was being offered. One, he's suggesting that if a newspaper has information about a story, it can be used to be put to the subject of the story and if the subject of the story confirms it, then it can be published. That's what he's suggesting, isn't it? In this case, using the example of Ms Britton.

  • It does appear to be.

  • Would you agree with me that if the information in the first place is obtained illegally, that is problematic, isn't it?

  • Yes. As I said, we would never have published this story.

  • Secondly, he says, the information could be used essentially to barter for a different type of story. "If we don't publish this, then will you give us a story on that?"

  • I'm not sure that is what he means. You would probably have to clarify that with Mr Owens.

  • I wonder whether he doesn't mean: "Here's a way of distinguishing the flat denial from the admission", because actually you have some mechanism to stand the story up.

  • Also, I think the problem is when you're meeting people -- and of course, we do have a lot of call-ins -- you don't know if they're hoaxers, liars or genuine people. So you go along and you assess and you evaluate and part of that process is engaging with someone, if you like, sort of pretending to get on with them. That's one of the things that journalists have to do. You meet all sorts of people you probably wouldn't want to spend your time with but you pretend to get on with them. I think that's all he was doing and I think -- obviously, I wouldn't attach the sort of importance to this as I would if he was here in evidence, giving evidence. These are things said on the hoof, trying to engage, and I suspect -- and I don't know, but I remember when I was a reporter, you're thinking: "Is this guy for real? Is he a liar?" So you are saying, "Are there any documents in existence?" It's very difficult. You come at it as if: "Everyone's lying to me. I'm sure they're lying. Let's see what they're actually going to provide."

    In his defence, by the time he got back to the office -- well, not by the time he got back to the office, but over the next few days, I think -- I haven't actually -- I'm not sure, but he'd realised that he couldn't proceed with this story, which is why he didn't mention it to the news desk. So I can see why this looks very interesting, but I really don't think -- although of course it's not up to me to make that judgment --

  • We'll be exploring that with Mr Owens in due course.

  • Yes, of that significance.

  • You gave an endorsement of Mr Owens' general talents as a general reporter.

  • It's rightly pointed out to me that if we go back to the end of tab 5, to the story we were looking at about Mr Jefferies --

  • Mr Jefferies, yes. I'm afraid --

  • -- that it says:

    "Suspect in poem about killing wife. Exclusive by Nick Owens and Alistair Self."

    Is that the same Nick Owens?

  • He didn't write that story. His name shouldn't be on it. Because we were on a bank holiday weekend, he sat on the desk and he put the story through to the back bench, and he's rather upset his name is on it. He's obviously heard what Mr Atkins said in his statement.

  • Well, if he put the story through to the back bench, does that mean he formed part of the production chain, as it were?

  • If he was on -- if he was in the role of news editor, but he wasn't. He was merely helping move copy through. He didn't write and story and he wasn't involved in it --

  • In its writing, but was he involved in its editing in the broadest sense?

  • No, he wasn't. He was literally a reporter who had -- or who had helped support the news desk on that particular day.

  • So why is his byline on it?

  • It shouldn't have been. It really shouldn't have been. It's just one of those things. It shouldn't have been.

  • A final question: do you think it is important that bylines are accurate?

  • I do. I do, and that shouldn't have happened. But in the heat of -- you know, newspapers work under enormous pressure and have to make very quick decisions a lot of the time when things get put through and he might have answered some -- I don't know. I don't know why it was put on, but it was a mistake and it shouldn't have happened.

  • Thank you. Those are all my questions.

  • Thank you very much. Can I just ask you one of the questions I asked Mr Wallace: do you think that the interest in papers such as the Sunday Mirror would be diminished or the type of stories that you write would be reduced by the sort of approach to propriety and the ethics that we talked about being rather more clearly enforced?

  • I'm not sure, because obviously here, for all the right reasons, we're hearing all the negatives about the paper, but I actually think that my staff are sort of very businesslike, professional and ethical in their conduct. Of course over a period of time there will be -- you can find the worst examples.

  • But on that basis, the answer to my question is no, it wouldn't be different.

  • Exactly. No, it wouldn't be different. I'm wary of a constant log that people have to fill in, because I think it restricts just free flow of information, because people are wary -- just wary of things being written down about them, and the other more practical reason that you operate at a very fast pace and if we record conversations all the time, which is something I know you brought up with other editors --

  • The only log that I'm actually contemplating is in relation to these difficult decisions. If you're provided with a story about -- a news story which doesn't involve doing any more than gathering the news, and of course commenting on it, as you're entitled to do, then the story will speak for itself. If you've been given information by a person about themselves, then again there is no internal dialogue that's necessary. But if you are deciding: is this appropriate to publish for public interest, what is the balance?

  • Which you've said occasionally happens --

  • It happens very frequently, actually, weighing up the balance on the public interest, I'd say.

  • And should I publish -- should I do something --

  • Subterfuge or whatever. Why would it be so problematic?

  • Only because most of the main planks of stories do have elements of risk somewhere where you might not even know it's going to come. So to have to write an ongoing sort of audit of the dialogue between people on those stories, I just don't think we'd have the resource to do it.

    On the subterfuge calls, I agree with you, because actually I think it's mutually beneficial. You can illustrate that you really had considered the public interest.

  • You see, talk about the big stories. Take the Ferdinand story. You made it clear that actually you worried about that for some little time.

  • Would it have been so problematic for you to say, "Right, I have decided in the end, having thought about it --"

  • No, it wouldn't be and my only concern would be: would that be legally disclosable?

  • But wouldn't it help you if it was?

  • Well, not -- well, actually, the way I've seen, you know, most counsel use material, they would -- in fact -- you'd risk that they'd infer a meaning that actually they were really alive to the fact that they shouldn't have done it in the first place, and so I'd be very cautious of what I put in that log for it being exploited by the --

  • Yes, on the basis that then lawyers will come along and --

  • I'm sure they wouldn't do that, but there's a risk, sir, that that could happen.

  • The trouble is that if you don't have something, then you risk the line: "Well, you've made all this up later. This wasn't what you were thinking about at all. You just thought this was a wonderful story. You didn't give a monkeys about his privacy and you never thought about it." Whereas if you say, "Well, actually, I did, and this was my reasoning ..."

  • Yes. No, there is very good reason to do it. I'm just highlighting concerns --

  • -- which spring to mind, as you've just mentioned, but I can see the arguments for doing it.

  • I understand. Thank you. Thank you very much.

  • Sir, our next witness is Mr Penman.