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

  • MR JUSTIN KEITH PENROSE (sworn).

  • Mr Penrose, can you tell us your full name, please?

  • It's Justin Keith Penrose.

  • You've provided a witness statement to the Inquiry. Are the contents true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • You tell us that you are currently the crime correspondent at the Sunday Mirror.

  • You've come to that position having forged a career originally on the Kent Messenger group, and then by way of a stint working for, first of all, the Sun and then the Ferrari Press Agency; is that right?

  • And you've been working for the Sunday Mirror since August 2004?

  • You're a member of the Crime Reporters Association?

  • You tell us a little bit about that in your statement. Can I pick up, first of all, at paragraph 6 of your statement, where you describe a state of paralysis at the moment in relations between the media and the police and say that the police tend to be less forthcoming and more unwilling to talk to the press.

  • You've heard this morning the Commissioner saying that he is not aware of any decline in the amount of formal communication, briefings and the like. Do you agree with him about that?

  • I do -- formal briefings, yes, because when there's a big case or, as he referred to his monthly Commissioner's briefings, they are still happening. What I was making reference to really was if, for example, we would like to do an article on a particular area, then that's largely being stopped. It may be a certain squad or certain investigation, or -- you know, things of that nature, it's just not really happening.

    There's also -- I had discussions with some officers who have been wanting to put information out about successes that they have had, and they've just been prevented, as far as I've been told.

  • Have they told you who is preventing --

  • They said they'd gone to the Press Bureau and said, "Can we do something on this?" and they've been told no.

  • You're also referring to the more informal channels of conversation that you describe later in your statement?

  • You tell us at paragraph 8 that when you first got the job of crime correspondent you were invited by the then chief press officer, Bob Cox, to come and meet the press officers. Whereabouts did you meet them?

  • Was there any hospitality afforded to you when you attended?

  • I may have had a cup of tea.

  • In paragraph 10, you tell us about pre-verdict briefings. Can I just be clear what the benefit to you of those briefings is? Is it so that you are fully aware of the facts when the verdict comes in, so that if the verdict is a guilty verdict, you can publish straight away with confidence?

  • Would it be right that if the verdict is not guilty, then it all falls away?

  • You tell us at paragraph 12 that you've been out on police operations. You describe going out in an armed response vehicle and also accompanying officers on stop-and-search operations targeted at knife crime.

  • Do you think that that sort of opportunity is a good thing or a bad thing?

  • I think it's a good thing because it's -- I think what's being lost so far over this period of months is the good things that the Metropolitan Police and other police forces do. I mean, the idea of going out with the armed response vehicle was to sort of give some kind of idea as to what armed officers do on a daily basis and to give the public a general overview of what they do.

    The knife operation was alongside a -- as you can see in the exhibits -- an article on the successes that the Met had had in seizing knives over the previous, I think, year or few months.

  • Did you feel properly equipped, from an ethical point of view, to deal with any of the issues which might have arisen while you were out and about on operations? I'm thinking here about issues to do with not compromising police operations, the identity of suspects, privacy issues and that sort of thing.

  • Absolutely 100 per cent. I mean, you know, every time we do something with the police, we are working with them. We're not working against them. If something had happened in one of those operations, then discussions would then take place with the press office as to what exactly could be printed and what couldn't. We're not in the business of going against what they would -- what would be agreed upon before we set out on that outing with the police.

  • In that vein of co-operation, you tell us at paragraph 14 about an incident where you obtained information about a criminal offence and you passed it to the police. The suspect in that case was a Mr Siraj Ali, who had been responsible for attempted bomb attacks on 21 July 2005. Can I ask you how you came about that information? Was it as a result of a tip or did you positively go out to investigate Mr Ali?

  • What happened was that two weeks prior to, I think, the article that eventually went in about him being recalled, we ran a story about Mr Ali's being released from prison and the fact that he was in a bail hostel. We were then contacted by somebody, who wasn't a police officer, who said that he believed that Mr Ali was smuggling drugs in the bail hostel. This was a clear breach of his licence conditions. As a result, he obtained some footage of Mr Ali. We then obviously called the Metropolitan Police and they came, took that footage. He was then tested on one occasion and was clear, two days later tested again and then recalled to prison because he'd tested positive.

  • As a newspaper reporter with responsibility for crime, do you ever instigate investigations into people who you suspect of criminal wrongdoing?

  • I would say no, simply because we don't really have the resources to do such investigations.

  • Moving on now in your statement to paragraph 15, where you describe contact at various levels with people within the Metropolitan Police Service. You tell us about attending commissioners' briefings and having met commissioners at Press Bureau Christmas drinks. Can you give us a flavour of the sort of messages that the commissioners have sent out during these briefings?

  • Well, it's likely to be talking about anything that they either proactively would like in the newspapers but also he takes a range of -- all the commissioners I've dealt with have taken a range of questions during those briefings about stuff that is going on at the current time.

  • You tell us at paragraph 15C that you had lunch once with the Assistant Commissioner John Yates, possibly in 2009. Can you recall what you discussed at lunch with Mr Yates?

  • I've been trying to think. I really can't recall much of what was said at that meeting. Certainly, nothing that springs to mind, nothing that resulted in any kind of story. It was more to meet Mr Yates as a senior member of the police force.

  • Whereabouts was the lunch?

  • I can't remember exactly the restaurant. It would have been a restaurant around Scotland Yard.

  • Was there any alcohol consumed?

  • You tell us at subparagraph D that you also attended a lunch as part of a group with Andy Hayman. At the time you made your statement, you weren't able to recall who else was present, but we've drawn your attention to a document provided by Mr Hayman, his electronic diary. Has that refreshed your memory --

  • -- as to who was there? That record says that as well as yourself, there was Martin Brunt from Sky, Guy Smith from BBC London and Richard Edwards of the Standard. Does that mean the Evening Standard?

  • Can you recall the topics of conversation at that lunch?

  • Those lunches in -- were at a time where there was a heightened fear of terror because of the attacks in 2005, and the lunches were largely to give sort of context and an overview of the current counter-terrorism situation. They were on the basis that they were completely non-reportable, but I don't remember thinking: "He shouldn't have said that" or anything of that nature. It was to give a general overview, as I say, and context.

  • The record tells us that the lunch took place at Boisdales restaurant. Can you recall whether there was any alcohol involved?

  • I think there was on that occasion.

  • Have you been to lunch with any other very senior members of the Metropolitan Police Service or is it just Mr Yates and Mr Hayman?

  • Well, I think I say in my statement I had one lunch with Mr Fedorcio.

  • We'll come to that in a moment. I'm thinking about operational officers at the moment.

  • Not that I can recall. Not of assistant -- DAC level.

  • Can I take it, therefore, that the approach of these two very senior officers stood in some contrast to the behaviour of the other very senior officers who have served whilst you've been a crime reporter?

  • I couldn't judge, sir. I think maybe I just had not been to lunch with others. That doesn't mean that other people weren't having lunches. I just -- I couldn't really comment.

  • You do tell us, as you mentioned a moment ago, about a lunch you had about 18 months after you began as crime correspondent with Mr Fedorcio. Can you recall where that took place?

  • I believe that was at Shepherds.

  • Is that a restaurant?

  • It's a restaurant close to the Home Office.

  • Who attended that lunch?

  • Myself and Mr Fedorcio.

  • What was the purpose of the meal?

  • We hadn't had an opportunity, apart from the occasional word at press briefings, to really get to know each other, and it was simply on that basis of introducing myself better than just going: "Hello".

  • Did you notice any change in your relations with the Directorate of Public Affairs?

  • Did it improve them or ...?

  • It -- to be honest with you, it did nothing to my relationship with Mr Fedorcio. I mean, he knew who I was. I would like to say at this point though that at that lunch he made it very clear that it was paramount that the Metropolitan Police didn't leak information, didn't leak stories, and I was left with, you know, on no uncertain terms, that if I was going to get any stories, it certainly wouldn't be from him or from the Press Bureau, in the sense of stories that are not formally put out.

  • In your dealings with Mr Fedorcio and the DPA, did you believe that you were being treated equally with other competitors or did you ever sense that there was favouritism at the DPA?

  • I think -- so there's a distinction that needs to be made, really, in that daily and Sunday newspapers are very different beasts and by the very nature of things happening during the week, they will be reported in daily newspapers. There's always going to be a greater emphasis on dailies, but sometimes I did feel that more could be done for Sunday newspapers.

  • So the division really between the dailies and the Sundays as opposed to one newspaper and another?

  • Yeah, absolutely. I don't think it was a degree of favouritism for the dailies. It's just I think the mindset was generally: "We need to get this out."

  • You tell us at paragraph 16 that Mr Yates gave you his work mobile phone number. Was that unusual for such a senior officer?

  • I wouldn't have thought so.

  • Did you have the mobile phone numbers of other very senior officers at the Metropolitan Police?

  • Well, I hadn't been out with them on any occasions and I think I may have had -- I'm -- I mean, I don't know if I did, but I was certainly given cards at briefings by other officers. I couldn't tell you if they had their mobile number on those cards or not, though.

  • Are you able to make any comparison between the sort of numbers that you were holding and those that your competitors had?

  • You tell us at paragraph 17 about the mutual interest that there can be when the police and the media work together, and you give, as an example of that, the common interest in reporting matters accurately. But there will, of course, be occasions when there is a conflict of interest, for example, if you want to run a negative story about the Metropolitan Police, and later in your statement you tell us of just such a story which you ran about the failure to apprehend the night-stalker earlier than in fact happened. When you are researching and working on a negative story about the Metropolitan Police, have you found that they've remained co-operative or do they seek to clam up and dissuade you from investigating?

  • Who are you referring to here?

  • The Metropolitan Police Service in general.

  • In general? No, I find that when you go to the Met with a negative story, they will be -- as far as I'm aware -- honest and open about it. Whether they would be proactive with that information is, of course, another matter.

  • I'm getting the sense that you might have to prod them a little bit more if you're after the bad news rather than the good. Is that fair?

  • Well, I just think that they won't put out bad news as a general rule, because I think it would damage the image of the Metropolitan Police. If I was to get a story about the Metropolitan Police that was negative, and I went to them with that, they would either confirm or deny that, and in my experience they have largely been truthful.

  • You tell us at paragraph 19 of your statement of an occasion which arose when the police asked you, for operational reasons, not to publish a story by Doreen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks. You tell us that you agreed not to run this story. Was that because of the reasons that the police gave for not wanting it published?

  • And then -- and I'm sure this must have been much to your frustration -- you say that the story then appeared in the Sun the following week?

  • No, that's the story that is the one afterwards.

  • That's a different story?

  • Yes, the story that you make reference to there is -- as I say, we had a story about --

  • I see, my mistake.

  • So is it your understanding that when the police ask, for operational reasons, that newspapers don't publish, that on the whole that's abided by across the board?

  • Can we move now to the socialising that you tell us about at paragraph 22 of your witness statement. You say that you've been out socially with various officers of most ranks. When you say "most ranks", can you give us an idea of the span of ranks that you have entertained?

  • Between constable and chief superintendent.

  • You say that these have included taking senior officers out to lunch. What other sort of social opportunities have you taken with officers from the Metropolitan Police Service?

  • It could be anything between sort of going for a coffee, going for a sandwich, going for a pint after work. I mean, it's just general normal social situations such as those, really.

  • Is the purpose of these events, from your point of view, to cultivate contacts and to encourage the flow of information, the stories, whether immediately or in due course?

  • It's to cultivate trust, as far as I'm concerned. I think the trust is all important because I think what's being lost is that these are highly professional people, who -- some have been in the job for 20, 25 years, but when they're dealing with heinous crimes, murders and robberies and such, they need to trust the person they are speaking to about the information that they are releasing. They need to feel confident that I will use that information in the right way and that I'm not going to print something that could jeopardise that inquiry, and I think going out for a drink and getting to know people -- they get to know me, that they can trust me. As a result, they tell me information and, you know, to think that all information the police give is somehow shady and illegitimate is just incorrect. Most of the time, it's about the inquiries that they're working on.

  • Have you found it to be an effective and productive method of engendering trust and encouraging the flow of information?

  • I do find it helps build up trust, because the more you get to know somebody, the more you know about them, the more you can work out whether you can trust them or not.

  • And the information that results, is it given to you sometimes on the record and sometimes off the record?

  • When you've been given information off the record on these social occasions, have you ever had any instances where you've been given opinions by officers which are not the Metropolitan Police house line?

  • When you say "opinion", you mean opinion on --

  • On a particular subject. We had a witness yesterday who told us about being given various opinions about, for example, knife-proof vests and things like that.

  • Occasionally, but it's not something that I would ever then use in a story. I see it as one officer's opinion.

  • Have you ever come across senior officers briefing against each other?

  • It's not something I've been made aware of, no.

  • Have you ever been given or offered information about the involvement of a famous person with the police, whether as a victim of crime or because they've got into trouble?

  • From a police officer? Not that I recall.

  • What about a civilian member of police staff?

  • In my experience, a lot of celebrity stories tend to be from members of the public or people that are associated with those celebrities rather than from the police. I think there's a real perception that the police are a leaky sieve, and in my experience that's not necessarily been the case.

  • Have you ever had a police whistle-blower come to you?

  • How do you define whistle-blower? In the sense of the night-stalker story that you mentioned?

  • Someone who is coming to you to give you information which is not in the public domain, which is in the public interest, but not necessarily a matter which the Metropolitan Police have been broadcasting?

  • Oh, yes. As I say, the example that you referred to about the mess-up in the night-stalker investigation. Other times where a police officer has been fired for gross misconduct, you could argue that's certainly in the public interest, that the public have a right to know if a public servant has been fired for doing something terrible.

  • When you get that sort of story, what is your understanding of when it is in the public interest to publish otherwise confidential information about the Metropolitan Police?

  • Well, it's just that. You know, it has to be in the public good, in the sense of releasing information that would not come out otherwise. I think part of our job is certainly to hold the police to account, and, as I have found in my time, the police will not put out information that is negative for them.

  • You tell us in your statement that some of the contacts that you've cultivated within the police you've come to consider as friends. Can you give us some idea about how many people you would put into that category?

  • Couple of handfuls, a dozen or so.

  • You tell us later in your statement about the regional forces and your experience of dealing with them. Can I ask you to contrast and compare your experience of dealing with regional forces and the Metropolitan Police Service? Have you noticed significant differences?

  • It tends to be -- regional forces only tend to really engage with the national press when they have a huge story on their grounds. Say, Surrey Police with Milly Dowler, Kent Police with the Securitas robbery. Apart from that, they don't tend to engage in the same way as the Metropolitan Police do.

  • You give the example of Milly Dowler and you tell us, at paragraph 27 of your statement, how they organised briefings and indeed some functions, which included a few beers in a bar between senior officers, press officers and reporters. Am I understanding it right that that was, in your experience, a wholly unusual thing for a regional force to do?

  • Yes, it didn't happen very often.

  • Did you have any informal contact with police officers in the Milly Dowler investigation?

  • Can we move now to paragraph 30 of your witness statement, where you mention, amongst others, the example of the Suffolk police's investigation of the Suffolk strangler. I think you're aware of some evidence that was given yesterday by Mr Harrison, suggesting that the Sunday Mirror had interviewed a suspect and had taken him away in a car which exhibited defensive counter-surveillance driving.

    We've been given a copy of an article dated 17 December 2006, published in the Sunday Mirror and I have been told by your counsel that the relevant section is in the first column near the bottom, where the text tells us that the person in question, a Mr Stevens, was spoken to by a Sunday Mirror reporter -- not you but a Michael Duffy -- in a car park near his home and not in a hotel, as Mr Harrison described yesterday. What's your personal knowledge of these events?

  • Well, I was in Suffolk at the time, but my job was largely to deal with the police, but I was aware in the morning that -- one morning, we were going through the newspapers and Mr Stevens' name was referred to as someone who had associated with prostitutes. I can't remember the exact context of that, but his name certainly was in the local paper.

    Mr Duffy then traced him through by use of the electoral roll, knocked on his door and asked him if he'd like to speak to us. You can see the results of the interview that was published.

  • Can you help me, do you know whether anyone involved with the Sunday Mirror's activity in relation to this story was a private investigator?

  • Not as far as I'm aware.

  • Anybody with ex-special forces experience?

  • It couldn't be further from the truth.

  • Are you able to help us as to whether or not there was any counter-surveillance technique involved when Mr Stevens was driven to the car park where he gave the interview?

  • I -- sorry if I appear flippant, but I almost laughed out loud when I heard that quote.

  • It is interesting, but do you have a comment on the publication in the Sunday Mirror of a very, very lengthy article with somebody in respect of whom proceedings are then active?

  • Well, I believe that the tapes we then handed over to the police as a result of our interview would do more to help the investigation than hinder it, sir.

  • I don't think, with respect, proceedings were then active. He wasn't arrested until the following day.

  • I think the factual position, if you look at the paragraph above, the one I was reading from -- it says:

    "Stephen said he was quizzed by cops once in a car and three times at Ipswich police station. The first interview was just days after Tania was reported missing on October 30. The second interview was conducted under caution and recorded."

  • You've heard the Commissioner this morning express concern about publishing the name of suspects. On any view, Mr Stevens was a suspect and had been questioned several times. Having heard the Commissioner, do you now have concerns about the approach to this story?

  • I think this story was a unique position, in the sense of Mr Stevens was declaring himself as a suspect. I think you'll read there he actually said, "If I was the police, I'd arrest me too." I mean, you know, that is a unique situation. That's not something certainly that has ever happened in my career, that I've been speaking to someone who has declared themselves as a suspect. In any other given situation, if you say that somebody is a suspect, then of course the chances are they will go on the run, which is -- in the story that I referred to that we didn't run, which was that a former Flying Squad officer held up a bookmakers -- clearly, it was a story that was of interest to me. I called the police and said, "This is the story we're planning on running." I was then asked not to run that story because, although he had been named internally on the intranet at Scotland Yard, there were hidden cameras that he wasn't aware of, so he was not aware that the police knew who he was. Now, we did not run that story for that reason.

  • Can I move now to paragraph 42 of your witness statement, which is dealing with ethical issues. You confirm that you never paid police officers for stories, but you go further than that and say that you seek to avoid putting the police in a position where they feel that they should provide information to you in exchange for anything that they consider that they are getting from you.

    Isn't the difficulty with that that where, as you've described, you're sometimes giving hospitality to senior police officers, that hospitality might give rise to an expectation that they will then co-operate with you without hesitation?

  • I think there needs to be a common sense approach. I mean, you can see from my records I've lunched with the senior officer you've mentioned once. I'm hardly showering them with hospitality, and I think that, yes, if you are taking the same officer out on a weekly basis, then clearly the perception of that would clearly be wrong. If it's the occasional meeting, then no, I don't see that that is in any way considered -- should be considered as me expecting anything back for it.

  • Trinity Mirror has a system for recording hospitality. Is it right that you don't record the name of the person that you've given hospitality to or do you?

  • It depends. On these occasions, I certainly would have declared the name.

  • In the hospitality register?

  • Has the Metropolitan Police, or indeed any other police force, ever tried to dissuade you from publishing a story which is critical of the police force?

  • No, I don't believe so.

  • Moving to the future, do you think that giving police officers clear guidance as to what they can and cannot properly say to the media would assist in encouraging clear and confident communications in the future?

  • I would encourage training of any sort for police officers, certainly media training, because in my experience you have some officers who are quite confident in dealing with the press, and they, in my experience, know what they can and cannot say. Other officers clam up and will not speak to you, even if it would benefit their investigation. So yes.

  • Your statement is very sceptical about the possibility of requiring police officers to record contact with the media. Do you think that if they clearly understand what's permissible and what's not, so there's no concern about whether they will be effectively confessing to something they shouldn't have done -- do you think in those circumstances there would be any difficulty with a minimal level of recording, something which is not going to be administratively burdensome?

  • The problem I have, in speaking to officers about this, is that these standard operating procedures that the Commissioner referred to, they're not only for association with reporters but also for association, for example, with criminals. What's happened, I understand, in the past is that say, for example, an officer's brother was arrested over something. Well, then what happens, as I understand, is that there's a risk assessment on that officer as to what risk he then poses to the organisation in the area that he is in.

    Now, I would imagine -- I've been told that the same thing would happen with association with the press. The point here is that that officer, I understand, will then be very likely not to be placed on investigations where there is sensitive material or involving certain people --

  • Well, who has said that to you? Are you saying that people are likening the problems arising from a relationship with a criminal with the relationship with a journalist? I mean, that's ridiculous, isn't it?

  • Mr Hogan-Howe said -- he was referring to -- his comment was: "I believe we stopped serving alcohol to suspects a long time ago." I refer to the same thing. We are being treated almost like criminals to a certain extent.

  • I think you're taking Mr Hogan-Howe's comment entirely out of context, but there it is.

  • That was, in fact, the last of my questions. Thank you very much.

  • Sir, could I just say, before he leaves the witness box, one or two things about the Sunday Mirror article which wasn't before the Inquiry yesterday when Mr Harrison gave evidence and which you've only had a few moments to look at?

    First of all, the assumption that was made by Mr Duffy, the reporter who found Mr Stevens, was that he had been ruled out by the police.

  • That's clear from the second column on page 4, about halfway down.

    The other point that perhaps I can be forgiven for raising now is the evidence that was given --

  • No, Mr Browne, I don't want a speech about it because each one of these witnesses might generate some points. I'm sure you'll be able to make submissions about this in due course. If there's a specific error that you feel ought to be corrected, by all means, but if I start to permit you to develop an argument, then I am going to be in terrible trouble with others who want to do likewise.

  • Well, yes, but my clients, it was suggested yesterday, had put a Sunday Mirror surveillance team on to the police, who were in turn surveying Mr Stevens. There clearly was no surveillance team. The evidence of Mr Harrison was unsourced hearsay about something that had been said to him during the course of a briefing on either Tuesday or Wednesday --

  • Put in some evidence, Mr Browne. I'm not hearing this now. If you want to do something, by all means do, but I think that to start to receive submissions at this stage, on the evidence I've heard, will start to take me a very great deal of time.

  • I'm only concerned, in the light of what Mr Harrison said, that the Inquiry should be fair to the Sunday Mirror reporters involved and to Mr Duffy and to Mr Penrose.

  • Mr Browne, I hope that I've been trying to be fair to everybody throughout.

  • Sir, the next witness is Mr Pettifor.