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

  • MR TIMOTHY JOHN GORDON (sworn).

  • Thank you very much for coming from South Wales, Mr Gordon.

  • Please give your full name.

  • You've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 10 February this year?

  • You've signed a statement of truth in the standard form; is that right?

  • Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • You've been the editor of the South Wales Echo since November 2010?

  • Before that, you edited Wales on Sunday for eight years?

  • You've worked as a journalist for over 20 years?

  • In that time, you've been a general reporter, night editor of the Western Mail, and worked on the news desk at ITV Wales?

  • You've not at any time been a specialist crime reporter, however?

  • Your crime correspondent, Abby Alford, has provided a statement to the Inquiry. Her statement is taken as read. That's right, isn't it?

  • She happens to be on maternity leave, so it's perfectly reasonable that we do that. Thank you.

  • Before I move on to relations between the media and South Wales Police from your perspective, what sort of crime story does your paper aim to cover? Is there any particular kind?

  • Oh, it's a wide and varied range of crime stories, from small local crimes all the way through to big murder cases, and obviously police stories as well in terms of job losses or what's happening generally with the police.

  • So it's the full range, not just about the crimes themselves, but to some degree police politics?

  • In terms of the culture, you say that you would describe the relationship generally as straightforward and professional?

  • But you understand from talking to some of your reporters that it can be difficult to get information quickly from police press officers?

  • Yes, there have been issues over the years with the police press office officers, particularly at weekends when they don't work, when we can find it particularly difficult to get information. When the press officers aren't working on the weekends, our reporters call up the duty inspectors and often we have found -- a certain amount of reporters have told me that even though they have been told that something is happening -- a member of the public may have rung in to say there's an incident happening in such-and-such a place -- once we ring up the duty inspector, they quite often say to us: "No, there's nothing happening, we don't know anything", and then on the Monday/Tuesday, a press release might come out detailing an incident that has happened.

  • Have you sought to resolve that issue?

  • Partly -- part of the meeting that we had with the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable, part of the conversations that we had during that meeting were in relation to that at the time. They were talking about staffing, over the weekends, the press office, but that hasn't happened yet.

  • Your crime reporter, Abigail Alford, says that since approximately 2009 she's noticed a gradual sea change in that the police seem more hesitant about making contact with the press than previously. First of all, is that something you recognise, a sea change, and secondly, is it something you can account for?

  • It's certainly something that a lot of my reporters talk about. Somebody like Abby -- it's interesting that Abby thinks that as well herself. Somebody like Abby, who would have regular contact with the police and would build up contacts with the police offers, would have a better opportunity to get information flowing quickly and more freely. Other reporters might find that more difficult because they don't have the contacts and they don't know the specific officers, so it could be a question of trust there to begin with.

  • Funnily enough, I asked some of our reporters to put some notes together for me before I came down today, and one of them has told me about Gwent police -- if you don't mind going through this -- where, in the recent times, in recent weeks, the Chief Constable of Gwent police has put together guidelines for police officers and media. In these guidelines, which I understand have been sent to every police officer in the force, they've been told they cannot speak to a member of the media without prior permission from the press office.

    When we asked the head of press why these guidelines had been created, my reporter was told they were tightening up due to Leveson and the Filkin report.

  • They can't be tightening up due to anything I've done yet.

  • I think there's a general feeling -- I've certainly noticed it as well in the past few months -- that people are deciding not to engage with each other and not to talk openly with each other. So there is almost a sense that everybody is waiting to see what the outcome is. People are already beginning to not talk to each other, and the fact that this has happened in Gwent would suggest that that's true.

  • Yes. I just wonder, when you raised the issue about the weekend duty, why the answer to the Chief Constable wasn't: "You don't need a press officer on duty weekend; you just need the inspector to be prepared to tell us!"

  • Absolutely. That's absolutely correct and right. In the meetings that we had with the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable, you actually find out that the higher up the force you get, there's certainly a feeling there that they're willing for more information to be released, but that notion doesn't seem to have trickled down to the officers.

  • It's a bit difficult to draw that inference in relation to Gwent.

  • Certainly in relation to Gwent, it's entirely the opposite, yeah.

  • You haven't received a copy of that --

  • I don't have a copy of that, no.

  • In terms of your personal contact, as editor of the South Wales Echo, with South Wales Police, you set out in your statement the level of contact with the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and assistant chief constables.

  • What you say can probably be taken as read, but is it fair to summarise your contact as limited mainly to very formal meetings to discuss issues of concern at that time?

  • Very much so, yes. Yeah, a very sort of professional relationship that is dealt with on that basis.

  • I think there was one meeting that was of a more social nature.

  • Yes. Following on from the meeting that we had in our offices, the first meeting came about when the police cuts were being announced. So they wanted to talk to us about the police cuts that were coming in, we wanted to talk to them about the issues we had about the flow of information, so we had that meeting and following on from that meeting, we invited the Chief Constable and his partner and the Deputy Chief Constable and her partner to an evening dinner, the Inspire Wales awards.

  • But it's not your practice to have regular or even occasional lunch or dinner meetings with senior officers?

  • No. I think it's probably a point well worth making in terms of the differences, as I see it, certainly between the regionals and the nationals when it comes to expense accounts and expense policies -- I did a sum last week in preparation for coming down here, where I looked at how much we spent in a year on entertaining people. This took into account editors and probably 58 journalists who would be front-facing, so who would have the opportunity to take somebody out for a drink or a meal, and the calculation that I came up with was that the average reporter/editor spends, on average, 71 pence a week on taking people out. It's not something that's in our culture and hasn't been for a very, very long time.

  • If the expense account were larger, would that alter things? Would that alter practices?

  • I may go to lunch more often! No.

  • Well, it's a cultural thing. It's not a precise amount of money; it's the way the business goes. Do you think that you run your relationship with the police as other regional editors run their relationships with their local forces and that London and the Met is just different? Or do you think there's a difference in Wales?

  • No, from what I know from my fellow regional editors -- and we do meet up quite often -- is that the way I'm expressing myself would be very, very similar to them.

  • And of course you're part of the Trinity Mirror Group?

  • So there are a large number of regional newspapers involved in that.

  • There are. We're the biggest regional newspaper group in Britain.

  • We've heard from other witnesses that these meetings over lunch and dinner can be useful in terms of fostering a relationship of trust. It's implicit in what you're saying that you don't feel it's necessary to have that level of contact for there to be a good working relationship between --

  • I certainly have no issue with a journalist taking somebody out for a drink or a journalist taking somebody out for lunch. It's just that we don't tend to do it that often.

  • But I don't have any problem with it.

  • And the other way around -- as far as you recall, you've never accepted hospitality from South Wales Police?

  • As far as I recall, no, I certainly haven't, unless of course you're -- you know, if a cup of tea when I visited the Butetown police station counts as hospitality, and there may have been the offer of a biscuit. I can't remember.

  • Turn to paragraph 24 of your statement, our page 00921. You expressed the view there that it's important that journalists maintain a professional relationship with police officers.

  • In your own words, where do the boundaries lie in this relationship?

  • I think it's really important for me that our journalists are totally professional in their dealings with the police. By that, I mean that they are honest, forthright and they deal with integrity in all their dealings with the police and police officers.

    I say that because it's important. Sure, you can get to know an officer, and I think there's a great value in our reporters getting to know their local officers so they can understand exactly what's happening in those areas, so they can have open and frank discussions with what's happening in their areas, crime, and the only way the public can be helped to allay the fears of crime or whatever. But also I think it's really, really crucial that that relationship is kept professional, so that if there ever comes a time when we have to ask the hard questions and we have to ask the hard questions of that police officer, that we can do so without fear or favour.

  • Did you have any difficulty, in connection with asking hard questions and in the light of your relationship with the police, in relation to your reporting of the collapse of the recent very substantial corruption trial?

  • No. No, we didn't. We were able to ask the hard questions, I think, although there are still some answers that are out there that haven't been given to us yet.

  • I'm not investigating the states of your investigative work; I'm just wanting to know how that impacted on the relationship.

  • Part of the meeting when the Deputy Chief Constable and the Chief Constable came to see us as well was also to do with that case, where are they informed us that they would be giving us a full off-the-record briefing on what was coming up in the case at the time. The officers in question, or the officers who are in command now, weren't part of the force at the time, so they were very clear that they wanted this to be an open appraisal of what had happened, because they didn't want to be coloured or tainted by what happened in the past.

  • And you found that's what happened as you asked questions, that they were open and --

  • Well, obviously we had to wait for the case to happen.

  • Then the case happened and it collapsed. There's a bigger story there, probably, than we know.

  • But you haven't found anything about your relationship has impacted adversely upon your ability to ask the questions and maintain the dialogue?

  • No, because our relationship is a purely professional one.

  • Do you give any training or guidance to your reporters or new reporters along the lines that you've set out to assist them in securing a professional relationship only?

  • Are you talking specifically as regards to the police?

  • There's no specific training where we say, "This is how you should deal with the police", but most of our journalists will have gone through journalism school, so they're all trained. If some of them come to us as trainees, then they're on a two-year probation period. So we have a training manager who trains them through for their NCTJ finals.

  • You don't give any additional guidance to your reporters about relations with the police or relations with contacts generally, about maintaining professional distance?

  • Yes, we do talk to the reporters about maintaining a professional distance from people, yeah. Or from the police, yeah.

  • How would you know if your crime reporter were developing an overly close relationship with any one or more police officers?

  • In terms of expenses -- obviously I've outlined that we don't really have huge expense accounts, but every expense within Trinity Mirror has to be signed off by a senior editor, so every expense is seen. Any gifts or -- well, any gifts or any hospitality which is given to one of our journalists which would be of a significant amount would be expected to be -- that journalist is -- under our policy guidelines, would have to let a senior editorial management know that that had happened.

  • So the expenses aren't just seen; they're scrutinised, are they?

  • They're scrutinised, yes.

  • When asked about the extent to which you oversee communications between your crime reporter and the police, you state that it would only be during discusses about stories that issues might arise.

  • What sort of matters might alert you to a problem?

  • Obviously during conversations when we're discussing stories that have come up, if there's anything at all in there that my instinct would lead me to think that there might be something awry or something not right, then I would be asking the questions: where did the information come from? Who gave it to you? How did you get it? And then we would discuss the story and decide whether we believed that story was right for publication or not.

  • Are you aware of any reporter receiving information from a police officer that might be termed a leak? When I say "leak", I mean information that that officer might not be allowed to provide to a journalist?

  • Would you be concerned if one of your reporters were actively seeking that information from a police officer or a member of civilian staff?

  • Actively seeking? What do you mean by actively seeking that information?

  • I suppose asking questions that might go further than the police officer would otherwise be prepared to go.

  • No, I can't see one of our reporters doing that. I know that Abby, in her statement, was quite clear that she never ever asked an officer to give her information that he would be unhappy with it appearing in print.

  • If Ms Alford were to come to you and say, "A police officer has just given me information, I think it's a leak, I don't think he or she was authorised to give me that information", what, if anything, would you do at that stage?

  • We'd have to sit down and discuss what that story was and what that leak was. If it had to do with the public interest and we felt that our readers should know about it, then we would have a discussion about the story. We would look to see if we could stand it up in another area, from another source as well, at the same time, and we would discuss it fully with our lawyers as well before publication if we decided to publish.

  • It's not so much merely that an officer might not be authorised; it's if it was abundantly clear he positively wouldn't have been authorised, that he'd been forbidden from doing it. That's really the tenor.

  • Yeah. Again, this is down to the public interest, so we would have the public interest discussion about it.

  • Have you or, to your knowledge, your reporter received any unofficial prior notification about arrests or raids or other police action?

  • I know that reporters are often given notification of some arrests and sometimes they're invited to go along on raids to pick up people. Say, cannabis farms or whatever. So that happens quite a lot. When I attended the Butetown police station as a guest, I was taken into the Monday conference meeting, where all the events of the weekend were discussed and that -- I was alerted to the fact that there may have been some arrests that day. But that's very, very, very unusual.

  • In terms of the future, you set out in your statement what you say should not be done. You're concerned about avenues being closed off or a code of practice being created which encourages no discussion or puts in place a filter, for instance the press office. Do you have any thoughts on what should be done?

  • I am all for the free flow of information. I think it's really important in a democratic society that that happens. I'm concerned that Gwent police have announced that their officers can't talk to the media unless they are given prior permission from their press office. I'm concerned that we find it difficult to get information and weekends and even during the week I'm concerned that there are occasions when the press officers can be difficult and it seems like they're withholding information from us. I would much prefer that we could move forward trusting each other, that my reporters could build and develop relationships with police officers on a professional basis, so there is no fear of favour granted on either side but that the information is free flowing, and I would much prefer if police were encouraged to give as much information as they possibly could.

  • If the police are encouraged to give as much information as they possibly can, and they are given clear guidelines, would you have concerns about any requirement to make a written record of contact with journalists?

  • I think my fear about a written record -- it already sounds like you're proposing that there may be something wrong with talking to a journalist and the mere fact that you're suggesting that everything has to be written down and taken as a note --

  • No, no, I don't think that Ms Boon was suggesting that everything had to be written down, but that the fact of contact should be noted, as you might note something else.

  • Well, my only concern in that area would be that if you are putting up an extra block, even if it's just taking a note, unless it's to officers who have an abundance of notes to take already and are always complaining about having an abundance of notes to take and not having enough time to go out and do their job because of form-filling all the time -- that would be my concern, that that's just another thing that they would have to do. I would rather let the relationship move forward. There is a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and professionalism.

  • I wasn't suggesting, and I don't think Ms Boon was suggesting, form-filling, but, for example, a note in a diary: "Met Mr Gordon of the South Wales Echo, discussed burglary statistics in Romney(?)", or whatever.

  • As I say, my only fear would be, as I mentioned before, that it's just another thing that may discourage officers from talking.

  • Just to test it in this way: police officers are accustomed, when they're out on patrol or generally operationally, to making records in their pocket notebooks of contact that they've had, what they've been doing. They know that by doing that there's no suggestion that what they've done is inherently wrong. Do you think it could not be seen as part of an officer's day that if he or she speaks to a journalist, that a brief record is made?

  • I can see that as a possibility, but I still have the feeling that it has a tinge of: if they're talking to a journalist, they have to be very careful of what they're talking about.

  • Is there anything you would like to add to anything you said before or to your statement?

  • No, only that that I'd like it to be sort of clear that there is a huge difference between the regional press and what appears to be happening in the nationals, or in some nationals. The regional press is a very, very different arena and we seem to work in what appears to be a very different way, judging by some of the stuff that has been said in this Inquiry. We work within our communities. We work very close to our communities. Integrity is a mainstay of our business. It's really important for us to be honest, it's really important for us to try and tell the truth. We work in our areas every day, so our readers won't allow us to get away with anything that isn't right, and that's what we try and aspire to do every day.

  • You say that there are a number of differences between the regional media and the national media. Do you feel that you've referred to all the differences that you would like to?

  • When I say "differences", I'm only speaking in terms of some the things that have come out from the Inquiry.

  • Thank you. Those are my questions.

  • A couple more questions, if I could ask. First of all, I have seen another editor from South Wales, as you probably know.

  • But I am keen to learn whether there is anything in the way in which life operates in Wales that is different from what I've learnt not about the nationals -- I take your point on that -- but in perhaps the regions of England that I should have regard to, whether there's any particular Welsh feature which you feel it's appropriate to bring to my attention.

  • It's a difficult question for me to answer. I have only ever worked in England in Leicester, and that was over 20 years ago.

  • So I don't know if there is a huge variation, but from talking to other editors around a group, I don't believe so.

  • All right. My second question is this: I'm very grateful to you and obviously your staff, who have helped fill you in on details. Is there anything that you've picked up from them that, albeit hearsay, you would like to share with me from the work that you've done preparing to come today?

  • I think the only thing from my staff is that there is a fear that it's becoming harder and harder to talk to police officers, it's becoming harder and harder to get a release of information, quickly, timely, and clear, and that would be our main concern. Because of the way we work and the communities that we work in, it's really important for us that information flow is fast and that it is -- that it comes to us without any issues or any problems with it, that we can't get access to it.

    If you could imagine sort of working in an environment nowadays where you have social media, you have Twitter, you have Facebook. Our reporters are hearing about things happening on Facebook and Twitter before the police are confirming them to us, before they are telling us what's happening, and for us, what we really need to do is have a relationship with the police where they will release information to us as quickly as possible.

  • I understand that. Mr Gordon, thank you very much indeed for coming.

  • Sir, we have three witnesses from the West Midlands.

  • I have decided, subject to your view -- and I haven't discussed it with you -- that we'll hear Mr Faber first. He's the editor of the Birmingham Express & Star. Then we'll hear the Chief Constable and Inspector Sally Seeley together, but after Mr Faber.

  • I'm entirely in your hands, Mr Jay. Not always, but on this occasion.

  • Thank you. So it's Mr Faber, please.