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

  • MR ALAN ARTHUR JOHNSON (affirmed).

  • Mr Johnson, you've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement. Are the contents true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • Mr Johnson, thank you very much indeed for the work you've put into the evidence. I appreciate there are many calls on your time and I'm grateful for the assistance.

  • You have been the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle since 1997. In the last Labour government, you were a Cabinet Minister between 2004 and 2010, including, of particular interest to the Inquiry, a period as Home Secretary between June 2009 and May 2010; is that right?

  • You tell us in your witness statement a little bit about the strategic leadership role that the Home Secretary has in relation to the police. The Home Secretary sets overall policy direction, is responsible for the allocation of national funding to forces, for the legislative framework within which the police operate, and there are also some powers of direct intervention; is that right?

  • You explain the role of the Police Authority, the IPCC and the HMIC. The Inquiry is very familiar with those bodies and so I needn't dwell on the detail, but can I ask you this: is it right that the Home Secretary has a power to ask the HMIC to enquire into aspects of police performance?

  • Yes, I think that's right and I think their role, which was very much adviser to the Home Secretary, is an important one.

  • You then move to deal with the question of standards, setting out for us in your statement the December 2008 Home Office guidance on misconduct. I'm looking now at page 2 of your witness statement. The quotation reads:

    "Police officers never accept any gift or gratuity that could compromise their impartiality during the course of their duties, police officers may be offered hospitality, for example refreshments, and this may be acceptable as part of their role. However, police officers always consider carefully the motivation of the person offering a gift or gratuity of any type and the risk of becoming improperly beholden to a person or organisation."

    In the light of what we now know about police relations with the media, do you think this guidance is sufficient or do you think there is room for it to be developed?

  • It seems to me to be sufficient. I'd be fascinated in the outcome of this Inquiry, but of course there is an issue here about -- you don't need guidance to know how to act properly and improperly, so I think that guidance, which I actually thought was much more recent, but it seems that it was 2008, is sensible. I never saw it in my period as Home Secretary. I wouldn't have expected to have read it. I would expect people to act with the professionalism that one expects both from police and politicians.

  • That's a very fair comment, but let me ask you this: from your perspective, having held the office of Home Secretary, do you think that the evidence -- and you may not have seen it or read it or heard about it -- that I have heard about the extent of hospitality demonstrates a lack of good sense?

  • That would appear to be the case, sometimes at junior levels in the police and sometimes at very senior levels.

  • So although you and I might easily agree that rules are there for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools and that you can't govern everything by rules -- people have to understand what's going on and behave appropriately -- the question then arises whether something doesn't have to be said that makes that point rather more clearly.

  • I think that's a very fair point. From the circumstances that you're inquiring into, it's quite obvious that that guidance probably wasn't sufficient and that more is needed. That would have surprised me as Home Secretary at the time.

  • And perhaps has surprised you as you've read what I've heard in the course of the last few months.

  • I don't need to explore what you've told us about the media advisory group's guidance or the National Centre for Policing Excellence guidance because we're familiar with that. You tell us though a little bit about how the operational independence of the police works in practice vis-a-vis your role as Home Secretary, and that what actually happens in practice is that you don't have control over police operations and investigations but you are briefed about more important and significant operations and investigations; is that right?

  • The Home Secretary has responsibility for appointing the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. That's a role which also involves the Mayor of London, isn't it?

  • During your tenure, you were not responsible for the appointment of a Commissioner, but you were responsible for the appointment of the Deputy Commissioner, Tim Godwin; is that right?

  • Can you help us a little bit with how that process operated?

  • Well, so far as I can recall, it's the same as most senior appointments in other government departments where I have worked. There is a process that sifts candidates to whether they're above the line or below the line on certain pretty straightforward criteria of competence, experience, et cetera. At the end of that process, in this particular case, I believe there were two candidates that we had to -- that we were presented with, and we made the decision based on the -- a submission about the qualities of those two candidates, but then it was very much a decision for myself and the Mayor of London.

  • When you were making your decision with the Mayor of London, did you take into account the individuals' competence dealing with the media or was that not a consideration by the time it reached you?

  • It was a consideration, particularly as the Deputy Commissioner would have been expected to deal with the media. I wouldn't say it was the main condition that we were looking at. It was basically Tim Godwin's experience, his capabilities in policing, but the ability to connect and communicate with the media -- it may have been more a Mayor of London point than for me but I don't think it was a very prominent feature.

  • You were looking for an experienced, capable police officer, and as I recollect, you were looking at somebody who'd been assistant commissioner for some time, who was the ACPO lead on crime and who had been responsible for a number of important criminal initiatives in London.

  • Yes. Actually, there wasn't much controversy about who to appoint between myself and the Mayor of London.

  • Are you able to help us one way or the other as to whether media handling and competence when dealing with the media is a matter that was considered before the papers came to you?

  • No, I can't. I'd be surprised if it wasn't, but I can't say that definitely.

  • Can we move now to the question of phone hacking. We can start perhaps by reminding ourselves, at tab 11 of the bundle, of the allegations which the Guardian published on 8 July 2009. In that article, the Guardian brought to the public's attention the fact that News Group Newspapers had paid out very large sum of money to settle a case. They accused News Group of suppressing evidence, and perhaps for our purposes, if we look at page 2 of 3, just above the top hole punch, the paragraph reads:

    "But one senior source at the Met told the Guardian that during the Goodman inquiry officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into thousands of mobile phones. Another source with direct knowledge of the police findings put the figure at 2 or 3,000 mobiles. They suggest that MPs from all three parties and Cabinet Ministers, including former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, were among the targets."

    Was this an article that you read on the day it was published?

  • Was it news to you that John Prescott and Tessa Jowell had been the subject of voicemail hacking?

  • Not about Tessa, but John was my colleague in East Hull -- so we're fellow Hull MPs -- and he had mentioned it before to me, actually before I was in the Home Office.

  • Over the page, towards the bottom --

  • I'm sorry, that answer might be slightly confusing. You didn't know about Tessa Jowell but you did know about John Prescott? Is that the way --

  • Yes. Your answer reads "not about Tessa". So was it news to you? Yes, it was news to you.

  • It was news to me about Tessa, but not about John Prescott.

  • Over the page, bottom hole punch:

    "Former Sunday Times editor Andy Neil described the story last night as one of the most significant media stories of modern times. 'It suggests that rather than being a one-off journalist or rogue private investigator, it was systemic throughout the News of the World and, to a lesser extent, the Sun,' he said. 'Particularly in the News of the World, this was a newsroom out of control.'"

    So it's plain from the face of the article, isn't it, that the Guardian, a reputable source, is saying senior politicians are being hacked, there's a cover-up, and the truth is thousands of phones have been intercepted and the rogue reporter defence is a sham.

  • We'll come to what happened in Parliament in a moment, but before we do that, can you tell us what your personal reaction was when you read that article?

  • Well, concern. I think it was only a Guardian story, I don't think it was in any of the other newspapers, but I was obviously concerned. I was actually on my way to my very first ACPO conference. I'd not met Sir Paul Stephenson up until that point, but this was a perfect opportunity to do so. So I raised this with him in a meeting that was hastily arranged in a corner of the Manchester conference centre, five or ten minutes for us to say hello to each other and for me to raise this issue. So it was important enough for it to be the subject of my first conversation with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

  • Did you agree with Andrew Neil's comment that if this was true, it was a media story of really very great importance indeed?

  • What happened in Parliament is Dr Evan Harris raised an urgent question for you, which is set out at the top of page 4 of your witness statement. Because you were in Manchester, the response was dealt on your behalf by Mr David Hanson, wasn't it?

  • You set out in your witness statement what he said to the house. In a nutshell, it was a holding response, wasn't it, whilst the position was investigated?

  • On 14 July, you and Mr Hanson received a submission from the Director General for the Crime and Policing Group after you'd requested some assistance as to whether or not the HMIC should be brought in to conduct an inquiry. First of all -- and it may be an obvious question: what was it that had made the idea of calling the HMIC cross your mind?

  • It was seeing my predecessor, Charles Clarke, on the media actually saying that he thought the HMIC had a role here. That's why I asked the department to look into it.

  • If we turn to tab 3 of the bundle, we see the advice that you received. Just looking at the first page of the document, looking at the summary paragraph, it reads:

    "Although a case can be made for requiring HMIC to carry out a review of the police handling of this case, on balance I consider it would set an unhelpful precedent and create an impression that any time concerns are raised about a specific police investigation, HMIC will investigate; it could lead to accusations that we are being led by the media, and that following recent exchanges with John Yates, we did not have full confidence in the MPS. I believe that we should await the outcome of the current CPS reviews, which is likely to be in the next few days. We should also wait to see whether the IPCC sees issues for it to investigate."

    And that advice to wait and see what the other bodies came up with was advice with which you agreed; is that right?

  • Yes. It was very sound advice. There's another factor that's not contained here, and it's the reason why David Hanson at the written -- at the ministerial statement had quite an easy time. It was the Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Greyling, who had a difficult time in Parliament, because of course the subtext to all of this was that the leader of the opposition had appointed Andy Coulson as his media adviser.

    So not only that advice was very sound; the other issue I had to be conscious of was that I was acting as the Home Secretary, not as a party politician looking to embarrass the Leader of the Opposition. The Coulson stuff is kind of an undercurrent to all of this in terms of the approach of politicians in government to this story.

  • But looking at the factors that are summarised in the paragraph that I've just read, it appears that some of them are essentially presentational, aren't they? There's a concern that there may be accusations about being led by the media or appearing to lack confidence in Mr Yates. Generally speaking, in this sort of territory, how important are presentational considerations as opposed to more substantive --

  • It's much further than presentational, with respect. I mean, for a Home Secretary to decide -- there's lots of police investigations going on, on a whole range of issues. For the Home Secretary to decide to intervene in an operational matter like this, on the basis of a newspaper article in one newspaper, not carried anywhere else in the media, when the Director of Public Prosecutions was looking into the evidence, would have been quite extraordinary. We can talk about benefit of hindsight later, but I think it would have been much more -- these are much more -- I think this is more than presentational. This is about the precedent that you would set. Front page of a newspaper, Home Secretary immediately responds by calling in HMIC --

  • And it's interfering with the operational independence of the police, at least on one level.

  • Which is the crucial issue, and which is really the guidance.

  • But were you surprised that -- you've commented that this was a very, very serious allegation. It's not just another newspaper article. You're probably quite used to newspaper articles. Were you surprised that actually, within the day, the police were able to say, "Nothing new here, don't need to worry"?

  • Well, there was a lot of pressure on them to respond quickly. It was very clear, when the Commissioner spoke to me, that he was asking John Yates not to have a complete drains-up inquiry on this; he was asking him to establish the facts around the case. And it was -- I said in Parliament subsequently, in a debate, when I was actually arguing to have this inquiry that you have to think of the atmospherics at the time. Most of the voices from other parts of the media was: this is the obsession of the Guardian. This was an element in this as well.

    So surprised that it was done so quickly. I'd have loved, quite honestly, to have -- politicians like to be seen to be doing things. Referring it to the HMIC would have been doing something, and in a sense would have be kind of protected me and been applauded by all kinds of people. Would it have been the right thing to do on the evidence in front of me? No, I still don't think it would have been.

  • I'm not questioning that judgment at all, but I am very interested in your view of what you describe as the atmospherics, and indeed your conversation with the Commissioner. A drains-up inquiry means we turn over every single page.

  • But did you appreciate that actually all Mr Yates was doing was seeing whether the article, on its face, provided anything new without necessarily going back to any of the underlying material at all?

  • Well, I think I was kind of relying on the Director of Public Prosecutions, who was already examining this -- we were at the stage of 14 July here -- to look at that.

    I was also quite reassured by -- you may be coming onto this and I apologise if you are, but by one element of what John Yates came back with in that very quick and hasty establishing the facts exercise. He said that the MPS has taken all proper steps to ensure that where we have evidence that people have been subject to any form of phone tapping or that there is any suspicion that they might have been, that they have been informed, and the inference from that was if they haven't already, then they will be, so for my friend and colleague in east Hull, John, I could say, "Look, there was this allegation there were lots of phone numbers that Mulcaire had. No one actually informed all the people whose phone numbers were in his possession."

    That struck me as being very important, because if those phone numbers were in his possession, there must be the suspicion that their phones had been hacked, and I thought, perhaps rather naively, that people like John and Tessa and others would be contacted as a result of that and that that would be a major element in reassuring them about what the MPS were doing.

  • So you read that as: "This is ongoing work that we're now going to do."

  • Not that it's all been done?

  • Yes. In fact, I believe that was actually relayed to me in a conversation.

  • I see, and in relation to the second element, of course, the CPS, you appreciated, were only going to look at --

  • -- the extent to which they'd been given material and whether they'd dealt with it properly?

  • I did appreciate that, but the other message from the Metropolitan Police Service was: "If the Guardian have any fresh evidence, will they give it to us? Will they bring it to us?" And that seemed to me to be perfectly straightforward. If there was any fresh evidence, that should be submitted.

  • The problem there is the word "fresh", isn't it?

  • Yes. We now know, yes.

  • Yes, I understand that it's very easy -- sometimes that's how it works. It's easy now.

  • Were you aware on 14 July that the HMIC through, in particular Mr Baker of the HMIC, had had a word with one of your officials and was of the opinion that some sort of review would be appropriate?

  • Yes. The way it was relayed back to me -- I wasn't aware of Mr Baker's conversation -- was that Denis O'Connor is perfectly willing to do this, he's up for this, we wouldn't have to persuade him to do it.

  • The bottom of page 4 of your statement sets out the second statement which Mr Hanson made, this time in written form to Parliament, and you set out the statement in its entirety. Over the page, on page 5, we see that the words you read out are in the fourth paragraph down, the paragraph between the hole punches, the one that begins:

    "As mentioned in his statement on 9 July, Assistant Commissioner John Yates is ensuring that the Metropolitan Police Service has been diligent, reasonable and sensible, and taken all proper steps to ensure that where it has evidence that people have been the subject of any form of phone tapping (by Mr Clive Goodman or Mr Glenn Mulcaire) or that there is any suspicion that they might have been, that they have been informed."

    You told us a moment ago that that was very important. Can you help us with whether or not the reassurance that you took from that passage played a role in your decision ultimately not to ask the HMIC to intervene?

  • No, it played no role at all.

  • The matters proceed and there is an update following the CPS' review and you get another briefing, this time from the head of policing powers. We find that at tab 4 of the bundle. It's dated 20 July and again, we can deal with it shortly by looking at the summary paragraph:

    "We now have the benefit of the DPP's statement following the CPS review and of the MPS's response as to detailed questions from both Keith Vaz and to the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee."

    So not only do you have the CPS review, you also have further information from the police.

    "The statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions explained that he was satisfied that the CPS was properly involved in providing advice both before and after the charging of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and that the Metropolitan Police provided CPS with all the relevant information and evidence upon which charges were based, and that the prosecution approach in charging and prosecuting was proper and appropriate. He concluded that it would not be appropriate to reopen the cases against Goodman or Mulcaire or to revisit the decisions taken in the course of investigating and prosecuting them. The MPS responses to HASC and the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee suggests, in a way that the MPS was unable to articulate fully when the story broke on 9 July, that the police investigation was proportionate."

    So on its face, you have significantly more information available by this stage. The recommendation is that HMIC should not be asked to review the police investigation and if you agree, a written ministerial statement should be made.

    Was it at that point that you made the final decision that there should be no request for a review?

  • Yes. You'll see from the paragraph 14 of that submission, "added to political interference in operational policing decisions", which I may have been accused of. There was also an implied lack of confidence or criticism of the Director of Public Prosecutions. So it was -- it kind of made the decision more concrete.

  • We'll come to the reasons next. In addition to those, there was a question of capacity, wasn't there, on the part of the HMIC?

  • There was, but really, it's my job to make sure they had the capacity. They were dealing with a number of issues and they were interviewing for more staff at the time, but that wasn't a consideration.

  • Looking at the briefing note, the only passage of detail I'd like to take you to is paragraph 9, third page, following the internal pagination. This is summarising information from the police. Looking at the last sentence, it says:

    "He states that whilst other journalists' names appeared in material seized by police, there was insufficient evidence to support any criminal conspiracy on their part."

    Did that information affect your decision?

  • Are we to understand that what did affect your decision, effectively, was the significance of an interference by the Home Secretary --

  • -- with a police matter and --

  • -- the assurance you'd had from the statements made by the CPS?

  • Looking at this, wasn't one of the difficulties that some of the information that you were relying upon, and perhaps significant elements of it, came from the very people that you had to decide whether or not should be investigated?

  • That's always the case. If you're thinking of calling in the HMIC to investigate the police -- usually the Metropolitan Police, I would guess, as they're the biggest force -- you would always be relying, to a large extent, on the advice you're receiving from the police as to why they are pursuing this properly and why there's no reason to call anyone in to independently examine what they're doing. They would, of course, have been offended by a Home Secretary calling in independent people to look at how they'd approached this because it is, I think, more than an implied criminal; it's an explicit criticism.

  • Is there any scope in the future for improving the process by which this type of decision is made? Perhaps I could float one suggestion, which might be that somebody from the Home Office goes to see the police to explore in perhaps a little bit more detail what the ground looks like before an intervention decision is made?

  • I think you could do that. At the moment, I could have asked Stephen Rimmer to go over and discuss this. I don't see how -- you have to remember, lots of these cases will not have the benefit of a front-page story in the Guardian. It will be people who are perhaps vulnerable, who have a real genuine complaint but no one's reporting it apart from them and people who say there's been a miscarriage of justice, the police have acted unfairly. So when you're deciding whether to call in the HMIC, number one, it shouldn't just be media-led. Ironically, I know, that's a large element of this Inquiry. It shouldn't just be because a newspaper, even the great sainted Guardian, which I read every day, is saying this should happen. There has to be a bit more basis for it than that, and in the end, I think the Home Secretary has enough officials, enough civil servants, enough advisers, their special advisers, et cetera, for them to be able to make that decision, and if they want to send someone over, it doesn't have to be part of a laid-down procedure. If they want to have a system where a senior official goes and talks to the police force concerned, they can do that now.

  • With the benefit of hindsight, would you accept that this decision turned out to be a missed opportunity to get at what had happened a little earlier?

  • Not even with the benefit of hindsight do I think that. Obviously knowing what we know now -- as I said in Parliament, it would be great for me to say what a brilliant Home Secretary I was and how I saw through this, but with the benefit of hindsight, with everything that has happened since even, HMIC may well -- don't forget we weren't that far away from a General Election either. I don't know how long the HMIC would have taken. It may have just come back and reinforced the MPS's --

  • The real point is this, isn't it? It's not whether you call the HMIC in or anything else. What you have to be able to do is to rely on the information you're getting from the police.

  • And the difference between this case and the example you've just given is that in this case, not merely was it a newspaper but it raised important concerns, sufficient for you to talk immediately to the Commissioner about, which actually went to far more than: was a crime properly investigated? Therefore it was all the more important that what you were told was full, complete and thorough.

  • So the question might arise whether it was sufficient simply to do the exercise that Mr Yates decided to do on 9 July rather than for him to have said, "Actually, we ought to, if not take up the drains, at least do a bit more."

  • I wish he had said that and I wish they had done a bit more, but if you're asking me, with the benefit of hindsight was that the right decision, it's very difficult to divorce yourself from the atmospherics at the time, the position at the time.

  • So I think for the Home Secretary to receive those assurances from the police, to see the outcome of the DPP's re-examination of the CPS evidence -- we hadn't got to the New York Times article or any of that stuff yet, or Milly Dowler. At that stage, deciding not to call in someone independently to examine it I think was a sound decision. I wish I had called them in, but --

  • I'm not so sure, because I understand the point that you're making, that you make the judgment on the basis of the evidence and having regard to the constitutional position of the police, you and HMIC.

  • So I understand precisely what you're saying.

  • Just to develop that a little bit, if you'd been told by the police that in fact they had a very considerable volume of evidence which suggested widespread criminality and phone hacking, and that the reason it hadn't been pursued further in 2006 had been because of other more serious policing matters, terrorism in particular, you would have expected either the police to have done something about that or you would have wanted to take action yourself; is that right?

  • Yes. Let's be clear what I was told. I was told that there was a body of evidence there in the inquiry that Yates hadn't dealt with, Hayman had dealt with. They had selected the clearest evidence to kind of, if you like, provide what they needed to deal with Goodman and Mulcaire, but yes, there were lots of other stuff there but actually it was immaterial to the fact that Goodman and Mulcaire had been found guilty and been imprisoned.

    Then came the -- and, you know, Yates was the head of counter-terrorism. We had a lot of things going on at the time in counter-terrorism. It wasn't so much saying, "Look, we could go a bit further and look for a bit more stuff, but we have other things to do"; it was a very clear --

  • No, you've misunderstood Mr Barr. He's not saying that was happening in 2009. What he's suggesting is -- and I'll slightly change your question, Mr Barr -- that you might have been told: "There's a lot of material here, there are some difficult legal issues, there may be other people involved, but we took a stance -- we took a decision on what we had to do in 2006 because then there were all sorts of terrorist concerns."

  • And that was a reasonable decision at the time. I think that's what Mr Barr was driving at.

  • I'm sorry, forgive me. I understand.

  • And I would still -- yes, I would want -- if I knew that there were -- they did have evidence of other people being involved --

  • Possibly. The constant refrain here was that it didn't go any wider than Goodman and Mulcaire.

  • Move on now to 2010. In September 2010, the New York Times published an article, a very lengthy article, which again put the spotlight on what was alleged to have gone on. At tab 16 -- I won't go through the whole article because it is lengthy, but just to pick up on an illustrative passage or two, page 3, following the internal pagination, in the paragraph by the top hole punch, it says:

    "'News of the World was hardly alone in accessing messages to obtain salacious gossip. It was an industry-wide thing,' said Sharon Marshall, who witnessed hacking while working at News of the World and other tabloids. 'talk to any tabloid journalist in the United Kingdom and they can tell you each phone company's four digit codes. Every hack on every newspaper knew this was done.'"

    Then, at the top of page 6, following the internal pagination, the last sentence of that top paragraph:

    "A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. 'everyone knew,' one long-time reporter said. 'the office cat knew.'"

    So again, an article with some cause for concern. By this stage, you're out of government, but you tell us in your witness statement that you exercised your right as a former Home Secretary to go back and inspect papers. Why did you do that?

  • Because I was interested to refresh my memory as to what I was told at the time.

  • And it confirmed that you were given an account vastly different from the allegations that were published in 2010?

  • Then we come to the summer of last year, when the hacking story became very important piece of news during July. At this stage in Parliament, as you've mentioned, it's right to say that you were very supportive of a public inquiry, weren't you?

  • Notwithstanding that it might lead to what's happening now?

  • You were also very blunt in explaining why, and at the top of page 8 of your witness statement we can see that you've described the police as having been either evasive, dishonest or --

  • I think that's our question, Mr Barr, but he did describe it because it's in an article that is exhibited.

  • Yes, it's in the parliamentary record.

  • Could I ask you why it was that you came to the conclusion that the police were either evasive, dishonest or lethargic?

  • Because it's quite obvious that -- there was no new evidence -- that all the evidence was there and had been there since 2006.

  • Does that take us back to the passage we read earlier about the assurances that you've been given --

  • -- back in 2009. At this stage, perhaps we could also look at tab 2. There's a letter to you from John Yates, dated 11 July. If we look at the second paragraph of that, it says:

    "The reason that a new investigation has been commenced and the situation has subsequently changed so markedly is that in January 2011, News International began to co-operate properly with the police. It is now evident that this was not the case beforehand. This has caused a new team to look more closely at information contained within the original material. The emerging findings are rightly a matter of great concern and have led me to make the very public apology you will have seen yesterday."

    So what did you make of that?

  • I actually quoted this to the Prime Minister in a question, which was a bit unfortunate, seeing as it's headed "private and confidential" and it was on the floor of the House, but I pointed out that in January 2011 was when Andy Coulson resigned from 10 Downing Street and I asked the Prime Minister whether the two dates were coincidental.

  • Were you satisfied by this explanation as a response from the police or not?

  • Not really. I'm not in a position to judge that, but it seemed to me that of those three -- dishonesty, evasiveness or lethargy -- I think they were lethargic.

  • Moving now to the question of the social relationships between the media and the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner, what level of awareness did you have about those sorts of contacts?

  • None, in the sense I didn't know who was meeting who socially.

  • Did you know that Neil Wallis had been employed by the Metropolitan Police Service?

  • You were aware, weren't you, that Mr Hayman was publishing articles in the Times?

  • Because I read them, yes.

  • Did you have any view about the appropriateness of a senior police officer leaving office and moving immediately to work for a newspaper?

  • No, I can't say that I did. I thought it was quite useful to get a senior police officer's perspective on some of these issues.

  • Does that remain your position now?

  • Not quite, because it depends, you know, what the circumstances were in terms of him being offered this job, but it seemed to me a perfectly valid thing to do, and not unique, I don't think, because other former chief constables and senior police officers have given their view on issues in newspapers.

  • You suggest for the future that the relations between senior police officers and the media should be transparent and that contact with the media should be confined to senior levels. Would you like to expand upon those views at all?

  • Well, just because it's become clear that at fairly junior levels there was a lot of contact, and indeed some accusations, which are a matter for the courts, about money changing hands, et cetera, and I think it's -- to put junior police officers in that kind of situation would be wrong. For senior officers, I think there has to be -- in this 24/7 media age, when the police need the public to help them on so many different police inquiries, it's very important there's a relationship with the media, but it should be people who are senior enough to take the can for problems that might occur in that who deal with the media or -- sorry -- sorry, sir.

  • If there are junior people doing it, then they're doing it with the authority of senior police officers.

  • There you are, you've answered what I was just about to raise, because speaking entirely for myself and without having fully considered it, I see very great advantage for public confidence in, for example, community policing, that local newspapers should be able to access the neighbourhood police officers to talk about crime or the fear of crime or what's happening in their neighbourhood, and to constrain that would seem to me to be going too far.

  • Equally, if there's a specialist officer, for example, on sex crime in a borough in London and there is a concern, it seems to me reasonable that a crime reporter should be able to speak to an appropriately experienced officer to help reassure or obtain evidence or whatever.

  • That was my question and then after I half-interrupted, you then provided the --

  • I agree with that. I agree with that completely. Of course, there is a big difference here. In this whole discussion about the media between -- you just sparked this thought about the local media and national media. I mean, local media -- you know, the Hull Daily Mail and the Yorkshire Post are very important newspapers in my political life, but they're not -- they don't get involved in the kind of things that national newspapers get involved in. So as long as the -- as long as everyone knows what the limits of their association with the police are and as long as someone in authority understands the basis on which PCSOs or neighbourhood policing teams are dealing with the media and that it's transparent, then I think that's perfectly healthy and I think your point is very valid.

  • Moving now from police matters to the relationship between politicians and the media, I'd like to start by asking you some high level questions and first of all for a reaction to this quotation from Tony Blair in 1987:

    "The truth becomes almost impossible to communicate because total frankness, relayed in the shorthand of the mass media, becomes simply a weapon in the hands of opponents."

    Were you concerned that the way in which the media reports what politicians said, including yourself, made it such that you had to be very careful what you said?

  • Yes. And I think -- I mean, Tony Blair's point -- if I can think of an example, the MMR issue. You know, you remember there was a complete media storm which actually stopped children being inoculated properly against MMR and led to the return of diseases that we thought we'd eradicated years ago. I think that's a very good example of the media actually militating against properly government, and to take that a stage further, I seem to remember there was a great deal of prying as to whether Tony Blair's son, who was due to be inoculated at the height of all this, whether he'd had the MMR jab or not, and that was used against the Prime Minister as an argument -- I forget which way it went, whether he did or didn't --

  • I think for some time he wasn't prepared to discuss it.

  • He wasn't prepared to discuss his own children, quite rightly, but it ended up as a front-page splash in one newspaper that he had either had it or hadn't had it. I can't remember which it was.

    So yes, those things, you had to watch what you said, not when you were talking to the Hull Daily Mail or the Yorkshire Post, but when you were talking to national newspapers, in case -- GM crops was another one, Frankenstein foods. The issues I dealt with: student fees, human fertilisation and embryology bill. The Government need to get very important and sometimes quite complex information across, but, you know, the slightest slip, it turns into something personal against a minister rather than an issue about the actual policy.

  • What features of the press' coverage was it that made it so difficult for you to get your message across to the public? What were the techniques that were objectionable?

  • Well, the newspaper itself would have an agenda. The journalists on that newspaper knew they had to follow that agenda. So, for instance, on Europe, you know, I remember Gordon Brown being castigated after 2007 for not having a referendum on the EU. He was pilloried. I remember the kind of stuff that appeared in the papers. Now, there was no way you were going to get a balanced view on that. It wasn't my ministerial responsibility, but it's an example of one of those issues.

    To use immigration, which was my bailiwick, there are lots of complex issues that you have to weigh up on an issue like immigration, but certain newspapers had decided the population was going to hit 70 million in a few years -- you don't hear much about that now -- and there was a real difficulty in explaining, for instance, what the points-based immigration system would do to journalists who came from a paper who, you were quite clear, was out to say that there was an open-door policy. There's never been an open-door policy on immigration.

    It's an example of the kind of care that has to be taken and the barrier between you and the public -- I mean, I'm an Enoch Powell. The politician who complains about the media is like the sailor who complains about the sea, but -- and I haven't got a solution for this, but it's just an illustration of how careful you need to be and the difficulties you face dealing with complex political issues where they are personalised to the extent that Tony Blair was mentioning in that speech.

  • Just before he left office, Tony Blair made a now very well-known speech and he identified what he considered to be a number of traits in media coverage which had developed. Can I put those to you for your comment?

    "First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down."

    Do you agree?

  • For some newspapers on some issues, yes.

  • "Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error; it has to be venal, conspiratorial."

  • I think you're going to find me agreeing with Tony Blair on most of this, yes.

  • "Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits, but no one dares miss out."

  • "Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more, important than the news itself."

  • Certain newspapers on certain stories, yes.

  • Can we move now from the general to your personal experience. You tell us in your witness statement that you occasionally meet journalists for meals. Is there any particular spectrum of the press from which you draw your contacts?

  • Well, once again, you have to differentiate. There's the kind of industry press. So when I was at health, the health correspondents were very, very knowledgeable about their subjects and you would have a completely different discussion. Education, similarly. So they -- a lunch with them, it wasn't kind of watching every word you said or fear of being misreported. It was quite a productive discussion because you could actually learn from people who had been -- as a minister, flitting through these departments, from people who had been dealing with that subject for many years. I think about the education correspondent for the Independent, who was tremendously knowledgeable.

    Then you have the political lobbyists, where you kind of do have to make sure, whether it's on the record or off the record, about what you're saying in the course of a pleasant lunch or dinner.

  • Was there a different atmosphere with those titles which had constituency of floating voters compared to, say, an established support of the left or right?

  • No. Generally you enjoyed the meal more if it was someone you liked and you were perfectly capable of liking someone who came from a newspaper that was hostile to your political party, as you were of liking someone who was sympathetic.

  • What were you seeking to get out of these meals?

  • I think it's what they were seeking to get out of me.

  • We'll come to that in a moment.

  • What was I seeking to get out? Well, I was obviously seeking to get my point across as to why we were pursuing a particular case, at a particular time on fairly complex issues. Why, for instance, Nice was the best way to approve drugs. It was always a controversy whether drugs had been allowed.

    So whether it's on immigration or whatever, it's a chance to get your view across to the person who actually writes the stories.

  • What were they looking for?

  • They were looking for that. I think they wanted greater understanding, but gossip was a -- and I don't blame them for this. Everyone's interested in gossip, you know, whether -- what's happening in Cabinet, who's said what, none of which I revealed, obviously, at any stage.

  • Did you have any personal dealings with Rebekah Brooks?

  • Yes, I did, but it was rather spoilt by our first meeting. When I was running for deputy leader of the Labour Party, my team were very excited that News International wanted to meet me, so as I walked into this room where there was Rebekah, Trevor Kavanagh, Les Hinton, I shook her hand and said, "Hello, Rachel", and I don't think that went down very well. So getting the name wrong wasn't a good start.

    There was also some contact about a clinician called Mohamed Taranissi, who ran an unregistered fertility clinic and had been the subject of a Healthcare Commission inquiry and a Panorama documentary and I remember that Rebekah, when I was health secretary, was keen for me to look into that.

  • That was an example of them pushing a particular story?

  • Yes, but not in an overbearing way. She was keen -- when I met her, she mentioned it and said that she'd send me something through the post.

  • You said, in answer to my last question, that your team were excited about the prospect of you meeting Rebekah Brooks. Why the excitement?

  • This is a political team, of course. I was seeking deputy leadership of the Labour part. Because -- as we were excited to meet the Daily Mirror and whatever newspaper may kind of give their seal of approval.

  • So you were hoping to get her support --

  • I see. Moving to the future, what do you see as the best way forward to ensuring the public has confidence in what is passing between its politicians and journalists?

  • I'm not sure whether there's a -- there's -- I believe in self-regulation of the press. I'm not looking for some kind of bible of dos and don'ts. I think the Ministerial Code is sufficient to tell ministers what they should or shouldn't be doing. For politicians who are not ministers, there's basic common sense.

    How can the public be reassured about this? I think your Inquiry might contribute to that. But I think generally there's a healthy scepticism -- not cynicism, but healthy scepticism amongst the public about both of those professions and I don't think anything that we do will change that in terms of --

  • But we need to improve it, don't we?

  • Yeah, but I'm not sure how.

  • We need to improve the lot in which, for example, politicians are held, not least because it's critically important for our democracy -- here am I telling you this -- that we attract the very best into public life, and if they feel they're just going to be traduced all the time --

  • I just don't know -- I agree with that. I agree with that. I just don't know how you're going to do it. I had an experience, which I may as well relate here, with the News of the World, for instance. This is the kind of thing that you have to kind of accept as part of your life. They were running a front-page story about me when I was health secretary. This is January 2008. It's the Saturday before publication. My special adviser rings me up and says, "The front page story in News of the World tomorrow is about you having an affair with a district nurse called Sarah from Exeter." So I rang the editor of the News of the World and he said, "Yes, we've had this all corroborated. It was in her blue Toyota and you were listening to Mozart at the time."

    I pointed out to him that I'd never been to Exeter as health secretary, that I was a government minister in London with a constituency with Hull. "How the hell do you think I was going to drive a Toyota to Exeter?" He said, "The story's been corroborated. The woman herself has three children. She's putting her family on the line." And I said, "Well, run the story. It will upset a lot of people in my family -- no smoke without fire and all that -- but run the story and it will be a really good pension fund when I take you to court."

    The story was absolute rubbish and he didn't publish it, but with that level of checking of facts, the fact that that could be all over the front page of the -- and sort of, in a way, damage your life forever, some of these fictitious stories.

  • That's part of the point. That's one side of it. Let's just focus a little bit more on the general political dialogue. Of course politicians have inevitably got to deal with journalists -- that's their mechanism for getting their message across -- but do you think there is room for the House -- and of course, all this is for politicians, not for me -- to conclude that there should be slightly different approaches to those who are opposition spokespersons, on the opposition front bench, because of the risk that you carry forward what you've done in opposition into when you get into government?

    I'm actually picking up something that Alastair Campbell was talking about, that "we had a relationship and actually we didn't change it once we got into government and we should have done".

  • I wonder whether there isn't scope for saying that Parliament should provide some assistance, so that everybody is aware -- and you might say, "Well, actually, all the MPs in the country are presently aware of precisely what's going on."

  • But I would hope to be a little bit more enduring than the current MPs, not that they haven't got long and healthy lives in front of them, but to provide some steer that just provides some framework within which people can exercise their discretion. Do you think that's a good idea or not?

  • I tend to the view that this is about culture and changing the culture. Why are some elements of our media so spiteful in this country? You don't see it in other countries. Why is such personal spite directed? Women politicians get a tough time. Patricia Hewitt, Ruth Kelly, ministers I replaced -- I had a far tougher time -- I'd take over their department doing exactly the same things and suddenly there was no press furore about it. It's that spite. It's the picking on the families. It's the nastiness, the nastiness, real nastiness that you have to face. Now, that's a cultural thing.

    I take the point that I wasn't in opposition. I came in straight into government in '97, but I take the point that I think he's making, that we'll never go back to those days of fawning over major -- or I hope we don't go back to those days -- fawning over major media proprietors in the hope that we'll get a better deal. I mean, I think all of this should confine that to the past.

    Whether you can introduce anything, even in fairly light touch regulation --

  • Not even regulation, necessarily.

  • Not even in regulation, just guidance for those doing these jobs.

  • Perhaps a bit more transparency. I do take your point that in opposition, where I was thinking, you know, there's less interest -- you're not in government so there's nothing -- there's no Ministerial Code or anything. You kind of make it up as you go along in opposition, I guess, but I wasn't focusing on that point that Alastair made, that if you're doing that in opposition before you move into government, then you forge relationships that actually cause you a problem once you're in government, and I think that would cause me to think about that again.

    But the press in other countries does not have this spiteful approach. It might be a lot duller, by the way, and less interesting and sell fewer newspapers, although with social media all of that is changing.

    Most politicians can put up the attacks on them. It's the fact that they know that the press and the media, some elements of it, are looking to attack their families, and I think that's difficult to legislate for.

  • That, I think, sir, covers the remaining questions that I had.

  • Thank you. There's one other matter that I wanted to raise with you. You used a phrase, just as we got on to talking about politicians, when you talked about supporting self-regulation. I'd just like to explore with you what you mean by that, because I think that phrase means very, very different things to different people, and they understand different things by it. Do you mean by that that you think that the present system, the PCC and its code, is sufficient?

  • Do you mean by that that the regulation ought to be independent of government, independent of politicians and conducted by the press, or broadly independent of the press?

  • I think it's the second. The trouble with the situation at the moment is it's voluntary whether the press enter into it. There's one major national newspaper that's not signed up to it. So all the press has to be included. It has to be completely independent of government. Self-regulation in the sense that the press have -- are not having this imposed on them, there's a consensus that this is the right way for them to proceed. So it's more your second example than the first.

  • But actually I wonder whether what you've just said doesn't contain a mutual inconsistency. Because once you say that all the press has to be included, then I'm not quite sure why it isn't being imposed on them.

  • Yeah, there is a contradiction there, but it's ludicrous to have a system of regulation where the public can complain about an article and then find that because that newspaper hasn't signed up to the process, that they're beyond --

  • -- beyond the system. So it has to be self-regulation in the sense that it is not -- you know, we're not doing anything North Korean here. We're not interfering with the freedom of the press and no one would want to do that, and we're not setting down a great set of rules that would prevent the media doing the kind of things that they've done, whether it's exposing thalidomide or all the other great exposures that they've made. But that does cover every part of the media and does give the public some assurance that if something damaging is said about them in the media -- and these are not people who have power. These are people who are often the families who are affected, that they have some form of redress, and the redress -- you can't escape that redress by saying, "We're not signed up to that. Sorry, we're not part of it."

  • Or: "Even if we are, we're going to leave it."

  • Or: "We're going to leave it and we'll do nothing about it."

  • So does that mean that there has to be some structure somewhere that sets up an independent regulatory regime, which obviously has appropriate representation from the press upon it? Does that really encapsulate what you're saying?

  • Yes. If the press were -- I'm sorry.

  • Because that means, once I talk about a structure, that probably means that the structure has to have been set out, however far back from the front line it is, by Parliament.

  • Yeah. Well, I suppose you can -- it's not inconsistent to say that Parliament can set out a structure, like we set out a structure for independent police complaints, we set out a structure for HMIC, we set out a structure for a number of independent --

  • There's the example that was given yesterday: regulation of lawyers.

  • Yeah. That's something I've never had to deal with. Yeah, Parliament setting a structure which allows self-regulation and a consensus that this is the proper way to do it, so that actually the press are engaged, not because they have to be but because they --

  • I'm just going to press you, because you've used the two words "self" and "consensus" again. Do you mean -- and if you do that's fine, but I just want to test it -- that the press ought to be regulating themselves -- because that's self-regulation, "We do it ourselves" -- or do you permit of independent regulation that involves press interests but has a very substantial independent element? And by "consensus", do you mean that the press have to sign up to it because that runs against, as I have suggested, the idea that everybody has to be in.

  • Well, the press have to be part of it. Everybody has to be in it, is where I start from. Probably there are different ways of defining self-regulation, but the important thing to me is that the press are not being dragged kicking and screaming to a regime that they fiercely disagree with. There may be an independent element there, they may have to accept that there's an independent element there, but within that independent element, there is also -- there is media involvement in this.

  • There are ways that you could change the current system that I think could move to the kind of system I'd like to see. I wouldn't throw the whole of --

  • I'd be very interested to know how you could change the current system to fit in with the requirements that you've identified, and as regards the kicking and screaming point, the issue may be that anything -- in one sense, anything that in any sense impedes the way the press can do its business as it wants to do it --

  • -- might lead to kicking and screaming.

  • I'm not saying it would but it might.

  • It's worth a trying, to see if the kicking and screaming occurs or not.

  • If you do have an idea as to how it might be done using modification of present models, I'd be very interested to hear about that, but that's up to you.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Johnson.

    Yes, Mr Garnham --

  • There's an single question --

  • Mr Johnson, you said in answer to Mr Barr a little earlier that all you were told in July 2009 about the MPS investigation in 2006 -- I say that to locate what you were talking about -- you said you were told that there was a body of evidence in the inquiry that Mr Hayman had dealt with, that they -- that's the Met -- selected the clearest evidence to provide what they needed to deal with Goodman and Mulcaire, yes, there was lots of other stuff there, but that was immaterial to the fact that Goodman and Mulcaire had been found guilty.

    My one question is: what were you told about the other stuff, to use your word, that the Met had which was immaterial to the Goodman and Mulcaire conviction?

  • None. The general flavour of this was that they had used enough evidence to convict Mulcaire and Goodman. There was other evidence against Mulcaire and Goodman -- not against anyone else, against those two people -- but what they'd used was sufficient to get them imprisoned.

  • Thank you very much.

  • Thank you. Mr Johnson, thank you very much.

    2 o'clock.

  • Good afternoon, sir. We have one witness this afternoon and that witness is Lord Smith.