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

  • MR THOMAS HARDY ROWLAND (affirmed).

  • Can I take my jacket off?

  • Certainly, Mr Rowland. Please make yourself comfortable. I'm sure your glass of water is filled up, if you'd like some. Could you confirm your full name please.

  • Thank you very much.

  • Mr Rowland thank you also very much. As a journalist, I don't put you in quite the same category as some of the other witnesses who have come --

  • Quite right, sir, I don't deserve to be in the same category.

  • Mr Rowland, it's probably my fault. I've only seen a statement of yours in draft. Could you confirm, please, that there is a signed version of your witness statement?

  • Could you provide us, please, with the date of the signature?

  • The 9th day of November 2011.

  • I'm grateful, Mr Rowland. There's a statement of truth, so this is your evidence. Do you follow me?

  • Yes. Can I just say before we go any further that there is actually a matter of fact that has changed in this. Two days ago the Metropolitan Police Service released an unredacted version of the call log from News International and the number of calls is actually 100 and not 60, as it is written in this statement.

  • We'll come to that as you give the narrative. It's not a correction so much as an additional fact which has come to your notice?

  • Yes, but it does say in here that there were 60 and in fact there were 100.

  • Tell us first of all a little bit about yourself. We know that you're a journalist. In a thumbnail sketch, your career as a journalist?

  • Yeah, I've been a journalist for 30 years, since the 1980s. I started as a technology writer writing about computing and telecommunications. I was the chief reporter on Electronics Times, which was the weekly newspaper covering the technology sector. I went on after that to work for the Daily Telegraph. I was a subeditor there, and a feature writer. I was then appointed the property correspondent and I ran and edited the property section of the Daily Telegraph for seven years or so.

    In 1997 I left to pursue a career in television. I went to work for Basil Productions, which is the company that later became Endemol. I wrote and developed with them some formats for game shows and I presented and I -- with both Lorraine Kelly and Davina McCall shows that they put out.

  • And I then became the chief executive -- I was offered the job of being the chief executive of an Internet company, and then about 2001, I went back to journalism and I -- freelance, principally for magazines, for the Times, for the Sunday Times, for the Mail on Sunday and for the Evening Standard, I wrote a column there for a while.

    I've written four books. One is about British technology policy in the 1970s and 1980s called The Inmos Saga, one is about the financing of the Channel Tunnel, called How to Sink a Fortune, one is a guide on building houses for yourself and one is a book about living in France.

    Two years ago, I started a campaigning organisation called Forward, and I set up a series of websites, the most prominent of which is called Trains for Deal, which was a community-based campaign to get the high speed 1 train to stop in Deal and Sandwich in Kent, and that campaign has been successful, the first fast train stopped in Deal and Sandwich this year, so if I suppose my daughter ever says, "Daddy, have you ever done anything worthwhile in your life?" I can say at least I made the trains run on time.

  • You're in danger of travelling a little outside the parameters of this Inquiry, but if there's anything else you'd like to say which is germane to what we're doing, please feel free.

  • In terms of the background it is right to say that you are a claimant in the voicemail interception litigation which is due to be heard by Mr Justice Vos in January of next year.

  • You discovered, I think, quite recently that your voicemail may well have been be hacked. That was in August of this year. Could you tell us, please, the circumstances in which you came to that knowledge?

  • Yes. I was informed by letter by first of all the telephone company, T-Mobile, that they had reason to believe that my voicemail had been intercepted, and then subsequently by a letter from the Metropolitan Police.

  • I decided that I needed some legal help, so I phoned Chris Bryant, the MP, up, and asked him if he could possibly tell me who his lawyers were, who knew something about phone hacking, and from that I got into this process and I was anxious to participate in this Inquiry because I think I have some knowledge and insights that can help you.

  • So in late August, there was a meeting, I understand, involving members of Operation Weeting and your solicitor. May I ask you, please, whether during the course of that meeting you saw redacted or unredacted versions of the Mulcaire notebooks insofar as they related to you?

  • No. I didn't. I saw the phone logs of News International, which were referred to as the phone logs of the News of the World at the time, but it was a redacted version.

  • And what, in general terms, did those phone logs demonstrate, if anything?

  • Mr Jay, it might be helpful if we talked about the unredacted ones that I got yesterday, because there's a substantial and terribly important difference between the two.

  • May I interrupt you, first of all, because I don't know what you're going to say about the unredacted ones, it may or may not cause a difficulty for others at this Inquiry. First of all, in August 2011, you were shown the redacted versions?

  • And ignoring what you may have learnt since looking at the unredacted versions, what information or deductions did you draw at the time from looking at the redacted versions?

  • That there was a long series of telephone calls that started in 2005 and went through to mid-2006 that went through to my voicemail, that went through to the code that got through to speaking -- or listening to the actual calls there.

  • And that it was a very bizarre pattern. It was hard to understand how anybody could make calls on the regularity that had been made. There was nine in one day.

  • I do remember that in your own very excellent introduction to these proceedings, you did point out that on the cases that had been settled by News International, the most prolific piece of hacking that had gone on was Mr Skylet Andrews, and I believe you said there were 19 calls that were unsuccessful and 14 that were successful through to his voicemail. In this case, when I saw the redacted version, it appeared that there were 60 calls through, and 2 successful ones. It now appears that there are 100, and 2 successful ones.

    I have to say that if you were the hacking manager at News International or News of the World, you would have to have a word with whoever did the hacking, on my phone because the productivity rate is abysmally low, he's making 50 calls for every successful one, compared to two calls for every successful one in the case of Mr Skylet Andrews, and it made me very suspicious about what was going on, and when I saw the unredacted version, those suspicions became very much larger.

  • In terms of clarifying that piece of evidence, the reference to a successful call, is it going to the length of the call that you can deduce that it wasn't merely just phoning into the voicemail to see whether there were messages, which might just take a few seconds; because of the length of the call you can reasonably infer that whoever is carrying out the call is listening to a substantive message? Do I have that right?

  • No, I mean these -- there were two specific events that were highlighted by the Metropolitan Police Service, and they said to me that these indicated the caller had gone right the way through the mailbox and had got to the point that somebody was listening through the calls and they had specific evidence of that. I mean, you must ask them, ask officers of Operation Weeting exactly what they mean by that, but that is what I understood and that is what my solicitor understood.

  • Thank you. You've carefully confined your evidence to what your understanding was. I'm grateful for that.

    I'm going to tread carefully here. In relation to what you've learnt more recently, you've looked at unredacted material. I don't want to know the substance of that term, but what it demonstrates --

  • Can I interrupt you, actually? Can I just explain how call logging works? I think it might be helpful to you if I did so. A call logger is essentially an audit of what an office telephone system does. It tells you which extension inside a building or organisation a call comes from, it tells you how long it is and it tells you what the destination is. There might be other information involved as well, but essentially those three things are what you find on a call log.

    The piece of information that had been redacted was the originating number. When I saw the redacted version, the number that all these calls had come from was not there, we couldn't see that on the log. When it was sent through by the Metropolitan Police, that had been added.

    Now, it's always, in every single case, 100 cases, it's the same number --

  • Yes, okay, you can tell us it's the same number but --

  • I'm not going to tell you what the number is --

  • -- but it is the same number and it's a mobile number, which is quite because the technology exists to add a mobile phone to an office PBX system -- PBX stands for private branch exchange, it's the technical term for what's going on here -- but it's always exactly the same number. And I have no evidence for this, but it is my strong, strong suspicion that this evidence has been tampered with. I do not believe the call log as it exists there is at all credible. I think that my phone was hacked but I think that a lot of those calls actually were perfectly innocent calls to extensions -- or from extensions inside News International because I was working for the Times a lot at the time, and I think that what has happened is that somebody has tampered with the evidence, and I think that this Inquiry needs to ask some very sharp questions about --

    I'll go back a little. I think you have a silent witness who you can legitimately ask to come here and ask questions of, and that silent witness is that computer, that telephone PBX, because you need to know about its architecture, you need to know about its maintenance, you need to know about the security codes getting into it, you need to know about who had access to it and you need to look at its audit records.

  • I wonder whether that's actually right, Mr Rowland, because at the moment I'm looking at the mantra: culture, practices and ethics, and I'm not looking at the specifics of who did what to whom and when. If I go down the route you've suggested, aren't I really trespassing on that territory, which at present, at any rate, entirely falls within the remit of the Metropolitan Police?

  • Well, I mean, I think you have a problem, sir, which is -- which you've mentioned and alluded to many times, which is that you're trying to have a very broad Inquiry that is necessarily based on a very narrow evidential base, and the evidential base is essentially the Glenn Mulcaire diaries, of which there are 11,000 pages, and these call logs --

  • I don't think that's right, you see. I think it is much broader than that, because, as you've been hearing, as you've been listening, I've been dealing with many things besides --

  • Indeed, but -- yes, I understand that, but in relation to the actual phone hacking element, I mean when Mr Grant was here, you, Mr Jay, were quite rightly looking and picking him up on the difference between supposition and fact, and the only facts that you have in relation to phone hacking are the call log and the diaries of Glenn Mulcaire, so in that sense it's quite pertinent and it's quite key. The reason being that what a call log should be able to tell you is exactly where inside an organisation calls come from. It should be able to tell you whether, for instance, the calls come from the Sun's newsroom or the News of the World's newsroom or some other place inside News International.

    Now, it is my contention that quite a lot of those 100 calls actually were perfectly innocent calls, that they were coming -- they were normal traffic that was coming to me because I was working for the Times newspaper, and that it was -- it appears that it's not innocent because the originating phone number is always the same, it's always this mobile number --

  • I've got the point. I've got the point.

  • Thank you. The reason I'd have a large amount of perfectly ordinary, innocent traffic coming through is that subeditors on the Times would quite properly and naturally ring me up and ask me points of fact, whether in fact you spelt Robert as in Robert Jay with an R or with a W or whatever, and it's inevitable that journalists make slips and, you know, there's matters of consistency and it's important they find out this information, so I could quite understand them contacting me by mobile phone. Usually they would go through to my office number, and if they didn't do that, they'd email me, so I think more typically than coming to me by a mobile phone, so there wouldn't be many of these, but that stream should be in there somewhere and I think that has happened is it actually has been confused with the more sinister pieces, and one wonders why.

  • I understand that. I've got the issue. It's certainly something that doubtless the police will look at in the light of what you've said, and we'll have to consider how far we can take it. Thank you.

  • Can I hone in on what your evidence is about and try and deal with it in this way, Mr Rowland. On my understanding, what you're telling the Inquiry is that in relation to the calls into your voicemail which were not innocent, the object was not to discover matters relating to your private life but more to discover matters which may bear on commercial confidences? Have I correctly understood --

  • Yes, Mr Jay, you have. In a nutshell, during 2002, 2003, I was working quite a lot for the Mail on Sunday, I'm that shadowy beast, the Mail on Sunday freelancer about which much is written and very little seen, quite often. Because of the nature of -- they hired me essentially to set up and to advise them on a property supplement which they wanted to run. That necessarily involved talking to a lot of prominent and famous people, and, you know, when you stop doing something, people sometimes think you are still doing it, so it's possible that people were fishing, looking for leads relating to that.

    During 2005, I wrote a long series of articles for the Times newspaper which were about alternative investments and the alternative investments in motorcars through to wine through to expensive bars of gold and stamps that, you know, that people had decided to go into, and that again involved talking to a lot of quite well-known people.

    I think it's relevant that the interview technique that I adopted then was not the usual "slash, burn and run" technique that many reporters adopt, in other words they go and see somebody, ask them some questions, rush off, write the piece and then duck and hope that the flak doesn't hit them. What I was doing was to write drafts of the pieces and then send them to people and ask for their comments, and I did that for two reasons. Firstly, because of the appalling culture of tabloid excesses, people are reluctant to actually talk to me at all and it was a way of getting them -- drawing them into the process. Secondly, I felt that some of the subjects I was being asked to write about, I wasn't wildly expert on, although I knew quite a lot about it, so there was a more chance, a more-than-usual chance that I was going to make factual errors, and it was as way of stopping that happening. And also, I wasn't giving them editorial control, I was asking them to engage in a process and a debate, and I found it quite productive to do that.

    However, it did mean that there was more phone traffic going backwards and forwards between me than usually is the case, so messages were being left for me, and I was responding. So it was worthwhile for a fisherman to fish, in a phone hacking sense. There was something for them to look for.

    Then in 2006, I wrote another long series of stories for the Times, which was about -- if you recall, right at the beginning I said I had a background in technology writing in journalism, so I do have some expertise in that area, and I wrote a long series of pieces that were about the confluence of telecommunications and computing, and identity theft -- which seems somewhat ironic in retrospect, that whilst I was writing about identity theft, my own phone was being hacked, but that appears to be what was going on -- but that in itself was enough bait, I suppose, for me to have been of interest. So I think those were the reasons, without going on too much, about why it was that I was of interest.

  • Yes. One particular matter you draw attention to, there may have been interest in what high-worth individuals or celebrities were doing in relation to house purchases and you might be an easy source, as it were, of such information?

  • In paragraph 21 of your statement, you say you strongly suspect what the evidence points to, it's the culture of routine phone hacking by journalists working for the News of the World. That's an inference which you're inviting the Inquiry to make, having regard to your evidence and a host of other evidence; is that correct?

  • Yeah. I mean, Alan Rusbridger when he was here, the editor of the Guardian, was talking about how the culture of phone hacking was ingrained at the News of the World, and you know, the intelligence is that that is not the case elsewhere. However, it now beggars believe that there was just one person doing it, so it appears that it was widespread there.

  • I think you're striking at an issue of fact and then of inference, which it is part and parcel of what this Inquiry is seeking to explore. It's not for me to comment on that. You have focused on a point and plainly that will have to be considered in the light of all the other evidence.

  • I'm interested in what you say in paragraph 22 --

  • That's moving on to impact, isn't it?

  • We have impact and regulation to do so we'll do that at 2 o'clock. Thank you very much indeed.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Yes, Mr Jay.

  • Mr Rowland, we're on the issue of impact now and you pick this up at paragraph 22 of your witness statement.

  • In your own words, how would you characterise it?

  • Well, it's an intrusion, firstly. They have no right to do that. It's appalling that it should happen. I had a large number of really quite sensitive business contacts that -- where it would be both embarrassing and potentially awful for my business if this information leaked out and it was traced back to me, and I felt that there was also an element that -- I mean, I've never worked for the News of the World, at that time I didn't know any News of the World journalists, but if they wanted to come and ask me something, then why was it that they routinely got someone to hack my phone instead of coming to me and asking?

  • Press regulation. You've obviously thought about this carefully and deeply. You give us the benefit of your views in paragraph 23 in your witness statement and following. You've, I think, heard a lot of the evidence over the last few days. You've been taking a keen interest in this Inquiry. What are your recommendations, please?

  • Well, I mean, when I was at the Daily Telegraph, I did a large number of investigative stories in a slightly odd climate, because if you'll recall, the Telegraph at the time was owned by Conrad Black, Lord Black, current address Cell Block H somewhere in Florida. He was forever, if you recall, buying and selling the newspaper or shares in the newspaper. He was either privatising it or floating it and that meant there was a constant regime of due diligence going on and he was frightened that having unresolved defamation actions on the book would damage the potential valuation of the paper.

    So there was a lot of moaning at the Telegraph among the journalists that what they saw as innocuous pieces that were routinely being put into other newspapers were being held out of the Telegraph by the in-house defamation lawyers. So it was a quite repressive, they said, regime.

    Now I wanted to get more investigative stories in, if I possibly could, so I adopted a different approach, which was to go along to the in-house defamation lawyers and ask one simple question, which is what do I have to do to this story in order for you to be happy to run it? And they said, well, you know, you need to check all of the sources, you need to make sure that you have proper witness statements when you need it, you need to decide all of the things that Alan Rusbridger was talking about in the sort of lists of things that people do these days. They were making sure I did.

    It occurred to me that the mantra that exists at the moment, the orthodoxy that more regulation or tighter regulation of the press will inhibit press freedom because journalists will have a lawyer standing at their elbow at the time, actually is completely wrong. Having a lawyer standing at your elbow improves the quality of what you do because the lawyer is the only person in the office, the defamation lawyer, who acts as a proper quality control mechanism.

    Everybody in a newspaper room think they know what a good story is. There's very few regulatory mechanisms there to say, well, is it fair? Is it accurate? And has it been put to the people properly before you run it? And because I went through that mechanism, I look back at them now and I think actually they were very good stories and part of the reason was I had all of this great advice that was being given to me.

    So when things did go to some extent wrong and people complained and I was taken to the Press Complaints Commission on three occasions -- I checked with the PCC actually before this Inquiry started, and I was the very first national newspaper journalist to be exonerated in a PCC inquiry. And the reason I was exonerated is because I'd had the stories lawyered backwards, forwards, up and down, and they were as tight as we could possibly make them.

    I would argue that is an entirely beneficial process.

    I'd also say that I think there's been a disastrous deterioration in the last ten years in a lot of ways because more and more stories are written by freelance journalists and they do not have the same access to the same legal resources.

    I'll give you an example. I worked for a long time -- well, quite a long time, when they set up the supplement I was talking about at the Mail on Sunday, so I was a Mail on Sunday freelance journalist, and I was put in the position of running stories where I thought corners were being cut and I didn't have access to proper legal advice before they were run, and there was one particular occasion when -- it was a very high profile -- I won't refer to the actual details of the story, but it was as very high-profile couple who were involved in some rather esoteric house purchases and there was a whistle-blower and I was unsure about the whistle-blower and I thought we needed to go back and do some more checks, but they ran the story anyway. And I and Mr Caplan down here, the barrister for the Mail on Sunday, had to actually dig them out of the hole afterwards, and I would argue that the freelance journalists should have been talking to the lawyers before it was published, not afterwards.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Rowland. You've given your evidence very clearly, thank you very much. May I just check, is there anything you would wish to add?

  • Yes, there is one thing.

  • When you had the seminars, sir, there was talk there about press practices in the 1970s and how they've improved greatly because of the regime that's been put into place by the PCC. One of the examples that was given was the theft of photographs, and I think it was Mr Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, who said that such a practice was outrageous and that it no longer took place.

    Well, I would disagree. I think that there are many, many more photographs that are stolen these days, but they're stolen electronically. It's not in my evidence or my witness statement, but I had examples of photographs that have been quite blatantly and shamelessly stolen by national newspapers, not in the 1970s but almost within the last seven months.

    The example I'm thinking about, I actually have an audit trail, because I was involved in it, that I've pieced together so you can see what was done and when, or rather what wasn't done and when, and they just sliced off the watermark on the bottom with the copyright notice of the photographer, and then refused to pay him. And that, in Mr Dacre's word, is actually outrageous and it's an abuse that could be stopped by a regime of punitive fines and that, I hope, is something that the Inquiry will think about putting into place.

    I can make that photograph available to you, if you think it might help, and put it into the record. I'm prepared to do that.

  • We'll decide whether we should put it formally into the material that is read into the record. Thank you very much indeed.

  • Thank you. I don't think we need a break. Shall we move on to the next person?

  • We don't need a break after seven minutes, Mr Jay.

  • The next witnesses are Dr And Dr McCann, please.