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

  • MR STEPHEN WARING (sworn).

  • First of all, please, Mr Waring, your full name?

  • Thank you very much. You provided us with a witness statement dated and signed on 16 January this year with five exhibits. Is this your truthful evidence?

  • Thank you very much. You are currently the publishing director of the Sun. You've worked at the Sun for 24 years in various positions and you were the duty editor on 31 December, 1 January 2010, 2011; is that right?

  • Because Mr Mohan was on holiday; is that correct?

  • Did you have any dealings with Mr Mohan about this particular case?

  • I spoke to the editor on Sunday, which was the day of the January 1 edition. We had a general chat about the coverage and he said to me he thought we should be more balanced.

    Following the January 1 publication, the Attorney General issued an advisory notice as well and I took that on board and we were more balanced from then on, but we had had an advisory on the Saturday as well.

  • So Mr Mohan expressed that view to you on the Sunday, which I think would have been or rather was 2 January 2011; is that right?

  • There are three articles with which we are concerned, all published on the same day. We were looking most particularly at the front page. It's under tab 2, I hope, Mr Waring, page 31983. You'll see the front page. It continues on 31985. Are you with me?

  • Mr O'Shea has told us about that. Were you responsible for the headline or was someone else?

  • I was responsible for it and I'd just like to make a point on record that I'd like to express my sincere personal regrets that my actions contributed to and exacerbated the acute personal distress felt by Mr Jefferies, his friends and his family due to the articles that we published. I apologise personally and on behalf of the Sun newspaper for not taking more appropriate precautions to prevent this.

    Yes, I was responsible for the headline.

  • Did you have any discussions with Mr O'Shea about it -- I appreciate he was 120 miles away at the time in Bristol -- or was this a discussion you had with the news editor before this was published?

  • As I say in the statement, it was -- my discussions were with the news editor. It's not practice to talk directly to reporters on a normal basis.

  • Look at page 31984. I think there are two separate pieces, one on the left-hand side, which I think you call article 2 --

  • -- in your statement and then the main piece. Mr O'Shea told us he had no involvement in this. When you see a piece like this and before it's published, do you subject it to a line-by-line analysis? What do you do, Mr Waring, to satisfy yourself that it's within, as it were, the Contempt of Court Act and within the law of defamation and, insofar as it is relevant, the law of privacy?

  • It's quite a lengthy process that ends up with a line-by-line analysis. On this particular day, the Attorney General had made some comments to the BBC World At One programme, which he -- it wasn't an advisory notice, but he said words to the effect that: "I don't want to comment on today's particular coverage, but I would point out that the contempt of court rules are there to protect the rule of law."

    Clearly this story was going to figure as a major piece in tomorrow's edition. It had been on the front page of the previous seven edition of the Sun and other papers and it would actually stay on the front page for ten more editions.

    Now, I immediately spoke to our senior lawyer by phone while he was on his holiday, Mr Walford, who I think gave evidence a couple of weeks ago. We discussed that morning's coverage in the other papers, in our own paper. I hadn't edited the previous day but I was in charge, obviously, of this edition and I talked to him about the Attorney General's comments, and we discussed the need for a fine line to be drawn as to how far we could go.

    Clearly we'd subjected Mr Jefferies to some unfavourable scrutiny throughout that previous edition. There was even more on the news list for that day's edition, including -- I was asked if we wanted to pursue some lines in some of the other papers, two of them being that he was an associate of a convicted paedophile and that a murder from 1974 was being reopened into Glenis Caruthers' death as a result of his arrest. Both of those lines seemed to me to be far beyond the mark of where we should be going, and also some of the material supplied even in these transcripts and other stories were too strong.

    I perfectly readily accept that what we did publish was too strong, but I attempted with the lawyer, and the night lawyer when he came in in the evening, to try and strike a balance between what we could say and what would keep us the right side of the law. Obviously those decisions were wrong, we made the wrong decision, we committed contempt of court and we committed a libel, for which we apologise.

  • Can I just ask you, please, about the headlines, all three of them, or subhead lines. The first one, "What do you think I am ... a pervert?" Did you choose that?

  • The one underneath, "Landlord's outburst at blonde". Of course, a different blonde woman but Jo Yeates was blown. Was that your choice of --

  • Then the one at the top, and one has to read it over the top of the next page: "Murdered Jo: suspect followed me, says woman."

    The combined effect of that was to suggest that Mr Jefferies was the sort of person who might follow a blonde woman and be accused of being a pervert, which, even without the advantage of hindsight, was straying way over the line, wasn't it?

  • I agree it was. The overall impression here is far too strong and there was a distinct lack of balance.

  • Help me, Mr Waring. It's very easy for lawyers to look at these things in the cold light of day and to criticise. I'm conscious of that, and I'm conscious that it's equally very easy to do so when the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has made his views perfectly clear. But you are a very experienced editor. This is a job you've done many, many times for a very, very large number of editions.

  • Help me, because to my untutored mind -- untutored in the way of the operation of newspapers -- this isn't even close, and I'm just interested to know your thinking. I'm not suggesting you decided: "I'm going to try and test the laws of contempt here", because I don't for a moment think that, but I am keen to understand, if I can, if you can now reconstruct your thought process that suggested that this was appropriate, permissible, on the right side of the line. I understand what you've said now, but I'm just trying to understand.

  • I'll take that -- to me there are three elements to this. There's the material we'd previously published the day before, ie the first day of Mr Jefferies' arrest, and there was a lot of critical comment about his character from four unnamed pupils, ex-teachers, people -- former acquaintances, and that set a particular tone, which coloured my judgment wrongly, but that coloured the judgment.

    There was the nature of the story, which, just to put it in context, this story had been, as I say, on the front page for seven previous editions, there was a general bafflement as to the motive for this appalling murder, and Mr Jefferies' inconsistency, as it was perceived in his story the day before he was arrested seemed, wrongly, to be the great breakthrough, and this led to a great outpouring of adverse comment about his character.

    The police felt that he said something about seeing Jo and two acquaintances outside her flat, which was inconsistent with something else. Whether the rights and wrongs of that, that's one of the reasons why he was arrested and this story had been the focus of national attention for a long period of time. Certainly his character became part of the scrutiny.

    But the key aspect of this is the light in which this was legalled. I can't speak for the lawyer's own mind, but we are talking about an era where there was a far more liberal interpretation about what we could get away with in print.

    I'll give you two specific examples, one of which is the arrest of the Night Stalker, Delroy Grant, and another one, the 21/7 bombers' arrest, both of which under the present Attorney General, I'm sure, would have produced contempt of court summons.

    Since the new Attorney General took his post, he's made it clear that he wants a strict application of contempt. In an address to the City University last month, he said, "Before I was appointed, I perceived a tendency in the press to test the boundaries of what was acceptable in the reporting of criminal cases", so he made it clear that he wanted to tighten up that law. Since he was appointed, he's brought more contempt of court cases than were brought in the previous ten years, I believe, and he has certainly changed our attitude as to how we report arrests and we have changed the culture of the paper on the back of the Jefferies' case. I know it's been described as a watershed moment, but it genuinely is, for our newsroom.

  • That's a word that was used by somebody earlier. But it's not just contempt, is it? It's also defamation and all the rest of it.

  • And it comes on the back of all the concerns about McCann and all the other breaking stories of enormous interest. You heard me ask, I think, each of the previous witnesses whether sometimes a story is so big that perhaps not as much attention is paid to how far it is appropriate to go.

  • I agree, under the licence that we felt we'd got previously. I mean, the law is on the statute books, but it's the application of it which counts. When the contempt case was brought against us over Mr Jefferies, there was another huge story six months later where we had a heated debate about whether we should cover material that we'd got. This was the conviction of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowler. We got an enormous amount of material about Mr Bellfield, as you might imagine, which we knew our rivals also had, which we wanted to put in the paper, but the -- Mr Justice Wilkie still had another charge overnight of the attempted abduction of Rachel Cowles. The jury was still out. There was a long conversation about whether we should use this material and Mr Jefferies' name obviously came up and the procedure and the mistakes made over Jefferies and we talked about it in great detail and decided not to put any of it in the paper. So we reported that day's court action and none of our background material.

  • And those who went further?

  • Well, two of our rival papers published a lot of detailed background material, which was good exclusive material, had a commercial value, you might say. The exclusive story of what a monster Mr Bellfield is. The Sun didn't have that. But they were brought summonses for contempt. They're currently facing those charges.

  • No, not the Sun; the two rival papers.

  • The other two papers, that's the point.

  • Yes. Beyond that, in the autumn there was a high-profile murder again with an arrest which we had interesting background on which we left out. This year there was another arrest relating to Stepping Hill Hospital. It's something which has affected us and changed our attitude. That change of attitude would have come in if there had been no Leveson Inquiry, no Bribery Act, no investigation into media standards. It came about because the Attorney General decided he was going to change the way he interpreted contempt and he was going to apply it that's changed our attitude.

  • The final point, Mr Waring: is it possible that there was a mindset 13 months ago which worked like this: that, given what you knew or thought you knew in relation to inconsistencies in Mr Jefferies' story and the picture which was building up of someone who was eccentric, that you felt in your waters, as it were, he was probably guilty and it's that feeling which led you to test the margins of what was permissible or not?

  • No. No. I didn't act on that behalf -- on that belief at all. Mr Jefferies was an unusual character, we've vilified him, we didn't present it in a balanced way, but it wasn't through a conviction that this was a guilty man.

  • Thank you, Mr Waring.

  • Could I just say one other thing? Please don't judge my colleagues by the errors I've made in this edition, because they are a bunch of very committed, hard-working individuals, the finest journalists in Fleet Street, and the Sun is a very vibrant paper that is a compassionate paper. We produce 100,000 items a year. We got this one badly wrong and I admit that, but these mistakes do happen.

  • We've actually finished before 4.30.

  • Right. Thank you very much. 10 o'clock tomorrow.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)