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

  • MR ROBERT CROW (affirmed).

  • Kindly sit down and make yourself comfortable and provide us with your full name.

  • Thank you very much. You've provided us with a witness statement which you've signed and dated 14 December of last year, and in respect of which there is a statement of truth. Subject to one typographical correction in paragraph 8, is this your true evidence, Mr Crow?

  • The correction is substituting "Whittamore" for "Whittaker", do you see that?

  • You, of course, are General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and have been since 2002; is that correct?

  • Can I ask you, please, about paragraphs 3 and 4 of your statement, where you deal with surveillance instigated by News International and carried out by Mr Derek Webb. There's a letter from Linklaters which was sent to your solicitors on 20 January of this year, which indicates that Mr Webb was carrying out covert surveillance of you, and I can give the dates: between 26 October and 30 October 2010, 8 November and 13 November 2010, 12 and 17 December 2010 and then again, perhaps most materially in relation to evidence you're about to give us, between 11 and 14 January 2011. Is that right?

  • You don't know, however, why News International were carrying out surveillance into you, but you can surmise; is that right?

  • Can I deal, please, with paragraph 5 of your statement? You rightly say that as a public figure, as the General Secretary of a union, you can expect a certain amount of negative publicity. In general terms, where do you see the boundaries between that which is intrusive and therefore impermissible and that which may be permissible?

  • We run a democratic organisation. Our job is to secure the most safest possible workplace for our members, both rail, road, sea and bus. Our job at the end of the day in my view is to make sure that when our members turn up for work, they go home unharmed, uninjured and in one piece. Also our job is to secure the best possible terms and conditions for our members and in the wider field to get the best possible welfare and social reasons for our members to be about in society. That's our job.

    The boundaries as I see it is that number one, if my union for a democratic ballot called strike action, in the main, because we operate within the public transport systems, it causes strife. It also causes people to change their travel plans and so on, and we expect that people would be unhappy about travelling -- having their plans disrupted and so on.

    The way I see it it's quite right for a newspaper or a media entity to basically argue that it's wrong what we're doing, that we shouldn't be striking, we wouldn't differ with that, but the same time goes the boundary, as I see it, is where they take it into personalities of individuals and infringe upon their families and also other members or officials and staff of our organisation. All they're purely trying to do is make life better for working men and working women.

  • Could you go a little bit slower, Mr Crow, because it's all being written down.

  • And I want to make sure that it's all caught.

  • No problem, sir. Do you want me to say it again?

  • We'll see how this plays out in the individual examples you give in your statement. Can I deal first with the article in the Mail on Sunday, which was published on 2 February 2003.

    We have that article at page 54982. Do you have that in front of you? It may be on that screen, Mr Crow. Coming up?

  • No, I'm not looking at the article in front of me.

  • Is it at the back of your statement?

  • No, unfortunately it's not.

  • Look, you'd better have mine.

  • There are a number of points about this. Can we just provide the context, Mr Crow? The Central Line had broken down for two weeks because there was a derailment at Charing Cross so it was shut, so --

  • Not at Charing Cross, Chancery Lane.

  • Pardon me. So you had to get to work by one means or another. You live in north-east London, I understand; is that right?

  • Which is, is this right, seven miles from your place of work?

  • I've never measured it, sir.

  • So you either -- well, there are various other means, but you chose, on my understanding, on a number of occasions to take a lift on your personal assistant's scooter?

  • We see a picture of you, it's not very clear, on the back of your personal assistant Mr Scott's scooter. We can't see the registration mark of the scooter, but we know there is one, and this is relevant to evidence you're about to give, and there's a certain commentary and/or discussion on the significance of all of this.

  • Yes. The picture is taken from outside my home. The scooter is in reverse, with the individual personal secretary coming, reversed his scooter. He's picked me up, I'm waving at my young daughter upstairs in the bedroom, and I set off to go to King's Cross station to attend the meeting in Newcastle about the regional council.

  • Yes. There is an important issue as to how the Mail on Sunday obtained information in relation to Mr Scott, which I am going to turn to, but setting that issue to one side, what objection, if any, do you have to this piece in the Mail on Sunday?

  • Number one, obviously the person taking the picture is hiding away somewhere, which is not really a big issue as far as I'm concerned. He's taking a picture of a member of staff of our organisation. He's not an official of the union, he's purely a member of staff who decided to help out. This weren't in a strike, which some people could use the argument it was down to the RMT which caused the disruption on the Central Line, this was over a massive signal failure that took place over some eight, nine, ten years ago, and an individual concerned helped me out. I don't drive a car myself and the only way for me to get to work is bus, which I did on a number of occasions. On this occasion I had to be on time to catch a train to Newcastle so he picked me up by scooter, which he'd done on a number of occasions, and took me home by scooter on a number of occasions.

  • It might be said, Mr Crow, that the story is entirely vacuous in the sense that you have to get to work, you take a scooter of your personal assistant's, so what? But on the other hand it might be said, well, is there a problem publishing this sort of vacuity? How do you see it?

  • Number one, if you stayed at home you would say that I get around the strikes by staying indoors. If I pedalled to work it would be pedal power. If you went by bus, it would be I'd moved into the bus industry rather than the rail industry. The issue is a non story as far as I'm concerned. It's about how do you get to work.

  • That's what Mr Jay is saying. It may very well be a non story.

  • Yes. The issue to us is not about the non story, it's how they obtained the information.

  • You deal with that in paragraph 8 of your statement. This is part of Operation Glade, which was Metropolitan Police investigation following the raid on Mr Whittamore's premises.

  • Which, if my memory is right, was 8 March 2003. Can you tell me, please, what your involvement is or was in relation to that, or more particularly, the involvement of Mr Scott, your personal assistant?

  • Yes. My personal assistant, who has been my personal assistant for ten years, and the previous General Secretary Jimmy Knapp's assistant for some eight years, he's been a member of our union with unblemished record, at home one afternoon, early evening, when there was a knock on the door and it was two police officers from the corruption unit, who asked him did his scooter break down in the Wandsworth area of London? And he categorically remembered that he'd never ever been to Wandsworth with his scooter and he said "Your scooter broke down in Wandsworth". He said, "No, it never broke down in Wandsworth". He said all we can say is someone phoned up at this moment in time the DVLA in Swansea on a particular date, which he gave to Mr Scott, and said that your motorbike, your scooter's broken down and he wanted to know who the owner was. Or he found a scooter, who was the owner of the scooter.

    Obviously that information that they got from DVLA was then supplied to Mr Whittamore, who then supplied it to the Daily Mail or Sunday Mail who produced the article and no action was taken by the police against the newspapers as a result of obtaining corrupt information.

  • Yes. This ties in with Operation Glade, that someone blagged information --

  • -- from DVLA, transmitted that information to Mr Whittamore --

  • -- and then evidently that information was passed on to the Mail on Sunday?

  • That's the scooter and the motorbike -- the scooter concerned with the glazed out registration numbers concerned.

  • So the information which was made available to DVLA was the registration mark of Mr Scott's scooter?

  • But the request was who was driving the motorcycle and the answer came back Mr Scott?

  • Yeah. Putting two and two together, they obviously had the picture, they had the person who picked me up, it may have been someone, a member of the public who had seen me on the back of a scooter going to work but they didn't know who the individual was, and the only way they could obtain that information was by blagging the DVLA to find out Mr Scott's registration number by making out that the scooter had been either lost or broken down in Wandsworth, which he'd never been.

  • I understand. Did Mr Scott provide a witness statement to the police --

  • -- in relation to this?

  • We know what happened to Operation Glade, that it culminated in a hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court on 19 April 2005 and conditional discharges were imposed by the courts, so Mr Scott never gave evidence, presumably?

  • He wasn't called. He was prepared to give evidence and we also complained to the Information Commissioner as well.

  • Can I just ask you, please, because I've been asked to put this to you, in relation to the fourth line from the end of paragraph 8, if I can invite that to your attention, Mr Crow?

  • The point is fully understood in relation to DVLA and blagging. You're possibly suggesting there that the fact that it was ascertained that Mr Scott would be picking you up on a particular day might have been obtained by hacking into either your phone or Mr Scott's phone, do you follow me?

  • It's been suggested to me that you have no evidence for that, that's just guesswork on your part. Is that fair or not?

  • Yes. We've asked the police to see if there was proof that our phones had been hacked. They said that it's still under investigation under Operation Weeting at this moment in time. It's just strange that this particular day I was picked up by my personal secretary -- because he never picked me up every day, I used to get the 275 bus to Walthamstow and get the Victoria Line in.

    On this particular day I had to be at King's Cross for a train to Newcastle and the weather weren't particularly good. He wanted to make sure and I wanted to make sure that I got the train on time. So it's strange that this particular day, there was no other day that week, that at that particular time, at that particular hour of the day, that someone was there with a camera to take a picture.

  • One possibility, and I'm not trying to resolve it, is that someone had seen you go in on the scooter before, found out the home of the scooter and hoped that they'd catch you?

  • That may be the case, and I'm sort of no detective to find that out, but it would be very strange that someone on a scooter would actually find a scooter in Hackney, out of all the places in London, to find out where its premises were.

  • No, I understand the point, but once they know its home, somebody could just wait and see. I don't know, we just have to find out, but the --

  • Either way, why would they ring the DVLA up and ask for information?

  • That's a different question.

  • Because they want to find out Mr Scott's identity --

  • And his home address.

  • That's the point.

  • There's that extra point, that it's not just Mr Scott's identity, but his home address --

  • -- which might enable them to tail him from his home address to your home address. That may be part of the picture. Thank you, Mr Crow.

    The next example you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention, paragraph 9 of your statement, 13 June 2009. This is when the Sun obstructed you on your way to work. Can you talk us through that one?

  • We have some photographs which show the Sun bus.

  • And also a photograph which shows you being arguably obstructed by two men. First of all, while we're on the Sun bus, could you tell us, please, where that bus was in relation to your house?

  • Well, that actual picture where that Sun bus is there in the picture is outside Woodford station on the Central Line. What they actually did was that we had a strike which was on -- previous to 13 June on the days leading up, I think it was on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the match, and there had been a match being played at Wembley that particular week, and I left me house in the morning and as I walked just out of the house, the Sun bus, that Sun bus was parked at the end of my road, which is only six doors long, and seven men were standing there, two with cameras, two people, I don't know who they were, just looked like, if you don't mind me saying, yourself, like a solicitor or barrister standing there, very smart, and a person with the Sun microphone in his hand.

  • He walked straight up to me and stood on me feet and his words were, "What's it like then not getting to work? You stopped people getting to work this week, how about a taste of your own medicine?" with someone taking pictures who I found out to be a Mr Lee Thompson, I found out through his blog, who makes it clear by selling his work to newspapers that on his CV how happy he was that he stopped me leaving my home that day to go to work.

    I said to the person concerned, I was very cool -- this what they really wanted me was to hit out and take a picture of me hitting a journalist and you wouldn't have done anything about the Sun bus, it would just be a picture of me hitting a journalist because they asked a nice and delicate question about the strike.

    I kept very cool and told him to get off my feet and I wanted to go to work and they proceeded with the bus right up Snakes Lane East, which goes from my road towards the station, shouting out at every single person walking up the road, like I was going to the stocks, "This man has stopped all your trains this week, what do you think?" all the way up, shouting into the baker's shop, shouted into the local chemist, shouted into the launderette: come out and basically, you know, pillar this man on his way to the station.

    When I got to the station, he still stood in me way and said I weren't allowed to go to work.

  • -- photograph of that. We won't be able to use the video I'm afraid but there's a photograph of two men -- there we are.

  • What's that showing, Mr Crow?

  • That's -- behind me is the bus parked up. They're two of the people that was smartly dressed. There was another person as well that was smartly dressed. There was two people with television cameras, either side of me face, pointing to me face. The bus driver, who was a big lad as well, and they're saying to me now that I can't go through to the station to go to work, and they stood there. At that point I had to say, well, you know, what do I do? I weren't going to get into a situation of intimidation and hit out because it's not my style. I phoned the police and the police come and they told the people to move out the way and stop obstructing me going to work.

    I have to say, just on another note, that if we have a strike and if we dare stop people going to work, the police would have come and arrested us straight away for obstruction and intimidation, but they was allowed to get away with it.

    They made a video the next day, which was something like You could see the video of me walking up the road and also put in their editorial that I was a coward because I phoned the police. I don't know what else I should have to do. I suppose if I hit them I'm a thug and if I call the police I'm a coward.

    That's the police turning up and asking what the situation was. I actually got my mobile phone out and took a video of them and the police actually told me to put my video away.

  • Thank you. That's very clear, Mr Crow, on that point.

    There's another example. We're moving forward in time to January of last year, Mr Crow, when you take a holiday along with your partner and two friends. This is in the Caribbean, I believe. Can I just have from you please the date the holiday began, because this is relevant to --

  • And the letter from Linklaters makes it clear that you were under surveillance from Mr Webb from 11 to 14 January, which may or may not be relevant to this.

    So your holiday begins on 13 January. Is that the day you fly out to the Caribbean --

  • Do you arrive on the 14th?

  • We can see the article at 54983. It's dated 23 January. It's in the News of the World and it's by the chief reporter, Mr Neville Thurlbeck. Do you have that?

  • Before I ask you questions about the article itself, can you tell us, please, the circumstances in which the information and photographs which we see in the article might have been obtained?

  • Yes. On 14 January, our first port of call was the lovely island of Grenada. Myself and three other colleagues with me who was leaving the ship, you hand your passport in when you go onto the ship and they give you a card, like a credit card, which is the same as a passport, for leaving the ship and going off the ship. It was purely by chance as we're walking up the gangway to get off the ship, the security officer that takes your card and checks you in that you're off the ship or on the ship was talking to a man in uniform, ship uniform, same like the uniform that he had on. He had a piece of paper in his hand that he was asking, "Is Robert Crow on the ship?" and I was taken aback. I first of all thought they were going to throw a party for me if I was on there. I was taken aback and I didn't want to say there and then I was on the ship to the person because he'd have known I'd been there.

    So the person walked down the gangway and I said to the security officer, "Why you are giving information?" He said "That's okay, that's Mr Matthews, he does work for Thomson Ships, he takes people for trips and one thing and the other and he shows people shops and jewellery and things like that". I said "Why would he be asking for information?" He said "Perhaps you've booked a trip". I said "No, I've booked nothing".

    We followed where his footsteps were and said to the person at the port, "Did you see Mr Matthews go through?" He said "Oh yes, he's gone into the supermarket". We went into the supermarket, four of us, and confronted him and he said he was just down at the port side, about half a mile from the ship, and a person come up to him and said, "Oh, can you do us a favour mate, would you go down to the ship and see if Mr Crow is on there because we're throwing a surprise party for him". He said "Of course I will", and he walked half a mile, which I thought was very strange, why you would want to walk back half a mile just because someone asked you if I was on the ship or not.

    Then we confronted the person concerned and he said that he'd just done it to help this person out, he thought he was being helpful.

    We have a subsequent claim going in at this moment in time that someone has given information out and we believe that the person concerned was obtaining information.

    The picture concerned -- I can't really see his name on there, but the side of the newspaper article is --

  • If you go to Google search, he operates as a private investigator/photographer operating from Florida in USA.

  • The actual picture concerned was about three or four days into the vacation on the island of Aruba, where they followed me and my partner, taking pictures, obviously to humiliate me and completely to be intrusive.

  • So these are photographs taken with a long lens, and it's pretty clear looking at the photos that you were unaware that they were being taken?

  • And you're on holiday on the island of Aruba and you say this is intrusive?

  • Your partner's name is mentioned. It also says that she's out shopping.

  • Which again is -- what do you say about that?

  • She was out shopping, she wasn't, actually, but that's what you do when you go on holiday.

  • But to ask you the point directly: is there any public interest, in your view, in publishing that sort of information about your partner?

  • No, not at all. I really can't see what the actual -- you can see what the story's about, it's just to humiliate you, basically saying you shouldn't be going on holiday and shouldn't be going shopping and shouldn't be having a private life in general. How dare you have a holiday.

  • Did you, out of interest, complain to the PCC about this article?

  • I'm not certain, no, if we actually complained to the PCC. We may well have done. We've certainly got a case against Thomsons at the moment, Cruises, on the basis that we believe a member of their staff divulged information, confidential information, on a client's integrity, and also that that information shouldn't be provided because it should be secured with the company you book your holiday up with. The information shouldn't be given out.

  • Do you have any evidence that this might be linked to Mr Webb, apart from the coincidence of --

  • No, I have no evidence, no.

  • Can I ask you about the next example, I think it's the final one, paragraph 11, Mr Crow. This is the union AGM held in June of last year at the Nevis Centre. Where is that?

  • Fort William, underneath the Ben Nevis mountain.

  • Can you tell us about that?

  • We had our annual general meeting each year. The caretaker of the Nevis Centre, which is a municipal centre, where we hold our conference, said he was getting phone calls throughout the week leading up to the AGM asking questions about did we have a hospitality room and what kind of facilities that we was given and so on. And he just batted them back in the normal way that it was none of his business and he's got a business booking with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers in holding our conference.

    Then a person who at that time said he was working as a freelance working out of Inverness for the Sunday Times tried to obtain a copy of our annual general meeting agenda, which was private and for members only, and again the caretaker said "It's out of my remit, you need to go and speak to the trade union if they want to give you a copy".

    Our press officer received a number of copies -- phone calls, where he told them it's a private matter, the annual general meeting, for our members and members only.

    What took place then was the caretaker of the Ben Nevis Centre does his closed circuit TV watch every so often and he went onto his closed circuit TV watch and found that the individual journalist who said that he was working as a freelancer for the Sunday Times was going down bins trying to obtain information. We reported that to the police. The police have done nothing on the issue and we're taking the complaint out against the police.

    Earlier on in this Inquiry I heard an editor or a deputy editor say that they don't go on fishing trips, that newspaper. They might not go on fishing trips, but they certainly go on refuse trips up there because the man had his head in the bin like the character Top Cat, to be honest with you, and quite clearly that information was tried to be obtained in our view illegally to use against and slur the RMT.

  • Can I just understand the strength of the evidence, which relates the information coming from a bin, as you say, rather than being, for example, the agenda accidentally left in the Nevis Centre, and then being picked up and handed to the Sunday Times?

  • Whether he went into the centre and got a copy or whether he got a copy from someone else, I don't know, but the fact is that we've still got the CCTV and the person don't just go into the bins, he takes the bin bags away with him and puts them in his car. There's cutbacks going on at the moment, I know, with the local authorities; I never thought journalists would go around and help out the bin men, to be honest with you.

  • Okay, thank you. I think that's all your evidence on that point.

    There's a point I missed, I'm afraid, in relation to the holiday. I've been asked to put this to you. Look at paragraph 10 of your statement.

  • The penultimate sentence reads:

    "In my opinion, the details of our holiday, which was a Caribbean cruise, could only have come from either hacking phones or buying information from the tour operator."

    The gist of your evidence was far more, indeed solely related to the second point, information obtained from the tour operator. Do you have any evidence that the information was obtained from hacking phones?

  • No, not directly. Only to say that we believe there was hacking going on, our movements were -- only could have been known in that sense of the word by where we'd have been at a port of call at that time and so on. No direct evidence, sir, on what the information is, but certainly Mr Matthews -- and went to the head of security as well -- he clearly went there to give information to the person that took the photographs in our view or the person in the port and the story actually ends up in the News of the World.

  • But from the picture you're giving us, it sounds more as if all the information is collated by old-fashioned surveillance techniques and a bit of dishonesty, namely Mr Matthews obtaining information and possibly Mr Bott obtaining information and possibly, and I understand this to be your case, Thomsons providing information, but those are the more likely sources of information rather than hacking of phones, would you accept that?

  • I can't prove, you know, if it was done by phone hacking or it was Mr Matthews or it was someone else. All I know is it ends up in the story of Mr Thurlbeck.

  • If you're being watched, of course you could have been watched going on board ship.

  • Or getting to the place from which you were embarking on your cruise.

  • Whatever. But do I gather your substantial complaint in relation to this incident is the intrusion into your holiday?

  • That's very clear, Mr Crow.

    Are there any other examples which you want to draw to our attention?

  • Very briefly. Basically on the illegal activity which I believe happened to me by parking a bus outside the home of the road where I lived. I'd like to also say that we've already settled with Sun newspaper a libel case where I was accused of having a union car -- which I don't even drive, haven't got a licence -- and a union sponsored house, which the union pays no contribution at all to where I live. That was settled, got into the Sun newspaper, and there was later a correction, apology, and a court settlement done on that one.

    Secondly as well, on top of that, back in 2003 in an election for our national president, a person standing election put mistruths out in his election address and I subsequently put a letter out making it clear that it was mistruths. I was accused by the Times newspaper of breaking the law -- in their words, not mine -- and subsequently the certification officer ruled that I never broke the law and the Times newspaper settled with me with a decision which demonstrated the fact I never broke the law.

    Just finally, this Christmas just gone, Boxing Day, to give you an example, there was a strike on Boxing Day this year caused by another union that operates, called ASLEF. Nothing to do with the RMT whatever. And the Times newspaper said that I and my union called that strike, which caused massive disruption to the travelling public, whether it be going to seeing their loved ones over Christmas or whether it be going to see sporting activities and so on, and they've put a correction in, not an apology, on page 67, just saying that it wasn't the RMT that called it, it was ASLEF. Independent newspaper even went further and said I was the Christmas glitch that that's caused all this disruption and have not even apologised.

    So our trade union over the last 10 to 12 years has been the victim of a campaign of victimisation, harassment against not only me but officials of my union and staff of my union for doing one thing and one thing only, and that's standing up for good honest working men and working women.

  • Thank you very much, Mr Crow.

  • Sir, the next witness is David Allen Green.