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

  • MR COLIN ANTHONY ADWENT (sworn).

  • Your full name, please?

  • Colin Anthony Adwent.

  • Thank you, Mr Adwent. You provided us with a witness statement on 3 February of this year. You've signed and dated it. Is this your formal evidence to this Inquiry?

  • It is, although I would like to make one exception to it. I appear to have misunderstood question 5, in which it talks about personal mobile or home telephone numbers and answered it on the basis only of press officers. My additional to that or clarification to that is I have a number of police officers' mobile numbers, the vast majority of which, I'm assuming, are their work numbers, because they were given to me in a work context.

  • I apologise for that.

  • In terms of your career and who you are, you started off in advertising. You then moved to journalism, qualified as a reporter in 1998, and since then you've worked as a general reporter, a crime reporter, a news editor, assistant editor and head of sport for both papers in Ipswich. You're currently the crime reporter of the East Anglian Daily Times; is that right?

  • And Ipswich Star. We have another paper as well.

  • Thank you. You returned to that role in January 2009, so presumably you're not a member of the Crime Reporters Association because you're regional?

  • Do you have any view about that?

  • I don't have any specific view about that.

  • But do you agree that actually the context within which you might want a discussion may be different from the context that crime reporters on national newspapers would want a discussion with police authorities or police officers?

  • I think broadly that's probably correct, yes.

  • Do you feel that you're limited by reason of the fact that there isn't a voice for the regional press in this area that's the equivalent of the CRA or not? It may not matter.

  • I've never felt limited or inhibited by anything like that, to be fair. I mean, we operate in Suffolk. It's a relatively small area, and in all honesty I'm the only dedicated crime reporter, as far as I'm aware, for the media in that area and the police seem to be very fair in terms of access and I've never needed or felt the need to be involved with any particular organisation or -- relating to that.

  • That might be the answer. If you're the only specialist, then if you have a problem, you just go and deal with it. You don't need to talk about it because there's no other specialist to involve in your discussion.

  • Possibly the case. I've always -- if there have been any issues with Suffolk Constabulary, then I've always dealt directly with Suffolk Constabulary or through my editors with Suffolk Constabulary.

  • In paragraph 26 your statement, you're clear that the relationship between you and the police is, generally speaking, a very good one? That's right, isn't it?

  • I've always found that to be so, yes.

  • So you don't appear to share the frustration which your editor expresses in paragraph 2 of his statement, in these terms:

    "Suffolk police's reluctance or inability to release information about crime or other incidents very quickly when public awareness can be of maximum benefit ..."

    Is that a problem which you've experienced or not?

  • I haven't particularly experienced that problem, no. I think -- with respect, the editor will obviously speak on his own behalf, but for me, I operate at a lower level. My role, if you like, is in three particular areas, I suppose. One relates to covering court cases and ensuring we cover all the important cases. Another one relates to live inquiries, so major investigations, that sort of thing, and the other aspect of that is general matters on policing within Suffolk Constabulary, such as organisational changes, et cetera.

    Concerns over the release of information and those type of things -- and I think this is one specific example that Mr Ash quoted today, which came to light, and -- I mean, specifically, I think that was what was being mooted within that statement, although you would have to ask that editor whether that is correct. Generally, I don't feel that there is a particular problem that affects me, having regard to that.

  • Were you involved at all with the reporting of the Steve Wright case in December 2006?

  • I was involved in terms of I was on the news desk at that time of the Ipswich Star. I wasn't one of the reporters who was out on the streets, if you like, or going to the press conferences. However, my role within that is to work on the news desk and you send the reporters out to various places, whether it be make sure the press conferences are covered, make sure if there's anyone they need to speak to in terms of knocking on any doors, that sort of thing. That was my role, if you like, to oversee what the reporters were doing at that point.

  • We've heard evidence from the last witness that the national press, in particular the tabloid press, touched the boundaries, as it were, of appropriate reporting, if I can put it in those terms. Is that something which you were concerned about at the time or observed and noted?

  • I have to say I've -- it wasn't a concern of mine at the time. It was not something that sort of touched our world, if you like, within regards to maybe the way they went about doing their job. Certainly I was unaware of the evidence that was given last week until it was begin by Mr Harrison, I believe it was, so I have to say that although I saw their reporting and I may have a personal view on the reporting, anything else would be speculation on my part, your Lordship.

  • There was the pre-arrest evidence, which was Mr Harrison's evidence, and then the reporting after Mr Wright's arrest, and the letter which went out from the Chief Constable, I think. Was that something which you were concerned about? Because your paper wasn't targeted. It wasn't being suggested that there was any inappropriate reporting from your paper; it was a problem which was nationally generated.

  • Again, I was aware of the letter that went out because my editors made us aware of the letter and stressed the need to be careful and make sure we stayed within the legal boundaries, but we believe we had done so at that point. As you say, we weren't being targeted and we carried on in the way that we had been.

  • Thank you. In paragraph 4 of your statement, you deal with your practice. You ring all the area and corporate press offices on a daily basis as part of your job:

    "Sometimes press officers may take the initiative and call me."

    Is that only to put out positive news or not?

  • I wouldn't say it's only to put out positive news, in fairness to them, but I mean, they may say, as a for instance, that there is a court case today that we might want to cover, for whatever reason, or that -- if there's a court case of a particular profile that has a certain importance within the community, to make sure that we're aware of it. Whether you deem that to be positive news, I don't know. On occasions, they may well contact us to say they're doing some sort of launch of an initiative, such as a burglary initiative, et cetera, and they'll be inviting us to it. Those are the type of communications that they would generally have when they come to us.

  • You make it clear that you've been out with the police on many raids throughout the years at their invitation. In your own words, please, what are the advantages of that?

  • Well, from my perspective, the advantage obviously is going along with the police and a photographer -- one of our photographers -- and getting what we would consider to be a good coverage of a story, being there at the outset. It also helps me forge relationships with officers. Many officers may well see me around and over the years come to understand the way I work or, you know, the type of way we deal with things. It helps break down barriers in that regard.

    Obviously the advantage from the police perspective, I would imagine, is the good publicity they get out of it and the raising of awareness of whatever it is that the raid is about.

  • Is it your practice -- and I appreciate it will be an editorial decision and not necessarily yours -- to pixelate out the faces of the persons arrested or not?

  • Off-the-record briefings, you explain that you have been offered these. The reasons vary. There's the obvious case of hindering an investigation. That would be something unwitting on your part, so you're warned off it by the police.

  • Can I ask you to explain what you mean by this clause:

    "... or perhaps because of a stance one of our papers may be taking."

    It's in question 14.

  • Yes. On occasions -- as a for instance, the example used earlier on by Mr Ash relating to, say, the timely nature of disclosure of certain information. The example that was used there would be relating to information which we felt was late in getting into the public domain, where three prisoners from a secure hospital had escaped custody.

    Now, although I'm using this as an example, I'm not suggesting this is the way we did or didn't cover it. What I'm saying is on occasions we may take a view and we may do a robust editorial about: "We should have known sooner."

    Now, there have been occasions where I have spoken to a senior officer who has explained to me why that information hasn't come out sooner, and therefore, rather than go off and criticise the police, then that gives us the opportunity to tailor our coverage to something that isn't perhaps sensationalist or something that doesn't criticise too deeply about what they've done or the way they've done it.

    Obviously we're not privy to the reasons why things are done in certain ways by Suffolk Constabulary, and on occasions, as I say, we may take a view on certain things, and it's only after a discussion prior to publication that we have a more fuller understanding and can get a more balanced report in order to put the information out, if you like, into the public domain without making undue criticism or unfair criticism.

  • Have there been circumstances where you've been in receipt of unauthorised information from the police?

  • Um ... yes, but I probably ought on explain. The subject of leaks has come up this morning, and Mr Ash has referred to five particular cases. Three of those are cases that I've been involved in, so therefore I must say yes. It rather depends on what the scale of what you're talking about is. Perhaps if you would clarify that, I might be able to answer it a little bit better.

  • Well, taking it in stages, the first point is whether you know at the time that the information is unauthorised. Presumably that's a judgment you make from the nature of the way in which the information is being imparted, because there may be an air of secrecy about it --

  • -- and the substance of what you're told. Is that, broadly speaking, correct?

  • Yes. I mean, I would have to say yes is the answer to your question, because obviously I have found things out that haven't gone through the official channels and the press office.

  • But presumably, without going into individual cases, your judgment is, in each instance: well, I might have obtained this information outside the authorised channels but it's nonetheless in the public interest to publish it. Is that the thought process you undertake?

  • Have you found yourself at the wrong end of a leak inquiry by the Suffolk police?

  • I haven't been questioned by the Suffolk police in any formal context at all within the leak inquiry.

  • Your response would be, if you were questioned: "Well, I'm not going to tell you. Look at the Editors' Code; my sources are confidential." Would that be your position?

  • Yes, it would be. Obviously my work relies on trust. I mean, if people trust me and I'm trusting them that the information is correct, then I cannot break that trust, and although it's perhaps a bit glib or possibly a cliche to hide behind sort of protecting your sources, at the end of the day, I have to work to a level of trust and people have to trust in me and once trust is gone, that's it.

  • This is the point you make under question 16, I believe, isn't it?

  • "A reputation for fairness and trustworthiness ..."

    And that covers everything you do, not just when you're occasionally in receipt of confidential information, which you've just talked about, but all aspects of your role as a journalist?

  • As a crime reporter.

  • I was taught -- when I trained, 15 years ago, I was taught three things, and they were taught to us as ABC: accuracy, balance and clarity. Beyond that, we were also told that people have a trust in you, not only the readers trusting that what you're saying and what you're printing is accurate, but people you are dealing with believe you are trustworthy.

    On and off, for 15 years, I've been dealing with police officers and hopefully over that period of time I've gained a reputation as someone who can be trusted and who does their job fairly.

  • How many times has it been -- I'm not going to ask you to give the precise number, because I'm sure you won't be able to recall -- where the police have come back to you on a story and said, "Didn't like that one very much; it was inaccurate in this respect or unfair in that respect"? Has that ever happened?

  • I can never honestly remember an occasion when that has ever happened. There may be occasions when Suffolk Constabulary don't like the story I'm doing. It's either -- I say embarrassing for them or there's information that will be going out into the public domain they wouldn't have wanted to get out there, but before every story is published, I would go to the press office and I would speak to the press officer involved and just explain what the story is and give full right of reply.

  • Can you see a distinction between stories which the police believe will positively hinder an investigation and stories which the police don't say that about but would prefer either didn't emerge or emerge with their full explanation?

  • I see a distinction between the two, yes.

  • What would be your reaction if you were told: "Well, that's very interesting, we're not going to confirm or deny, but we are in the middle of an investigation and this really could undermine it or damage it"?

  • Then we wouldn't publish anything.

  • Has that happened to you?

  • Again, I can't recall specific instances, but I believe I've been asked not to print something until, you know, the investigation has moved on to a point where it can be published.

  • In fairness, what I always ask -- although I'm in no position to demand it, but I always ask -- is that bearing in mind I have come to them with information that they don't want to be put in the public domain, as soon as it can be published, I ask them to come back to me and tell me. In fairness, they always have done, as far as I can recall.

  • That's entirely reasonable.

  • Part of the fairness and trustworthiness you refer to, because it works both ways, doesn't it?

  • Well, again, as I've said, each of us has our own perspective and our own agenda on things, but at the end of the day, I have to remain -- I've no wish to be in front of a judge.

  • Okay. Do you have a view, Mr Adwent, about the issue of logging contacts between police and journalists? It's been a bit of a recurring theme in this Inquiry and the chilling effect of that. Could you help us, please?

  • I think that's entirely, really, a matter for the constabularies around the country. My personal view is I don't believe it's overly helpful. I've noticed since September, I think it was, when Mr Ash said that this new instruction had come in about logging contacts, that one or two officers seem slightly more nervous about speaking to me, but then, as I say, that is entirely a view for Suffolk Constabulary to take. If they wish to take it, I don't know a way that I can dissuade them from doing. I just feel -- and again, this is a personal view -- that it may well inhibit officers from talking is to the press in certain cases, and I think when you have officers in positions of either seniority or certainly positions where they're covering quite important matters, and in some cases dealing with life or death situations, if the officers are responsible enough to be put in those positions, then surely they must have common sense enough to know what to speak to the press about, and how far, you know, they can go with speaking to the press. That's just my personal view.

  • Would it be made easier if it was recognised and perhaps rather more within the DNA of police officers that part of the job is to speak to the press, but the reason that we want to know about it is not because we're checking up on you, but simply so that we have a handle on what's out there?

  • Mm. I think possibly so. Again, I'm coloured -- my view is coloured, if you like, by Suffolk Constabulary. I appreciate this Inquiry is about so much more than that. So, you know, I deal with things in a very sort of local, parochial context. I just think that, as I say, you know, officers, as I go back to saying, are people of integrity, the ones that I've come across certainly are, and I just feel that anything that would inhibit a flow of information is something that, you know, with respect, I wouldn't necessarily advocate, and I do question whether some of this, certainly within Suffolk, may well have come about through information that people don't want to get into the public, relating to maybe restructuring or policing -- general matters about the police, rather than about specific inquiries, if you understand my meaning.

  • Well, I understand that, but it is interesting, isn't it, that everybody involved from a professional perspective -- the Chief Constable, the federation, Superintendent Association and the union, all felt this isn't very helpful, according to the letter that I've just read. You would say it may not be helpful, but the public have the right to know?

  • Well, yes, I mean -- as I mentioned in part of my evidence, you know, each of us, if you like, has a perspective or an agenda, however you want to call it, and there's been a fair bit said today within the evidence you've heard from Suffolk Constabulary that talks about reputation, it talks about news editing, it talks about management.

    Over the last 15 years or so, it has been noticeable -- for me, anyway -- how the information is continually getting funnelled into a narrower channel. It is about reputation, it is about organisation, what people feel they are comfortable with in the public knowing, and here I'm talking about organisational changes, if you like, rather than inquiries. And people protect -- I say their brand, but they protect their organisation and I fully understand that and every organisation and company does nowadays. I just feel that because a constabulary says that they're uncomfortable with that information being out in the public domain, it doesn't mean to say it's not in the public interest for it to be there.

  • You've put your finger on the tension that would inevitably exist between the press and indeed any organisation.

  • But then, you know, within my role -- maybe it's because I'm a little more experienced than possibly some of the younger reporters but I understand that, and within my role, that's why I believe it's important for myself to be able to talk to police officers of all ranks without fear or favour, if you like. I'm not looking to embarrass Suffolk Constabulary. I would hope that if people look at my stories that I've written over the years, they would see that there are very few of them that are negative towards Suffolk Constabulary and certainly as far as I'm concerned, the officers I've come across through the years, as far as I'm concerned, have acted with propriety, and I've never felt any of those officers was doing anything other than what they believed to be the right thing.

  • Yes. Thank you very much, Mr Adwent.

  • Thank you. You of course will appreciate, Mr Adwent, that as you yourself have said, the relationships are very different in different places. The trick is to try and find something that works for everybody and encourages the maximum openness and transparency, but doesn't go half a step too far and create the Wild West.

  • I understand. Thank you.

  • Thank you. Next, please, Mr Hunt.