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

  • It's not about next Friday, but there was another matter you wanted me to deal with --

  • -- before we rose and again this morning you asked me to consider with my clients the issue of the article that was published in the Daily Mail concerning Mr Grant.

  • I've had an opportunity to consider that over the interval and can I just then please explain the position and what it is that I am proposing?

    Before I do that, can I just remind you of the context in which the article which Mr Sherborne and Mr Grant complain about was published, and the context was Mr Grant's evidence to you, sir, in which he made, as we know, allegations that Associated Newspapers had been involved in phone hacking --

  • It is 21 November.

  • It's Monday afternoon, sir.

  • Those were not allegations which he certainly had made to Associated Newspapers previously, and so they came to be made in a very public setting on the first day of evidence to your Inquiry.

  • There were two broad strands to those allegations. Firstly, that Mr Grant said they were supported by evidence which was to be found in a conversation he had covertly recorded with Mr McMullan, and the second strand was an inference which he drew as to the means by which an article was published by my clients concerning the period when he was with Jemima Khan --

  • -- and the relationship with a "plummy-voiced woman". The second was an inference.

    As to the first, the McMullan conversation, that is not something, of course, that Mr Grant had checked with Mr McMullan and we've had Mr McMullan's evidence that he had been misinterpreted by Mr Grant if --

  • It is important that I put the context, if I may.

  • As to the second, the question of the means by which the story came to be written concerning Jemima Khan and the lady in question, sir, that, as I said at the time, is a matter which will be the subject of evidence which we will produce to the Inquiry.

  • But we categorically deny that on either basis there is any evidence that Associated Newspapers has ever hacked phones.

  • That's a matter for discussion and potential evidence.

  • But the criticism that Mr Sherborne was making and the concern that I expressed was the one sentence in the report. If one reads precisely what he said, he was asked:

    "Are you suggesting that this story must have come from phone hacking?"

    And then he tells the story and then says:

    "Thinking about how they could possibly come up with such a bizarre leftfield story, I realised ..." et cetera.

    Then it was put to him:

    "You haven't alleged that before, have you, in the public domain?

    "Answer: No. But when I was preparing this statement and going through all my old trials and tribulations with the press I looked at that one again and thought 'That's weird', and then the penny dropped."

    Mr Jay said:

    "I think the highest it can be put is frankly it's a piece of speculation on your part, isn't it, in relation to this?

    "Answer: Yes, you could, yes, speculation, okay, but I'd love to know, I mean, I think Mr Caplan who represents Associated was saying earlier today he would like to put in a supplementary statement and, you know, referring to the things I say today. Well I'd love to hear what the Daily Mail's and Sunday Mail's explanation of that article is, what the source was, if it wasn't phone hacking."

    And then he says:

    "I'll leave that for now."

    And it's abundantly clear what Mr Grant was doing. He was preparing for this hearing, he decided that the facts led to an inference, you challenged the inference and that's perfectly permissible, and if it's necessary that's something I can think about, but more significantly, the article of which he complains is that the allegations are "mendacious smears" driven by his hatred of the media.

    And the word that Mr Sherborne focused on and the word that I took issue with at the time was the word "mendacious". You may say Mr Grant doesn't like the media, I don't suppose he would disagree with that for one moment in this context, perhaps he would, perhaps he wouldn't, I don't know, I'm not going to put words into his mouth. That's not appropriate. But the clear allegation is this was deliberately dishonest.

    Now, either you want to support that, or you don't.

  • Might I just refer to another passage in the evidence? I think the reference is page 27, line 21. Mr Jay said:

    "But there is no evidence that you have to your personal knowledge that the Mail was involved in this at all, is there?"

    And he says:

    "I'm asking you to be very careful when you answer the question. Don't share a speculation with us, don't share an opinion. We're looking for evidence. There isn't any evidence, is there?

    "Answer: The evidence for the Daily Mail being involved in phone hacking for me would be the article we spoke about earlier, the plummy-voiced woman, and it would be Paul McMullan's answer to this question."

  • Paul McMullan's answer has been explained, but in any event whether you could draw that inference from what was recorded on the tape is another question, and the other evidence is the inference which judges frequently draw from circumstantial evidence. I'm not saying it's right, I'm not saying it's wrong. What I am saying is that it seems to me, and I wasn't sure that you or your clients disagreed at the time that it was appropriate to characterise that allegation as "mendacious".

  • Can I come to the point, I hope, of my submissions to you?

  • Can I say straight away, there never was any intention to interfere with this Inquiry and there never was any intention to intimidate a witness. There was every intention to respond to a serious allegation of criminality, which received very widespread publicity.

    Sir, I understand in effect the phrase which you have focused on, and can I suggest this. What we are suggesting is that we will be calling evidence in relation to the second strand of the evidence, and I use that in inverted commas, which Mr Grant referred to. In order solely to assist the smooth running of your Inquiry, may I stress that, to assist the smooth running of your Inquiry, we are prepared for the moment, and may I stress those words, to remove the phrase "mendacious smears" from the online copy of the Daily Mail. That will be done pending the evidence being called before you.

    Sir, I do say with respect that what you are asking us to do is to remove copy from a newspaper in circumstances where, really, we are not a court dealing with whether this is comment or opinion, we're not dealing with defamation proceedings. We are dealing with an Inquiry. I fully understand the importance of ensuring that those that are called before it are not intimidated, that those that are called before it do not feel that their evidence is going to be met with vilifying comments thereafter, but, sir, in our respectful submission there is a context to this. It's far better that the evidence is called and, as I say, to assist you we will remove that for the moment from the database.

  • I understand. As to the argument between Mr Grant and Associated Newspapers as to what they wrote about him, there are ample mechanisms available to Mr Grant to deal with that in such way as he believes are appropriate and for you to respond. I'm not doing that. I am concerned about the very feature that you've mentioned.

    Now, to some extent we've moved beyond it and I took comfort from the way you responded to my proposition to you, and I didn't press you because of the very reasons you've identified, and I'm sure you understand. But it was the suggestion that that sort of response might impact on others who were coming to give evidence. That's my concern.

    I'm not seeking to debate the merits of this conversation, neither am I seeking to decide what is an appropriate inference or isn't an appropriate inference, although I made it abundantly clear what I did not think, based on that material, was appropriate so that I could lend some force to the concern that this might be thought of as intimidatory. You made it clear that it wasn't intended to be, and, as I say, I believed that the word had come out. I was clearly wrong in that regard. Had I not believed it, I would have had this conversation with you last week.

  • Sir, thank you very much.

  • Sir, as you can imagine, for Mr Grant -- I'm not sure I missed -- I don't think there was an apology buried deep in Mr Caplan's plea in mitigation, but if you want an example of the culture, practices and ethics, you have it.

  • Can I say this, and you'll appreciate why I say this because Mr Grant would like his right of reply to that. He won't exercise the right of attack, which is what Associated did, but the distinction, which I would emphasise again, between Mr Grant's evidence being mistaken or wrong, which is no doubt what Associated suggest, and I can leave that to be dealt with when the evidence is called, and what he was accused of is one which you will find in any dictionary, and I would recommend that Associated Newspapers' editor or its legal department consult one rather more quickly than they have come back with their explanation.

  • It's very important for me to say that as regards Mr McMullan, as you said yourself, the transcript of what he said to Mr Grant when he didn't realise that he might be quoted later, as opposed to giving his evidence here, is very clear for all to read and I can make submissions in due course about it.

  • Yes. I don't want this debate to become totemic. Do you understand what I mean?

  • I understand that you will argue that it's illustrative and Mr Caplan will have understood that at a very early moment, which is why he dealt with it as he dealt with it on the last occasion. But it's all material which we will consider in due course without my making a finding of fact one way or the other, because I can't start going into that sort of territory.

  • Sir, I understand that, but you will recall that it wasn't just me who rose on Tuesday morning to deal with this. Mr Garnham did as well.

  • It carries implications well beyond Mr Grant, as you'll appreciate.

  • I understand. And I am conscious that those who followed Mr Grant had the strength of mind and character to carry on, whatever impact that evidence all has. I'm not judging the issue.

  • I understand that, sir.

  • Right. Thank you very much indeed.

  • Sir, the next witness is Mr Alexander Owens.