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

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.

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