Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 1113-1119)


14 JULY 2009

  Chairman: Good morning. Before we start this morning can I welcome two new Members of the Committee, Tom Watson and Peter Ainsworth, each of whom would like to make a short personal statement.

  Mr Watson: Thank you, Chairman. Just to declare a couple of interests: one is that I have a column in PA News which is remunerated and in the declaration of interests; the second, for the purposes of this case, is that I am currently in dispute with the Sun newspaper. Whilst I do not think that will affect our inquiry I do think it is important that that is on the record.

  Mr Ainsworth: Chairman, I think my declaration is slightly less controversial. I am Chairman of the Conservative Arts and Creative Industries Network, and also Chairman of the Elgar Foundation.

  Q1113  Chairman: Thank you. This morning's session is a further one into the Committee's Inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel. We have decided to hold it, in particular, in response to the stories which appears in the Guardian last week. When the Committee saw those stories it did raise questions not only in relation to our present Inquiry but, also, in relation to the Inquiry which we held two years ago into self-regulation of the press. It appeared that there might have been some contradiction between the evidence given to us by Les Hinton two years ago and the stories which subsequently appeared in the Guardian. As a result of that, we asked Les Hinton whether he wished to change the evidence he had given to us. He has responded to me: "I do not wish to alter or add to my comments before your Committee. My answers then were sincere and, I hope, comprehensive." He went on to say that because he is now based in California and has engagements there he was unable to appear today. The Committee will decide who else it wishes to take evidence from once we have heard this morning's evidence, and we intend to hold a further session next Tuesday. We will obviously wish to put questions to anybody who we think may have additional information to give as part of this Inquiry. Can I welcome our first witness this morning, Tim Toulmin, the Director of the PCC. Tim, the PCC carried out its own investigation following the conviction of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, and also the Motorman operation. Can you tell me your response to the Guardian story last week?

  Mr Toulmin: Before I do that, Chairman, if I may just put into context exactly what the PCC did two years ago, because there have been one or two inaccurate references to it. It was not an inquiry designed to duplicate the police investigation into what happened at News International; it was very much focused on the evidence that came out of that and how lessons could be learned, both about newspapers, more broadly, and the industry. We brought in the issues to do with the Data Protection Act that the Information Commissioner had been campaigning on for several years, and we conducted the exercise in two ways: we went to the News of the World and asked the new editor Colin Myler to explain to us the circumstances in which the Goodman and Mulcaire operation could be allowed to flourish and what he was going to do to ensure it would not happen again. Then we spoke to the rest of the industry to find out what controls they had in place to ensure that such a thing could not happen there and would not happen there in the future. Our concern, therefore, is very much with the integrity of that report and to ensure that these sorts of practices are not going on, because we have deplored them on a number of occasions. The Guardian newspaper's allegations last week, which were published with great prominence and repeated throughout the media, initially, of course, gave us cause for concern and, indeed, do give us cause for concern about the situation as it was before our report was published. However, we are going to ask further questions, initially, of the Guardian and, also, of the Information Commissioner, about whether there is any evidence we were misled during our inquiries into that report, and whether there is any evidence that the allegations relate in any way to what has happened subsequent to 2007, because the purpose of our report was to clear up this practice where it went on.

  Q1114  Chairman: When you carried out your own investigations, did you have access to the Information Commissioner's information relating to operation Motorman?

  Mr Toulmin: Obviously, all this was in the public domain but before your inquiry in 2007, if you remember, with Christopher Meyer, there was that very question put, and he said, at that point, that he would not release details of individual journalists because he thought it would breach their privacy because they had no charges against them. So, no, we have not seen any more information, but I wrote to the Information Commissioner's office last week to say we may have some inquiries of them and they have been in touch, and we will be in conversation later this week. If there is anything pertinent, anything new, that they can tell us, obviously we will want to know about that, but it would be very much, so far as we are concerned, to illustrate somehow that the press have not been paying attention to the recommendations or we were in any way misled when we conducted that inquiry.

  Q1115  Chairman: As far as you can see from what you have read so far, the Guardian stories relate to events which took place prior to your investigation.

  Mr Toulmin: That will be one of our questions, but as far as I can tell that is the case and obviously you will be able to put that to Mr Davies after I have given evidence.

  Q1116  Chairman: Was there anything in the Guardian story which contradicts what you know to date and which came as a surprise to you?

  Mr Toulmin: Obviously, there were some new facts there; the fact of the Gordon Taylor settlement and the amount of money that was alleged to have been involved in that, but we did, of course, know that Gordon Taylor was one of the people who had had their `phone messages hacked because it came out during the Mulcaire trial in 2007, and we also discovered during that trial that Max Clifford, Elle MacPherson and one or two other people had also got their `phone messages hacked. So the way that has been repeated in the last week, I think, suggests that that is new information, which it is not, but that is not to say that there is not new information which is concerning. In particular, one of the things that concerns us, because I am not sure it has actually necessarily been clarified, is this reference to 2,000 to 3,000 people and mobile telephones. The way in which it was written in the original piece was very carefully done, and it said that "... officers had found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into `thousands' of mobile `phones. Another source with direct knowledge of the police findings put the figure at `two or three thousand' mobiles." That story was based on a source, and we would not expect Mr Davies to tell us who that source was, but what he might be able to tell us is whether that means that the News Group were soliciting information for 2,000 or 3,000 mobile `phones which is the way in which in some quarters it has been reported, or whether it means that they used a private investigator who separately had been accessing or had made plans to access the mobiles of 2,000 to 3,000 people, which of course is an entirely different allegation, and one which—the latter one—is less severe, as far as News Group is concerned.

  Q1117  Chairman: Do you believe that since you amended the Code and since measures were taken across all newspapers to ensure the journalists were aware that these kinds of practices were unacceptable, have you any evidence to suggest that this has continued?

  Mr Toulmin: No, not yet. If there is any out there and anyone wants to bring any evidence before us, of course, we will look at it right away. That is a very pertinent point; we do not have that evidence yet, and of course we can only act when that evidence is brought to our attention.

  Q1118  Chairman: The widespread anecdotal reports that this sort of thing has been common practice in newsrooms—do you believe that that is or was the case?

  Mr Toulmin: I can only say that over the years I have heard rumours that it was the case, but anecdotally, again, talking to people in the industry, those who accept that it did go on some years ago, say it absolutely does not take place now, and, obviously, if it did, given the amount of scrutiny that this Committee brings to it, and the PCC, the police, people know now that they are able to complain to the courts and to the police and the appalling negative publicity that is associated with it, obviously, people would have to be incredibly reckless to carry on undertaking that sort of activity. It is difficult to know for sure, of course, because a lot of this activity will, inevitably, have been going on secretly.

  Q1119  Philip Davies: Despite all the hoo-ha in the Guardian about this, it seems to me from what you are saying, and from what John Yates said at the Metropolitan Police, that as far as you are concerned and as far as the police are concerned, there is no new evidence here; it is a sort of regurgitation of what we already knew. Am I right in thinking that that is your position?

  Mr Toulmin: There is a lot of what we already knew. There is a lot of stuff from the Information Commissioner's report into operation Motorman, and the two reports What Price Privacy and What Price Privacy Now, which this committee has examined in previous years. The information from that, as far as I know, relates to activity that was going on in 2002, which was way before I was Director of the PCC, and it has had a good trot around the columns before and people have looked at it. Then there was the information that came out of Mulcaire and the Goodman trial which, of course, was also published widely at the time, and our own inquiries. However, there is some new information: as I said earlier, the fact that Gordon Taylor had sued the paper and got a settlement and the amount of money. There is a suggestion as well that there was another reporter at the News of the World who was aware of what Mulcaire was doing. I think that is new and that is, obviously, something we will be chasing up with the Guardian.

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