Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
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
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 whichthe
latter oneis 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 newsroomsdo
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.