Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
14 JULY 2009
Q1120 Philip Davies: Is it not the
case that the News International line to take on the Goodman affair
was that this was somebody who was operating as a maverick, totally
independently, nobody knew what he was doing (although, clearly,
somebody must have known what he was doing). This was the picture
being given. Do the allegations in the Guardian not suggest
that rather than this being a maverick, acting independently,
there was a more widespread culture within the organisation of
the News of the World which must have been evident to more
Mr Toulmin: I think that is the
way that the allegations have been interpreted by a large number
of people, and you can ask the Guardian whether it was
their intention to imply that. That is certainly the impression
a lot of people have got.
Q1121 Philip Davies: I am asking
you if that is your impression.
Mr Toulmin: At this stage it is
not, because we have had, 2½
years ago, a comprehensive exchange with Colin Myler who conducted
an internal inquiry there. If there is anything in the report
and anything that you discover today that suggests that that is
not true, then, obviously, that would suggest that we have been
misled and, of course, we would be right on to it. We will be
writing to the paper once we have as much information as we can
possibly lay our hands on.
Q1122 Philip Davies: Do you think
that some people might think that this is the PCC being ineffectual,
closing ranks on the newspaper industry, on the journalism industry,
not wanting to have a big hoo-ha because it might undermine the
whole concept of self-regulation and the rationale behind the
Mr Toulmin: I think whatever the
PCC didif we introduced hanging and whipping and all sorts
of ghastly public humiliations for editorsthere will always
be people that would say that. So I am quite happy to accept that.
However, what people should look at is the fact that all of this,
all of our activity, takes place in an entirely transparent way.
We did not have to, in the way that we are constituted, conduct
this exercise two years ago; we did because we thought that public
confidence was likely to be undermined by the events at the News
of the World in relation to Goodman and Mulcaire. The newspaper
and the company co-operated with us at that time. It is worth
bearing in mind that we have actually stretched the boundaries
of our remit as far as possible. We are a complaints body; we
are not statutory; we are like an ombudsman, really. People want
us to be more like a general regulator with statutory powers and
so on. That is a separate argument; the fact is we are not that
body. Nonetheless, based on the industry's voluntary compliance
with the Code of Practice we went as far as we could at that time
in order to shine a light on how these transgressions at the paper
had been allowed to arise. Of course, there is absolutely nothing
in it for the PCC to cover anything up at all, or to be fobbed
off in any way. If there is any evidence, as I said, that we have
been misled we will be straight on to the newspaper, and we will
in any case give them an opportunity to come back to us on that.
Just one final point I would make: I am, as you know, just an
official of the PCC; the Board of the PCC will be the body that
will decide, ultimately, whether it has been misled. The Commission
is meeting next week, at which all these matters will be discussed.
Q1123 Philip Davies: Finally, if
I may, Chairman, it seems that the Guardian must have seen,
in order to publish their story, some sealed court papers. I just
wondered if the PCC had any concerns about how the Guardian
may have arrived at its particular story.
Mr Toulmin: I think there are
all sorts of issues there. I think the focus at the moment is
on the News of the World. I think the Guardian would
say that what they have done is publish a story in the public
interest. We are not going to find out what the source of the
story is because they have an obligation to protect their confidential
sources, and that is something that we respect. So I do not think
we are ever going to get to the bottom of quite what Mr Davies
has or has not seen, and that is probably as it should be. The
Code of Practice itself says that journalists must respect confidential
sources, so we certainly would not be going down that path.
Q1124 Rosemary McKenna: Good morning.
Are the PCC not concerned that there is an attitude among journalists
that this is widespread? For example, on Sunday morning, on The
Andrew Marr Show, in the newspaper review, both Sir Trevor
McDonald and Amanda Platell, well-known journalists, actually
said: "Why are we surprised?" They both actually said
that: "Why are we surprised? We know this kind of behaviour
goes on." Are you not concerned about that?
Mr Toulmin: I think it is very
depressing that people think that it is widespread and common
and that journalists routinely engage in that sort of activity.
Of course it is; there is no doubt about it. From where we are
sitting, there is evidenceand we have seen evidence, through
the court case and there is further evidence in the Guardianthat
this has gone on; anecdotally we heard that it used to be more
widespread. However, action has been taken, through the courts,
the police inquiry at the News of the World, the PCC's
activity and your Inquiry, since all these things apparently were
more common, to ensure that it does not happen again. I think
we ought to focus for a large part on where we are now. Of course,
it is easy to condemn historical transgressions, and there is
absolutely no complacency about that at all, but ...
Q1125 Rosemary McKenna: The point
is: are we sure? That is the point, is it not? Are we sure that
it is historical; that it is not happening today?
Mr Toulmin: We cannot be 100%
sure without having some sort of God-given powers of seeing into
journalists' minds and private activity. The point is, if you
have any suspicion you can go to the police, you can complain
to a lawyer, you can come to the PCC, you can go to a newspaper,
you can tell Nick Davies about it and he will probably write a
lengthy story about how frightful journalists are. There are many
ways of obtaining redress. So much scrutiny has been brought into
this area in the last few years that I think we can be far more
certain than we were that it really does not go on.
Q1126 Rosemary McKenna: Or that it
has gone deeper underground. That is the other scenario.
Mr Toulmin: All these things are
hypothetical. I just do not know. I would be extremely surprised,
given everything that has happenedthe newspapers are fully
aware of the sorts of punishments that are availableshould
they be caught out doing it again. I just cannot imagine. I do
not understand why they would do that.
Q1127 Adam Price: Your demeanour,
Mr Toulmin, this morning is admirably relaxed, but you are in
a fairly unique position here, are you not?
Mr Toulmin: A fairly ?
Q1128 Adam Price: You are in a fairly
unique position, the PCC, because two of your members, are they
not, are effectively accusing each other of lying?
Mr Toulmin: You mean people who
subscribe to the PCC Code?
Q1129 Adam Price: The Guardian
has said that they know for certain that several News of the
World reporters were aware of the `phone hacking, which directly
contradicts the evidence that was given to this Committee and
several statements made subsequently by News of the World
executives. The News of the World, in its editorial on
Sunday, accused the Guardian of being "deliberately
misleading". Is this not a crisis for the industry; that
two members of the PCC are accusing each other of misleading the
British public, and only one of them can be right?
Mr Toulmin: Well, I, perhaps,
have a slightly longer memory about these sorts of spats. These
things go on between newspapers all the time, and there is nothing
new about that, at all. We are in a slightly better position than
you might imagine in that we do not take complaints from one newspaper
about another, or one journalist about another; we tend to take
the view that they can look after themselves. So various degrees
of scrutiny will be brought to this. Of course there is the PCC,
and I have told you what steps we are taking, and then there is,
of course, this Inquiry, which is a public forum, where people
will have to come and account for themselves. Doubtless, people
will make their own minds up as to precisely where the truth lies
here, but we have not been asked to adjudicate on that matter,
as we might be slightly partial.
Q1130 Mr Sanders: What you seem to
be saying is you cannot believe what you read in the newspapers.
Mr Toulmin: Those are your words,
Mr Sanders, not mine.
Q1131 Adam Price: Private Eye is
not a member of the PCC.
Mr Toulmin: No.
Q1132 Adam Price: However, I am sure
you are an avid reader of Street of Shame.
Mr Toulmin: I am, of course.
Q1133 Adam Price: Can I remind you
of a story which appeared in Private Eye in July 2007,
where they alleged that Glenn Mulcaire, subsequent to the court
case, had been paid a sum in the region of £200,000 by News
of the World, they claimed, to buy his silence, and they also
went on to say that Clive Goodman could expect a similar payment.
Were you aware of that allegation? It has not been denied by the
News of the World, to my knowledge.
Mr Toulmin: Was I aware of that?
I cannot quite remember that particular story, I am afraid, but
it was not actually pertinent to what we were trying to do with
the industry, which, as I said earlier, was building on what we
knew already through the court case to make sure that things did
not happen again. I do not know whether that is true or not, and
that would be a question for the principals concerned.
Q1134 Adam Price: You will put that
question to the News of the World?
Mr Toulmin: Well, is it relevant?
Q1135 Adam Price: It is relevant.
Mr Toulmin: Is it relevant to
whether or not we were misled? Is that what you are suggesting?
Q1136 Adam Price: It is relevant
in the sense that the allegation is that they were trying to buy
his silence. Specifically, the News of the World denies,
of course, that they are trying to suppress evidence, so it is
a perfectly reasonable question to put to them. Is this true?
Did they pay Glenn Mulcaire £200,000or somebody close
to him £200,000subsequent to his conviction?
Mr Toulmin: If there is evidence
that in doing so they tried to suppress evidence to us that would
have been relevant to what we were trying to achieve, then of
course it is pertinent to our inquiry. However, we are not going
to chase up every rumour and bit of tittle-tattle that we read
in Private Eye, because we would be even busier than we
are at the moment.
Q1137 Adam Price: It is a very specific
allegation, it has not been denied; surely, the public interest
suggests that we have a right to know whether it is true or not.
If it is not true they can deny it and then we are all clear.
Mr Toulmin: It is the sort of
nugget that might be quite interesting to know, just to satisfy
people's curiosity, but the question for us is whether it is pertinent
or not to the report that we wrote and the inquiries that we made
at the time. That is the relevance for us.
Q1138 Adam Price: I think it is extraordinary
that you think that it is just an interesting "nugget".
Surely, it goes to the heart of how the News of the World
has approached this whole issue. The story that the Guardian
wrote was about a pay-off and the sealing of court papers to prevent
that information from going into the public domain. This allegation
is suggesting something similar. Those allegations start to look
like a pattern of offending behaviour. We need to know whether
they are true, surely?
Mr Toulmin: I think it is important
to recognise that there is a division of responsibility here,
and the PCC's authority is rooted in the Code of Practice, which
is, as you know, a voluntary document which journalists and editors
sign up to. Our way into this issue is clause 10 of the Code which
relates to subterfuge and undercover journalism. Our concern,
therefore, is respect for that Code by journalists going forward,
and, of course, if there is a complaint then we will look into
that. There are all sorts of things that go on at newspapers,
no doubt, that people might want to know about, or that otherwise
fall under different authorities, such as the police; there are
all sorts of laws and rules that apply. However, I do not think
it is very fair to expect the PCC to "hoover-up" every
last allegation that is made about either an individual journalist
or a freelancer, and so on; it has got to be relevant and rooted
in the rules that we are set up to apply. If that is the case
with this payment, which we will obviously look at, then it will
become pertinent, but, on the face of it, it does not necessarily
sound like it is. Again, that will be a matter for our Board of
Directors to consider next week when we put all the information
Q1139 Paul Farrelly: Just on that
point, is payment to criminals a breach of the Code?
Mr Toulmin: In some circumstances
it can be, yes.