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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1329-1339)


21 JULY 2009

  Chairman: Good morning. This is the second session as part of the Committee's further inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, concentrating particularly on the stories that appeared in the Guardian nearly two weeks ago. I would like to welcome as our first witnesses this morning Tom Crone the Legal Manager of News Group, and Colin Myler the Editor of the News of the World. Before we start, I would like to make a declaration that I am an elected member of the Board of the Conservative Party which is currently the formal employer of Mr Andy Coulson. I have stood aside from my membership of the Board whilst this inquiry is taking place. I believe Tom Watson would also like to make a statement.

  Q1329  Mr Watson: Thank you, Chairman. I am a member of the Unite Union and, having had time to review the evidence of this case which I had not had last Tuesday, I would also like to add that in my dispute with the Sun I am represented by Carter-Ruck on a CFA agreement, which Committee members will know is relevant to the inquiry, but not the evidence-taking today.

  Mr Crone: Yesterday evening we delivered a letter from our outside solicitors to you, and I think to be copied to the rest of the Committee, pointing out that Mr Watson is in litigation with us at the moment; and pointing out that under parliamentary rules and also the principles I think of natural justice and Article 6 of the Human Rights Act it seems to us quite improper that Mr Watson is sitting on this panel dealing with News Group Newspapers Ltd with whom he is in litigation. If he remains we will be making a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

  Chairman: I am aware of the letter, as indeed is Mr Watson and the Committee. The advice from Speaker's Counsel is that it does not interfere with his ability to take part in this inquiry; and Mr Watson has made a formal declaration. Obviously you are able to make any complaint you wish. Do you wish to add anything?

  Mr Watson: Only to say, when the allegation was made late last night, Chairman, I took advice from the Clerks who took advice from Speaker's Counsel. I happen to think that this is News International trying to interfere with the work of this Committee; and I think it is improper.

  Q1330  Chairman: Both of those statements are now on the record. Perhaps we should proceed. The major story that appeared in the Guardian some ten days ago was that News International had made a payment to three individuals, principally Gordon Taylor, in settlement of a court action. Is that correct?

  Mr Myler: Before we start, Chairman, may I make an opening statement?

  Q1331  Chairman: Yes, you may.

  Mr Myler: I am glad of the opportunity to appear before you to put our case today. I hope I can help the Committee reach conclusions that will enable us as an industry to put this episode behind us. It seems that there are three issues which need to be addressed by us arising from the allegations made by the Guardian and the evidence given by its representatives to this Committee last week. The first is the Information Commissioner's report arising from Operation Motorman. His reports are three years old, and the activities they refer to are seven years old. This Committee fully investigated these matters in early 2007 and recorded its findings over five pages of its report entitled Self-Regulation of the Press, which was published on July 11 of that year. Nothing new has emerged since then and there is no connection, and never has been a connection, between those matters and the allegation of accessing telephone voicemails. The second issue is whether we knew of others in the News of the World newsroom to have been involved with Goodman, or separately from him, in accessing confidential information illegally via Mulcaire. This relates to the evidence given to this Committee by Les Hinton, then Executive Chairman of News International on March 6, 2007. By then the nine month long police investigation into the illegal activities of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman had concluded with their convictions. No evidence or information had emerged to suggest to senior executives at News International that others at the News of the World knew of these activities or were complicit in them. Both the prosecution and the judge at the Goodman/Mulcaire trial accepted that the annual retainer agreement between the News of the World and Glenn Mulcaire, and the work he did under it, did not involve criminality. At no stage did the police arrest or question any member of the News of the World staff besides Mr Goodman. Mr Hinton's evidence was based upon what was known at the time, and was entirely truthful. The third issue is the evidence that came to light in April 2008, and the reasons for settling our litigation with Gordon Taylor. The Committee may disagree but we consider this issue and the facts surrounding it to be the only new matters in this affair. We are here to answer whatever questions you have on this subject today. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to set out the rigorous new safeguards I did put in place with my staff when I became Editor in January 2007. The first of these was to send an email on February 2007 to every member of staff and all casual or contract workers at the News of the World setting out the PCC Code and data protection compliance requirements. This email included the PCC Code in full. The following week I mirrored that email with a letter sent to all members of staff at their home addresses, once again including the Code in printed form, which was provided by the PCC. Included in these steps was the rewriting of the relevant clause in staff contracts which was replaced with an emphatically stronger and broader new clause. This letter also stated that failure to comply with the PCC Code would lead to disciplinary proceedings and may result in summary dismissal. I have brought with me copies of the available documents should the Committee wish to see them. We have also put in place a series of measures to guard against the situation arising again in the News of the World, and these include: the introduction of strict protocols on cash payments; and on the level of justification, authorisation and auditing of cash payments—since I took over as Editor cash payments for stories and tip-offs have been reduced by between 82% and 89%; regular internal training on justification for using subterfuge with the PCC and legal issues as its core; attendance by all staff was mandatory. A series of seven two and a half hour in-house PCC seminars was held for all News of the World staff led by Tim Toulmin the Director of the PCC and his team; and a rolling programme of further PCC seminars is planned for 2009. The News of the World continues to work with its journalists and its industry partners to ensure that they fully comply with both the relevant legislation and the rigorous requirements of the PCC Code of Practice. Thank you.

  Q1332  Chairman: Thank you. I think we will wish to take up a number of those points in due course. Perhaps I could return to my first question. You confirmed I think in your statement that a payment was made to settle the action by Gordon Taylor and two others?

  Mr Myler: Yes.

  Q1333  Chairman: Was the size of that payment greater in order that the proceedings should be kept secret?

  Mr Myler: Absolutely not as far as I am aware.

  Mr Crone: No.

  Q1334  Chairman: On what basis was it decided to keep the proceedings secret?

  Mr Crone: "Secret" is not the word I would use. This was an action against us for breach of confidence and privacy. We get quite a lot of those now since the privacy law has expanded somewhat in the last five years. Every single case against us for breach of privacy—unless the information is already out within the public domain—results in a very strict term of confidentiality at the end of the case. When you think about it, there would be absolutely no point in anyone suing us to stop their privacy being revealed if they did not at the end of the case tack on an absolutely strict and binding confidentiality term, and that is what happened in this case.

  Q1335  Chairman: Was it at Gordon Taylor's request?

  Mr Crone: Actually I think he mentioned it first.

  Q1336  Chairman: He mentioned it first?

  Mr Crone: It was raised by him before it was raised by us, but we fell in with it. We always fall in with it, being privacy, because if the litigant goes in front of the judge the judge will order the injunction immediately—so certainly when we have accepted that there was a breach.

  Q1337  Chairman: Have there been any other cases relating to Clive Goodman and the telephone hacking?

  Mr Crone: No, not so far.

  Q1338  Chairman: You have not received any?

  Mr Crone: We have had complaints since this arose last week. Three effectively: two complaints and one Information Act request.

  Q1339  Chairman: If the position was that, as you have previously said, Clive Goodman was acting entirely alone and that nobody else had knowledge, why did News International agree to settle with such a large sum?

  Mr Crone: In the aftermath of Clive Goodman and Mulcaire's arrest and subsequent conviction various internal investigations were conducted by us. This was against the background of a nine month massively intense police investigation prior to arrest and then a continuing investigation in the five months up until conviction. The police raided Mulcaire's premises; they raided Goodman's premises; and they raided the News of the World offices. They seized every available document; they searched all the computers, the files, the emails et cetera. Subsequent to the arrests they came to us, the News Group Newspapers Ltd, and made various requests to us to produce documents which they felt may be relevant. At no stage during their investigation or our investigation did any evidence arise that the problem of accessing by our reporters, or complicity of accessing by our reporters, went beyond the Goodman/Mulcaire situation. The first piece of evidence we saw of that, in terms of the management investigating, was in April 2008 when Mr Taylor's lawyers produced two documents: the first was a February 2005 holding contract and the second was the email that was discussed here last week.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 23 February 2010