Morning Hearing on 12 December 2011

Mazher Mahmood and Neville Thurlbeck gave statements at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(10.30 am) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON For good reason, this evidence is being heard in circumstances that, although the witness's account will be provided orally, it will not be screened visually either to the marquee or to the public. I make that order having regard to all the circumstances of the case. I add only this: the public might be concerned that although the Inquiry was due to start at 10 o'clock, it is now 10.30. In fact, the Inquiry has been engaged upon issues of law heard in private since 9.30. Thank you very much. MR BARR Sir, good morning. Can I just confirm that the audio feed is coming through? Thank you. Can Mr Mahmood be sworn, please. MR MAZHER MAHMOOD (sworn) Questions by MR BARR MR BARR Mr Mahmood, could you give the Inquiry your full name, please?
A. Mazher Mahmood.
Q. You've provided the Inquiry with two witness statements. The first was signed on 14 October of this year and the second on 8 December. Are you familiar with the contents of your witness statements?
A. Yes, I am.
Q. Are they true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?
A. Yes, they are.
Q. Thank you. We will take those as read and so I shall ask questions only arising from certain parts of your statements. You tell us that you are currently working as an investigative journalist at the Sunday Times?
A. That's correct.
Q. That you have over 20 years' experience with or about 20 years' experience with the News of the World before that?
A. That's correct.
Q. Where you worked also as an investigative journalist, exposing, as you put it, criminal and moral wrongdoing?
A. That's right.
Q. You have overall been working as a journalist for 30 years and you list, at paragraph 2 of your witness statement, the titles that you've worked for.
A. Sure.
Q. The Sunday People, the Daily Mail, the BBC, ITV, the Sunday Times and TV-am. You tell us that work that you have done has led to 253 successful criminal prosecutions.
A. It's incorrect, actually. The total has now gone up to 261, and as we sit here at the moment, at Southwark Crown Court, two more women are being sentenced as a result of my work.
Q. I see, so perhaps we ought to keep a running tally. You've won several awards including news reporter of the year at the British Press Awards this year and reporter of the year in 1999. I think perhaps the most high profile of your recent cases has been the case of the Pakistani cricketers convicted for match-fixing recently?
A. That's right.
Q. You tell us at paragraph 31 of your statement we needn't turn that up that your other cases have, for example, included the exposure of paedophiles, people traffickers, drug dealers, pimps and even a doctor who tried to hire you as a hitman?
A. That's right.
Q. Can I ask you, before we move any further, about your work for the Sunday Times, not now but when you first worked for them?
A. Primarily the same role, investigative journalism. That's what I've done.
Q. The point I want to put to you is in a book called Fake Sheiks Royal Trappings, Mr Peter Burden suggests that you left that employment under something of a cloud?
A. Well, I'm working there again now. I have to say, I've listened to Mr Burden's statement here last week and it is riddled with inaccuracies.
Q. We'll come to some of the cases that he raised and your response to them shortly.
A. Sure.
Q. But my question at this stage is: is it right that you left the Sunday Times under something of a cloud the first time around?
A. We had a disagreement; correct.
Q. You tell us something of the way in which corporate governance worked at the News of the World and the way in which your investigations were considered and approved. At this stage, I'd like to concentrate very much on your time at the News of the World. We'll come to your current employment with the Sunday Times in due course. Concentrating now on the News of the World, can you tell us a little bit, first of all, about how much information you would need to consider starting a full-scale investigation?
A. Well, I'd receive information from informants and some were just people who would phone in with a lead, but more often than not, it was informants I'd known for many years who had provided reliable, credible information in the past. So first and foremost, I'd have to form the opinion that the information they were providing was credible. I'd have to establish that it was worthy of a story for the News of the World newspaper. I'd have to establish myself that it was in the public interest. I had to establish there was justification for using subterfuge and only then would I present the story to the news desk, who would then go through the same process and ask me loads and questions and at the next stage, the lawyers would get involved, whether or not the modus operandi was justified and then often the approval of the editor was required and only then would I embark on any investigation. So it was quite a thorough process.
Q. If I could just explore some of that in a little more detail. At the News of the World, was this a process that was largely done orally or was it committed to writing?
A. Some of it was committed to writing. I'd always submit my initial proposal by email and provide in that email justifications for why I felt this story was in the public interest and why I felt the use of subterfuge was justified, and I assume that would also go on to our lawyers. That would be forwarded to them for their approval.
Q. Can you give us
A. But much of the conversation was oral.
Q. I see. Can you give us some indication of the proportion of your investigations that involved the editor taking a view on whether or not you should proceed?
A. Ultimately, the editor made a decision on nearly all the stories, but he was hands-on on obviously the more high profile ones. But the run-of-the-mill stories I'd liaise with the news desk.
Q. We'll come in a little more detail later on to the public interest tests and the question of the ends justified the means. At this stage, I'm just interested in the process. You talk about logistics and costings being considered and approved before you proceeded to investigate. Was there also consideration of the specific methods that you were going to use or was that left to you and your experience?
A. No, they were discussed everything was discussed with the legal team. I couldn't go off piste and do what I wanted. I had to take legal advice and throughout the investigation I remained in constant touch with our lawyers.
Q. On the question of process, can I ask you to compare the processes that were in place and which you have just described at the News of the World with those which are in place at the Sunday Times? Are there differences?
A. Essentially they're the same, but at the Sunday Times it's a lot more stringent and it's more formalised. I can give you an example, if you wish, of an investigation I did recently. I received information that a gang were involved in insurance fraud. They were staging car crashes, an accident claims firm. So the first thing I did was to speak to the informant who I'd known for many years. He's provided reliable information in the past. I knew his background, I knew that the information was credible. The first stage is that I assessed it and felt it justified satisfied the test of public interest, satisfied the test for use of subterfuge. I then prepared a memo which I sent to the news desk, so that was then vetted by Steve Bowan(?), the news editor, and James Mellor, the deputy news editor. They then asked various questions and approved it. It then went to the head of news, Charles Hymas, who then rang me up and gave me a grilling on sources and the modus operandi, and then it went to the editor, and I was invited to a meeting where it was attended by John Witherow, the editor, went through it. Pia Sarma(?), our legal director, was present. Charles Hymas was present and there was a formal meeting where every aspect of the story was discussed, minutes were kept of the meeting, notes were taken, a very rigorous process. You know, is the use of subterfuge justified in this case? Is there a public interest argument? There's a formal debate. That's happened for every single investigation that I've done at the Sunday Times. So there's no question of it not being regulated. It's a very, very formal procedure and a very thorough procedure.
Q. Is it your evidence that that thorough, formal procedure was more than took place at the News of the World?
A. Yes, it is. It was a lot more informal at the News of the World newspaper, but in essence, we still had to satisfy the same criteria, but it was a lot less formal, chats with the news desk. You know, there were no meetings. It was a lot more informal.
Q. Was that informality a cultural thing that connected with the News of the World as a newspaper?
A. I think it was, yes, it was a cultural thing. But having said that, as I say, I remained in constant touch with Tom Crone, the lawyer. There were times when I rang him 2, 3 in the morning for advice. You know, can I say this, do this, do that? So it's not that it was not regulated. It was, but there were no formal meetings, there was no kind of open discussions about the matters I've just outlined.
Q. I understand. You say at paragraph 10 of your first witness statement that there might be instances when you were told by the news editor or the editor to look at a particular individual for wrongdoing. So is it right that your stories sometimes started with leads which you obtained, but on other occasions you were fed leads by the editorial hierarchy?
A. 95 per cent of all the stories I did, I'd say, were my own stories from my own sources, but there were occasions when I was given stories by the news desk or directly by the editor who had received information and felt it formed the basis of an investigation for me.
Q. And if the editor wanted a particular matter investigated, did that mean that some of the process that you described earlier was avoided and you would just automatically investigate, or was there an analysis of the strength of the information that you were being provided by the editor?
A. No, there was always analysis, always. I mean, the editor would not give me a story that he'd not considered these factors. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Sorry, how do you know that? Is that because you were party to those discussions?
A. I was occasionally party to the discussions. I'd have a meeting with the editor and he would say, "Look, I think we should go undercover on this one. I have reasonable belief that this person's involved in this particular crime. I have a reliable source." So we'd go through the same process. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You say you were occasionally party to such discussions, but if you weren't, then you presumably just accepted what was provided for you?
A. Correct, correct. MR BARR Can you recall any occasion when you were provided with a lead by an editor and you found yourself turning around to him and saying, "No, I'm sorry, this is not enough to go on"?
A. No, but I mean, there would always be discussion about the source. You know, can I speak to the source? How reliable is the information? There was always that discussion. It wasn't glossed over just because it's come from the editor. There was always a discussion, if not directly with the editor, then certainly with the news desk.
Q. Can I now delve into a little bit more detail about the sorts of cases that you were investigating? You provided some exhibits of very recent stories and you've just mentioned one of them whilst you've been at the Sunday Times. If I may say, so they all seem to be cases where there is a clear public interest and we've mentioned some of the stories you did earlier in your career, which again seem to be clearly in the public interest. I'd like to perhaps ask a little bit about some of the choices which have been a little bit more controversial.
A. Right.
Q. First of all, in terms of choice of subject, it's right, isn't it, that a lot of your stories have been about public figures and they have on some occasions included celebrities?
A. I wrote more than 500 stories for the News of the World newspaper. Of those, a very, very small fraction involved celebrities. Very small fraction.
Q. Understanding your evidence that it was a small fraction, can I now ask you about what sort of thing did you consider would make a celebrity story a matter of public interest?
A. Clearly criminality was the main factor. Are they involved in criminality? Are they involved in moral wrongdoing? Are they involved in hypocrisy? Those were the factors. I mean, the parameters were set very clearly by the PCC code that we adhere to very strongly at the News of the World.
Q. So just to look at those, you mentioned three things. Illegality, I think, speaks for itself.
A. Sure.
Q. We need not consider that any further. Hypocrisy, similarly. Can we focus on the moral wrongdoing? Was it your view that any form of moral wrongdoing was sufficient to pass the public interest test and investigate a celebrity or was there a boundary line somewhere?
A. Each case was on its own merits. I mean, if you had a member of Parliament who was cheating on his wife with a mistress, then clearly on moral grounds, you know, I felt that was justified. Each one was assessed each story was assessed on its own merits. But we had to be satisfied that it met the public interest argument.
Q. I'd like to ask you about two cases which are mentioned in your own autobiographical book. They are both concerning supermodels and they both concern both drugs and allegations of prostitution. One is the supermodel Sophie Anderton and the other is a woman who is named only in your book at X.
A. Right.
Q. If we deal with the drugs side of things first, what was your view in terms of a supermodel taking drugs? Why was that a matter of public interest, in your opinion?
A. Not taking drugs. She was selling drugs. She was working as a prostitute and selling drugs to clients. Clear case of criminality. The same applies for the Ms X. The information that we received was that she too was involved in supplying drugs. We spent a fortune on that story and she did not supply us with drugs. The story never made the paper.
Q. Moving on from the drugs to the prostitution, in both cases it involved offering the woman concerned a considerable sum of money to see if she would agree to supply sex in return. In the first case, Sophie Anderton, I think the figure was ?10,000 and in the case of X, it was $60,000 for six hours.
A. Sorry, I think your assertion is wrong there. It's not us offering her the money. They were working with escort agencies. That was their price. They were demanding that figure. It's not us offering the money. It's them demanding that figure, which I think is a very important distinction to make. It's not as if we lured them into prostitution or lured them into a hotel room. It's a common misconception. We do not engage in entrapment of that sort. They were working as prostitutes with an escort agency. They had their set fees.
Q. I see. What was it about the fact that they were offering sex in return for money that you thought made it a matter of legitimate public interest, not just to expose an agency but to expose the woman herself?
A. Well, as I said to you, the primary focus of both those stories was illegality. They were dealing drugs to clients. I mean, sure, the only way to infiltrate them was to pose as a client and then the offer would be made to us. So that was the main focus of that story. I mean, the morality of them being a prostitute was not the main focus for those stories. The justification was criminality.
Q. Are you saying that if it had been just prostitution, you would not have pursued the story?
A. Then it would have been a call. Sure, then it would be a close call. I mean, Ms X was a married within woman, so she was cheating on her husband. Let's not forget, these people are, sadly, role models for our kids. A lot of children aspire to be models, to have the fame and fortune and the privileges afforded by that fame. So in a sense, they're abusing that position. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you say if somebody's famous, that means anything goes?
A. That's what they believe. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, that's what you believe. If they're famous, anything goes?
A. No, that is a position that they take, that people like Sophie Anderton feel that they are above the law, they're immune from prosecution and quite frankly, if I'd not exposed her, there is absolutely no way that she'd have been caught dealing drugs. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I'm sorry, it's a slightly different point that I was asking you. You were saying if it's just prostitution, it's a close call, but it's moral grounds, these people are role models. So do I gather from what you're saying that if people are famous, any conflict between what you perceive is their public persona and what is the public persona is worth investigating?
A. Absolutely. If it's hypocrisy, then very much. If they present themselves as wholesome characters and trade on that status, then privately betray that, then I think that's totally justified. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So they have to trade on being wholesome characters?
A. Sure, but as I say, in both these stories you've mentioned, the justification was criminality. If they're posing in Hello magazine, happy family snaps, yet secretly working as prostitutes, I think there's the moral justification for exposing them is quite clear, in my view. MR BARR I'd like to ask you now about whether or not there's a difference between what is in the public interest and what interests the public. In your mind, is there a difference or not?
A. Of course there is. I mean, the public are very interested in gossip and tittle-tattle and showbiz stuff, but for me, as I said, the premise is very, very clear. Public interest is, for me, moral wrongdoing, obviously criminal acts, hypocrisy, with the public being deceived, all aspects that are encompassed by the PCC code.
Q. When you were discussing with your subeditors and editors whether or not to pursue an investigation, was the interest of the story to the readership a factor that was taken into account?
A. I mean, there was a lot of tension at the News of the World. We were always being criticised, so we were extra cautious to comply with the PCC code. The emphasis was always, you know: does this pass the public interest test? Is there justification for using subterfuge? Is there any other way that we could obtain the same information without using subterfuge? Those were the primary factors.
Q. I understand that answer, but it doesn't quite respond to the question that I put, which is: when you were discussing stories and whether to proceed or not, was the interest of the story to the public ever a factor that was
A. It wasn't discussed. As I say, that was never a factor. The public would love to hear about this was never it was never put in those terms.
Q. Can I ask you about the PCC for a moment, please? You've explained how you've often had to respond to complaints and that you put a lot of effort into doing so. In fact, you've even described being taken off investigations in order to respond to complaints.
A. That's right.
Q. The Inquiry has heard evidence of at least some journalists taking a far less serious attitude towards the PCC and putting particular emphasis on the fact that the PCC isn't, for example, able to impose a fine. But was the attitude that you describe in your statement to the PCC unusual at the News of the World?
A. I can only speak for my own work. I mean, whenever a complaint came in to the PCC, it was treated very seriously. As I've explained, it required a lot of effort, and in 20 years, I didn't have a single PCC complaint upheld against me. Numerous came in and it was quite a laborious task answering PCC complaints but we did. It was a priority. That was my experience. As I said, even though the paper is now closed, there are currently two complaints pending, and I've spent hours doing transcripts and answering those complaints, even though no sanctions can now obviously be imposed. So it shows how seriously we take the PCC code. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We or I?
A. I. And the paper. As I say, I was pulled off investigations, which was quite annoying actually. I was working on an investigation, and they'd say, "No, sorry, you have to reply to this PCC complaint, get that out of the way first and then go out on the road." So it's not just myself. It was the lawyers to the paper to the editor. MR BARR You described the lawyer and the editor taking the matter seriously. Can I ask you about the attitude of your colleagues, your fellow reporters? What was the feeling amongst your colleagues?
A. I didn't have a great deal of dealings with other reporters on the paper. I had my own little team that I worked with and we certainly took it very seriously, but I didn't have a lot of interaction with other reporters on the paper.
Q. It's right, according to Mr McMullan, who gave evidence here recently, that he worked for a time with you; is that right?
A. Again, this was this came as news to me. I may have seen him in the office. I've never worked with the chap. I can't even recall talking to him. Completely untrue. He's never worked with me on a single investigation. As I say, I don't know him.
Q. Can I move now to the question of private investigators, please? You explain in your statement that there was a time early on in your career with the News of the World when you did use private investigators and your statement sets out the way in which they were used. Can I ask you now, though, whether you can recall ever working with Mr Derek Webb?
A. On private investigators can I just stress very clearly that I never ever commissioned a private detective to do any work for me. I never paid a private detective, contrary to the report in this morning's Independent. It's simply not true. Derek Webb is a man that I came across I think on one or two occasions. He may have worked on one or two of my investigations, and again, he was assigned to my stories by the news desk. I can't remember what stories they were but I think only on a couple of occasions.
Q. Can I now move to the question of chequebook journalism? I've put to you a moment ago examples where really very considerable sums of money were in play on the supermodel investigations that you did. What was your approach on the News of the World to the use of payments, first of all to sources?
A. Well, to sources, obviously people came to us because they wanted to sell stories and we made no bones about the fact that we paid for stories. We advertised it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, as long as the individuals are not profiting from their crimes by doing so. I mean, if they were whistle-blowing and helping us expose drug rings and paedophile rings and expecting a fee for that, then I see nothing wrong with that.
Q. Is there a difficulty that if you offer money and you advertise for stories, that it's going to tempt people to embellish or, even worse, simply to fabricate?
A. Sure. That's what we're here for. It is our job to assess the credibility of the information we receive. Nothing would get in the paper unless its were thoroughly checked and went through our lawyers. That is our role, to check the information.
Q. We've again heard evidence of an investigative journalist who, with his colleagues, presented stories to tabloid newspapers which had these lines open for people to come forward with stories and it seemed from the evidence he adduced that getting the stories published, even when they were fictitious, was very easy indeed. Can I ask you, what checks did you apply when you received a lead?
A. That certainly isn't my experience, not at all. I mean, we'd end up paying heavy fees if we got it wrong. As I've said, the majority of my stories came from informants who provided me credible information in the past but we'd make every check that we could before embarking on investigation and I have to tell you that a lot of the investigations are quite expensive, they involve quite an investment, so we have to be sure ourselves that the information sounds credible. So depending on obviously what the story was, we'd try and make as many checks prior to embarking on the investigation. We'd have to have a belief that the information was genuine and if it wasn't, we'd soon find out.
Q. Are you saying that because of the nature of the sort of investigations that you got involved in, there might have been a difference between your experience and that of your colleagues doing other work on the News of the World?
A. Perhaps, but I don't believe that fabricated stories could get into the paper. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You don't believe that?
A. I don't believe that as a matter of course, people could phone in with fabricated stories and they would end up in the paper. There were stringent checks in place. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Did you happen to see the film Starseekers(sic)?
A. No, I've not seen that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The evidence that we heard last week?
A. No, I didn't see that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Atkins?
A. No, I didn't see that, I'm sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You've never heard about this work that was done whereby he placed false stories in newspapers?
A. I didn't see that. No, I didn't, no. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's some time ago. I would have thought that it would be something that all those involved in journalism would have been fascinated by.
A. No, I didn't see it. I'm sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Very good.
A. It's certainly not my experience. MR BARR You explain at paragraph 29 of your witness statement that in your experience there were very few formal contracts between the person coming forward to the newspaper and the newspaper for money to be paid and that it was largely done on trust.
A. Again, this is based on my experience with my contacts and my informants.
Q. The Inquiry has heard some evidence of bargains being made on trust and then not being honoured by newspapers. Were there any circumstances in which you would not pay a source, having promised money?
A. No, not in my experience. Again, you know, as a result of my investigations, obviously I have criminals after me, people I have exposed. The last thing I want is my informant being disgruntled as well. So I'd make sure they were paid what we'd agreed to pay them.
Q. Is it your evidence that that was invariably the practice?
A. That was that's right.
Q. I'm not going to ask you any detailed questions about phone hacking, but could I just ask you this and when you answer, please don't name any names: were you aware that phone hacking was going on at any time during your work with the News of the World?
A. No, I was not. As I said in my statement, the first time I heard about it was following an arrest.
Q. Was that the arrest of Clive Goodman?
A. Correct.
Q. After Clive Goodman was arrested, did it become the talk of the office?
A. Of course.
Q. And at that point, did you hear anything about whether anybody else and again no names, please had been involved?
A. No, but I mean all the fingers were pointed towards the news desk.
Q. And at any time between Mr Goodman's arrest and conviction until the close of the News of the World, did you hear from anyone within the News of the World that anybody else apart from Clive Goodman had been hacking mobile phones?
A. No. I mean, clearly rumours were about, of course, but there was no firm evidence.
Q. Mr Mahmood, can we move now to your second statement? Again, I'm going to deal with it only by picking up certain matters you raised. The rest is formally in evidence and can be read by others. Can I ask you first of all about the case of the Crown v Shannon? This involved a man who I think was a television actor and you had done an investigation which led to him being convicted of a drugs offence.
A. That's right.
Q. And you exhibit the judgment of the Court of Appeal. For the technician, it's tab 5. Then if we could have the first page of the judgment on the screen, please. If we could have the paragraph which starts with the word "held" up in the centre, please. We see here, in summary form, the way in which the court decided Mr Shannon's appeal against conviction. I'm interested in the passage which starts about halfway down, once it's come into focus thank you at paragraph E. It says: there was no general rule requiring a court on grounds of fundamental fairness not to entertain a prosecution at all in cases of incitement or instigation by an agent provocateur, regardless of whether the trial as a whole could be a fair one in the procedural sense; that the judge found correctly that the evidence fell short of establishing actual incitement or instigation of the offences concerned and that in any event, the admission of the evidence would not have an adverse effect on the procedural fairness of the trial." So is the point of exhibiting this case to point out that a court held that you and your team had not in fact incited or instigated an offence at all?
A. Absolutely. Besides this, he then went to the European Court, went to Strasbourg, where once again the judges there ruled that there was no entrapment. It's quite annoying, this myth of entrapment. We do not entrap people. Frankly, I don't believe you can entrap people in the manner they suggest.
Q. I see. In the same case, could we now have up on the screen page 54, please? It's the top of the page that I would like to have brought up. Thank you. Here I want to concentrate on essentially the flavour of what it was that you did in order to execute the sting. Starting from the second line, it reads: "He said that because his (Mahmood's) name was well-known in showbusiness circles, he decided that it was necessary to set up an operation in which he posed as a sheik, invited the defendant to the Savoy Hotel, collecting him in a Rolls Royce and giving him dinner in the River Restaurant, all on the basis of a fictitious offer and intention to invite him out to Dubai as a celebrity to participate in the opening of a nightclub out there. Mahmood, who had booked a suite at the Savoy in the name of His Royal Highness Sheik Mohammed al Kareem justified his representing himself as a sheik moving in royal circles by saying: 'The only way to get into [the defendant's] circle is to pose as somebody who he would want to come out and meet and want to relax with. Get him to feel, if anything, we are above him and he will be himself.'" So it's right, isn't it, that effectively what was being dangled in front of him was the prospect of a very lucrative and attractive trip to Dubai?
A. Sure, but again, can I make very clear that we were acting on reliable information. We knew that Mr Shannon was actively involved in dealing drugs, so we acted on that information, and yes, this was the only way to get him to of course we provided the environment for him to commit the crime, a crime that he was predisposed to committing.
Q. My question is this: accepting, as the judges found, that this was not a case of instigation or incitement, what it is, though, is a question where a very considerable carrot was dangled in front of the target?
A. Well, if you think that opening a nightclub in Dubai and being a celebrity attending that function is a considerable carrot, then so be it. But once again, as I say, if I dangle a big carrot in front of you, would you be able to supply me with cocaine or a fake passport or a firearm? You would not, and even if you wanted to, you wouldn't know where to begin, you wouldn't know where to go. These are people that are pre-disposed to commit these crimes anyway, and all I'm providing is a snapshot of what they're doing anyway.
Q. In fairness to you, it's right that you point out very often that ordinary law-abiding people wouldn't know where to start with supplying drugs, for example, or whatever you are investigating, but my question is this: from an ethical point of view, did you think that there was any ethical limit as to the size of the carrot that you could dangle in front of a target to tempt them into committing a criminal offence?
A. Well, as I said, just being a making a personal appearance at the opening of a nightclub is not a huge carrot to dangle.
Q. If we move from the specific to the general, to the theoretical, then: is there a point at which you would think: "That's too big a carrot, it's just not fair or ethical to offer this person such a big incentive to commit a criminal offence"?
A. This was one of the earlier investigations. I think 1993, was it? It was one of the early investigations we did. As time went on, we did refine our modus operandi, and of course it was a consideration. I mean, our lawyers would be very careful in determining our methods. They would scrutinise us very carefully. Yes, it was a considerable.
Q. So if it was a consideration I'm trying here to tease out, in the mind of a very experienced investigator, where the ethical lines are. So where is the ethical line, in your view, about the size of the carrot?
A. As I've said to you repeatedly, no matter what the size of the carrot, you cannot entrap people into committing these crimes. However, the public perception is that because they've offered a huge carrot, that has resulted in the crime taking place. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure about that. Let's just test it. Assume you get somebody who himself takes illegal drugs. So they are guilty of possession of drugs, so they do know where they can get hold of drugs. And you provide a picture or paint a story which makes it extremely attractive for them to go to the next step
A. No, that is not the case. I mean, first of all LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that's the question you're being asked.
A. No, that's not the case at all. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that's because of the reliability of your information?
A. The reliability of the information and we do not dangle huge carrots. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Then it's a question of what's a huge carrot.
A. Exactly, and I don't want to go into modus operandi because I LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that and I'm not trying to, but I'm trying to test the proposition, because I'm sure you would agree that somebody who did use drugs, who was given a large carrot, might very well go the extra stage to then supply rather than simply possess. Of course, supplying drugs, I don't need to be told, is a very, very much more serious offence.
A. Sure, I understand that. But I have to say that our methods have been tested time and time again in the courts. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, it wouldn't necessarily provide a defence.
A. Sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not suggesting it would. It's a question of what the ethical limits are for you, not what the legal limits are for the criminal law.
A. Sure. No, it's something we are conscious of. MR BARR Can I ask you to turn to page 58 of the judgment. If we could have that up on the screen, please. I'm interested in the passage which starts at (c). This is where the court is dealing with one of the points raised by the defendant: "It was suggested that this might have given employees of the News of the World grudge motives rather than a motive simply to expose criminal activity on the part of the defendant. In this respect, the defence relied inter alia on passages from the video prior to the defendant's entry onto the scene which were said to demonstrate animosity towards the defendant, in particular a reference by Mr Mahmood to the defendant as a 'toerag', coupled with laughter at the prospect that 'if He supplies, his career is over", and, "He could get banged up tomorrow'." I'm not interested in whether or not there was a grudge motive. You can put that out of your mind. What I'm interested in is the way in which you desirable Mr Shannon and the prospect of ending his career. Is it right that you regarded him as a "toerag"?
A. That's right, because let's not forget I was acting on information. I don't want to use the privacy of this room to disclose the informant, but the way he treated the informant was particularly despicable and, as I say, he was regularly dealing cocaine. He had scales. He was measuring cocaine up and dealing cocaine. So this was in relation to his treatment of the informant. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Was that adduced in evidence in the court?
A. I think it was mentioned in court. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That he had scales?
A. I think it was mentioned in court. I'm not sure, but I think it was mentioned. MR BARR There seems to be a certain amount of relish in the phrase "coupled with laughter at the prospect that if he supplies, his career is over". Are you, when you conduct these investigations, looking forward to the prospect of the target actually committing the offence which you're approaching him about?
A. Not at all, no. I think there have been instances where we've exposed celebrities, Johnny Walker being one of them, who have thanked me for exposing them. This was a celebrity who I received information was involved in drug taking and supplying drugs to his colleagues. He turned up at a hotel room with a bag of cocaine in his pocket. I subsequently exposed him, he pleaded guilty and then thanked me for helping him resolve the demons that were possessing him at the time. He was grateful for my intervention.
Q. So what is it that motivates you, then?
A. Well, it is the public duty. I mean, there have been cases where we've embarked on investigations that have not even been for the newspaper. I mean, last month there's a man called John Batty(?) who was jailed. He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a child who I think was about 11 or 12 at the time. Again, this was never going to be a story for the paper. The young girl rang me up and told me what had happened to her and could I assist? She said, "If I go to the police, there's no evidence. Will you be able to help?" Myself and a colleague helped to gather the evidence, it went to court and at Chelmsford Crown Court he pleaded guilty. We risk our lives on a daily basis. You know, I live under the shadow of death threats. The motivation is very clear. Yes, exposing criminality gives me great satisfaction and I'm proud to have jailed paedophiles and arms dealers and drug dealers and the likes. That's my motivation.
Q. I see. We may return to that topic in a little while. Can we move on to the next case that you've drawn to our attention in tab 6. We don't need anything on the screen just yet. It's a case of the Crown v Hardwicke and Thwaites. This was another drugs sting which led to the conviction of two people. Now, A feature of this case was that the jury said that had they been allowed to take what described as the extreme provocation into account, they would undoubtedly have reached a different verdict. I understand from your second witness statement that the point you would like to make is that the jury didn't have the full facts before them because certain matters had been withheld from evidence; is that right?
A. That's right. The jury were not allowed to see the entire video in which they were confessing to previous crimes and extensive drug dealing in the past. I'm sure that had the jury seen those elements, they would have reached a different conclusion. However, they did appeal the sentence, which was upheld.
Q. This decision also had some other interesting passages in it that we might look at. Could we have up on the screen, please, paragraph 27. I'm afraid there aren't page numbers. We have, at paragraph 27, the court dealing with arguments about your behaviour and that of your colleagues and whether or not it was illegal. If we look at the quotation, it says: "The way in which such investigations are pursued, albeit they may rightly or wrongly be described by some as distasteful, is not, in my view, judicially to be condemned where it is not unlawful. Thus, when I examine the facts of this case and, in particular, the acts of these particular journalists on the 2nd and 3 September 1998, and set those against the offences with which the defendants are in consequence charged before this court, I readily conclude, borrowing and adapting the words of Lord Steyn in the case of R v Latif once more, the conduct of Mr Mahmood and his colleagues was not so unworthy or shameful that it would be an affront to the public conscience to allow the prosecution to proceed. Realistically, any criminal behaviour, if any has been established, by these journalists was venial compared to that of the defendants." That takes me to the question of whether there are circumstances where you consider it is ethical to break the law in order to get a story in the public interest. What do you say to that proposition?
A. Yes, there are. There certainly are. The public interest is the overriding factor. I've purchased child pornography, for example, which clearly is an illegal act, and that led to a conviction. So yes, there are times when we do cross the line, but the overriding factor is the public interest. I've never been prosecuted so for drugs or offences relating to work that I've done.
Q. I'm not suggesting that it's wrong to do that. What I want to explore with you is where do you draw the line? Because this goes straight into the question of: when does the end justify the means? Where do you draw the line?
A. Certainly in the example I've just given you, buying child pornography, clearly the end justifies the meaning. Clearly. And exposing drug dealers. If we buy drugs, we expose drug dealers and that's our intention. Clearly the end justifies the means. Does that mean we'd go out and rob a bank to show that banks could be robbed? No, we would not.
Q. You're coming on to what I was just going to ask you. At what point is it unacceptable? We had a witness earlier who gave the very extreme example that you wouldn't murder someone to get a story in the paper. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON More particularly, he wouldn't murder a High Court judge, to be fair. MR BARR You wouldn't rob a bank to get a story. Can you think of an example, from all your years of experience, of something which was right on the line? What are the sorts of decisions that made you sweat?
A. I can't think of an example. I think I'm perfectly happy with all the 500 investigations that I've done, all 500 of them. They fulfil the criteria, in my view, that they satisfied the public interest.
Q. The final point I'd like to deal with from this judgment is at paragraph 31, please. Here we're coming back to the question of what your motives are. If I pick up at paragraph 31, the second sentence: "The decision as to publication [and this was a story that was published just before the police, I think, made arrests] did have some significance because it showed beyond argument what were the real priorities so far as the journalists and the newspaper were concerned. When the time had clearly come for the police to be informed, but if that step were taken the newspaper was likely to be unable to publish its story, it was the needs of the newspaper rather than the interests of justice which were regarded as paramount. But the judge's refusal to consider the priorities of the investigators was of no great significance because, as we have already said, he gave full weight to what the journalists in fact did." So there we have the Court of Appeal finding that your real priorities were as a journalist, wanting to publish a story. Was that a fair finding you would accept?
A. Very much so. I mean, I'm a journalist. That's what we do. We publish stories, we sell newspapers. That's what we do. But at the same time, the public interest is of paramount importance too. I mean, we always liaise with the police so that they can make arrests and secure the evidence and we're happy to co-operate fully when we can. Of course, our motive is to publish an article in the newspaper. I'm not a police officer, I'm not a social worker; I'm a journalist.
Q. The cases we've gone to so far are cases in which the convictions have been upheld. That's not always been the case, has it? We can look now at some of the cases you draw our attention to in which the conviction has not been upheld. The first, at tab 7, is the case of Mr Kramer(?), and you tell us that he initially was convicted, I think on a guilty plea?
A. That's right. This is a man who provided me with a fake passport and provided me with a quantity of drugs, and then offered to supply me an even larger quantity of drugs. He was arrested as a result of our work and pleaded guilty, sentenced to four and a half years. He then appealed and the conviction was reduced by a period of nine months. Later down the line, he discovered that one of the informants involved in this investigation had been discredited and appealed again and the conviction was quashed. I was not even made aware of the fact that this appeal was taking place or in fact that it had been quashed until I read about it in the paper.
Q. This is Mr Gashi, is it?
A. That's right, Gashi, who has now been described as an unreliable witness and has mental health problems.
Q. It's fair to say that Mr Gashi has caused problems in a number of the cases you've been involved in?
A. That's right.
Q. Mr Kramer's case is now the subject of civil proceedings, isn't it?
A. That's right. I think he's taking action against us for malicious prosecution, which is bizarre, because we don't bring the prosecutions, but nevertheless it's ongoing litigation.
Q. I see. I won't go into the details for that reason, but perhaps we could have up on the screen the document at tab 7 because I'd just like to draw attention to the text almost at the bottom of the page, where we see the way in which advertisements were made for things to investigate. It reads, three lines up from the bottom of the penultimate paragraph: "Do you know a scandal that Maz should expose? If so, you can ring him any time." And then there was a telephone number and an email address at the News of the World. What sort of percentage of your investigations arose from advertising of that kind?
A. A very, very small proportion. Very small. The majority were people ringing up to say, "My neighbour is claiming dole when he shouldn't be", just minor offences.
Q. I see. Perhaps we can go to tab 8, where you draw our attention to the case of Alin Turku(?) against News Group Newspapers Limited. This is a judgment in civil proceedings, isn't it, proceedings which were brought for defamation
A. That's right.
Q. by Mr Turku. But the subject matter was the plot that you uncovered to kidnap a very famous footballer's wife?
A. That's right, Victoria Beckham.
Q. And that investigation has been the subject of criticism, hasn't it, from various quarters?
A. That's right. I mean, last week you were told, one, that it was a figment of my imagination, the entire plot, by one of the witnesses here. And you were also told that the entire story rested on one taped conversation in a snooker hall. Well, your witness was wrong on both counts. It was not a figment of my imagination and it did not rely on one conversation and there was no snooker hall involved. We received information that we believed to be credible, collated a lot of evidence, taped evidence, a series of meetings that all pointed to and let's not forget, these were eastern bloc criminals, serious criminals who were convicted, as a result of my work, of stealing works of art from the Sotherby's vault, which in itself is no mean feat. We presented our evidence to the police. They vetted it all, went through our tapes, forensically examined it all. The CPS, some months later, decided to charge these individuals. The case was in fact, it was dropped, I think, didn't get to court, was dropped on the basis that the informant you mentioned, Gashi, had failed to disclose to the CPS and the police that he'd received a payment in connection with this story. However, as you mentioned, it did go to court in this defamation case, where Mr Justice Eady went through
Q. If I can just stop you there, Mr Mahmood, because I'm going to take you through it.
A. All right.
Q. Because in the light of the evidence we've heard about this, it's right that I should. We don't need to have the first page up on the screen. It suffices for me to say that what the judgment does at the start is explain that the claimant was described in Romania as a very intelligent criminal. He'd secured political asylum in this country on a completely false basis and even when that was uncovered, he'd been able to stay here because he'd also lied about his age.
A. Right.
Q. He was arrested with forged identity documents and it transpired that not only had he deceived the immigration authorities, he'd also deceived his employers, getting a job despite his immigration status. Perhaps now I can ask for page 2, paragraphs 6 and 7, to go up on the screen. Let's take an excursion off to another subject of interest to the Inquiry, and that's the subject of conditional fee agreements. In this case, it's right, isn't it, the claimant was represented by a solicitor advocate acting on a CFA?
A. That's right.
Q. And the consequence of that was because the claimant was impecunious, even a win to the News of the World would leave it out of pocket in terms of costs?
A. That's right. I think we won the case, and I can't remember what the figure was, but it wasn't much change from ?500,000. So it was an expensive win.
Q. That was recognised in the judgment, looking at the last sentence of paragraph 6. Having summarised the position, Mr Justice Eady concluded: "The defendant's position is thus wholly unenviable." And this, of course, is a case which, as you say, the News of the World won?
A. That's right.
Q. Having pause just to look at the CFA figure, can we now move and have up on the screen, please, paragraphs 41 and 42. Thank you. This is the matter you adverted to a moment ago, the point at which the Crown offered no evidence in the criminal prosecution relating to the kidnap plot. It explains the problem that there was with Mr Gashi at paragraph 41. Moving on to 42, it refers to the details of the problem: "The new information to which counsel referred related to another News of the World investigation in which Mr Gashi had been the informant. It concerned alleged drug dealing by Wandsworth parking attendants, on which an article had been published on 1 September 2002. Mr Altman, counsel for the prosecution, told the court on 2 June 2003: 'Whatever the true position about the source of the drugs, the evidence reveals that Gashi had set up Z and others [ie the parking attendants] into committing the offences when there was simply no evidence that they had been committing such offences previously.' The prosecution in the current case was now in possession of information first indicating that Gashi had set up individuals for an earlier investigation by the News of the World. Secondly, it confirms that he was in financial difficulty before the current investigation got under way, and thirdly, that he had lied about the history of the matter in the witness statement that he had made for the purposes of the potential prosecution. One other matter which came to light and which has caused us great concern was evidence that Gashi had unquestionably lied to the police in this investigation about the receipt of money for his information. Of course, the receipt of reward money necessarily impacts upon the perception one may have about his motives." I should clarify straight away that it's right, isn't it, that later in the judgment the court made a finding that you had told the police all about the payment to Mr Gashi. So there's no criticism of you in that regard. What I would like to ask you is: in relation to this Wandsworth parking attendant story, did you have any involvement in that story at all?
A. Yes, I did. I think I wrote the story. I can't remember the details of it, but certainly there were parking attendants that had sold me drugs. I can remember one chap selling me he had a whole bag of cannabis in his car, took me to his car and gave me some cocaine cannabis, rather. And I think there was somebody else that sold cocaine. From memory. It was a long time ago; I don't recall the details.
Q. I don't really need the details. What I'd like to ask you next is: it's right, isn't it, as we see from the judgment, that there was plainly a real problem with the way Mr Gashi behaved during the course of that investigation?
A. I think that later transpired. I don't think it went to court, actually. I don't think there was I certainly didn't give evidence in that case.
Q. I see. What I want to ask now, what arises from that: if there was a problem with Mr Gashi's behaviour because he'd set up Z and the others into committing the offences, it calls into question the supervision on these investigations. You say in your first witness statement that it's your responsibility
A. Sure.
Q. to supervise and make sure everybody stays on the right side of the ethical line.
A. Sure.
Q. Obviously something went wrong on this case. Can you help us with what supervisory arrangements were in place on this investigation?
A. As I say, I can't remember the details of that investigation, but the very nature of my work means that, you know, I'm dealing with the bottom echelons of society quite often. We're dealing with some pretty obnoxious people. That's the only way you can expose crack dens and drug dealers. We have to deal with people of this ilk. And as I've said, what counts is the reliability of their evidence, which we test. In the Beckham case, there was clear evidence and Mr Justice Eady agreed with me on that that there was a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham. I mean, you may get information coming from very undesirable cases and it is our role to check the information. Certainly in the case you're referring to, these guys did sell me drugs. It didn't go to court. I can't remember the full details.
Q. I understand all of that, but my question was about supervisory arrangements. I think your answer, if anything, demonstrates the need, when working in these murky worlds, to have particularly good supervisory arrangements. Are you able to help us with what supervision there was on this
A. Yes, there was supervision. On the Beckham Inquiry there was complete and utter supervision.
Q. I'm not asking you about
A. That story I can't recall the details of that story.
Q. I see.
A. It was a long time ago. As I say, I've written more than 500 stories for the paper.
Q. In general terms, what sort of supervisory arrangements would you have to ensure that somebody who was working on your team didn't cross the line?
A. The purpose of informants is that I mean, these are people that are embedded in that criminal world. Their role is largely to introduce us in. Quite often they're not required at all. They can just give us the information and we act alone. But in cases where they are involved, they are very closely supervised, well briefed on what they can and cannot say, and you know, everything's on tape, so there's no scope for them to go off piste, as it were.
Q. You say no scope to go off piste. Plainly, Mr Gashi managed to do just that in the parking case. Can I ask you this: as a very experienced investigative reporter, are there any particular supervisory measures that you would recommend are essential for investigative journalists?
A. Well, it all comes back to the PCC code. I mean, I think the code sets the parameters very firmly of what we can and cannot do.
Q. If the code tells you what you can and can't do, I suppose my question is more about how do you make sure that those working with you stay on the "can" side of the line?
A. Certainly when they're working with us, invariably I'm present or one of my colleagues is present and dictating the terms of the way they behave.
Q. Mr Mahmood, I'm not at this stage trying to criticise events from the past. What I'm trying to do is tease out from your experience if there are particular safeguards that you think are important to ensuring that journalists in the future, working in these murky worlds, stay on the right side of the line?
A. Absolutely. There should be full briefings for anybody involved in any investigation. They must be aware of the PCC code and must also abide by any advice we get from our lawyers. As I say, on every investigation, we're constantly in touch with our lawyers.
Q. We can move on now to if we can have up on the screen, please, a page which has paragraph 94 at the top. Thank you. I need to tell everyone that on the page before, paragraph 93 is dealing with the question of whether there was or was not a plot, which, as you pointed out, has been the matter of some criticism. We see at the very top of the page, last sentence in the paragraph: "On the evidence before this court, therefore, the balance of probabilities lies firmly in favour of the defendant." That's the News of the World, the judicial finding of the plot. In paragraph 94, the finding was, wasn't it, that there wasn't a gang but there was a group of loose associates prepared to take part in any criminal activity that suited them?
A. Correct.
Q. Then paragraph 95, there it is some criticism of the reporting. The criticism is of the attribution of a surveillance role to the claimant in the action, isn't it?
A. That's right.
Q. And the court found that that was an invention? Is that criticism a criticism which you accept?
A. Of course, we accept the criticism by Mr Justice Eady, but having said that, that was information that I was provided and I relied on the information given to me by Gashi.
Q. I see. So you would say, would you, that this was a case of an inaccuracy which was regrettable, but in the circumstances one for which the newspaper was not culpable?
A. Absolutely.
Q. Can we go on to another criticism, on paragraph 104. At paragraph 104, we see the way in which Mr Justice Eady summarises matters: "There may be a good deal of sloppiness and inaccuracy in what was published. There was no plot to kidnap the Beckham children as such. Gashi managed to extract comments to the effect that they would be kidnapped if they happened to be with their mother but that was as far as it went. Nor could the gang be said to be on the brink of the kidnap. Nor was there any evidence that the Beckhams' Cheshire home was being kept under surveillance. The claimant was not allotted a surveillance role; nor had he done or said anything to support the allegation, at least anything which the News of the World journalists knew about. There was nothing to justify the assertion that he was in charge of surveillance. The only conclusion I can draw is that it was a bit of creativity on the part of Mr Mahmood or one of the subeditors." It doesn't matter for the Inquiry's purposes quite what the source of the inaccuracy was, but my question to you: it must be a matter of regret, mustn't it, that on such a high profile and important story, there was a good deal of sloppiness and inaccuracy when it was published?
A. That I don't agree with. I think it might be worth your while looking at the taped evidence on this. The assertion that there was not a plot to kidnap the children I mean, very clearly you see one of the members of the gang saying that's precisely what they intend to do. So I think that on that point I would disagree.
Q. I see. So on the facts LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But actually, Mr Justice Eady said that Gashi managed to extract comments to the effect that they'd be kidnapped, but that was as far as it went.
A. Sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's what he says, the judge says.
A. That's right. MR BARR So he seems to have that point and is still critical. Do you accept these criticisms?
A. I don't, no.
Q. If you don't accept the criticisms, I'm not going to explore them further here, but can I put this general point to you: you would accept, wouldn't you, that it's very important for an investigative journalist to be as accurate as possible?
A. Absolutely. We try our best.
Q. We needn't have it up. You set out the material parts in your witness statement which everyone can read.
A. Right.
Q. In paragraph 113, you're described as hard-bitten and cynical, but the proposition that you'd made the story up is roundly rejected by the judge, isn't it?
A. That's right.
Q. Thank you. Can we move now very briefly to the red mercury case or dirty bomb plot. Here, as I understand it, the point you wish to make in response to the criticisms that had had made is that the defendants were acquitted by the jury and that the trial ran the distance?
A. No, that's not just the criticism I'd wish to make. I think it goes a lot further than that. I received information from a source that appeared to be very reliable, a businessman, that some people he'd been approached to supply some material for a dirty bomb and the people that had approached him again, this was a businessman who worked in the city that approached him seemed very credible. I had a meeting with that individual that was seeking to buy red mercury. As soon as I'd had that meeting, I saw that this was a potential serious threat here, even though I was sceptical about the whole notion of red mercury. We did the right thing. We went straight to the police, to the anti-terror squad, said, "This is what we've been approached, this is what we've collated evidence-wise", and then they started the investigation. I was signed up for that job alone as a participating informant so they dictated my entire role in that investigation. All subsequent meetings were controlled by the anti-terror squad because obviously this was a matter of national security. So I think it's unfair to criticise me over that. We did what any responsible journalist or any responsible citizen would do when told about a potential terrorist plot. You go straight to the police. That's what we did. The decision to prosecute was made by the CPS, who obviously felt the evidence was sufficient and I think even after the trial collapsed, they issued a statement saying that the case had been properly brought and they felt it was the right thing to do.
Q. I see. Moving now to the final matter I want to put to you. It's the question of your investigation of the snooker player, Mr John Higgins. You've exhibited to your statement a copy of the decision in relation to the way in which his professional body dealt with him and his manager, and as I understand it, the points that you want to bring out is that for all the criticisms that have been made of your work on this story, the fact remains that Mr Higgins was disciplined for two serious offences of misconduct and his manager was banned for life; is that right?
A. It goes beyond that. I think that the criticism is completely unfounded. It's been suggested that we doctored videos. In fact, your witness also suggested that we doctored videos in the cricket case. That's an allegation even the defendants haven't made. So you have all these people making suppositions and wild accusations, but the Higgins case is a case in point. This was a man I was told was involved in fixing matches, had done it previously. We had meetings with him and his manager. His manager confirmed that he would throw games and there was a discussion with Higgins in which he even discussed how we should pay him the money for fixing a frame, how he wanted us to pay off his villa in Spain. The investigation was praised by the governing body of snooker, Barry Hearne, who introduced new regulations as a result of our investigation. These guys were found guilty pleaded guilty to the charges brought by they are professional association. So on that one you know, it bemuses me how anyone could criticise us over that one. MR BARR Thank you very much, Mr Mahmood. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Could I just ask a couple of questions? Questions by the Judge LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's not directed to your investigations that expose criminality at all. It goes back to two features. First of all, the moral investigations which you say were only a very, very small part of your work, but which actually are rather more significant part of what I'm considering. Do you take the view that somebody who is, say, a member of Parliament, if involved in an extramarital affair, is justifiably the subject of a public investigation and exposure simply because he's a member of Parliament?
A. That's right. I mean, we vote for these people. They hold public office. We expect a certain code of behaviour from them. I don't think I'd vote for my MP if I knew that he was cheating on his wife. How could I trust him to represent me? That's my personal opinion. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So there's no privacy for such a person at all?
A. I don't think there should be. If you hold public offence, you should be open to scrutiny. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And the same would be so for anybody who may be an actor or an author, anybody who's made money from the public?
A. No, no, no. We're talking about I mean, MPs are people who are elected and they hold public office. I think it would be slightly different for actors and the likes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you wouldn't
A. There would have to be grounds. If they are appearing, as I said, in Hello magazine as happy families and cashing in on their status as, you know, happily married individuals, family men, and then are cheating, then sure, they should be exposed for hypocrisy, if there's a degree of hypocrisy about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But the mere fact of celebrity would not be sufficient?
A. No, not in my opinion. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. Did you work day by day in the offices of the News of the World or were you detached?
A. I was detached. I'd seldom come into the office. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I see. Have you seen on the recording or read the evidence that Mr McMullan gave to the Inquiry?
A. Yes, I have. He hasn't worked for a paper for many, many years and it certainly doesn't LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not interested in when he worked for a paper.
A. Sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What I want to know is this: does he give an account that you recognise?
A. Not at all. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not at all?
A. Not in the least, no. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So it should carry no credence at all? That's why I asked you whether you went into the office, because you could say, "Well, actually, I couldn't tell you", but if you're saying it doesn't, that I would like to know.
A. Sure. Well, no, it doesn't. It certainly doesn't reflect my experience at News of the World. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you didn't go into the office.
A. I was in and out of the office, of course, you know, but I mostly worked away from the office, but I was in constant touch with the news desk. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I see. Thank you very much. MR DAVIES Might I just complete one point of fact, if I may? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. Questions by MR DAVIES MR DAVIES Mr Mahmood, you were asked about Mr Justice Eady's judgment in the Turku case. Do you know whether there was an appeal in that case?
A. Yes, I think there was. MR DAVIES Can you tell us what happened?
A. I think we decided to settle, largely on commercial grounds. It's a question to put to the lawyers, really. MR DAVIES Thank you very much. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much. We'll have a short break. (11.50 am) (A short break) (12.01 pm) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, Mr Jay. MR JAY Sir, the next witness is Mr Neville Thurlbeck, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Can we confirm, please, that we are back online visually? THE TECHNICIAN We're told we are, sir. MR NEVILLE THURLBECK (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Mr Thurlbeck, please sit down and make yourself comfortable. There's a glass of water there for you. Could you please confirm your full name?
A. Neville Thurlbeck.
Q. You have provided the Inquiry with a witness statement which is currently in draft. Would you confirm, please, subject to one change I know you wish to make, that that statement is both truthful and the evidence you would like to give to this Inquiry?
A. It is.
Q. The change you would like to make the statement is not paginated, but it relates to a decision in the French jurisdiction in October of this year where you say in your statement as currently constituted I think it's the fifth page. You say: "In October this year, the French courts appeared to disagree with him [the 'him' in is that sentence is Mr Justice Eady]. Although he has accepted his privacy had been invaded, they ruled that I did not defame him, thereby supporting the truth of the article." First of all, have you now read a translation of the judgment of French court?
A. Yes, I have.
Q. Had you read a translation of the judgment of the French court when you gave that draft witness statement?
A. No, I'd requested it but hadn't received it from Farrers.
Q. What is your position now, Mr Thurlbeck, in relation to the French judgment?
A. My position is that the defamation matter although I was acquitted of defaming Mr Mosley, this was on the basis that I hadn't been responsible for distributing the newspapers in France.
Q. That's correct. The French courts, if I can put it in these terms, were loyal to the findings of Mr Justice Eady, but the defamation claim against you was rejected on grounds of jurisdiction?
A. That's correct.
Q. May I deal, first of all, with your career in journalism. You cover this in your witness statement of course. You started off at the News of the World as a crime correspondent, I think, and your career culminated as chief reporter between 2003 and 2011; is that right?
A. Almost. I started off as a general news reporter, a senior news reporter.
Q. Yes. Now, chief reporter, 2003 and 2011 can you tell us a bit about that? What were the range of things you were reporting on?
A. I wasn't a specialist anymore, so it would cover the whole spectrum of news events.
Q. News events? Does that cover or exclude features, showbiz? Could you be more specific?
A. Yes. Well, it would include investigations, it would include interviews, it would include showbiz stories, crime stories. Right across the spectrum, really. There was no specific specialisation for me.
Q. Thank you. Two other matters by way of context to your evidence. Is it right that you are in litigation with News International over employment issues before an employment tribunal?
A. That's correct.
Q. Is it also right that you have been arrested in connection with Operation Weeting?
A. That's correct.
Q. And it follows from that that you are not going to give evidence to this Inquiry about phone hacking issues; have I understood that correctly? As is your entitlement.
A. Yes. I've requested specifically that the Leveson Inquiry does not question me on any matters concerning phone hacking, and I've received an assurance from your team of solicitors, to use their words, that phone hacking is off limits.
Q. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The position is very simple, Mr Thurlbeck. I am determined not to prejudice any investigation being conducted by the Metropolitan Police or any possible prosecution that might follow. You have an absolute right to claim privilege against self-incrimination where you know that you are under investigation, and I am not going to allow the Inquiry to ask a series of questions which require you to claim privilege so that it might be suggested that in some way you shouldn't be doing that. You are entitled to claim privilege, you have that privilege, and it would be quite wrong for anybody to draw any conclusion or inference about the fact that you wish to exercise it, and therefore I have decided that the better course is that on the topic of phone hacking, there should be no questions at all of those who are under investigation. So you are correct, but I want to put the context quite clearly in the public domain.
A. Thank you. MR JAY Mr Thurlbeck, if I may go back to your witness statement at the bottom of the first page, where you identify your awards and nominations. The 2005 British Press Awards for scoop of the year, was that for the Rebecca Loos story?
A. 2005?
Q. Yes?
A. Yes, it was, yes, sir.
Q. In your statement, you cover a range of investigations you undertook which led to the jailing of criminals and you list those. You also say that those investigations often placed you a in a position of personal danger. Would you like to tell us more about that in your own words, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. Well, any undercover investigation involving criminals had its inherent dangers. In the 1990s and the early 2000s, my main job was as an undercover reporter and specifically crime. So the people I was exposing would be gun runners, paedophiles, drug dealers, and in order to expose them, you would have to equip yourself, obviously, with recording devices to record their admissions and write about it in the newspaper without fear of being sued for libel. But there was always the ever-present risk that you would reveal yourself as a journalist to the person you were exposing and thereby, you know, confront possible danger.
Q. Yes. You deal with one or two close shaves in your statement, don't you?
A. Well, I don't really want to go into too much detail LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, all Mr Jay was saying was that you mentioned them. You answered yes, then fine. We'll move on. MR JAY We're moving on to the next question. Something rather different, actually. It's kiss-and-tell stories.
A. Yes.
Q. Were you involved in the arrangement, if I can so describe it, of writing such stories?
A. The journalists had to get pigeonholed quite early in their careers. My pigeonhole, if you like, was undercover work, originally, and that stayed with me right throughout my career there. I wasn't really pigeonholed as a kiss-and-tell journalist. That's not to say that I didn't do some kiss-and-tell stories, but by and large, they sort of passed me by and went elsewhere.
Q. You did some; is that your evidence?
A. I did some, yes.
Q. Can you give us some idea of the costs? I mean, kiss-and-tell, there's always a financial incentive for the kisser, as it were, to provide the story; that is correct, isn't it?
A. Yes.
Q. Give us an idea of how much these stories cost, please?
A. Well, it would vary. It depends, really, on where in the newspaper the article would be placed. So, for example, a front-page lead what we in industry call a splash or front page splash would cost significantly more than a page 45 lead, for example, so there would be a kind of a sliding scale, and then the story would be then judged on its merits as to how much of an impact it would make, how important we thought the story was to the newspaper and then a figure would be arrived at.
Q. So it would be a question of calibrating the value of the story to the newspaper in terms, perhaps, of increased circulation or similar matters, wouldn't?
A. Obviously, circulation would be an issue, but then you have to match the price with the person's expectations. They might come in with a completely unrealistic set of financial expectations, which may sort of play our hand a bit higher and the stakes would be raised. It wasn't a precise science.
Q. Market forces then; is that it?
A. Yes.
Q. What's the most, to your knowledge, that the News of the World has ever paid for such a story?
A. I wasn't privy to how much we would be paying on a weekly basis. I can only speak from my own experience. There were six figure sums paid, but rarely. I would say the average would be for a front page story, an average price I would say would be about ?15,000. ?15-20,000. Less, sometimes, depending how the negotiations had gone.
Q. Given that money was changing hands and therefore there was, at the lowest, a risk of elaboration, if not a risk of fabrication, what steps, if any, did you take to verify the accuracy of such stories?
A. What stories are we talking about?
Q. Kiss-and-tell stories.
A. Kiss-and-tell stories? A great deal of activity went into establishing the truth of what people were telling us. There was a there was always a myth attached to News of the World stories and the myth was that we made it all up. That still prevails, I think. We didn't. We went to enormous lengths to satisfy our team of lawyers that what we had was factually correct, but most importantly, demonstrably correct, and we would verify people's claims in all sorts of ways. We would ask them to provide documentary evidence, photographic evidence, perhaps a message left, you know, on a post card or a birthday card or some sort of gift. A telephone call made to the person in question would often verify their claim. Without these, we couldn't run a story. For every kiss-and-tell that made the News of the World, because it was prudent to be accurate and correct, I would estimate there would be another six, ten that fell by the wayside because that standard of proof wasn't obtained. Even if we believed their story, it wasn't sufficient. We had to persuade our legal manager, a barrister, and his team, that what we had was true.
Q. But what weight, if any, was given to privacy issues before such stories were published?
A. Well, as we know, privacy has become a huge matter over the last three years, and I would say the kiss-and-tell story now is largely dead as a genre. So I would say in the last three years we'd taken great note of privacy matters and that was almost the first question after "Is it true?" The second question would always be, "Buts are we intruding into privacy? Is there any justification for it?" There would be lengthy debates about this. There would be lengthy conversations with the editor. The editor would demand to know what level of public interest there was in order to, you know, avoid any possible privacy issues. Colin Myler was absolutely fastidious about this. It was something that we talked about literally every day. It was an important matter that we had to get right and we did everything we could to ensure that we didn't step over those boundary marks.
Q. Can I just explore that last remark and ask two follow-up questions. Does one fairly deduce from your evidence that this is something which you say has happened for punctiliously over the last three years, but before, say, 2008, a different principle applied, perhaps a laxer principle; is that correct?
A. I have to be honest and say the answer to that is yes. This is industry-wide, where I don't think we were unique in this position. Before the privacy ruling on Mr Mosley came into place and various other injunctions taken out by celebrities and so forth, there was less regard to privacy, more regard to whether the story was true or not. There's always been that regard. The facts were always important to establish. But then it became very important to establish whether or not privacy issues were at stake.
Q. The discussions which you had described in general terms with the editor at the time, what sort of considerations went into the balance in deciding whether or not to publish a story on public interest grounds?
A. Well, one would look at exposing potential hypocrisy or lies. I can give an example of how that occurred recently. I exposed a politician for having an affair. I don't particularly want to name that politician now in fairness, but it made a very big story in our newspaper last year. We thought long and hard about whether or not we should run this story. It became apparent that there was a public interest justification because the man in question had used his family and his happy marriage in his election literature, so we felt that we had an important justification to run the story. But without matters such as that, stories would fall by the wayside on a regular basis. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So does that mean that you do not consider now, whatever you might have considered before, that there would be a public interest in exposing an extramarital affair simply because somebody was a politician?
A. There was less regard to the privacy issues. You know, we were always aware that we hadn't to be gratuitous about these things because as a newspaper you wouldn't want to be in the middle of a public backlash because you were seen to be too gratuitous about these things. There had to be an element of justification behind it and it was, generally speaking, hypocrisy, that we could demonstrate on behalf of a politician, for example. Or a celebrity. I can give you a classic example of this and this is going back before the privacy matters became so relevant to us. That was in 2005, when I exposed David Beckham's extramarital affair. We decided there was huge public interest in that matter because the Beckhams had been using their marriage in order to endorse products. They were openly presenting themselves as a very happy, married, a very close-knit family, and were making millions of pounds on the back of that image, promoting themselves as a fairy tale marriage. They even got married on thrones. We thought it was important that we exposed that the fairy tale was a sham, and therefore we decided there was huge public interest in that kiss-and-tell and I don't think anybody has sort of disputed that. So even before privacy issues came in, we did look very carefully very, very carefully as to whether or not there was a justification there, and we did in that case.
Q. What sort of products do you say the Beckhams sold on the basis of this particular image? Can you be more specific, please, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. Yes. He was a leading he was promoting Brylcreem at the time. He had a host of other products. I don't have the list here but he was sponsored left, right and centre. He was always promoting himself in front o his family as a happily married man. It was a wholesome image that he cultivated, that the family cultivated and the public bought into on a massive scale and we exposed that to be a sham. I don't have a list of the products in front of me at the moment, of course, but it's fairly well documented that that is what the brand Beckham was all about.
Q. I might be wrong of course I'm not an expert, Mr Thurlbeck but the individual products you're talking about, Brylcreem, usually there's an image of Mr Beckham and that is associated with the product. Where is the image of the Beckhams en famille producing or fostering a particular product?
A. The Beckhams were always very keen to encourage publicity of their happy marriage. It was part of their sort of one of the building bricks of their business was their happy family marriage. They talked about it, they had photographs taken at their wedding, they introduced their children to us. It was one of great wholesomeness. They were always saying what a happily married family they were and they were making an awful lot of money because they were considered to be a perfect wholesome family unit. And what we saw happening outside of the marriage was in direct contrast to the image they were cultivating and we said they were making millions of pounds on the back of that wholesome image and we thought it very important at the time to expose that as being a sham.
Q. But wasn't it an example, though, of what the lawyers might choose to call an implied representation? The example of a politician who platforms on the basis of family values and makes that an explicit part of his or her political image one can understand. That's an express representation. But in relation to the particular case we're discussing now, isn't it all about implied representation, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. We thought there was as very strong justification for running it on the basis of what I've just said.
Q. I'm not sure that quite couples with the point I'm making. Do you understand the distinction I'm trying to
A. Yes.
Q. draw between something being made explicit?
A. Well, it was explicit to us, and I suspect it was explicit to all the people who had bought into that image of the Beckhams being, you know, a wholesome family unit.
Q. Okay. Did you take steps to verify the accuracy of Ms Loos's story?
A. I did, yes. I spent five months on the story in total. I spent six weeks in Australia and five or weeks in Spain and it was very hard to prove, you know, the validity of what the girl was saying to me. We established it eventually by
Q. I'm not sure I need ask you how you proved it. The question was confined to: did you take steps?
A. Yes.
Q. And your answer, I think, was yes.
A. Yes.
Q. Are we talking about a six-figure sum here for Ms Loos?
A. I don't think we've ever declared exactly how much we paid Ms loos.
Q. No, but the question was: are we talking about a six-figure sum?
A. I'm trying to think of a good reason why I shouldn't tell you how much we paid her. There may be issues of confidentiality that we had with Ms Loos at the time LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not really concerned, I don't think, about your issues of confidentiality with Ms Loos. I don't want to the know the precise sum, but I am interested in the order of magnitude, I think, following Mr Jay's question. Unless somebody wants to suggest I shouldn't be? No. Right, order of magnitude, please.
A. Okay. We are talking about a six-figure sum. It was the most I think I've ever paid for a story. We're talking about a six-figure sum, just. MR JAY Not quite seven figures, Mr Thurlbeck LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right, all right, we've got the message. Move on. MR JAY Move on to Mr Mosley's case. Would you agree, Mr Thurlbeck, that without the Nazi theme allegation there wasn't a public interest in publishing the story?
A. Yes, I would agree with that.
Q. Would you also agree that it follows from that that it was important to demonstrate that there was a Nazi theme?
A. Yes.
Q. When you started on the story after, I believe, an initial approach, you, of course, knew from your general knowledge about Mr Mosley's father, Sir Oswald Mosley; am I correct?
A. Yes.
Q. The initial tipster, he was a man named Jason; is that correct?
A. That's correct.
Q. Can I just deal with some of the evidence there? It's not my task or purpose to relitigate this litigation since it's a matter of record and we simply can't in any way undermine the findings of Mr Justice Eady, nor do we wish to, since his findings were not appealed, but if I could just look at a document which is number 31344. I hope in the bundle you have, Mr Thurlbeck, it's underneath tab 4. It's part of your witness statement in the High Court proceedings. It's paragraph 23, where you deal with the issue of payment for the story, that Jason asked for, ?25,000.
A. Yes.
Q. "I agreed to this amount on the condition that this story was selected to be the splash." That's the front page; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. "I told Jason that if this was not the case, I would only be able to offer him less money and an inside story would be ?6,000." In the result, I think, Woman E got ?12,000; is that correct?
A. I think so, yes.
Q. In paragraph 24: "I explained to Jason that I would need to meet with Michelle to arrange for her clothes to be fitted with a hidden camera and show her how to operate it. It was important for Michelle to video the orgy to ensure that we had sufficient evidence should Mr Mosley threaten to sue the News of the World for libel." That suggests, rather, that the purpose of the video was only to obtain evidence in order to defeat a possible libel claim; is that correct?
A. Normally that would be the case. But in recent years, with the development of the News of the World website, there was always the possibility there that the video could be used on the website.
Q. Why was the video ever put on the website, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. I can't answer that question because I don't know. I had no involvement ever with the uploading of videos onto the website.
Q. Were you not aware, given your close participation in the assembly of this story, that the video was going to be placed on the News of the World website?
A. It was always going to be a possibility, yes.
Q. When did you know that it was going to happen?
A. I can't remember.
Q. We know that the story itself was published on 28 March 2008, I believe. Sorry, it's 30 March 2008.
A. Yes.
Q. In relation to that date, how long before was the decision made to publish the video on the website?
A. I really don't know. In fact, the first I probably, probably knew about it going on the website I think would be when I saw it myself the following day. I think, from memory. I had my recollection is that there were no discussions with me about, you know, it being uploaded to the website. That was a completely different department. It was literally in another office somewhere. They'd get the video and up it would go.
Q. Who took the decision?
A. To upload it? It would always be the editor's decision.
Q. Of course, you were handing over the film
A. Yes.
Q. to the relevant person. Wasn't there some sort of discussion as to what would happen to it?
A. I didn't hand it over. I left the video in the office. It was there to be looked at by our barrister, our editor, our news editor, deputy news editor; all the people who were deciding the validity of the story, where it was going to go in the newspaper and whether the words I had written corresponded to what they'd seen on the video. So I kind of relinquished control of the video when I brought it to the office.
Q. You didn't relinquish control of the story, since you wrote it on 30 March.
A. Yes.
Q. Are you saying that at the time you wrote the story and you must have, as it were, perfected it probably on the Saturday; is that right?
A. Yes.
Q. you were unaware that there would be an associated video? Is that your evidence?
A. No, I can't I'm not going to be gauche about this. I was always aware there with a was a direct possibility of that being uploaded onto the website, providing, you know, it was visible. Sometimes these things are poor quality and may be evidential but not sort of broadcastable.
Q. I need to look again at the story itself. I don't have it immediately available, but did not the story say, "If you want to look at the details, go to our website", or words to that effect?
A. Yes, it probably would, yes.
Q. So you put that in the story, did you?
A. No. No, I didn't. When the story leaves my computer, it would then go to the subeditors, who would lay it out on the page, maybe change a word here or two and put a headline on it and so on, and they would have put on the that sort of information at the bottom. I can never remember ever putting that on the bottom because I wouldn't know that, you know, the video was going on the website. When that decision had been made by the editor, he would then speak to the subeditor or the chief sub, and say, "It's going on the website, can you put a paragraph on the bottom saying that this is so?"
Q. Did you not view the video yourself before you wrote the story?
A. Yes, I no, I viewed it. I did.
Q. So you must have known that the video was not merely of reasonable quality but that it, as it were, corroborated what you were going to write?
A. Yes.
Q. Can I ask you, please, about the setting up of the camera, as it were. This is paragraph 37 of your witness statement.
A. Yes.
Q. At page 31347. This, of course, remains your evidence to Mr Justice Eady. You refer to it in your witness statement. You say: "I did not, at any point, coach Michelle Michelle is Woman E; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. as to what she should do during the S&M party. I instructed her on how to use the camera and I told her how she should stand and what would be video'd from a certain distance and how she should turn to ensure that she would be able to obtain footage for us. I did not ask Michelle to perform in any particular way or to say anything in particular at the party. When showing Michelle how to use the hidden camera, I said to her: 'When you want to get him doing the Sieg Heil, it's about 2.5 to 3 metres away from him and then you'll get him in no problem.' The video footage of me showing Michelle how to use the hidden camera records this and shows me making the Sieg Heil gesture with my arm in the air and showing Michelle the sort of distance needed to film it properly and get it in shot. When I said this to Michelle, I was not in any sense trying to persuade her to make that gesture when she was with the claimant or persuade her to try and get the claimant to make that gesture." The question is, Mr Thurlbeck: weren't you trying to do that?
A. No, absolutely not. I'm grateful for the opportunity to correct this, and I did so, actually, at the High Court hearing in 2008. If I could just refer you to what Mr Mosley says in his evidence to you. He said: "It was very clear to me that Thurlbeck was trying to set the whole thing up from the beginning as a Nazi thing." But Mr Mosley misquoted me. What I actually said was: "When you want to get him doing the Sieg Heil, it's about 2.5 to 3 metres away from him and then you'll get him in no problem." And I think it's clear from that statement that the word "get" is a kind of a shorthand for the verb "to video", "to capture". So what I'm saying to Woman E is: when you want to capture him, when you want to video him doing the Seig Heil, stand back 2.5 metres, otherwise you won't get him in the frame. And in a rather torturous way, this has now been interpreted as me saying, "Get him to do the Sieg Heil", but an analysis of the words that I use make it clear that that is not my meaning at all.
Q. Mr Justice Eady touches on this at paragraph 164 of his judgment at page 31249. It may be fair to say that he doesn't make an express finding either way as to whether that explanation is right. Did Woman E say anything to you which led you to believe expressly that there would a Sieg Heil gesture?
A. No. She said there was going to be a Nazi theme. Obviously the most iconic image one would expect to capture would be a Sieg Heil salute. She didn't mention that; nor did I encourage her to make that happen.
Q. Woman E did not, of course, give evidence, did they
A. No, she she didn't.
Q. Can I deal with the run-up to the story a little bit more. Were there discussions with the editor about whether there was a public interest in publishing this story, given the obvious privacy issues?
A. We it was very clear to all of us that the implication that there was a Nazi theme to this party was sufficient public interest to run a story LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's not, with respect, an answer to the question. Was there as discussion about the public interest? Because you're making an assumption about the story, which itself requires evaluation.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So was there a discussion?
A. There was a discussion. There was a discussion certainly between myself and the news desk. MR JAY Did it involve the editor, Mr Myler?
A. I didn't speak to Mr Myler, but I'm assuming I don't know that the news desk did. But I don't know. I can't answer for them.
Q. Can I ask you with whom did you have the discussion at the news desk?
A. Do you want me to name the individual?
Q. Yes.
A. It was the deputy news editor, James Mellor.
Q. Can you remember when that was?
A. No. Not now.
Q. Can you remember approximately how long before the publication of the story it was?
A. It was probably, I would imagine, the day I commenced the investigation, which from memory I can't remember. It was a week or so before publication. Maybe more.
Q. Can I be clear when you mean by that?
A. Yes.
Q. Was this before or after your first meeting with Jason?
A. It was before, because Jason I have to it's an awful long time ago, it's difficult to remember, but I think Jason got in touch with us I spoke to him on the phone first and then relayed what he was telling me to the news desk and we had a conversation then about whether or not this would be in the public interest, and it was the suggestion of the Nazi theme which initially persuaded us that it was in the public interest.
Q. The first contact which Jason made with the News of the World was on 13 March. You then had a conversation with him on the phone on 14 March and then you met with Jason first of all at Waterloo station on 19 March. Does that jog your memory?
A. Yes, that's about right, yeah.
Q. So is it your evidence that the discussion about the public interest was likely to have been before at least 19 March?
A. I think so, but I can't remember, I'm afraid. I really can't remember that.
Q. This was before you had much detail about the case in your mind, Mr Thurlbeck, wasn't it?
A. No, it was I think, from memory, the first conversation with Jason indicated that there was a Nazi theme, so it was very firmly in our minds by the time we went down to meet him.
Q. But you had no detail by that stage?
A. No, no great detail.
Q. Didn't you think it appropriate, given the importance of this story, once all information had been obtained, including the video, to have a proper discussion with at least the editor about privacy issues in the context of the public interest?
A. With the editor? In the normal course of events, I would talk to the news editor.
Q. Didn't you think it appropriate to have such a discussion with the news editor at that point?
A. Well, we did. We talked about this from the beginning.
Q. You've told us that the discussion was before the first meeting with Jason, which was on 19 March. Are you telling us that there was a later discussion?
A. There with there were many discussions about it.
Q. But were there discussions about public interest in the story, in the context of the privacy, or were there discussions simply about the progress of the story and how juicy a story it was go to be?
A. I would say it included all those ingredients.
Q. Are you sure about that, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. Yes.
Q. Were you aware of decisions taken within the News of the World to maintain as much secrecy as possible over the story?
A. In what sense?
Q. To ensure that it didn't leak out and possibly enable or certainly enable, I can put it higher than that Mr Mosley to take out an application for an injunction against the News of the World?
A. Those decisions are made only by the editor.
Q. That wasn't the question.
A. Was I aware that he'd made that decision?
Q. Yes.
A. In other words, was I aware that we weren't going to go to Mr Mosley and put the allegations to him?
Q. Mm.
A. All I can say is I would always wait for an instruction from the news desk before revealing our hand, if you like, to anybody who was the subject of an investigation at the News of the World and I didn't receive the go ahead to do that. I would never ask to do it; I would wait to be told to do it, and on this occasion I wasn't told, therefore I assumed that had we weren't putting the allegations to him, but at no time was I told that we weren't. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Did you have a view about that?
A. That I wasn't requested to confront Mr Mosley LORD JUSTICE LEVESON About whether Mr Mosley should be given the chance to deal with it in whatever way he thought fit?
A. Well, my view at the time was that we had a perfectly legitimate story that we needed to run. Therefore, I would have taken the view that we had to protect that story and ensure that Mr Mosley didn't unjustifiably prevent us from running it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What do you mean by the word "unjustifiably", please?
A. Right. We firmly believed at the time that we had a story that was massively in the public interest. You might find that strange now, that this story has been, you know, rubbished on so many quarters, but all of us at the News of the World at the time, all of us, and many of us still MR JAY Do you mind answering the question, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. I am answering it, I promise you. We thought we had every justification in running it and I imagine that the editor feared that this story could be prevented from coming out by Mr Mosley if we went to him. But I don't make the decisions. But that's what I imagine happened. MR JAY It's a bit higher than that, Mr Thurlbeck. You well knew that if Mr Mosley was warned in advance of the story (a) he would make an immediate application for an injunction that's correct, isn't it?
A. Yes, but this wasn't I was not part of that decision-making process.
Q. You also knew that everybody at the News of the World, especially the editor, feared that the application would be successful; you knew that, didn't you?
A. Again, that didn't come across my radar. I was not involved in that part of the decision-making process. Therefore, I didn't really need to consider it. What I had to consider was whether or not I had got what I was writing what I was writing in the paper was accurate. That was my task. These decisions as to whether or not it went on the website, whether or not we should confront Mr Mosley with the evidence did not come on my radar.
Q. Hold on, Mr Thurlbeck. There was a cloak of secrecy put around this story.
A. Yes.
Q. Only a few people within the News of the World knew about it at all; is that correct?
A. That is correct, but that wasn't unique. That happened on every story we did.
Q. So we're agreed thus far. Are we also agreed that the story came out in, I think, the second edition, no the first?
A. I think that's correct, yes.
Q. So this was all part and parcel of a strategy, is that right, to try and get this below the radar, which radar would include any antennae that Mr Mosley had available to him; are we agreed?
A. Right. I will answer this question in this way: you're assuming that I'm part of this strategy, as you call it. I'm not. I'm not part of the strategy to upload the video onto the website, to decide whether or not we go to Mr Mosley with the evidence. I'm not part of that strategy. I am just a person who is writing the story investigating it, meeting the contacts, writing it and making sure what I write is accurate. Beyond that, the strategy is not mine. I can only make assumptions about what that strategy was and why, and you're asking me what that strategy was. I was never part of the discussions on that strategy. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Aren't you being a bit unkind to yourself, Mr Thurlbeck? You weren't just the reporter. You were the chief reporter for the paper, who had been the news editor, who had been the investigation news editor. You weren't party to any of this?
A. No, I wasn't. This was the strategy you might find this hard to believe, but this is the way the newspaper worked. I can only tell you what I know to be true and what happened. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's all I ask.
A. And that's what I'm giving you, I promise you. This is the way decisions were made. Decisions on whether or not we'd confront people before we publish never ever it was an editor's decision, always an editor's decision. Not even the news editor's decision. Especially not the chief reporter's decision. These matters, the strategy, are all taken at the very highest level on our newspaper, and I suspect on every other newspaper in Fleet Street too. The chief reporter and news editor, they're very grand-sounding titles but they don't really call any shots at all. These decisions are made at the very highest levels. MR JAY Is it your evidence, therefore, to this Inquiry that you weren't even aware of what Mr Myler's decision was?
A. In relation to what?
Q. The failure or rather the decision not to notify Mr Mosley and get his comment before publication?
A. As I said to you before, I assumed that was his decision because I'd been I hadn't been instructed to go and speaking to Mr Mosley.
Q. Okay. Let me ask you about what happened subsequently. I think I can take this up in the judgment of Mr Justice Eady at our page 31228. Still under tab 4. The heading: "Mr Thurlbeck's behaviour following publication on 30 March." This, of course, deals with the follow-up story, which I think in your statement you call part 2; is that correct?
A. That's correct.
Q. That's common journalistic phraseology, maybe, in relation to what follows the main story?
A. Yes.
Q. As Mr Justice Eady explains at paragraph 80: "In order to firm up the story, therefore, Mr Thurlbeck decided that he would like to publish an interview with at least one of the participants and, if possible, contributions." Then he says: "In pursuit of this objective, therefore, he sent a number of emails." And the emails went tout to Women A v B in these terms: "Hope you're well. I'm Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter of the News of the World, the journalist who wrote the story about Max Mosley's party with you and your girls on Friday. Please take a breath before you get angry with me!" Do you know why that sentence was in the email?
A. I can't remember why. Now.
Q. Maybe it's obvious from what follows: "I did ensure that all your faces were blocked out to spare you any grief and soon the story will become history, as life and the news agenda move on very quickly. There is a substantial sum of money available to you or any of the girls in return for an exclusive interview with us. The interview can be done anonymously and your face can be blacked out too. So it's pretty straightforward. Shall we meet/talk?" Then the following day another email: "I'm just about to send you a series of pictures which will form the basis of our article this week. We want to reveal the identities of the girls involved in the orgy with Max, as this is the only follow up we have to the story. Our preferred story, however, would be you speaking to us directly about your dealings with Max and for that we would be extremely grateful. In return for this, we would grant you full anonymity, pixelate your faces in all photographs and secure a substantial sum of money for you. This puts you firmly in the driving seat and allows you much greater control Et cetera. So it's pretty clear that there were two choices available to the women. Either they agreed your terms, which would involve anonymity, pixelation and a sum of money, or they wouldn't be in the driving seat and you would publish photographs with their faces; is that correct?
A. That's correct.
Q. Can I understand, please, what your evidence to this Inquiry is about these emails? Is it your evidence that you didn't draft the emails?
A. That's true, yes.
Q. Who did?
A. The it was somebody on the news desk who had been on holiday when the part 1 story was broken. When he returned from holiday, he realised that he'd been on holiday when, at that time, we believed we had one of the biggest stories we'd broken for many years. He was determined that in week two he would get a better story than the part 1, and therefore we had to get the girls on side to help us and to give us their testimony. So it's true to say that those emails were dictated to me. However, they were sent by me, and willingly, and in my name. That was the process that we got to, but ultimately I sent those emails, yes.
Q. You had continuing carriage of the story?
A. Yes.
Q. And you were going to meet or talk with the women if they agreed to your terms; is that correct?
A. That's correct.
Q. So why would someone else have to draft emails for you as chief reporter, Mr Thurlbeck?
A. No. I'm not I'm giving you the process that arrived at these emails being sent and I'm telling you exactly how it happened. Now, as to why it happened that way, you'd have to ask the person who dictated those emails to me. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Who is
A. He was a man on the news desk and I don't see that there's any benefit, surely, to me naming him, is there? MR JAY You see, we could always ask him or require him to give evidence. Do you understand, Mr Thurlbeck, where this might be leading?
A. All right. It was the news editor, who at the time was Ian Edmondson.
Q. Okay. One theme which is coming strongly across, if I may say so, preparing for this week's evidence, is that he's getting blamed for everything, Mr Thurlbeck. The buck doesn't stop with Mr A in this case, you. It's being passed to Mr Edmondson. Are you sure about this?
A. What I'm saying to you this is the process that was involved in these emails being sent. But I did say and I take full responsibility for this, and I did say to you just a minute ago that it was me who sent them, and I sent them in my name. I could have said no, and I didn't. I sent them. So I'm prepared to accept full responsibility for those emails being sent. I hope I make myself clear on that. I am not blaming anybody for these emails being sent. I am merely outlining the process involved.
Q. Right, and it's a process which wasn't adumbrated to or in front of Mr Justice Eady when you gave your evidence, was it?
A. No, no, it wasn't.
Q. Why not, if it was the truth?
A. I don't see any point I didn't see any point then in basically, you know, going into elaborate detail as to how these emails were sent, and perhaps I perhaps even now it's an irrelevance. I'm just giving you the benefit
Q. Can I ask what's the point now?
A. I'm just giving you the process. If you don't want to know the process, then LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I do, and it is relevant, isn't it, because if I am looking, as you well know, at the culture, practices and ethics of the press these aren't unthought-out approaches. These are clearly approaches that have been thought about.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And it's not just somebody who's knocked off an email. Did you discuss them with Mr Edmondson before
A. We had a brief conversation on the telephone about them and that was it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you decided with him I'm only trying to understand it.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And therefore I welcome your explaining the process because it's very important that this was an appropriate approach to follow up the story?
A. Yes, and I'm quite happy to accept for responsibility for this. MR JAY Did you say to Mr Edmondson: "This comes close to threatening the women"?
A. Um you see, what we were doing here is we were offering them in the course of normal journalistic practice, if you have a very good story and you want to follow it up, you would seek to get more evidence about the story that you published the week before. On this particular week, it was, we believed, imperative to speak to the girls who were involved. We found out who they were, we identified them, and we were offering them an opportunity, if you like, to remove their identities from what would be a natural part 2. A natural part 2 would be "Here are the girls, this is who they are", and in return for withholding their identities, we hoped to get a more detailed testimony from them. We didn't see it as a threat. We saw it as an offer a deal to do with the girls. In order for them to help us, we would respond by helping them too by removing that you are identities.
Q. Two follow-up questions to that. Was this done in the course of normal journalistic practice, to use your own term?
A. Was what done, sorry?
Q. This sort of offer to the women concerned?
A. Very seldom. I can't remember many occasions, but, you know, people would often be reluctant to help a newspaper because of their identities coming out, and often deals would be done to protect their identities. We would say, "Look, if you talk to us anonymously, then we can write a story about this." This happens all the time. The broadsheet newspapers do this as well, you know. I know they've spoken to me. They want to speak to me and get my story and, you know, "We'll do it off the record", and all the rest of it. TV stations have done the same. This is the course of a normal journalistic practice, if you like, offering people a degree of anonymity in return for evidence that could support a story.
Q. Can I just explore, then, the value of the story if you just printed the women's faces, if you'd just had their photographs but no interview?
A. Yes.
Q. It was a useless story, wasn't it?
A. Well, it wouldn't be as good, but it wouldn't be entirely useless.
Q. But you didn't in fact proceed down that road because when the women concerned, to use the language of Mr Justice Eady, resisted these blandishments, did you publish a story with their faces exposed?
A. No, we didn't, but again, that wouldn't be my decision. That would be the editor's decision.
Q. Because it was a useless story, wasn't it?
A. I don't know what the reason was behind him not printing the story.
Q. It's pretty obvious it was a useless story and that's why it wasn't published. What you wanted was the much better story, which it's true would involve pixelation and an interview. That's what you really wanted?
A. That's true, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Choose a convenient moment, Mr Jay. MR JAY Yes. I think we'll take it now. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. 2 o'clock, please. (1.00 pm)


Gave statements at the hearings on 12 December 2011 (AM) and 25 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 41 pieces of evidence
Gave statements at the hearings on 12 December 2011 (AM) and 12 December 2011 (PM) ; and submitted 2 pieces of evidence


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