Afternoon Hearing on 28 February 2012

Nick Davies and Christopher Jefferies gave statements at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(2.00 pm) MR JAY Sir, the next witness is Mr Christopher Jefferies, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR CHRISTOPHER JEFFERIES (recalled) Questions by MR JAY LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Jefferies, you were, of course, sworn when you last
A. Indeed, yes. MR JAY Mr Jefferies, you kindly provided the Inquiry with a second witness statement for this module, dated 22 February, signed by you under a statement of truth. Is this your formal evidence to are the Inquiry
A. It is.
Q. in relation to module two?
A. It is, yes.
Q. In paragraph 2 you explain what the purpose of your statement is and set out your understanding of the way in which the press and the police interacted following the disappearance of Ms Yeates in relation to the leaking of your name and the questions put to you in custody and then why you suspect that other inappropriate interactions took place. Can I take you straight, please, to paragraph 5 and ask you to deal with the report on News at Ten on 4 January 2011. Did you see that report yourself, Mr Jefferies?
A. I did not see that report myself, although it was described in some detail to me. It made, I think, fairly clear the extent to which the Avon and Somerset constabulary, those officers conducting the investigation, felt under considerable pressure at the time, indeed, as I explain in paragraph 4 of the witness statement, and certainly they did not take kindly to any suggestions that they might be conducting the investigation less than efficiently and expeditiously.
Q. Thank you. In order to understand the factual context, if I could take you to paragraph 6 of your statement. The first statement you gave was on 21 December 2010.
A. That's right, yes.
Q. But then you recalled, and this is later on in paragraph 6, what might have happened on 17 December 2010. You're not entirely sure of the date, but you're sure as to what happened. You became aware of what sounded like two or perhaps three people leaving by the side gate on the other side of the house, but you could not see because there was a hedge in between and it was dark, this was late in the evening.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. So you telephoned the police and relayed that information; is that right?
A. That's right. It was an event which had certainly happened during the course of that week. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that it was Friday, rather than any other day. At the time, it had been an entirely unremarkable event, which is why I hadn't particularly considered it or recalled it at the time that I was giving my main statement, but given the fact that everybody who had been giving statements at the time were encouraged to get back in touch with the police if they did recall any additional information, then that's what I did.
Q. You did get in touch with the police, and there was a further statement taken from you on 22 December?
A. Yeah.
Q. Can I ask you specifically about the content of that statement. It's covered in paragraph 7 of your witness statement. The officer asked you if one of the voices this is of the two or perhaps three people you saw leaving by the side gate could have been a woman's voice, and you replied that it could have been but you couldn't say either way.
A. Precisely, because the event had been so comparatively unremarkable and unworthy of note at the time that I hadn't paid that degree of attention to it.
Q. When you say the police have since confirmed to you that the fact you gave a supplementary statement raised their suspicions in relation to you, first of all, when did they give you that confirmation? Can you recall?
A. This was at the time that I was arrested.
Q. What was it about the supplementary statement you gave or the fact that you gave it which raised their suspicions?
A. Well, quite. I mean, it came as a considerable surprise to me that they thought that this was a matter to arouse suspicion, given the fact that they had emphasised that supplementary statements would be welcomed. I think they felt that I had perhaps been attempting to deflect any attention from my own potential involvement.
Q. You say at the end of paragraph 7 that on the basis of what ensued, you believe it's likely that the police passed these suspicions on to the mediA. We can move the story forward to Wednesday, 29 December. In your own words, please, Mr Jefferies what happened on that date?
A. Well, Wednesday, 29 December is certainly a key date, because until then I had not been the subject of any particular media attention, but that suddenly changed. A Sky News team were extremely anxious to talk to me. A large number of reporters and photographers appeared at the address where I lived. They had somehow got to hear about the content of that second witness statement. They had got hold of a very garbled edition of it and they were extremely anxious to know whether I believed I had seen Jo Yeates leaving the premises on 17 December in the company of one or more other people.
Q. To be clear, Mr Jefferies, your supplementary statement said, in answer to the question that was put to you, that one of the voices could have been a woman's voice, you couldn't say either way, but you certainly weren't identifying anyone; is that right?
A. That's right, that's right.
Q. But it came back to you, mediated through the media, as it were, that your supplementary statement
A. That I had actually been a witness to Jo Yeates leaving the premises in company with a person or other people.
Q. You'd never said anything along those lines to the police?
A. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.
Q. Might it be said, if I could be forgiven for being devil's advocate, that the press couldn't have got this from the police because the police, had they leaked it to the press, would have said, "Mr Jefferies couldn't identify even whether it was a woman's voice, let alone Ms Yeates"? Do you see the point?
A. Yes, I do see the point. There is a range of possibilities as far as the source of the information is concerned, including somebody who was not actually an officer to whom I had given the statement, who had seen the statement in any detail, but had nevertheless heard about it.
Q. Then, paragraph 9, your home phone rang between 10 and 20 times as journalists tried to get hold of you to give your side of the story.
A. There was feverish interest indeed in talking to me, and the fact that this happened the day before I was arrested certainly, in hindsight, seemed to me to be remarkable.
Q. You draw attention to a piece in the Daily Mail, although your exhibit is providing us with the Mail Online, which may or may not be the print edition. We've had this issue before. Kindly look at page 1 of your exhibit CJ2. We can identify the piece. You're clear in your statement that this is the Daily Mail, not just the Mail Online. At page 2 we see a photograph of you, so obviously someone has startled you to capture you looking in a certain way; is that right?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Then it says: "The landlord of murdered architect Jo Yeates watched as she left her flat with two people on the night she disappeared, it was claimed yesterday. Bachelor Chris Jefferies, 65, apparently told police he saw three people, including Ms Yeates, walking away together and talking in hushed tones." The source isn't identified there. You say, though, in paragraph 10 it may be that the press had a source within the police who had revealed some of what your second statement said.
A. Yes. I think it's worth emphasising at this point that I had told, I think, no more than three neighbours about that second statement to the police, and they all subsequently assured me that they were not the source of the information that then appeared in the mediA.
Q. In paragraph 11, you say with hindsight you believe there was some awareness by the press that you were about to be arrested, "which I duly was the next day", which, of course, was 30 December.
A. Yes. It is very much to do with the tone of the reporting, which obviously was on television as well as elsewhere, and friends of mine who happened to be abroad who saw this on television were extremely alarmed, because it seemed to them that suddenly I had very much become a subject of suspicion as far as the investigation was concerned.
Q. You were arrested at 7.00 in the morning, and as paragraph 12 of your statement makes clear, in fact there were no reporters or TV crews there, as it were, to welcome you, but the police did give you certain advice just in case?
A. That's right. The police were obviously very much aware of the heightened media interest, and indeed they have pointed out that on 29 December the senior investigating officer made reference in his policy book to "the high levels of media interest in Mr Jefferies" and was cognisant of that as he pursued the investigation.
Q. The police gave out a statement on 30 December which was in fairly anodyne terms but probably sufficient to identify the 65-year-old man as you. The address is given and the number of candidates for that description, I think, was dwindling possibly to one. You say in paragraph 14 that you do not believe the press would have been bold enough to launch into full-scale accusations about you, as they did, built around the fact that you'd been arrested, had they (a) not had confirmation that it was you that had been arrested
A. And indeed we do have confirmation from the Avon and Somerset constabulary that, as they put it, inadvertently my name was disclosed. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. There's a difference between an inadvertence, as Mr Port refers to, and what Mr Wallace says, which he describes as "off-the-record guidance".
A. Yes. MR JAY The chief constable, Mr Port, at page 13 of the exhibit bundle, addresses what Mr Wallace says, or alleged in evidence. This relates to what Mr Wallace told this Inquiry. "Mr Wallace has alleged that we deliberately released information in off-the-record briefings, including concerning your personal details and other issues about your arrest. This is untrue. There was an inadvertent disclosure of your name following news reports naming you but as soon as we discovered this had taken place, we made it clear to the journalists the information should not have been released and should not be used." Of course, by then you might say it was rather too late, because
A. Indeed, yes.
Q. your identity had been 100 per cent confirmed if it wasn't 99 per cent confirmed by the statement which we see in paragraph 13. Do we have the timing or the date of the inadvertent disclosure, Mr Jefferies?
A. I don't believe that we do.
Q. The implication is that it was about the time of your arrest
A. Of the arrest, yes.
Q. Maybe we'll find out in due course.
A. One comment by the Avon and Somerset police states that: "On 30 December, the Press Association called the press office to ask for an official line about Chris Jefferies being held at Trinity Road custody. She had been told by the police station front office that he was there."
Q. The second point you make we've dealt with point (a) in paragraph 14, but (b): a steer from the police that they believed I was their man."
A. Which indeed is a comment from Richard Wallace's evidence to this Inquiry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Although emphatically denounced by Mr Port, I think.
A. Indeed. MR JAY I believe I'm right in observing that, aside from Mr Wallace, none of the reporters on the ground who were called by this Inquiry said that they'd received an off-the-record briefing, let alone one which indicated that you were the police's man, but maybe they there are a number of possible inferences.
A. Indeed, and as the police have themselves pointed out, it might be necessary to distinguish between an off-the-record guidance from a as it were, an official police force and information that might have been gleaned from a source close to the police investigation and who therefore could not be construed as speaking on behalf of the force.
Q. Yes. Certainly by the time we reach 30 December and you are arrested and the police statement goes out at paragraph 13, there are only two possibilities. The first was that the press knew that it was you, as it were, and believed it was now open season because the police having arrested you, that was, as it were, enough to suggest your guilt. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's remarkably dangerous, Mr Jay, and runs counter to every single understanding that I have of the contempt of court legislation. MR JAY Yes. I'm just going through the possibilities. The second possibility is that the police did, off the record or otherwise, indicate to the press, not that they're telling us that, save for Mr Wallace, that they were confident you were their man, which wouldn't have got
A. And I suppose it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the police might wish to give at least an impression of considerable confidence at that point that a significant step forward had been taken in the investigation.
Q. But both those possibilities LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's very measured, Mr Jefferies, but it is also very dangerous, as you have discovered.
A. Yes. Indeed, it was as a result of what took place on that morning that all the defamatory articles which this Inquiry is aware of appeared. MR JAY Yes. In paragraph 17 you deal with Mr Wallace's evidence, which we recall. We also recall Mr Parry's evidence.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Mr Jon Clements, you refer to in the second italicised citation. There's a letter of clarification from Herbert Smith on behalf of Trinity Mirror that he was not there at the material time but there's still evidentially, at least, a lacuna in relation to the Mr Smith that you referred to. The Inquiry hasn't heard from him as to whether or not he received any off-the-record briefing.
A. That's right.
Q. But save for the inadvertent disclosure which Mr Port refers to in his letter, the Avon and Somerset constabulary stringently deny that there was any leak to the press.
A. Certainly that there was no leak that they have been able to discover as a result of an internal investigation.
Q. Yes. The Inquiry is going to have to make of it what it can, based on that material and inferences which may be drawn from the material. You assist further in paragraph 18 to this extent, Mr Jefferies and this may be important because it sort of works almost the other way around. You say that during the course of your questioning over the three days, it's clear that the police were relying on information that was appearing in the press for material on which to base their questions.
A. Yes.
Q. Can you recall any lines of questions which did reflect the newspaper articles we looked at two or three months ago, when you first gave your evidence?
A. Yes, indeed. Obviously this was not something I was aware of at the time, but fairly soon after my release, the solicitor who had been representing me pointed out that he had been very puzzled by certain lines of questioning and then discovered that they had indeed been taken from gossip and variation allegations that had been appearing in the press. One example had been that I was supposed to have a furious temper and there was some discussions as to whether this was in fact the case, and no doubt the police were wanting to determine whether or not Jo Yeates might have been killed as a result of some argument which had flared up which had then got out of hand and resulted in my strangling her.
Q. Yes. The other issue you raise in paragraph 19 is the length of your bail. You were released on police bail on new year's day 2011. Vincent Tabak arrested on suspicion of murder on 20 January, charged on 22 January, by which point he had confessed to the unlawful killing, but not
A. That's right, yes.
Q. not murder. But of course the jury later finds him guilty of murder, so we're running out of candidates now. There's only one individual who has killed Jo Yeates and certainly not you. But it wasn't until 4 March 2011 that your police bail was lifted. In your own words, what is your concern about that?
A. My concern about that is that although the police assured me that the reason that I was still on bail was that they wanted to investigate every possible avenue which might, in the future, lead to somebody pointing the finger of suspicion at me, and they wanted to be absolutely certain that should that happen, then they would be able to say categorically that I was in no way involved with Jo Yeates' death, the effect, of course, was to prolong the public suspicion that I might be in some way involved, and indeed to put me through a particularly stressful period of time.
Q. Yes. I wonder, though, whether it's possible to link that and one fully understands what you're saying in relation to that to any aspect of the police's relationship with the press, or whether this is merely a function of the police's own internal workings and thinking.
A. One could conceivably suggest that the police wanted to give the impression that I had been arrested on the basis of possibly firmer evidence than turned out to be the case.
Q. Your recommendations for the future. We start at paragraph 23, on the top of page 10 of your statement. It's your very firm view that it must be considered a far more serious offence than it currently is for police to disclose inappropriate information to members of the press, and that to do so should be an imprisonable offence subject to a public interest defence.
A. Indeed. It seems to me that a significant deterrent is required, and indeed the point is echoed in paragraph 25 when I take up the suggestion of the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe, who, in a private member's bill, wished to propose legislation to impose a six-month prison sentence on any journalist who named an uncharged suspect. And indeed that suggestion, I believe, arose specifically out of my own case.
Q. If no money changes hands, I'm just musing aloud as to what the criminal offence is in the first place, let alone what sanctions there might be, but I'll be guided by others as to whether there is an offence. It's certainly a disciplinary offence for inappropriate information to be leaked by a police officer, but whether it's a criminal offence if they're not being paid for it, I must say I'm not
A. Yes, I take that distinction. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think you're right, Mr Jay. I certainly can't think of one, unless you're going to call it "misconduct in public office", and that's not inappropriate if it's in certain circumstances, but not in others. MR JAY Yes. In paragraph 24, you refer to the ACPO guidance.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. You're concerned about the vagueness of it; is that correct?
A. Yes. I conclude the paragraph by commenting that in my view, this is really not guidance at all but a statement of the rather inadequate status quo. It doesn't pay appropriate attention to the rights of individuals in the context and the harm which may be caused to them.
Q. As we've already observed in your case, to refer generally to a 65-year-old man who lives in a particular place, that comes very, very close to identifying you, and the guidance, you feel, should be more stringent to avoid that possibility
A. That's right.
Q. by inference. Have I correctly understood your evidence in that respect? Mr Jefferies, are there any other matters you would like to raise with the Inquiry?
A. No. I think that all the important aspects of the statement have been covered. MR JAY Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There's one that hasn't, Mr Jefferies. You exhibit to your statement a letter from the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, Mr Port, which identifies that he intends to write to me, detailing "my comments on the evidence of Richard Wallace, the editor of the Daily Mirror", and he hopes that the letter that I am to receive will be shared with you by the Inquiry. Have you seen that?
A. I received a copy of it yesterday afternoon. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you've had a chance to read it?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I wanted to know whether there was anything you wanted to say, as it specifically affected you not so much comment. I'm not asking you to argue the case, but if there's any specific comment that you wanted to make upon that letter.
A. I think the only comment that I would make is that some of the explanations which the Avon and Somerset police give are rather gnomic and may conceal as much as they reveal. I'm thinking particularly of their comments in relation to Mr Wallace's assertion: "The arrest of Mr Jefferies on suspicion of the murder of Joanna Yeates on Thursday, 30 December 2010 was itself announced in a statement from Avon and Somerset police. The off-the-record guidance to reporters on the ground from the police was that it was Mr Jefferies who had been arrested." And there is then a paragraph of comment where the Chief Constable describes this as being disingenuous but perhaps does not say exactly what happened with quite the transparency that one might have wished. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. I wanted to make sure you'd seen it and you'd had the opportunity to comment on it. So that it's clear, for those who haven't seen this letter, the Chief Constable challenges the evidence of Mr Wallace in a number of respects and suggests lines for the Inquiry to pursue if it wants to further that particular investigation. But there it is. Thank you very much indeed for returning.
A. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY The next witness is Mr Davies, which Ms Patry Hoskins is going to take. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. Let's start and see how we get on. MR NICK DAVIES (recalled) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Davies, you're still subject to the oath or affirmation that you gave at the end of last year.
A. Understood. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The subsequent period revealing quite a fair amount of further material.
A. Yes. Just yesterday alone was pretty extraordinary. Questions by MS PATRY HOSKINS MS PATRY HOSKINS Before we start with Mr Davies, I understand that there are a number of statements to be read. If I could just make clear which statements they are. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MS PATRY HOSKINS Mr Brian Adams, Mr Magnus Boyd and Ms Jane Winter's statements will be taken as read. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much. I repeat what I've said before. The fact that these individuals are not being called does not minimise the importance of their evidence, for all of which I am grateful, but it's the inevitable consequence of the timeframe within which this Inquiry must be conducted. Each of these statements will, of course, be considered and taken into account. Right. MS PATRY HOSKINS Mr Davies, I'm going to ask you about two distinct topics this afternoon. First of all, I'm going to ask you about your involvement and interaction with the police over the years that you've been a journalist, official contact and unofficial contact, and then very briefly I'm going to touch on some of the sections of your book, Flat Earth News, where you deal with police corruption. The reason I say "very briefly" is, of course, because you gave evidence about this on the last occasion that you attended and I don't want to go over anything that you've previously said.
A. Okay.
Q. Let me start with your interaction with the police over the years. Before I ask you any specific questions about that, I do want to ask you just a very few questions about the context in which you've had contact with the police. You've told us in your statement, in your second statement and your first statement, that you've been a journalist now for some 35 years; is that correct?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. You tell us in your first statement it's essentially since 1978 you've worked as a Fleet Street reporter. You've specialised in crime and home affairs and more recently in long-term investigations of issues, such as social issues including poverty in the UK, failing schools, the criminal justice system, falsehood and distortion in the news mediA.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. And of course, you've become very well-known for your investigations into phone hacking and so on. Having set that in context now, I do want to ask you first of all about authorised and official contact that you have had over the years with the police.
A. Okay.
Q. Turn to the second page of your second statement.
A. All right.
Q. I will always be referring to your second statement, unless I say otherwise.
A. Understood.
Q. You explain that although you're not a specialist crime reporter, in the course of the 35 years we've just been describing you've often dealt with the police in the UK and occasionally abroad. You start off by saying: "Normally, if I need a piece of information what I would do is I would approach a UK force simply by calling their press office to put a particular question or to ask for them to arrange a meeting with a particular officer." Is that generally the first port of call when you have a question about a particular subject?
A. Yeah, that's the equivalent of just simply going to the front door of the house, because that's the easiest way in. So you call the police, you speak to the press office, or the alternative I mentioned in the statement is that it sometimes arises as a side issue from a big trial at a Crown Court, that as the trial progresses you go and make contact with the senior investigating officer, and almost invariably the SIO would run that approach through the press office, and so you get this kind of officially sanctioned contact.
Q. All right. You point out that it's not just you contacting the police in this official way.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Occasionally, you say, you've been approached by police who knew that you had covered a particular story in some depth and wanted some help from you on a particular subject.
A. Yes, in fact, police contacting me could be one of two forms. Occasionally an officer would get in touch out of the blue and say, "Here is something you need to know", and also it has happened as I described there, that police get in touch and say, "You've been covering this. Can you help us?" So I have the meeting and then see how it goes.
Q. All right. This is page 2 sorry, the paragraphs aren't numbered but I'm sure we can find our way through. At page 2, under the small (b), you explain that there are boundaries in relation to this official contact. You explain that you would not expect to be given any material which violated privacy, unless that was clearly justified in the public interest, or material which would impede an inquiry or jeopardise the safety of an individual. Are those the boundaries that you would see as being the appropriate boundaries in respect of official contact between the press and the police?
A. I would see those boundaries as being necessary and appropriate for both official and unofficial contact between me and serving police officers.
Q. We'll come back to "unofficial". Sticking with official contact for the moment, you explain at the bottom of that page that there might be a question initially of whether or not an officer speaks on or off the record, and you conclude that you don't see anything sinister about having an off-the-record conversation with a police officer in this way, and in fact more often than not, if you're conducting an interview, for example, an office may well say that they would rather speak to you off the record. Have I fairly summarised
A. Yes. I would say well, in general terms, 90 per cent of the work I do is off the record, with whatever sources I'm dealing with, and certainly that includes officially authorised briefings with police officers. They feel more comfortable talking off the record in various different ways. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What's the impact of that, by saying "off the record"? What do you mean by "off the record"?
A. It's a good question, because there's confusion about it. American journalists and a few British use that expression to describe material which is being provided on the condition that it isn't used at all, but I use it in the way that most British reporters use it, which is to say that the information is off the record if it's been given to me for use but not to be attributed to the source. Is that the current use that you've had in the Inquiry? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So in other words "a police source says" could be an off-the-record briefing?
A. Correct. If what they're saying is really sensitive, they would make it clear that even that much of an attribution would be a problem, and so I would take it away as raw material and develop it, and if asked, would deny having had the conversation with the officer. And that's very common, even with the officially sanctioned contact. If all you're doing is to ring a press office and ask a very specific question, probably they'll give you something on the record. Quite often if you could quantify it, maybe 30 per cent of the time they'll say, "Here's the on-the-record answer. Just for your ears privately, here's another little bit we can give you, unattributably." Where you actually have what we call a briefing, you're sitting down with an officer, there's probably a press officer in the room, then before you start talking you sort out your terms of engagement and very often sorry, the table is squeaking very often, that will involve an agreement by all parties that this is off the record, ie not attributable. MS PATRY HOSKINS Why do you discuss this topic of off-the-record briefings under the heading "official contact"?
A. Because it's officially sanctioned. By which in practical terms, the police service you mean that the press office has agreed that it should happen. It just makes everybody more comfortable. As I said in the statement, it really isn't sinister. I think the immediate fear that police officers have when they sit down with a journalist is that they're going to get misquoted, and if you can say, "This is unattributable, ie you are not going to get quoted at all", then that fear is removed. That I would say is the primary reason why it happens. It really isn't sinister. It's mainstream, normal, unsurprising, over and over again.
Q. Can I turn to the top of Page 3, please. You explain that all of this, everything we've just been discussing, would broadly apply across all police forces, but then you describe that there is an important difference between a big city force, which might have a press office that works around the clock, and a smaller more provincial force which has a more limited service. Can you just explain that difference?
A. That was something I came across talking to provincial reporters when I was researching that book, that some of them complained that the press office of the local police force was so understaffed that the routine was that they would call the press office and get a recorded message saying, "Here's the story we've selected for you today", and they would just be expected to copy that down and put it into the paper. They couldn't even pursue it. Close to that also is press officers posting stories on websites, their own websites, for journalists to put into the paper, and there's a big reporting problem with that, because you're allowing the police force to make all of the editorial decisions about what should be reported and with what angle and language and quotes, and I think that's not done for maybe I'm being too I was going to say it's not being done for malicious motives. It's about shortage of resources cuts, not enough press officers, whereas a big city force like the Met, I don't come across that. You can get a human being on the end of the phone.
Q. You've told us a bit about the forms of office contact, the contact through the press office, the contact where a police officer will come and speak to you off the record but nevertheless that's sanctioned and then you go on to tell us the problems that you see with the current system. This is page 3, so that you can remind yourself.
A. Okay.
Q. You explain that this kind of authorised conduct can also be problematic and you set out some reasons why that might be. Is there anything that you particularly want to add to
A. Firstly, just to note the fact that it can also be very good. So there's a whole chunk of stuff there where I'm saying: clearly this works in everybody's interests. The journalists get good stories, the public get information, the police get credit for their work, they can send signals of various kinds. There's lots of good stuff goes on with these official and including the off-the-record contacts. The problem really isn't peculiar to police forces. There is a general problem in the relationship between reporters and press officers, which is that a good press officer works in the interests of the organisation or individual who's paying that press officer. That's what they're there for. It isn't controversial or wrong. That's what they're there for. But the reporters' interest is different, and therefore there will frequently be a conflict between the two as to what they need, and so it can be the officially sanctioned route can be deeply unsatisfactory as a way of covering that organisation because the official channel is designed to protect the reputation of that organisation. So in small ways, this is to do with if the organisation has a choice of stories. Which stories will we put out today? They are highly likely to choose the stories that make them look good and not draw attention to the story that makes them look bad. It's as simple and natural and uncontroversial as that. But if we're trying to cover the organisation and tell people what's going on inside it, it cannot be enough to rely on them to choose what we cover. It can get a bit more subtle than that. If there's information which they have to put out because they think it's going to be found out or because there would be a terrible row if they concealed it, there are all sorts of games that can be played. You remember that famous thing about: "This is a good day to bury bad news." You choose a day when there's masses of news going on, put out your press release it isn't going to get attention. Or you put it out, as they did on a famous occasion, during the hacking scandal. The Metropolitan Police had a piece of information which they put out at 7.30 on a Friday night. Any press officer, any journalist knows you're not going to get any coverage, and lo and behold they didn't. So there are ways of manipulating the whole system, and occasionally it is a fact that press officers generally, confronted with a reporter who has an embarrassing story, left with no wriggle room, they'll lie. It doesn't happen terribly often, because it's not in the press officer's long-term interest to lie because it damages their credibility and therefore damages their chance of influencing the reporter the next time they speak, but certainly, occasionally and in principle, press officers will, if they have to, lie.
Q. That leads me neatly onto a question that I've been asked to put to you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not sure that I quite see the link between the words "in principle" and "lie". I find those quite difficult, actually, to put together.
A. Because it's not a principle? Okay LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand what you mean, but it's the concept.
A. Badly expressed. Okay, as a matter of general experience, dealing with press officers from all sorts of organisations, if you put them in a corner and no option is left, then occasionally they will lie. They hate it if you say that, but of course it happens. The mainstream problem is about them making the editorial judgments for you and occasionally manipulating the release of information so that it doesn't get coverage. MS PATRY HOSKINS I was simply saying that that leads me neatly to a question I've been asked to put to you about these incidents of lying or misleading by press officers. You say in your statement that it's unusual for a press officer to engage in knowing falsehood, and you tell us why: "However, under pressure, some press officers will certainly lie to reporters in order to protect their organisation." Was that comment intended to be limited to a particular police force or to the police in general?
A. No, there I'm talking in principle. I'm talking in general terms about the way that press officers work with journalists. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You're not talking about police people necessarily; it's anything?
A. Exactly. It could be a private corporation, a trade union, a police service, whatever. MS PATRY HOSKINS Have you ever reported these incidents of lying or misleading to anyone, either at the MPS or other organisations, if it was another organisation involved?
A. No. I mean, on the whole, you wouldn't bother. What's the point? I can remember one occasion when I felt a senior officer from a particular force was giving the press office misleading information, so I asked the press office if I could submit one final question to this officer, and they said yes, so I said, "Could you ask him how stupid he thinks we are?" So it's not an official complaint, but it's: "Don't for a second believe that we're fooled by what you're telling us."
Q. Before we leave official and authorised contact, can I ask you please to turn to the top of page 4, where you refer to a worrying development. You say this at (g): "The underlying difficulty is that it has become accepted policy in police forces and some other organisations for the press office to be a monopoly supplier of information. This has been reinforced by internal regulation which has made it a disciplinary offence to speak to the press without permission. In a particularly worrying development, the last six months has seen some attempt to make it a criminal offence for an officer to speak to a reporter without permission." Why to you see that as a "particularly worrying development"?
A. First of all, I need to tell you what's been happening, I think. The way everybody's focus has been on the four enquiries which Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers is running and I think in total they've arrested 37/38 people outside the ambit of those operations, nothing to do with the four Sue Akers is running, there have been a couple of arrests of police officers in cases where I know quite a lot about the circumstances, and what has happened there is that the officers have been arrested and bailed, they've been told they will be charged with the common law offence of misconduct in a public office, and to the best of my knowledge, being quite familiar with these cases, there is no allegation of any kind of bribe or inducement. There is no allegation of the kind of harm that I'm talking about behind boundaries where you've interfered with an ongoing inquiry. What those officers are being told is: "You will be charged and you can expect to get a prison term of up to 18 months because you've spoken to a reporter without permission." Now, those two things are live and we don't know how they'll turn out. No charges have been brought. It may well be that the Crown Prosecution Service will say, "Hang on a moment, this doesn't apply", but I think it's worrying that it's in the aftermath of the phone hacking thing that this has happened, that you have a sort of backlash where a completely unjustifiable and unnecessary reaction to the allegation of collusion between News International and the Met, which is one thing. Police forces it's not just the Met. I've heard of several police forces going way overboard in the other direction, and that is the most alarming example you can see of this backlash. What worries me is that the ultimate effect here may be, if we're unlucky, to prevent we're going to come onto this in a moment unauthorised contact between journalists and police. If you lose that, you're really, really in dangerous territory. We have to defend unauthorised contact. Without unauthorised contact, the Metropolitan Police would have been allowed to carry on misleading press, public and Parliament about the phone hacking scandal. It's an absolutely classic example of the danger of the official flow of information.
Q. I promise we'll come back to that.
A. All right.
Q. The question I've been asked to put to you on this is that the current media policy on relations and standard operating procedure makes clear that any officer of inspector rank or above can speak to the media without prior authorisation and that officers below inspector rank can do so with the approval of a senior officer. That doesn't seem so sit comfortably with what you've just said about a culture of trying to discourage officers from speaking to the press.
A. There are two points, I suppose. Over the longer term, that may be the standard operating procedure. I've never come across it in practice in the Metropolitan Police or any other force. When I was a trainee journalist in the provinces, certainly then it was the routine that you could call a police station and speak to any officer you wanted to. But over the period that I've been working, that has ceased be common practice. So I've never heard of that standard operating procedure. Perhaps it's written down somewhere. In practice, I have routinely been told by ordinary officers: "I can't speak to you. Go to the press bureau." That's just common practice. So that's the first thing, and then the second thing is there are these worrying signs that more recently, in the aftermath of the hacking scandal, there has been a real tightening up.
Q. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mm. MS PATRY HOSKINS Sir, I don't want to interrupt a question. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I need to think a bit more before I ask a question. Yes. MS PATRY HOSKINS Before we move away completely from official contact, authorised contact, you've told us a bit about how it works, your criticisms of the current system, the worrying developments that you've identified. How would you see an effective authorised system of contact working?
A. It's really difficult because of that basic conflict. It would be very interesting for this Inquiry to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the official flow of information in this case. I've done something like 90 stories on the phone hacking, and I've had a lot of trouble getting information out of New Scotland Yard. This includes, for example I mean, really quite simple things like asking them the basic statistics in relation to the material that was seized from Goodman and Mulcaire in August 2006. So I asked them way back: "Can you tell me how many names are in there, how many phone numbers, how many PIN codes, how many recorded voicemail messages and how many transcribed messages?" and I put that through the press bureau and they said no. Bear in mind this is information that has since been disclosed by Sue Akers at Select Committees and I think here without the sky falling in, without any terrible, bad side effects. So the press bureau said, "No, you can't have it." This is important. So I submitted a freedom of information application and you know they have to be answered within 20 working days? 20 working days went by; no answer. I'm phoning, emailing. More days go by. Eventually, after 40/45 days, they replied and they give me the number of PIN codes. They said it's 91. But the rest they said it's too expensive for us to collect this information. So number one, that was interesting because it said that they still this was, I think, January 2010. They still hadn't got to grips with all the material that they had seized in August 2006. So then I redrafted the application so that it was more general and therefore they didn't have to gather so much information to answer it, and eventually, eventually I think it took a total of 14 months. I might be wrong, but months and months and months. They came back with some statistics on it, and what's then worrying is that it looks to me as though the statistics they gave me were wrong. For example, I was asking them how many transcribed voicemail messages are there in that material that's been seized, and specifically, are there any other transcripts other than those in the email for Neville, which by then had been a public domain document? They came back and said there were none. When I queried that, they said there's one that possibly could be. Well, for example, as I understand it, Simon Hughes says in his statement that when Operation Weeting finally showed him his Mulcaire material, that included the transcripts of voicemail messages. Why didn't they say that? Why all these delays? Why say no in the first place? And then why all these delays? And then why not tell me that there are transcripts of voicemail messages? That's the official channel, reinforced by the Freedom of Information Act. I asked them similar questions about how many victims. I said, "How many people did you inform back there in 2006?" LORD JUSTICE LEVESON When were you making these enquiries?
A. The exact date? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, broadly when.
A. After we'd done the Gordon Taylor story in July 2009, I'm pursuing it. I think actually it was probably early 2010 before I put in this question about how many people they had informed. So: "How many victims did you go and warn back there in 2006?" And this is obviously important because in the official version of events, they're saying, "We warned all potential victims." Not just in John Yates' original statement but repeatedly to Select Committees, they say, "If there was the minutest chance of somebody being a victim, we told them." I say: how many? And they say, "You can't have that." The press bureau says, "You can't have it." So I put in a freedom of information application. It's the same routine. They break the statutory deadline. They then say no. I then appeal. You know, the appeal has to go to the Metropolitan Police in the first place. They knock it back. I have to go to the Information Commissioner's office. Again, it took something like 15 months and finally they said, "Okay, we informed 28 people back there in 2006 and another eight after the Gordon Taylor story was published." Why not release that information in the beginning? So if your question is "what's wrong with these official sources", it exemplifies it. They are paid to protect the reputation of their organisation. That's not a smear on them. That's what a good press officer does, and therefore a good press officer is frequently out of step with the needs of the press and the public, and therefore you have to have official unofficial sources. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'll now come in with the question that I was formulating in my mind, because it actually just links into that which you've said. You may have heard I don't know whether you were in here for the evidence of Mr Jefferies
A. No, I missed almost all of it, sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON just this afternoon, where he was complaining, with justification, about leakage of information from whatever source and he believes it's the police, the police say it isn't; I say I'm balanced in that immediately and therefore he is one of those who support the proposition that it should be an offence for the police to disclose inappropriate information to members of the press, that naming uncharged suspects, the private members bill that was introduced, should indeed be criminal. Now, that's the fight-back to which you just referred, the reaction to which you referred a moment ago.
A. The backlash. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But the question is: do you see the danger inherent in you're not suggesting a free-for-all but let me use that phrase in the rather more relaxed attitude to the release of information that's subsequent upon what you have proposed, and which may cause problems for individuals in the circumstances of Mr Jefferies?
A. Okay. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The reason it comes in to what you just said is because you made the point that it was also important in the needs of the public for this information to come out.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON He might say, "Well, hang on "
A. Okay. So what we have to do is to identify the source of the problem and be precise about it. So first of all, I would argue that it isn't that official sources are inherently good or that the unofficial, unauthorised sources are inherently bad. They are equally good or bad, equally liable to operate in the public interest, equally vulnerable to be being abused. So that's the first thing. Don't identify the unauthorised source as the cause of the problem. I could give you examples, even in the phone hacking saga, of a press officer calling me up in order to encourage me to run a smear story. Talking off the record. Similarly, it would be a mistake to say off the record is the source of the problem. Off the record isn't sinister. Off the record helps people to tell the truth. So, having said that, look at official and unofficial, on the record, off the record, as all being morally equal, for want of a better way of putting it. No more likely the one than the other to cause damage. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that's not quite right. I'm prepared to assume it.
A. Just for the sake of my argument, because I think there's two points that can be made. Basically, you have the police and the reporters. There's one problem at the reporters' end, which is that we have useless media law and useless self-regulation at work, and therefore I mean, that's what you have spent the last module talking about. Reporters have been free to fabricate vicious falsehoods against people like Mr Jefferies, probably assuming that he can't afford to sue them, and who cares about the Press Complaints Commission? So part of the problem is there, insofar as it's the reporter who is the active ingredient causing damage, already module one is looking at ways of helping there. Then, insofar as it's the police officer who, whether for financial reasons, he's going to get paid, or just because he's an idiot or show-off or he wants to upset his senior officer if there's a malicious officer, then my argument is the more closed the system, the more likely it is he'll get away with it. If you open the system up, then when he says something if an officer I don't know the case. If an officer was responsible for leaking something inappropriate about Mr Jefferies, then it would help enormously if his brother officer could tell me, without fearing that he would be the victim of disciplinary or criminal offences. The more open, the less likely you are to get abuse, is my argument. But what's wrong is to try and close down all off-the-record briefings or all unauthorised access. It's like saying, "Because I got food poisoning last night, I'm never going to eat again." It's too destructive. What do you think? You're looking pensive. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Sometimes that is so. MS PATRY HOSKINS That leads us neatly on to unofficial or unauthorised contact with police officers, Mr Davies. This starts at section 6 of your statement on page 4 onwards. Can we start at the top of page 5, please. You're asked a number of questions and you say this. I'm going to read out three short paragraphs because a number of questions flow from them: "Working in stories that involve the police, I have often dealt with officers without the knowledge or authority of the press office. I have worked in this way with officers from the lowest rank to the highest, in the Metropolitan Police and in other forces. This is a common and well-established practice and one which I believe is essential if reporters are to work effectively. I have always regarded this as legitimate, as long as it remains within the boundaries I have described." Now, A number of questions arise from those particular statements. The first question is really about who has given you information in this way. You go on to explain that you've been given unofficial assistance by officers of every rank, from constable to chief constable; is that correct?
A. Correct, yeah.
Q. The second question which arises from what you've said is how often this happens. What do you mean give "often"? Do you mean every time you work on a story where there might be police input or what do you mean by "often"?
A. It's difficult because I'm not a specialist crime reporter. I said elsewhere in the statement I might go through a period where I talk to the police every day for a month and then a period where I don't speak to them at all for a year. In principle I'm using that expression again in general terms, if I'm working on a story and I feel that an officer could help me, I would try to get that officer to speak, whether through official channels or unofficial, and would have a reasonable expectation of success. I should say that when I'm talking about chief constables, it must be the case that they have the right to authorise themselves to speak to journalists. Where they're in a more interesting area is when they talk about Home Office policy, where they are certainly wanting to speak off the record and without official blessing, perhaps because they think that what the Home Office are doing is damaging. I mean, that does happen and it's interesting when they speak in that way, so just to explain why chief constables could be included under the heading of "unofficial". It's a little bit difficult to talk about the scale on which that happens. It's case by case.
Q. You also say this is a common and well-established practice. Can I take from that that it's not just you who obtains assistance in this way; it's something that you're aware that other journalists do?
A. Yes.
Q. Can you give us anything more on that?
A. It's a little bit difficult but actually journalists do they work together more than you might think. If there's four or five of us from different titles working on the same story and the story is difficult, we would often work together to some extent, and so you would be aware of other people getting briefings. It's a kind of "cover your back" thing. What happens is none of you wants to get shouted the by the news desk for failing to get the story, so it's better to put your heads together and work together. It may also be on a really tricky thing that you can actually help each other out. So in general terms, through contacts with other reporters, I would say this is just not unusual, it isn't controversial, it isn't considered illegitimate or bad.
Q. Two other words you used in the statements I read out are "essential" and "legitimate". You've told us a bit about the failings of official contact. Is that one of the reasons why you consider unofficial contact to be essential and legitimate?
A. Yes.
Q. Are there any other reasons why such unofficial contact is, in your view, essential to the work of a journalist like yourself?
A. The big point is that you can't trust the official sources because of what we've said. I don't want to say that official sources are always wrong, but there is an inherent limit to how much truth they'll give you. The only other thing is that there may be occasions when the officer has a perfectly good motive for disclosing information and everybody would agree it's in the public interest, but for some internal reason he's not going to be allowed to do it, and therefore so it's not a question of saying there is some great truth which needs to be disclosed in the public interest because it's being concealed. We're not necessarily talking about improper police behaviour. You could just have, let's say, a chief inspector on a division in a big city. He's down on the ground, his people have done a great job and he thinks (a) the public should know that they've done this great job so they can be reassured, (b) the people on his squad deserve the publicity of having done their job well, and the press office will organise their stories and they'll say, "We haven't got a gap for it. We're putting this out tomorrow and then the chief constable's giving bravery medals and we can't put it out." In that case, he might approach a local newspaper editor and say, "Here's a great story." He hasn't got permission to do it but it isn't quite in the category of the public interest disclosures. Do you see? It's a complicated world in there. Then there's the bureaucratic thing I gave that example of a very senior officer from the Met who showed me minutes of what I think they used to call the policy group but they now call the senior management team, and I can remember him doing this and he was doing it because he wanted to show me that the Met were taking seriously a problem that was causing public disquiet, and he said, "Look, they've told me I can't do this", and as far as he was concerned they were being bureaucratic and silly, and he said, "Here they are, you read them and you can see that we're addressing this problem", and I thought: this is a good man and because of a little bit of an internal blockage, he's decided to take the initiative. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It depends on the eyes through which you're looking at it. You would certainly say he is a good man. The guy who is running the organisation, who might have different reasons for not letting it out at just that moment, may not take the same view.
A. Yes. I accept what you say. The funny thing is that all news is built out of these judgments and there's lots of judgment going on. When you asked me that question before, I rambled on for a while and meant to say and forgot to say: the other thing that's been missing is clarity. So I have just been told there's a standing operating procedure at the Met. I've never heard of it in 35 years, I don't know what it's about, and I think it's been the same from the point of view of police officers. It hasn't been entirely clear. So it would be helpful if we said, you said, somebody said I mean, my favoured version would be that you should do something more like an American model, where, on the whole, police officers are allowed to say things, because these organisations are funded by the public, their legitimacy flows from the democratic process in the name of the public, they have these powers over the public, and only these prescribed areas can't be discussed LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you wouldn't necessarily restrict that to the police, would you?
A. No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON This conversation I've just been contemplating you could have had with hospital managers.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON With all sorts of
A. Every government department, local authorities. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Exactly. So this is not a police-specific issue.
A. I agree, and I think it's one of the things that makes the police worrying is that when they get upset with their employees for talking out of turn, talking without permission, instead of saying, "How dare you", because they have their hands on the levers of the criminal justice machine, they start to deploy it against them. It's your right. But I think in principle there we go again, "in principle" they are no different to any other organisation. If you look at the Freedom of Information Act as a sort of theoretical model, the basis of thought there is: all information should be disclosed unless it is covered by the following exemptions. There are far too many exemptions in our Act, but I would like to see the same principle clearly used with the police. The default position is they can tell us what they're doing. Why shouldn't they? Well, there are several subheadings which they definitely can't disclose. If you're going to interfere with a current inquiry, you can't do it. If you're going to disclose confidential information about somebody that isn't in the public interest you can't do it. Do you see? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But then you're making every single police officer or every single hospital worker or every single local authority their own judge of the public interest. You can't get around that.
A. Well, what could happen in theory but I can't see it happening in practice is that they could ask the press office: "Do you reckon I'm all right on this, in terms of these Leveson rules", as we now call them. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON They won't be called that.
A. Right. But if you had a press office who operated in that way, as a sort of arbiter, that would be great. Then the officer would say, "I know that I'm not in those exemption areas and that it's okay to speak", because in principle we should speak. You don't want secret police forces. They've got much too much power. Or secret government departments or hospitals. Patient confidentiality, clearly it's exempt, but the default position, the beginning point is: why not be open? I think that helps with the abuse. Do you see? MS PATRY HOSKINS Mr Davies, I'll come back to test the parameters of the suggestion you've just made.
A. Okay.
Q. Let me just touch on a few points of detail before we do that. Can we just note a few of the paragraphs under the heading "Unofficial and unauthorised contact". On page 5, 5(d), you note that you've never been given prior notice of raids or arrests. You say that would be much more likely to happen with specialist crime reporters. Can you give us any information at all about other journalists being tipped off in this way?
A. No. I mean, other than what's obvious. Occasionally you see it in a newspaper or television that clearly the reporter was taken along for the ride, but it's not an area I've had experience in. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's very difficult to see why a reporter or photographer should be outside somebody's home at 5 o'clock in the morning.
A. Unless they've had prior advice. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. But is that always wrong? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right.
A. I'm not saying you could say, from the police point of view let's suppose there has been some persistent crime in a community which has caused real fear. I'm not saying that I have the answer, but could it possibly be right to indicate LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, I have no problem with recognising the public interest, not least in the support for the police in their exercise of their responsibilities to reassure the public that criminal justice is safe in their hands and that they are being proactive. But it's not quite so two-dimensional.
A. No. A lot has gone wrong, and that's really a starting point, in a way. MS PATRY HOSKINS You then go on to explain the various types of information that you've been provided with over the years. So you've already told us that you were given the minutes of a particular meeting, you've been given information about crime figures, you've been given evidence. Is it right to say that each case will simply be different on its facts?
A. Yes. Bear in mind that it isn't unusual to have this unofficial contact, but yes, there's different sorts of stories coming out for different reasons in different ways.
Q. You've told us why you might want to have unofficial assistance in this way, that you're suspicious of authorised contact for a start, but why, in your view, would police officers be motivated to act in this way?
A. Different stories, different reasons. So I've mentioned here two different occasions on which officers in two different forces have become aware of the senior command organising the fiddling of the crime figures, so misrecording the levels of crime committed, misrecording the number of crimes solved, and that's done to please the Home Office and it affects your funding. In both cases, the officers had tried internally to stop that happening, because it means that the victims of crime are being cheated of justice because their crimes are being recorded as solved when they haven't been. Perpetrators are allowed to go free. It really matters; it isn't just about statistics. And having tried internally to get things done, they got nowhere. So on both occasion, I ended up dealing with them and putting lots of material into the public domain to expose that, which infuriated some of the senior command. So I suppose that's kind of classic whistle-blowing stuff, isn't it?
Q. Yes.
A. Hang on, I can't remember the other examples I gave you.
Q. They're on pages 5 and 6.
A. One force conducting an independent inquiry into alleged corruption in another force. I think theirs was a variation on that, in that they felt there was a real danger that the force that allegedly contained the corruption would conceal that corruption and that by talking to me and other reporters, they could create a kind of political pressure on that force not to do that. So you could almost see that as a kind of operational motive.
Q. Yes.
A. And then sometimes it could be something like I was describing a moment ago, where the officer says, "This is a story that, from the point of view of reassuring the public or making good the morale of my squad really ought to be in the public domain, but I can't persuade the press office to put it out so I'll put it out." I mean, you get bad motives too. There was an officer I dealt with quite a lot who clearly loathed another squad who he saw as being useless and furthermore trespassing on his patch, so he was extremely keen on disclosing material which made them look bad. I don't want to give you a rosy picture that everybody who talks to a reporter is some kind of angel. It's complicated out there, but then the reporter's job is to try and pick their way through it and work out what's true and what's worth saying.
Q. I'm going to go back to your suggestion about more openness, more transparency, and whether or not there could be any boundaries set on this type of unofficial contact or whether that's just a pipe dream. Can we explore it in practice a little.
A. Yes.
Q. Clearly, there is a view that this type of official exchange is fraught with potential difficulty. For example, information given to a journalist, not necessarily you, could, for example, prejudice an important investigation, could compromise someone's safety, may violate someone's price. I want to understand, please, the limits or boundaries that you impose on yourself in this regard. Can we look, please, at page 7 of your statement under question 8. You say this and I want you to answer we me this question, whether this statement I'm about to read accurately reflects the limits that you would impose on yourself: "I think contact with police becomes illegitimate or improper in principle [there it is again] if (a) the means of acquiring the information is itself illegal or improper (bribes, hacking) or (b), as above, if publication violates privacy without a clear public interest justification, impedes an inquiry or jeopardises the safety of any individual." Is that the boundaries that you impose on yourself
A. Yes.
Q. in receiving information in this unofficial way?
A. There are some legal ones that I haven't bothered mentioning there, but.
Q. Would you want to touch on those?
A. Not just with police sources, but if someone is talking generally, your are alarm bells would ring if it's sub judice. Your alarm bells would ring if it's defamatory. You start wondering if you're going to be able to find the evidence to justify it, if you're challenged.
Q. Can we just explore the first of these principles. The means of acquiring the information itself is illegal or improper. Let's take the example of bribes. Why does the fact that a police officer may be paid a bribe by the journalist mean that unofficial contact now becomes improper? Why do you take that view?
A. The immediate answer is it's against the law.
Q. Assume now for a moment that it's not. Just assume. As a matter of principle, does paying a bribe somehow make it worse or more improper?
A. So in this question, it's no longer illegal?
Q. Mm-hm.
A. I think paying a bribe is a rather odd way of putting it. Is there something inherently wrong in paying money for information?
Q. Indeed.
A. I talked about this in the first statement I put into this Inquiry, that it seems to me that paying for information does create a problem. The problem isn't ethical. I don't mind if a newspaper wants to pay an actress to describe her married life or whatever it is. The problem is practical, that where you pay people to talk to you, you run the risk that you are giving them a motive to fabricate, to earn their fee. That's the worst end of it, and at best, I think that I've seen this with other journalists paying sources who I've been working with without payment. What they get for their money is the bare minimum, because they haven't genuinely motivated the person to help them. So I think there are practical problems with it, but in principle I am not saying that it is always wrong to pay. I think there are circumstances in which that's okay. I mean, there is a lot of nonsense talked about it. On the whole, newspapers don't pay people to talk; they pay people to sign a contract not to talk to other newspapers. That's most of what goes on. So it's not really about disclosure; it's about exclusivity. If you take the law away, I don't think it's an ethical problem.
Q. Looking back at the statement at the top of page 8, moving aside bribes now and turning to the three principles that you set out there, you would LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry, you mean question 8? MS PATRY HOSKINS Sorry, did I say paragraph 8? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We're still talking about the paragraph MS PATRY HOSKINS The same paragraph, the boundaries that Mr Davies has indicated he would impose. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The fact is you don't permit the acquisition of information illegally or improperly, even if it is in the clear public interest?
A. No, clearly that's always illegal. It was interesting when Keir Starmer was here I think it was him saying there was a residual decision about whether there could be a public interest. I can't imagine the situation, but maybe somewhere in the outer reaches of possibility it could be conceivable that somebody would pay a public official to disclose something and we would all say, "I'm glad you did that." It's parallel to the Telegraph paying for the CDs which had been stolen from the House of Commons which contained all the information about the MPs LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It is parallel. Query whether stolen. Query whether you can steal intellectual property. I mean, there are all sorts of issues there. But I just wanted to
A. Try and think of an example. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON analyse the boundaries of that first example. That's all I'm doing with you.
A. Fine, good. What was the question? I've slightly lost you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON My question is: the acquisition of information that is itself illegal, the means of acquisition, whether it's because of hacking or because of bribing, is not made legitimate or proper by public interest, on your evidence here.
A. Because it's against the law. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. And that is the way the law stands at the moment, yes. But when I was here before, I was trying to argue for some advisory body that could tell reporters and others where the public interest boundaries are, case by case, and if we had something like that, I would like the public interest defence to be more widely available for more laws. To honestly answer your question, I haven't this through whether I think you're asking me: could it ever be right to bribe someone; is that right? I don't think I have an answer to that because it isn't something I've thought through. It feels really, really dodgy. It feels like the answer must be no, but somewhere in brackets I kind of think maybe there is a circumstance where I mean, is it that okay, so I'm in a country where there's a dictatorship and the public official says, "I have the secret that can cause much good for the public, but if I disclose this secret, I have to be able to escape the country, I have to take my family with me, I have to have ?20,000." So I give him ?20,000, which could reasonably be construed as a bribe, yes? He then gives me in the information which is hugely in the public good and he escapes from the country. I mean, I haven't got an answer to your question, I haven't thought it through but I begin to think it could be right to do that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Leigh gave evidence, which you may or may not have seen your colleague on the Guardian.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Who spoke about using a PIN number, intercepting somebody's voicemail message in a particular circumstance I think I have that right? MS PATRY HOSKINS Yes.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON which he felt was very much in the public interest.
A. Yes. I think it's interesting. If we took the public interest because this is like you were saying yesterday, this Inquiry is not an attack on press freedom. You have the capacity to increase our freedom. That's an example. You yourself can't do it but if we legislated to broaden to increase the number of laws for which there was a public interest defence, it could well be that we would say that the interception of communications ought to have a limited public interest defence in principle, that if the only way to rescue the child LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The bands of your advocacy may be going a tad too far, Mr Davies.
A. Isn't that what you want me to do in a way, to test the boundaries? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON As long as you appreciate where I'm coming from on this.
A. Maybe I've misunderstood your question. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, you haven't. You haven't. And if you'd seen what Mr Starmer was asked to do, what he was asked to do by me wasn't to suggest that the law should be changed to permit a public interest defence in relation to any particular crime, but he was asked by me whether he would be prepared to enunciate a policy which would be relevant to the public interest test that he applies under the Code for Crown Prosecutors in relation to the work of journalists, and he is presently formulating just such a policy to try to clarify circumstances in which he, as the DPP, will not consider it appropriate or necessary to prosecute, notwithstanding that the ingredients of an offence might be made out.
A. Right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So I've gone that far with you without suggesting there should be changes to the substantive law. I say I've gone that far with you; I've gone that far with you to investigate what it would look like. Ultimately, that policy is for him and not for me. But he's doing that, in part because I requested him to do so. He could have said, "I don't think this is the right way to go", in which case, that's the end of it, but he didn't. But there are limits.
A. Yes. But I think if we're just talking here theoretically, the factual position is it's against the law to intercept communications, full stop, no public interest defence written in. It isn't like Section 55 of the Data Protection Act, yes? I'm saying that if we were inventing the world so that it was perfect, we might want to consider the possibility which David Leigh was referring to, that there could be cases where you would want a journalist to be able to intercept a communication. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand the point, I understand the point. I think we'll give the shorthand writer a break now. (3.32 pm) (A short break) (3.40 pm) MS PATRY HOSKINS Mr Davies, we're still at the top of page 7 and the statement you make there under heading question 4, paragraph 8. We've discussed now at some length the issue about whether it's wrong in principle to pay a bribe. Can I turn to the principles you set out thereafter. The first one you set out is you consider that contact with the police becomes illegitimate if publication violates privacy without a clear public interest justification. Just so I can give you an example of that, violating privacy without a clear public interest justification, would an example of that be the police officer who tips off a journalist that, say, a celebrity has been the victim of a particular crime?
A. Yes, exactly.
Q. Is there anything else you want to say about that before we move on to impeding enquiries or jeopardising safety?
A. Just that it's implied by that that the corollary also is true, that a police officer could be justified in disclosing something that was inherently private or confidential precisely because it was in the public interest to do so.
Q. Let's turn to then information which well, publication which might impede an enquiry or jeopardise the safety of an individual. Can we again think about this practically. Imagine a hypothetical situation where you get a telephone call from X, a police officer, and he says to you, "Nick, come in, I need to have a chat about something"
A. Can I just ask you, did you say "an ex" as in a former police officer?
Q. No, just X, as in
A. He's a serving police officer?
Q. He is just a police officer.
A. GotchA.
Q. "Nick, come in, I need to have a chat about something. I can't possibly tell you on the phone, come down and see me." Fine, you go down and attend. He then proceeds to tell you something very interesting, I won't describe it as a bombshell, but an interesting piece of information that would be of interest to you to publish. Can you see that regardless of public interest considerations, regardless of prejudice to investigations or to safety or to anything like that, you now know the information, you as a journalist now know that information. At that point, it could be said that the onus is on you to set the boundaries: you decide whether it's in the public interest to publish, you decide whether it will prejudice an investigation, whether it will compromise safety. But what I want to understand is how you, or another journalist who's given information in this way, would know the full context? How would you know whether it prejudices an investigation, for example? You might not know the full facts of the investigation or the full context or whether someone is at risk.
A. Okay.
Q. How would you ascertain that?
A. I think one of the things that if the companion of all reporting life is anxiety, you are constantly worrying about what could go wrong with this story. So when he tells me this thing, first of all, both of the alarm bells are going to ring: am I sub judice here, is there a trial in place, am I in libel trouble here? And then certainly, and particularly clearly with a police officer, it would be less clear if it was a banker telling me this, but I'm going to think, "Is there a current enquiry going on, we're going to crash into it, are we going to get into trouble over it?" So that sort of basic anxiety is going to be flashing up warning signs. In the reality, I would then talk to him and say, "Just supposing I get sued on this, where are we on evidence? Is there a current enquiry, are we going to get nicked? Is this sub judice?" We'd have that conversation and I would find out. Plus in those circumstances is it going to be the case that a police officer says, "Guess what, X is true", and I'm just going to bung it in the paper? You go off and you have the to talk to other people to check it and get all the surrounding context so that you can tell the story properly, and in the course of that it would be very surprising if you didn't come across the material that you need to make those judgments that we're talking about.
Q. But doesn't that assume isn't this one of the problems with unofficial contact? That rather assumes that you are a scrupulous journalist. Isn't one of the problems that the information might be imparted by the police officer to someone who is far less scrupulous and who just cares that it's an interesting piece of information that would sell newspapers?
A. Yes, this is what I was trying to describe before the break. If you want to make sure the system works well, don't go closing down whole channels, but recognise that the problem is twofold. It may be something malicious or improper at the police end or it may be the kind of stuff you've been discussing in module one: just crazed, fact-free journalism. The great prize of this Inquiry is to try to find solutions to that. Any time you're dealing with a malicious or irresponsible journalist, almost any information they get hold of is potentially damaging. But what would be horribly unfair would be if we ended up in a situation where the really destructive behaviour of that very small minority started to close down channels of information which all the other journalists need.
Q. I'm just trying to explore the boundaries of your general principle.
A. Yes.
Q. If greater openness and transparency is the answer, I'm just trying to explore the boundaries of how that would work in practice.
A. Yes. Again this applies to the official sources as much as to the unofficial sources. Either of them are capable of giving you information which is designed to cause trouble for somebody or which can be distorted to cause trouble for somebody or misused in some way. In order to make the system work properly, you need clarity and some level of enforcement for both parties. The police need to be clear where the lines are, we need to be clear where the lines are and there needs to be a way of sorting things out when they go wrong.
Q. Linked to this problem is the problem of police officers building up particular relationships with particular journalists and then that relationship becoming open to abuse and so on. Can you see that problem?
A. Well, to a certain we need to be clear what it is the problem might be. I have no problem at all with me building a special relationship with a serving police officer or banker or prison officer or anybody. They're just contacts. I don't have any problem with that across the whole board of human activity. I build relationships with paedophiles, with fascists, with communists, with socialists, with the lot. That's what we do for a living. Nothing wrong with that at all. And if we have a police officer who has a relationship of trust with me so that within the boundaries that we've described, he favours me, that's to say that if he wants to get something into the public domain he comes to me, I'm happy, he's happy and I hope you would be happy. It's not a bad thing. Where it becomes a problem really isn't at the level of the reporter and the police officer. I mean, other than those if there's abuse of information, all right, but where the problem that is in the background to this Inquiry is something quite different, which was a relationship at the top of two organisations, between the very summit of the Metropolitan Police, the very summit of News International, and even that wasn't a problem. I don't think that, generally speaking, having lunches and meeting people and having drinks is problematic. It only became a problem or it is a problem if the reality is that that was part of the reason why the Met failed to investigate the phone hacking properly. I still don't quite understand what went wrong. Something went catastrophically wrong in that Inquiry and in the subsequent public statements about it. So the Met are saying it's all to do with resources. That was really the core of the argument yesterday. If you find that in fact part of that failure was to do with the cosy relationship that existed between the tops of those two organisations, then you can see how the relationship can go wrong. But it doesn't seem to me that if that is the case that tells you anything at all about what was going on between the lowly reporter and the lowly officer meeting in a pub to talk about a story. That's just not what created the or the potential problem. Does that make sense? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I can follow that, but I am rather concerned that you make the point let me just find it that if you're dealing with a malicious or irresponsible journalist, almost any information they get hold of is potentially damaging, but it would be horribly unfair for those who aren't malicious or irresponsible to suffer as a consequence.
A. The closing down of whole channels of communication. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that's your point and I recognise the point. But freedom of expression responsibilities make it very difficult to tackle the problem from the individual's perspective, to say, "Well, you're an irresponsible, mendacious journalist and therefore we can't trust you; you are a responsible journalist who we can trust", and you can't tackle it that way because that way leads to licensing, which I don't anticipate you would support.
A. No. "Mendacious" is an interesting word LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm very sorry I used the word, because I absolutely didn't intend to. Please, let's move off that word.
A. But try falsehood and distortion then. Let's say the police officer, officially or unofficially, supplies the journalist with some information. That journalist is the irresponsible kind, so he or she then goes off to produce a story which is riddled with falsehood and distortion and that produces bad results for somebody like Chris Jefferies or for the Inquiry itself. What we need is a system that is quick and cheap and effective to deal with falsehood and distortion generally. For me, that's the biggest problem we have in the media, is the ease with which irresponsible reporters can fabricate stuff and get away with it, and what are the victims supposed to do? Sue for libel? It's ridiculously expensive and slow and hopeless, and the PCC so if you had a system, if in the future we had a system that gave the victims of falsehood and distortion a fair, quick crack at an effective solution, that would make it much harder for the irresponsible reporter to infect the information he's been given with falsehood and distortion. We don't have that at the moment. It's the Wild West out there. But it's amazing how few reporters take advantage of it, actually, if you see how useless the system is on falsehood and distortion. Similarly with privacy, if we can devise a better way of protecting people's privacy, which is difficult, then if it's the malicious officer who says, "Here's some information about a celebrity", there is more chance that the irresponsible officer/irresponsible reporter won't be able to do the damaging thing that invades people's privacy. So all your module one thinking helps us here. In addition, if we have real clarity inside the police, instead of I think it's incredible that the Metropolitan Police are telling us there's a standard operating procedure which, in 35 years, I've never heard of. I've never come across an officer quoting it. It's a muddle out there. MS PATRY HOSKINS I need to touch on your paragraph where you explain that you have an area of concern that the relationship between News International and the Metropolitan Police may have become too close. You've touched on that in oral evidence. That relevant paragraph is at the bottom of page 7, and there's a number of questions I've been asked to put to you about that.
A. Yes.
Q. What do you believe is the Metropolitan Police's interest in co-operating in this way with News International? Is it not simply to ensure proper investigation of crime and do you have any evidence of favouritism?
A. Okay, I've slightly touched on this already. Brian Paddick was saying yesterday that John Stevens, as Commissioner, set out to build bridges with the news media and that Dick Fedorcio was instrumental in that. It seems to me there's nothing wrong with that. I think there's nothing wrong with the Commissioner meeting the editors and talking about policy or even specific stories. If it emerges from that that there's some favouritism shown by the press office to the particular newspapers which seem to Dick Fedorcio or John Stevens to be most powerful, that's very irritating for the reporters who are left out, but I don't think that's a great big ethical worry we need to get worked up about. That was a problem only if we now discover that it was an active ingredient in the subsequent failure to investigate News International effectively. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON How about a perception?
A. I'm not too worried about that. I think we can get overanxious here. I thought Brian Paddick was being overanxious yesterday, "wouldn't even pay for my drink". I think that's silly. I mean, we can all get too uptight about this and I think there is too much uptightness around. So I think it's all right for John Stevens and Nick Fedorcio to have lunch with Neil Wallis and Andy Coulson and that isn't a national scandal. It's only if that led to the police failing to do their job. I can't sit here and speak against favouritism. I spend my life trying to procure human sources who will talk to me. I don't want them to run off and talk to other newspapers. It's kind of inherent in a reporter's job. I want my story exclusively, if possible. It makes sense. MS PATRY HOSKINS Two paragraphs above that, on page 7, you say that you believe some senior police officers were the targets of voicemail hacking. This was certainly implied, you say, by evidence given by the police to the culture, media and sports Select Committee in September 2009. Again, I've been asked a question about this. Are you referring there to the evidence of
A. Is this on the screen? Sorry, what page are you on? I'm terrible sorry.
Q. Page 7. It's the third paragraph from the bottom.
A. Got it, okay.
Q. When you say that this was implied by the evidence given, are you referring to the evidence of Assistant Commissioner Yates and Superintendent Phil Williams on 2 September 2009?
A. They actually put in a written memo, Yates and Williams, in which they were talking about the extent to which they wanted to say they had been in touch with victims and potential victims of hacking and they said that apart from those who had been approached with a view to being charges for the indictment, they had also set out to approach people in four national security categories. That was royal, government, military and police. So the implication there was there was at least one victim or potential victim of hacking in the police. I followed that up with yet another attempt to ask for a simple statistic, and it was yet another example of the press bureau saying no, huge long freedom of information wrangle, at the end of which they claimed that there was one police officer who had been approached and warned. Whether or not that's the whole picture, I don't know. Are they saying they didn't? Or
Q. No, that's the extent of my question that I needed to put to you.
A. Okay, all right.
Q. Finally, before we move on to the extracts from your book briefly, page 8, please, under paragraph 13, question 9. You were asked in general terms what your impressions are about the culture of relations between the police and the mediA. I think you've touched more or less on all of the points you make there. Is there anything else that you would want to add to that?
A. No, I think we have covered those points, unless there's something you want to come back on.
Q. Okay. Before I turn to the extracts from your book, is there anything else that you would like to say about official contact or unofficial contact or the system as it works now, any recommendations for the future that would make you particularly fearful or anything else?
A. I think we've covered it. I'm happy to answer questions if I can clarify things, but I think we've covered it.
Q. Some very brief questions indeed about the extracts from your book. You have a whole section from pages 359 to 379 of your book, Flat Earth News, that deals with this. You were asked some extensive questions by Mr Jay on the previous occasion when you gave evidence about a gentleman called Z. I don't want to ask you questions he's already asked you. The book was published in January 2008. Is there any evidence you can give us to update us on the position as set out in your book?
A. I don't think there's anything special. I mean, clearly there's been an awful lot coming into the public domain, as, for example, from Sue Akers yesterday, but I think there's nothing on Z that I can add beyond what was in the book and beyond what I said in November, giving evidence.
Q. You also allege in the book that reporters from titles that I won't mention have admitted to you that payments were made not just to police officers but also to public officials. Again, is there anything other than what's in the book, that you would like to add? Any up to date information, other than what is in the public domain?
A. No, I don't think I've been looking into that. I stand by what's in the book and what I said in November, but I don't think there's anything important to add. MS PATRY HOSKINS Mr Davies, those are all my questions. Is there anything that you would like to add?
A. No. MS PATRY HOSKINS Sir? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No. Mr Davies, thank you very much indeed. As ever, you give much food for thought. Thank you.
A. All right. MS PATRY HOSKINS Sir, that completes the evidence for today, a slightly shorter day than unusual. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm very upset we have half an hour. Mr Jay, how have you allowed us to have half an hour? All right. Thank you very much indeed. 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. (4.00 pm) (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)


Gave statements at the hearings on 29 November 2011 (AM) 29 November 2011 (PM) and 28 February 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 5 pieces of evidence
Gave statements at the hearings on 28 November 2011 (AM) and 28 February 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 4 pieces of evidence


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