Morning Hearing on 22 May 2012

Alan Johnson MP and Tom Watson MP gave statements at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(9.50 am) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, Mr Sherborne? Reply to the Responses to his Application by MR SHERBORNE MR SHERBORNE Sir, I'm grateful for the time set aside for me to reply to the responses to my application on behalf of News International, Trinity Mirror and Associated Newspapers, which you heard Friday before last, and sir, I will be brief. Indeed, I can be very brief, because with no disrespect to Mr White or Mr Browne, I can summarise their responses to my application that the core participant media organisations answer two fairly simple questions as being that this was too late in the day being now some way through the Inquiry as opposed to back in December, I suppose, when the files were released it would be too burdensome and it would be a breach of the self-denying ordinance of who did what to whom and when. Taking those in turn, it would be wrong, as the Inquiry Team certainly know, for it to be said that it was two weeks ago that we first raised questions in relation to what we've called as a shorthand the Operation Motorman files. It's been a constant theme of the core participant victims and, more importantly, a matter of ongoing public concern outside the Inquiry as to what the true nature of the press practices were, which were revealed in 2006 with the publication of "What price privacy?" and "What price privacy now?" and what has been done about this by the media organisations. Indeed, since March of this year, sir, you will be aware there have been two documentaries, one on ITV and one only a few days ago on Channel 4, about the unlawful trade in people's personal information. The media core participants may want to shut their eyes to what I call the topicality of this issue, but I know you do not, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But I'm not responsive to the media and I'm not responsive to the television programmes either, am I? MR SHERBORNE Of course not, but what you are responsive to or let me put it this way round: one cannot say, as Mr Browne sought to do, that this is not topical in any way. It clearly is topical and it is clearly a matter of, as I say, ongoing public concern. Again, to say it has come too late in this Inquiry would also, to quote your words, sir, on a number of occasions in relation, for example, to the evidence of the proprietors and why it was not in Module 1, as some said, as opposed to Module 3 you said this, sir: "It reveals a misunderstanding of the way in which I've sought to address the terms of reference. These modules are not self-contained and elements of each have been raised at various different times and will continue to be." So I pass quickly over the objection of it being too late, as it is, in my submission, of little moment. Moving them to the next cri de coeur from the media: the task required is too burdensome. Whilst I see perhaps that the suggestion, particularly made late on a Friday afternoon, that six years after the "What price privacy now?" publication it is too difficult to identify which journalist did what and whether any of the information is still being used has a superficial attraction, it is one which does not in fact bear any real scrutiny. Taking Mr White's clients first, News International say they could do nothing, as they didn't know the names of the journalists. Ms Sarma, in her witness statement says that at paragraph 47, to which Mr White referred, and whilst we're on the subject of her evidence, we have not, of course, seen the confidential exhibit be which Mr White made reference. I'm not sure why necessarily. Mr White prayed Ms Sarma's statement that they could do nothing as they didn't know the names of journalists in aid during his objections but, sir, you'll recall Mr Gilmore's witness statement identifies two News International's journalists, albeit in redacted form, so the names are known now to the Inquiry and to News International. Most importantly, what became clear in Mr Gilmour's evidence, his oral evidence, that Wednesday when I rose to make my application, was that he said that he'd managed to secure the attendance of these journalists for interview through the legal departments of their newspapers. That is why, despite Mr Browne's trademark use of the word "disingenuous", I rose after his oral evidence to ask the questions I did, because Mr Gilmour and the reference is page 52 of the transcript of 9 May said: "Through the legal department of the various newspapers, I was able to access and secure the attendance of the journalists." So whilst Ms Sarma, who became head of legal at News International only recently, may not have known the identity, we say the identity was definitely known to her predecessor at the time LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, at least of one or two journalists. MR SHERBORNE At least of one or two journalists. It's known, as I say, sir, to her predecessor, who has given evidence in this Inquiry. So it is hardly, as Mr White suggested, like looking for a needle in a haystack, and since they know the names, we say it is hardly beyond the whit of someone at News International to identify where those journalists are and to ask them a very few simple questions. The spreadsheet of the Blue Book is in News International's hands. But because I'm feeling charitable, I can pass this Inquiry and Mr White the name of at least one journalist, an editor in one of the Sun's departments who obtained several ex-directory numbers. We have managed to trace two of the stories, through a simple search of the newspaper's website, for the names of the individuals whose private details were bought in this way. When one looks at those articles, one can see, in my submission, that there is no possible Section 55 defence in relation to the information obtained. I'm sure Mr White's clients can perform that simple exercise themselves if, sir, you grant this application. As to Mr Browne's clients, Trinity Mirror, and his objection, again the same applies. Their legal department knew perfectly well at the time which journalists were interviewed by the police and they have their own internal records as to the use of Mr Whittamore. Critically, it wasn't the fact that this exercise was too difficult or indeed couldn't be done that explains why no investigation at all was made at the time. Ms Bailey, Mr Browne's client, as you'll recall, gave evidence on 16 January and was very candid about it. She said it wasn't difficulty that meant they didn't do the investigation; it was they were only interested in a forward-looking approach. And who can blame her? With the track record that Operation Motorman shows about the practices, culture and ethics of the press, who on earth would want to look backwards? And what was their forward-looking approach, she said? Well, questions were asked of the 43 or 44 personnel, and she took comfort from the fact that all signed it, as to practices in the future which would not be condoned. But the question I ask is this, sir: have they cross-checked these journalists against column 4 of the Red Book to see what appears there and what information was obtained? Of course they haven't. Is it a Herculean task, as Mr Browne sought to suggest? Of course it isn't. Again, in the spirit of charity, we have four names of journalists from the Red Book, all of whom were promoted to senior positions after these events, one of whom was responsible for 250 procurements from Mr Whittamore, and another was responsible, as the Red Book shows, for CRO checks via the Police National Computer. Before it is said that this is the result of massive resources being used by the core participant victims, I can give the Inquiry and Mr Browne a Wikipedia page which makes for very interesting reading about one of the journalists, who not only was promoted to a senior position afterwards by Trinity Mirror, but worked for other tabloid newspapers. This journalist's connection with a number of the themes in this Inquiry outside purely of Operation Motorman, we say, explains why this exercise which we're asking the Inquiry to carry out is an illustrative one which goes beyond who did what to whom and when. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But does it? But does it? Isn't it actually precisely who did what to whom? Because by focusing on the individuals and their specific conduct, it seems to me that I'm going into the detail which, in relation to other aspects of this investigation, I have eschewed. MR SHERBORNE Sir, the problem is this: you have eschewed it in various contexts, but in order to get an illustration of how the press works, there have been a number of examples where the Inquiry has looked at what's taken place. Take, for example, the news journalists who covered the McCann story in Module 1, or the crime reporters who covered the Jefferies story in Module 2. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR SHERBORNE The purpose of looking at what these individuals did was not to be able to censure any individual journalist but to look at the culture, practice and ethics that same phrase of the press as a whole. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But aren't I in a position to draw inferences, if I think it appropriate, in relation to the Motorman material in any event? The evidence is there. The specific conduct of journalists who used Mr Whittamore either to get information that comes from a CRO check or from the DVLA or friends and family numbers is available to me, and aren't I in a position to draw such inferences as are necessary to deal with the primary point that you were making, which was the suggestion that some titles could say, "Not me, guv." My words, not yours. MR SHERBORNE Of course, sir. The fact that individual journalists have used Mr Whittamore's services and what they were using them for is, as you say, clear from the record and not necessarily the most important point that you have to consider, but it was what was done by those newspapers once they discovered this in relation to the practices of those journalists. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But they've told us. You've reminded me of Sly Bailey's evidence and you've reminded me of some of the other material that has been adduced. If one looks at what I'm intended to do, which is to reach conclusions as to culture, practice and ethics for the purpose of making recommendations as to the future, I ask whether what would clearly be a very detailed analysis, and far more detailed than I've deliberately undertaken in relation to hacking, for obvious reasons, would be appropriate, necessary or indeed proportionate. MR SHERBORNE We say it is not an exercise which is disproportionate to the aim which you're seeking to achieve. As I say, one can provide a handful of names by way of example to each of those core participants, and if one traces what happened to the individual journalists after these practices were discovered, namely that they were promoted, we say, in a number of cases, and that the information is still being processed, then we say this goes beyond LORD JUSTICE LEVESON When you say the information is still being processed, what do you mean by that? MR SHERBORNE I mean that the data that was obtained by Mr Whittamore is still being used by LORD JUSTICE LEVESON How do you know that? MR SHERBORNE We don't, but what we don't know, conversely, that it is not being used. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, but how am I going to do that? That's the point. Let's assume for a moment that I say to you: "Well, you have some names. That's fair enough. Let me see the names. We'll pass those to Mr Rhodri Davies, Mr Caplan, Mr Browne, to whoever, to Mr Millar there are all sorts of core participants here and ask them to make representations." That's fine, but to get into what's happened to this information, is it being used, it's going to be an almost impossible task, isn't it? MR SHERBORNE No, sir, it isn't. Can I give you an analogy with the hacking litigation? One of my clients in that litigation, and it's a matter of public record, was a victim of hacking in 2005 and 2006, and she also alleged that in 2009 one of the News of the World journalists attempted to gain access to her voicemail using that same number. Now, that case has settled, but in the course of it numbers were found in the contact book of that journalist that were the same as were found in Mr Mulcaire's notes, numbers which were private and known to almost no one. They related to well-known celebrities. That was discovered by a very simple search of the contact book of the journalist in question LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you're being disingenuous, Mr Sherborne. You say it's a very simple search. I ask whether what you are requiring me to do is effectively to undertake a discovery exercise in relation to journalists, for understandable reasons don't get me wrong, I'm not in any sense ignoring the risk that you are concerned with or being blase about misuse of private information. I'm merely concerned about the extent to which it helps me solve the issues that I have to solve. It doesn't really matter whether, for my purposes or it may not matter for my purposes whether a name is still in use today if I have sufficient concern that these various ethical improprieties need to be addressed. Nobody's ever said to me that they don't, in which case I have to address them. MR SHERBORNE Sir, they will say and they have said that you don't need to. You remember that Mr Caplan said in his opening submissions something which, as you said earlier, will no doubt be repeated in closing submissions. It is that nobody was charged with these offences, no hard evidence of anything wrong has been proved. That's what Mr Caplan said LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But Mr Caplan later agreed that there was strong prima facie evidence that journalists from his clients had accessed, in breach of Section 55 of the Data Protection Act, information. Strong prima facie evidence. MR SHERBORNE That goes to what was done in 2003 and revealed in 2006, but the other point, if you recall, for making this application was the suggestion, as you've heard it said and repeated again Friday before last, that this information is historic. It is not historic, as I said back on 2 December and have said several times since, if this information is still being used. It is not individual names that matter for that, and we don't need to know what the results are, but if it is accepted by the media organisations that this information, which can be easily checked by looking at that particular column of the table if it is accepted that that information is still being processed in 2012, that, in my submission, is an important point which you need to take into account. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You mentioned a particular client. I'm not so sure that I have evidence that information has been obtained which reveals that any of the persons from whom I've heard evidence have been the subject of potentially intrusive use of material more recently than 2005/6. MR SHERBORNE Sir, I believe that both Mr Jay and Mr Garnham, in their opening submissions, referred to the fact, in relation to the voicemail interception cases, that the activities took place up until 2009. That was the significance of the date because it relates to one of my clients. It's a matter of public record LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If I have it, then it's just escaped my mind. MR SHERBORNE That's not someone who gave evidence to this Inquiry. But it's not the names of individuals that I'm concerned with, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, it's the fact MR SHERBORNE It's not a discovery exercise which we're seeking. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand the point. MR SHERBORNE You'll recall that Mr Dacre twice not once but twice offered to this Inquiry that he would look into this to see whether this material was retained, and you'll recall that when he was pressed about reporters' notebooks and records by Mr Jay, he said: "Funnily enough, it's so long ago that most of the people involved have actually left the paper, are working elsewhere or emigrated." Sir, I have the name of three journalists working for Associated Newspapers who made repeated requests, who, unfortunately for Mr Dacre, are still alive and well and in senior editorial positions within Associated Newspapers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, I think what we'll do MR SHERBORNE It will not take much to carry out an inquiry of their contact books to see whether the information they obtained is still information they use to this date. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON This is not so much a reply, Mr Sherborne, because you're relying on all sorts of information which you didn't put before me, at any rate. MR SHERBORNE I'm replying to the suggestion that this is too burdensome an exercise to carry out. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand the point. MR SHERBORNE I'm hoping to demonstrate that this is an exercise which can be carried out very quickly in a space of a very short period of time by simply looking at the material that's been given. After all, I do ask rhetorically again, why were the files released to the core participant media organisations back on 2 December if it was not going to be necessary or not going to be intended that they would look at this material and make investigations as a result? The problem, if I may finish on this point, is this: that this is what I might call a silent crime, because the victims of it have no idea that their material is being processed. I'm not, as I say and repeat, interested in individual victims here. This is not a discovery exercise. I'm interested in the culture, practices and ethics which have been disclosed, but which, as I say, we simply can't know unless the media organisations carry out the exercise a simple exercise, which I have demonstrated in relation to the material that they've had since 2 December last year. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. MR SHERBORNE I'm very grateful. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you especially have. Well, this application has now been fought over some ten days or so. I want to go back and re-read what people said earlier. It may be that I'll ask some more questions of other core participants, but I'll take it all into account and deal with it in due course. Thank you. MR JAY Sir, the first witness today is Mr Tom Watson. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Sherborne, you might like to pass the product of your research through to Mr Jay. MR SHERBORNE I was about to ask that at some point. I'm grateful. MR TOM WATSON (affirmed) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY You've provided us with a witness statement. The version I have isn't signed or dated but are you content to attest to its contents for the purposes of this Inquiry.
A. Yes.
Q. There are one or two typographical errors in it which we will deal with as we proceed. First of all, may I give a short history of your career LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Before you do, Mr Watson, thank you very much for this statement and for the obvious work that was put into it. I am very conscious that bits of it look like a Swiss cheese, but that's because, as I'm sure you appreciate, I've had to take a certain line in relation to specific details, both in relation to the investigation that's presently being conducted by the Metropolitan Police and also because of other incidents which I can't touch, but which may cause potential prejudice.
A. Yes, sir. I thought that it was better to be comprehensive and you could redact as appropriate. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's the reason for it anyway. Thank you.
A. Thank you. MR JAY A short history now of your career. In the 2001 election, you were elected a Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East. In 2006, you were appointed Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Defence. On 6 September 2006, you resigned and I believe called for the Prime Minister to resign. In January 2008, you returned to government as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State of the Cabinet office. I hope I have the date right, Mr Watson.
A. I think that's right, yes.
Q. In June 2009, you resigned and in June or July 2009, you joined the DCMS Select Committee; is that correct?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Thank you. The circumstances of your second resignation, they are dealt with on the second page of your statement, our page 05548, where you explain the maelstrom of media attention during the Damian McBride saga. That saga in fact was in 2008, not 2009, but in your own words, what was the maelstrom of media attention?
A. Well, there was an allegation that I was copied in on Damian McBride's emails where he had allegedly attempted to smear opponents of the Labour Party, and it started with a blog post on Iain Dale's website, and then he was commissioned to write a story for the Mail on Sunday and then there was an explosion of media interest, obviously, for about a week, and the reason it was so troubling, I guess, was because it was actually an inaccurate statement made by Iain Dale. He subsequently apologised for it and produced the copy amendment he gave to the Mail on Sunday on the Saturday evening before publication.
Q. Right, and you explain the personal, family and political pressure you were under at that time, which culminated in your resignation from government in 2009; is that right?
A. That's right, yes.
Q. And since joining the DCMS Select Committee, you have made phone hacking and News International an important part of your political endeavour; is that right?
A. That's right, yes.
Q. We'll go into that in due course. Can I ask you a general question about your sources without asking you to identify anybody, Mr Watson, I'm sure you wouldn't do that anyway. You touch on that at page 05549 when you refer to whistle-blowers and confidential sources.
A. Yes.
Q. Is it fair to say that overall you have a number of sources who have been in a position to assist you with direct evidence, if I can put it in those terms?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. And some of those sources might have been within newspapers; is that right?
A. Some of them worked for newspaper groups, yes.
Q. Any within the police, can you say?
A. One close to the police.
Q. You were speaking generically. What other sort of categories of person are we talking about?
A. It's people who have knowledge of News International in particular and the criminal inquiry. There are a growing number of people who are approaching me with the with their evidence, and I'm making sure trying to persuade them to give statements to the police where appropriate.
Q. This is a matter of some delicacy, but we'll touch on it very lightly. I think you were approached by Mr Thurlbeck and had a conversation with him; is that right?
A. That's correct, yes.
Q. To be clear, that conversation was at his instigation not yours; is that right?
A. There was a former colleague of his who asked that we introduce that we talked, and he said he would like to talk to me about allegations that had been made about him that I won't go into any further detail about.
Q. As far as you're concerned, many aspects of your conversation are edged with confidentiality, are they?
A. There was a very narrow agreement between the two of us that was to do with his involvement in the "for Neville" email incident that I won't I'd better not talk about. The rest I considered public.
Q. Okay. Page 05551 LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Are any of these people who you've encouraged to speak to the police people you've also encouraged to speak to the Inquiry?
A. Yes, sir, and they have hopefully put in submissions that may come your way, one in particular last week. I've asked one of the lawyers to make sure that you're made aware of it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY 05551 now, Mr Watson. You say in the third line you've also been contacted by a number of MPs who have had experience of intimidating behaviour by news organisations. Can we just understand this? Approximately how many?
A. Well, I would say about a dozen, who give different levels of detail about their sense of fear and their own experiences of feeling intimidated by the newspapers, one of which I've in the submission is in some detail, but I would say that's illustrative of the kind of experiences that MPs perceive they've been through or actually have been through.
Q. Are we talking about MPs from all parties or from one party
A. On both sides of the House, yes. In fact, all the main parties. Not just the three main parties but the minor parties as well.
Q. Are their experiences limited to News International or do they go wider?
A. They generally talked to me about their experiences with News International, but others have raised stories to do with most tabloid newspapers.
Q. Insofar as there are any general themes it may be there are not could you share those with us?
A. I think it is fear of ridicule and humiliation to do with their private lives or their political mistakes and they feel threatened by it. They always sort of if they've taken a particular position on an issue, they all have a story to tell that involves them feeling intimidated and frightened.
Q. So the concern is that matters personal to them or maybe prior political mistakes and I'm sure everybody's made those would be unearthed? Is that the point?
A. Yes, or amplified in the pages of newspapers.
Q. Thank you. You give a couple of specific examples and we'll look at those later.
A. Okay. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Again, have you sought to encourage them to come to me?
A. Yes, sir. In fact, I think there is an MP a former MP who has made a submission or is about to make a submission, and the two MPs I've put in this document gave permission for this to come in, and I am hoping to write to all MPs to say that encourage them to give their experiences. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's sooner rather than later, please, Mr Watson.
A. I understand that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The train isn't stopping, because if there is to be any hope of doing anything within a reasonable time, it seems to me that I have to crack on, unless you say something different to me.
A. No. I hope the examples I've given are illustrative of the kind of intimidation MPs feel they're going through, and if there are other specific examples, I do encourage colleagues to come forward. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand, but I'm sure you'll appreciate the point that it might be thought that you are one very, very you have a very clear position, and therefore to some extent it might be said that you don't bring an entirely dispassionate eye to the issues with which I am concerned, and therefore if there are many with the concerns that you express, it is obviously extremely important that I hear from them directly so that they are not they can't be the story can't be tarred with the brush: "Well, this has come through, somebody whose views are perfectly well-known." I'm sure you understand the point. This is a once in a lifetime chance.
A. I do, sir, and I will make sure that your views are aired very visibly very forcibly, to my colleagues. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. MR JAY It's reported in the Guardian for Saturday, 28 April this is tab 83 that you were going to write to all other MPs asking them if they've ever been threatened or bullied by News International. Have you done that yet?
A. I drafted the letter but I've sort of run out of time to stuff the envelopes. But I promise I will. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'd be very grateful, if you are writing, that you don't just restrict your request to News International. I am keen to look at the press as a whole, plus and minus, but it is important that I think it's important that I focus on the broader picture not just the narrow.
A. Yes, sir. MR JAY The article also states that Mr Mosley is providing legal assistance to MPs to reveal potential blackmail and intimidation; is that correct?
A. He's offered assistance but I've not taken it and I don't know whether he's agreed that with any other MPs or not.
Q. In terms of the development of the phone hacking scandal, to use a neutral term, you obviously occupy a central role and we've read all the documents you've furnished us with. Some of them can't be put in the public domain because of their sensitivity. That's fully understood. Can I alight, if I may, on some highlights?
A. Sure.
Q. We heard evidence that consideration was being given at a high level to the possibility of a public inquiry in the early spring of 2010, before the May election that year. Were you aware of that and it if so, did you have any involvement?
A. I wasn't aware of that prior to the General Election. I only knew that there had been a debate within government after that. I should say that I've been pushing for a public inquiry quite I think as early as 2009, but I certainly didn't get a response from government ministers on that.
Q. You, I believe, were reasonably close do Mr Brown. Can you throw any light on what happened at the back end of 2009 and the alleged declaration of war on News International or not?
A. I can't. I've never witnessed any conversations or phone calls between Gordon Brown and any editor or proprietor. I can only say that I would find it highly unlikely that he would use that language in a phone call to someone well, to anyone, but in particular someone as senior and of an age that Rupert Murdoch is.
Q. The New York Times published their lengthy piece on 1 September 2010, and the following day, Mr Watson, you wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister because the Prime Minister was on paternity leave.
A. That's right.
Q. It's under our tab 4 in the bundle we've prepared, the letter you wrote to Mr Clegg of 2 September.
A. Yes.
Q. Our page 05529. You ask for two things: first of all, confirmation that the Independent Police Complaints Commission would investigate, and secondly, you said: "There are clear grounds for a judicial inquiry. Please can you confirm intention to recommend one."
A. That's right.
Q. That was based on obviously all you knew at that point but it had been brought into close focus by what you'd read in the New York Times?
A. That's correct.
Q. Did that article in the New York Times contain anything that you didn't know?
A. Well, the New York Times had been in London for about three or four months and I'd been sort of around the hacking inquiry and talked to the journalists, so it wasn't a surprise when they published the article. I guess the real surprise was any UK newspaper could have unearthed the information they found relatively easily, but it took a New York paper to do it, and I saw it very much as a sort of opportunity to persuade the new government to act, given that this the Guardian story had essentially been verified by an external newspaper.
Q. The follow-up point I had you mentioned three to four months. The question really relates perhaps to the resources in the New York Times. The inference may be: they have the resources to carry out this form of investigative journalism; papers here don't. Is that a fair comment or not?
A. There's certainly a they're certainly a well-resourced newspaper, but I think any national newspaper could have got the story they wrote. Much of it was from court documents or testimony of people that they could have found in the phone book.
Q. Certainly. You received a reply to your letter not from the Deputy Prime Minister but from the Home Secretary. It's under tab 5.
A. Yes.
Q. It came to you on 8 September.
A. That's correct.
Q. The point was made that the IPCC is independent. The Secretary of State goes through the history and says at the end: "The appropriate course is to await the outcome of the further police enquiries." Were you satisfied with that reply?
A. No, sir. It was a kind of a circular argument. I wasn't surprised with the reply. I guess the point of my letter was to try and raise apply pressure to ministers and try and bring it to their awareness that this was a very serious matter that the police were really not doing anything about.
Q. Thank you. Moving forward to January 2011, Mr Watson, under tab 14 you'll see that on I think it's 8 January, our page 05430, you wrote to Mr James Murdoch, who of course was chairman and chief executive Europe and Asia of News International. He was based in London. You drew to his attention the issues arising out of Mr Justice Eady's judgment in the Max Mosley case; is that correct?
A. That's right, sir.
Q. And the issue of blackmail.
A. Correct.
Q. You asked a number of specific questions at page 05431. Do you see those: "What action do you now plan to take against Neville Thurlbeck?" Why he didn't suspend him, I paraphrase, why he didn't report the matter to the police. Did you receive any reply to that letter?
A. No.
Q. You're going to have to remind me, please I have reread the evidence that was given before your committee on 19 July of last year. Did you return to this specific issue with Mr James Murdoch? I know you did with Mr Rupert Murdoch.
A. I raised it with Mr Rupert Murdoch, yes, and you always regret the questions you don't ask, and I should have asked why I didn't get a response to this letter, but time was limited.
Q. The evidence Mr Rupert Murdoch gave is, of course, a matter of record. It is question 171, questions you asked him on 19 July. The bundle of evidence is EV18. You asked him some specific questions about Mr Thurlbeck and Mr Murdoch said: "That's the first I've heard of that." And he invited his son to deal with it in more detail.
A. That's right.
Q. So the matter was raised with Mr Rupert Murdoch, but it might be said you didn't get very far?
A. He said he had no knowledge of it, which surprised me because I would have thought that if he was being briefed before coming to our committee, the Eady judgment would have been raised with him. It was a very serious allegation about one of his reporters. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it might, in one sense, be thought to be to one side of what the main thrust of your investigation was.
A. Perhaps, sir. Perhaps. MR JAY Is it the procedure of the Select Committee to pre-warn witnesses of all the questions they're going to be asked or not?
A. Not all the questions. I think the clerks give an indication of the areas that we're likely to stray into.
Q. Do you happen to recall whether this was an area which had been pre-notified?
A. I don't, I'm afraid, no. I did do my own you do get briefings produced by clerks before you put your questions. I did my own research for that particular enquiry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think, to be fair, the clerks identify the areas that they believe the committee are likely to be interested in, but they make it very, very clear that that does not in any way inhibit the members of the committee from asking such questions as they think are appropriate.
A. That's right. MR JAY Moving forward now
A. I should just say on that, the one thing I'd indicated to colleagues on the committee was that I thought that the corporate governance arrangements for the company were important, so it may be that Rupert Murdoch senior was warned that there may be questions around the corporate culture.
Q. Thank you. Tab 16 now, Mr Watson. A letter to you from Mr Yates, who then was acting deputy commissioner, 18 February 2011. By that stage, of course, Operation Weeting had been launched about three weeks beforehand; is that so?
A. That's correct.
Q. I only draw attention to one paragraph because it meshes with other evidence we've heard. I'm not going to comment on it. The third paragraph: "However, due to the outstanding public legal and political concerns, I'd invited the DPP, on Friday, 14 January 2011, to further re-examine all the material collected in this matter." We've seen the contemporaneous notes of what happened on that occasion. I think I'll just leave that point there. Mr Starmer, he wrote to you in response to letters you wrote to him on 26 January under tab 20. He made it clear that the review was being conducted by his principal legal adviser and she'd been asked to carry out the assessment as soon as possible.
A. Yes.
Q. I think it was the next day that Operation Weeting was formally announced. Perhaps the exact date doesn't matter. Once Operation Weeting starts, of course it follows its own course. Do you have confidence in the way Operation Weeting has proceeded?
A. Yes. I think I have absolute confidence and I think the inquiry is being carried out with a very professional team who are inscrutable. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The critical thing in the 26 January letter is that what Mr Starmer is saying is: "We're now going to look at everything that was in the possession of the Metropolitan Police", not merely that which he'd previously done, which was look at only what had been sent through to the CPS.
A. That's correct, yes. MR JAY Thank you. Once Operation Weeting starts, the rest is history. It's all in the public domain, culminating in what happened in July of last year. I'm not going to refer specifically to any other of these materials, but of course we have read them all. May I move now to section 4 of your statement, page 05554. You refer to the investigation pointing to a complete failure of basic levels of corporate governance at News International. So we're clear about that, that is your commentary on what others have found. It's not evidence you can directly give us; is that right?
A. No, these are my views, yes.
Q. Again, you're entitled to express your views, but we need to identify what they are rather than necessarily being evidence. 05555, five lines down, you say: "It is hard not to draw the conclusion that ultimately this scandal was allowed to play out because of the failure of politicians to act in the public interest. Unlike newspaper groups, News International behaved like the ultimate floating voter, but with menace. This helped create a zero-sum political game, where narrow personal or party interests took precedence over anything else." The failure of politicians to act in the public interest, are you alleging there any form of collusion with News International or are you merely identifying an omission, which is, in your view, surprising?
A. I have no hard evidence that there was a craven understanding between politicians and senior executives at News International, but I do believe there's a that is the general view of the public and that we need reforms that mean public confidence in those relationships is restored.
Q. I'm sure most people would agree that at the level of perception there is a problem of too great a proximity, but you probably heard me try to break down what the different categories might be. We have express deals, implied deals and perception. Where are we on that spectrum, Mr Watson?
A. It's difficult to be precise on that. I heard you questioning Lord Mandelson yesterday. I would say implied deals, actually, but I can't provide you with the evidence, I'm afraid, Mr Jay.
Q. Okay. You do name three politicians, Mr Watson, about six paragraphs down this page. I'm going to pass over Mr Huhne, if you don't mind, because that's quite sensitive at the moment.
A. I understand.
Q. Dr Cable I think we can probably work our for ourselves but why have you cited the Lord Chancellor there?
A. The reason I use Kenneth Clarke is and again, this is imprecise, but he is a politician who's prepared to swim against the tide and has been because of that, frequently gets very harsh comment in News International papers, in particular the Sun. He's one of their target MPs, I would say. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But is that different from other papers? My experience of the justice portfolio and particularly the crime and law and order portfolio is that the challenges to those holding political office with that portfolio come thick and fast. I'm not sure that it would be fair to restrict it to News International.
A. Which is why, I think, it's hard to be precise. I would say that Kenneth Clarke is one of those characters that would make decisions not based on how it would be reported in tabloid newspapers, and there are some politicians who feel that they have to factor that into their decision-making and they themselves will have to answer for examples of that, but Kenneth Clarke, the way he is portrayed in the press is as a result of him refusing to play those kind of daily games you have to do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But that's not just News International; that's across the piece.
A. It is, sir. Yes, it is. MR JAY The next page, Mr Watson, some of your ideas for the future we're going to capture at the end of your evidence.
A. Okay.
Q. 05556. The paragraph in the middle of the page where you say: "The scandal is about political failure. Successive prime ministers, from Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron, must share in the responsibility for allowing executives at News International and other media groups to believe they had become unaccountable." Lord Mandelson came out with a similar point by phrased it differently yesterday. What do you mean by that?
A. I think Lord Mandelson was very eloquent yesterday and I couldn't disagree with his analysis there, but I think if I may comment on his testimony to help illustrate this. He mentioned Rebekah Brooks saying to him: "Can members of the DCMS committee be pulled off?" That strikes me as a totally improper thing for a chief executive of a company to do to the first Secretary of State, to try and interfere with a parliamentary inquiry, and so they that sense of having no boundaries or borders, I think, was absolutely illustrated in Lord Mandelson's testimony yesterday when he made that passing comment.
Q. At section 5, you deal with personal experience and your letter of resignation in 2006. The question was related to Mrs Brooks. The first of your answers at page 05557 refer to something Mr George Pascoe-Watson, who was previously the political editor of the Sun, told you. You give the date 2005 there but I think you mean 2006.
A. Yes.
Q. You say: "Rebekah will never forgive you for what you did to her Tony." Do you have a clear recollection of that?
A. I absolutely do, yes. It's not the sort of thing you would forget.
Q. Why did you interpret that as a threat? It may just have been an observation.
A. At the time, it was quite a chilling comment. I didn't understand how that would play out over the next few years, but it was certainly lodged in my memory and it you know, it was a very unusual phraseology for George Passcoe-Watson to use.
Q. On the next page we're going to cover this later, actually the libel actions which you brought against the Sun resulting from publications they promulgated in relation to you in April 2008; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. We are going to cover that in a moment. Can I deal with the bottom of the page.
A. Yes.
Q. The evidence in relation to Mr Kirby.
A. Yes.
Q. He told you that Rebekah Brooks felt that you were ringleader of the MPs who were investigating phone hacking during 2009. In one sense that was correct, wasn't it?
A. Well, there were a number of MPs who felt very strongly about it. "Ringleader" suggests that I was organising some kind of political group within the committee and that's certainly not the case. I was certainly determined to get to the facts but there wasn't any kind of collective action organised around that.
Q. Others have observed that the committee in certain respects divided on party lines, but I'm sure those within your party would not agree that you were leading them. They would all say they were occupying a similarly robust position?
A. I suspect that's true, but also on that committee in 2009, the committee was very unified. In fact, we only divided over one small section of the final report to do with the bullying of Matt Driscoll, and we unanimously endorse that report.
Q. On the bottom of the page, you deal with some admittedly hearsay evidence coming from Mr Nick Robinson. I put that to Mrs Brooks and she accepted what
A. Yes. That came as a result of I was quite critical of the BBC coverage and I had a candid conversation with Nick Robinson at the gates of the House of Commons where he raised that point with me and again, it's the sort of thing you don't forget.
Q. I think I can move on to section 7. This deals with the issue of surveillance and the activities first of all of Mr Derek Webb. The Inquiry has received evidence from him. You received an apology from Mr James Murdoch before the Select Committee in relation to that?
A. I did, yes.
Q. Apart from what the Inquiry knows already, can you enlighten us about what the purpose was underlying the surveillance?
A. Well, Neville Thurlbeck, on a number of occasions, alleged that there was an attempt to gather information on committee members in order to he uses the word "smear". Effectively, he's alleging a conspiracy to blackmail members of the committee. During our inquiry, the final inquiry we recently published, we tried to get to who was commissioning the surveillance of MPs and the research done on MPs and couldn't quite get to that point with the company. We were told that their own internal investigations were continuing. But as part of that process, there was a disclosure of an email trail that is mentioned in this submission.
Q. Can I ask you, please, about level with the lower hole punch on 05560, just expand on this, where you say: "Recent disclosure from the company shows that the covert surveillance was commissioned by Mazher Mahmood with someone called Conrad acting as an accomplice." Can you summarise that for us?
A. Yes, there's an email trail between Mazher Mahmood where he actually alleges I was having an affair. It's not true, obviously. And he has an email conversation with a number of colleagues James Mellor and Ian Edmondson where they are putting together a team to conduct covert surveillance, and so they commission Derek Webb and take him off the job that he was on before he followed me and then he, Mahmood, says he goes down to the party conference and that he was taking Conrad. I don't know who Conrad is, but he's mentioned in the emails as being part of this.
Q. Section 8 now, Mr Watson. You say: "Before the 2010 General Election, I made the decision that I was going to get to the facts of the scandal, whatever the consequences. My working assumption was that the company would discredit me in the minds of the public to such an extent that I would be unelectable. The decision to pursue the company was therefore made in the knowledge that this would end my political career." In one sense, that wasn't borne out by events since you were re-elected in May 2010.
A. Yes, that's right. When I stood town as a minister, it was because my wife asked me to stand down the pressure had become too much and you know, I guess I was at a crossroads in life. I'd done with it, I'd had enough of it, I didn't want to be part of that world any more, and was trying to decide what I was going to do. At various points along the way on that year, I thought I was going to stand down from Parliament and just get away from it, and in the end I took a decision to continue and get to the bottom of the inquiry.
Q. Thank you. Section 9, Mr Watson. We touched on this already. This is fear amongst MPs. You made the point in a debate on 9 September 2010. Mr Simon Hughes MP made a similar point, and you've told us about a dozen MPs have approached you since then, or have
A. Yes. At that debate, I it was the first time that I'd sort of said in the chamber that I was frightened and scared, and a number of MPs afterwards said, "I'm so pleased you said that, I've felt the same", and I got the distinct sense that this was a very solitary fear that they'd felt they could then share with colleagues, and they weren't the only ones.
Q. With the agreement of one of your former colleagues, Mr Martin Salter, he's provided you with material which relates to the Sarah's Law campaign, which you've included in this statement. It speaks for itself, but are there any particular points you would like to bring out for us?
A. This is the testimony of Martin, really, but I think it illustrates that he was prepared to stand out on an issue that he felt very strongly about and then went through what most people would accept is an egregious invasion of his privacy and, you know, it appears that private investigators went to extraordinary lengths to find out about his private affairs in an illegal fashion. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just on one aspect of the complaint that Mr Salter makes, concerned with the Sarah's Law campaign and the naming and shaming of MPs who refused to support the campaign, with the unflattering photographs, that's not uncommon in connection with a quite different aspect of law and order, namely those judges who have been the subject of references by the Attorney General for sentences that are unduly lenient, and the press not infrequently name them when the lists come out. Is that legitimate journalism or does that go too far?
A. I think it goes too far, sir, particularly because judges are in a position where they can't answer back. At least politicians have the ability to express. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Actually, I wasn't trying to say it was worse or better. I was merely saying whether the concept of, as it were, naming and shaming those in public positions, MPs or judges or whatever, because they don't necessarily follow the line that the press, that particular journal wants to take, whether that's legitimate journalism or not.
A. It's vulgar and distasteful and it's intimidatory. I guess in a free society we should allow tabloid journalist to make those kind of comments, but in this particular case, with Sarah's Law, I can say that there were a number of politicians who felt very, very uncomfortable with the campaign that wasn't just run in the pages of the newspaper there were leaflets handed out and stickers at the Labour Party Conference that the company had commissioned. There were fringe meetings held at the conference. It became a wider political campaign that seemed to me to be mixed up with the PR objectives of the paper, the politics of the paper, as well as the sort of personal branding that the paper was taking, and there are ethical issues within all of that that could be explored, I think. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, I understand the point for the reasons I've just identified. Yes. MR JAY Is there any difference, in your view, between this particular campaign, where obviously feelings might run quite high on both sides, and, if I can give an example of a more politically neutral campaign, the Times cycling campaign which we read about?
A. Well, I don't think I've yet signed the petition for the Times campaign and I've not been attacked in the paper, so I guess I mean, the significance of this one is it was an emotive issue. A terrible crime had been committed. There was a very harsh remedy proposed by the paper that much professional opinion was deeply concerned about, and actually the predictions that were made did lead to there were vigilante attacks on innocent people as a result of this campaign. So I think it's the sort of the particular issue that distinguishes this as being particularly unpleasant.
Q. It's the nature of the issue and the way in which the campaign is advanced, I suppose. The second example you give this is under the heading "Guardian, 11 July 2012", 05563. We've heard evidence from that from the relevant officer I think it was Mr Middleton
A. Yes.
Q. a couple of weeks ago.
A. I guess Martin's issue there is he still didn't know whether the private investigators had been commissioned by News of the World or not, and but he couldn't understand what the logic would be had he not been what the logic of him being targeted in this way was if it wasn't the News of the World.
Q. The next example, Mr Watson, on page 05564. Summarise that for us. It relate to your neighbouring MP, Jane Griffiths.
A. No, this is still Martin Salter's testimony. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Everything that's in italics is Mr Salter. MR JAY Sorry, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Is that right?
A. That's correct, sir, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY It probably speaks for itself.
A. It does.
Q. Under the tenth section of your evidence, you were asked to provide examples, if you could, of ministers failing to make adequate reform because of personal inhibition or whatever, and you do provide us with two examples. The first is at page 05566. We need to correct the date. The protection of freedoms bill, you moved the amendments on 17 May 2011.
A. I did, yes. It's a typo.
Q. It wasn't 2001. Have I correctly understood this? Was this an attempt by primary legislation to bring in substantive amendments to the Data Protection Act, which in Section 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008, the self-same amendments could be brought in by secondary legislation?
A. That's correct, yes. Parliament has ducked its responsibility to improve the Data Protection Act and I was using the opportunity of this bill to raise that point and to try and convince the minister that this was an opportunity to put the matter right.
Q. You were told that none of the three parties would support your amendments, so that was the end of that?
A. I'm afraid so, yes. I wasn't very convincing. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Is that right? Just so that I've understood it, the only purpose of this bill was to get somebody to say, "Right, we'll implement the law"?
A. I was trying to being the protection of freedoms bill, which was essentially a bill to try and enact government policy which was rolling back the intrusive state, I thought this was an opportunity for the government to further improve it by putting safeguards in place that would discourage the illegal personal information-gathering market by increasing the penalties, and this is the argument that the Information Commissioner had been making for many years and it did strike me as an omission within the bill that they'd not considered using the bill to do that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But the 2008 Act does amend the law
A. Through yes, but they could have done it within this bill as well. So I was really putting pressure on the minister and trying to convince him that the time was right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Because a statutory instrument is not going to be as complicated a procedure as legislation?
A. That's right. I would hope that ministers looking at your Inquiry, sir, would realise how easy it is to make those amendments. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's obviously one of the things I'm going to be thinking about.
A. Good. MR JAY The second example you provide us with, Mr Watson, 05568 this is the draft damages based agreements regulations which was considered by a statutory instrument committee on 30 March 2010.
A. That's correct.
Q. Just before the last election. At this time, MPs from all three of the main parties defeated the minister's proposals, which you say is extremely rare before such a committee. The proposals were what? Could you summarise those for us?
A. This was an instrument to change the CFA arrangements in libel cases, and it had received a mauling in the merits committee in the House of Lords when it was discussed. It was imperfectly drafted and quite flawed, and the effect of it would have been to remove many millions of people from access to justice in libel cases, in the opinion of the members that voted it down, and I think the significance of this was that there was a real sense that there had not been a proper parliamentary discussion, nor a debate in the country about what these measures would actually do, and I selectively quoted from the merits committee in the house of Lord but it really was quite a very critical of the measures as they were proposed.
Q. I understand. So the feeling was that these were important significant measures, they were worthy of greater debate, and to bring them through this rapid process was inappropriate, and your colleagues agreed?
A. That's correct.
Q. In the last section of your statement, Mr Watson, you really deal with the implied deal point, and you ask us to look at the diaries of Mr Chris Mullin for the period August 1994 to 1998, and of course we can do that. This, to be fair, though, is a commentary on other evidence, isn't it?
A. That's correct.
Q. Can I ask you some general questions. Why did it take so long in your view for politicians and the media to wake up to the hacking story?
A. I think they closed their minds to the potential for a major scandal at one of their key outlets for their message, and I think the personal relations between politicians and people at the company were too fibrous and close, so that they couldn't divorce their objective thinking. And I think they were frightened.
Q. So far as it's possible to identify a date and it may not be when did you conclude that the hacking story, as it were, was a true scandal, in the sense that it extended beyond the one rogue reporter?
A. It's difficult to say there was a Eureka moment, but I certainly think the Nick Davies story in the Guardian that showed there was a huge payment made to Gordon Taylor certainly was a very big signpost. It just did not chime that the royal correspondent of the News of the World would be involved in targeting a sort of quasi-general secretary of the Professional Footballers' Association, so that very clearly gave the impression to me that there was more to this than met the eye. So quite early on, I think.
Q. Thank you. Can I raise a couple of points arising out of your recent book, Mr Watson?
A. Sure.
Q. You have a copy there. I'm afraid I haven't, but it's been summarised for me. On page 9 you make a point I paraphrase now as I said, you became a junior minister in May 2006 and you began to realise the close relationship between the Prime Minister and News Corp's chief executive. When ministers formulated policy, they often had an eye on Murdoch's response. He was a constant and visible presence in Downing Street.
A. Mm.
Q. Aside from commentary, what is your evidence for that, please?
A. Well, I just know the when you're in the sort of I can't give you a hard fact, I'm afraid, Mr Jay, but I know that as a minister, when I discussed issues or policy, there would always be a conversation about: how would this play out? What would how would it play with the Sun? I'm ashamed to say my own personal example of that would be I made a mistake in a defence question one day. I was asked about the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict and I mistakenly said there would be a 25th anniversary celebration rather than a 25th anniversary commemoration, and by the time I got back to the Ministry of Defence there was a sort of notice on my desk to sign saying putting the matter right and a press notice saying I'd meant to say it and calming nerves in the foreign affairs community. I concluded it was overkill by the Civil Service and it probably was, but it did receive a favourable write-up in the Sun the next day, and those are the kind of daily conversations that ministers will have with themselves about the small incidents in their daily lives and how they're reported LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But is that the Sun or is it the press generally? In other words, you know, a minister's perfectly entitled to think: "This is the policy that I'm thinking of; how will it play out?", in part as a self-check. "Does this work? Is this going to accord with the public mood?" Or are you saying something different?
A. I'm saying that I can only speak for myself. I can't speak for other ministers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, I appreciate that.
A. But there was a sense that there was a mystique about the News International stable, that they had unique access to Downing Street and for a minister that was important, and the way you were portrayed in the News International papers was important, and they factored that into their thinking. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But not the Daily Mail?
A. No LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I mention it only as another large-selling newspaper.
A. I think the point I make about News International being the ultimate floating voter with the Daily Mail, there was a consistency to their editorial position and you knew they were constant in their views of MPs in general, and Labour MPs in particular, and so there were no surprises. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, that might play again as not specific to the Sun but what will the floating voter think about the policy? If you're saying it's not quite that, then I understand, but I just want to press you whether this is because of something specific to News International or rather more general, to floating voter instinct, if you like.
A. I think News International. They were the ones that had the connections, and everyone was aware of it. MR JAY Page 94 now, Mr Watson. Again, I'm paraphrasing. You have the text there. Were you privately told by Downing Street insiders that Wapping was using its connections to persuade senior politicians to urge you to hold back.
A. Yes.
Q. This is, I think, now, when you were on the DCMS Select Committee
A. Yes.
Q. and are not holding back, as it were. But Gordon Brown called you to tell you that Rupert Murdoch had telephoned Tony Blair to tell him to call you off?
A. That's right.
Q. That's quite a
A. I should say that he can't remember the call and both Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch have denied it.
Q. Well, can you assist us with what your evidence is about it?
A. Well, I can tell you the exact position I was standing when I took the phone call, because the idea that Rupert Murdoch would call Tony Blair or Gordon Brown to phone me is not the sort of thing a backbench MP would forget too easily, and I you know, it was within a wider conversation, but I noted it.
Q. So what you're telling us is that on the face of it, the circumstances are rather implausible, but because they're implausible, you remember them. Is that fair?
A. Well, they certainly seemed implausible back then. They're looking more plausible week by week. In fact, it was interesting that Peter Mandelson mentioned Rupert Murdoch had raised the matter over dinner. He said I've not read his testimony in full yet, but there was clearly a consciousness at the company that this committee was being more troublesome than they thought.
Q. If you have a clear recollection of the call, can you remember where you were when you received the call?
A. I can, yes. I was standing on a hill on the edge of the Peak District, trying to keep a signal on my phone.
Q. Right. So this was obviously a recreational stroll?
A. That sort of thing, yeah.
Q. Okay. It just gives us a LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do we have a date for this?
A. I could try and date it. Off the top of my head, I can't find it, but I can try and hone in on it. MR JAY Let me just press you a little bit further. Evidently you're on your mobile phone; you've told us that. How does the call come through to you? Was it put through a switchboard? Is it a direct call?
A. No, it was a direct call. Gordon Brown wasn't prime minister when he called me. This was after the election.
Q. So it's after the 2010 election?
A. Yes. It would be late 2010 or early 2011, so I can if you allow me to find the date, I will do.
Q. Okay. I'm just checking whether there are any other matters in your book I'd like specifically to ask you about. Yes, there is reference to another phone call you received in the Peak District on 27 December, I think it's going to be 2010.
A. That's right.
Q. At page 147. Can you help us with that? Are we in the same place or a different call?
A. We're in the same place, sir, yes. If I can find the is this the IT insider?
Q. It is indeed.
A. Yeah. Would you like me to explain about that call?
Q. The substance of the call is going to be it's too delicate for our purposes because it will bear on the police investigation, but I think what I'm trying to do is to identify (a) whether this is the same call as the call you've just been referring to, whether it's the same holiday
A. No, it's not I spent a lot of time in that neck of the woods and the person it is a different person who made contact with me, having read a newspaper article regarding a letter I wrote to the Information Commissioner, and the significance for me was it was someone who was familiar with the IT infrastructure at News International, and I was left with the impression that there may be more evidence available than previously thought. So it was quite a moment for me because it at that point, it seemed to me that the trail was going cold.
Q. There are many questions I might ask you out of sheer curiosity, but I'm afraid it won't be possible to, given the LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think there are limits to the extent to which you can indulge your curiosity, Mr Jay. MR JAY I'm afraid there are, so I'm just going to have to ask you to put the rest of the book down, Mr Watson. But thank you nonetheless. I've been asked to put to you questions by other core participants. You understand the procedure. You're a core participant yourself so of course you understand it. But from one core participant, I have two questions. First of all: did you ever give stories to Ian Kirby and receive payment for them?
A. No.
Q. Did you leak information, confidential information, from the CMS committee to the Guardian?
A. No.
Q. Have you provided any information to Mr Nick Davies of the Guardian?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. From another core participant you've been warned of these questions in line with our standard procedures what was the nature of your relationship with Mr Damian McBride?
A. We worked at for Gordon Brown. I didn't know him that well. He was the press guy, I was a minister, so I would occasionally socialise with him but that was about it.
Q. I think it's right to say, but you'll correct me if I'm wrong, that he was a civil servant and not a special adviser; is that so?
A. I I don't know, actually. I can't remember.
Q. How frequent were your interactions with him?
A. I would see him about once a week in the you know, we would bump into each other. I had no direct line management responsibility for him and I didn't share his responsibilities, and then there would be the occasional social event, probably once a month, that I would see him.
Q. He, of course, was very close to Mr Brown. You were quite close to Mr Brown, presumably, weren't you?
A. Yes, I guess you could say that, yes.
Q. In terms of identifying camps, you were in one camp, clearly the same camp as Mr McBride and Mr Brown?
A. There were just different responsibilities, and, you know, on the press side you know, if you're a minister, you have a day job and you don't really cross paths that often. I mean, the portrayal was that there was this kind of tight group of people around Gordon Brown who sort of behaved collectively as a homogenous group. It wasn't that way at all.
Q. Did you text or email him with any frequency?
A. Rarely. I would probably get one or two texts, one or two emails a month, but not a lot at all.
Q. Can you assist us in general terms with the subject matter of these communications?
A. It would be logistics to do with Gordon Brown's movements perhaps or something to do with a Labour Party event. No hard and fast rules to it. Maybe sort of whether there's going to be a meet-up after work, something like that. Nothing significant.
Q. Did you have regular meetings during your time in government with Mr McBride and Mr Balls to plan media strategy?
A. No.
Q. Did you have any meetings with them to plan media strategy?
A. No. There was a weekly grid meeting where ministers were invited or I was invited as a Cabinet Office minister, and Damian McBride would have been invited to that, but I rarely went to those meetings. I frankly found them very tedious so used to hardly ever turn up, and to be honest, I'd been so bruised by the press that I avoided the portrayal is not as it is, but I avoided most press activities as best I could.
Q. Did you or anyone who worked with you have any knowledge of the plan to establish the Red Rag website?
A. No.
Q. Did you or anyone who worked with you discuss establishing a website to counter what was seen as the influence of the centre right website, Guido Fawkes?
A. No, but there was a lot of discussion at the time about the Labour Party's online strategy because it was felt that there was a sort of plan by our opponents to work in an arm's length removed way with sites like Guido Fawkes, but there was no discussion to plan an alternative.
Q. Was there a sense then that your opponents were doing better with the blogosphere and it was time that you improved your act, as it were?
A. That's right, yeah. That was the general view at the time.
Q. What is the nature of your relationship with the website Political Scrapbook?
A. I know the guy the young guy that runs it. I have no relationship with it in terms of management or anything else.
Q. Maybe I should have asked the prior question: what is the website Political Scrapbook?
A. It's a centre left-leaning satirical website that does, you know, gossipy tabloid-style stories.
Q. So how often are you in contact with those who run that website?
A. I've probably met them once in the last year, maybe twice, at the Labour Party Conference.
Q. Have you provided information to them for their use?
A. No.
Q. There's reference I haven't actually seen the relevant speech but I'll ask the question anyway. There was a speech made by Mr Len McCluskey to the Labour Party Conference. I don't know whether you know what that is a reference to, but the question is: did Mr McCluskey share that speech with you before making it?
A. No, not at all.
Q. On one occasion, you objected to media reporting of your visit to Gordon Brown. You maintain the visit was purely social and you were dropping off a particular DVD. Did you discuss any political matters at all during your visit?
A. No, and just to put the matter right, the allegation is that I delivered a Postman Pat DVD for Gordon Brown's children. It's a fact that's been repeated many times. I didn't do that. The present was a Baby Gro for the new baby, and I didn't discuss politics. It was a purely social visit and was very brief.
Q. Okay. So we're back in 2006, are we?
A. That's correct, yes. I think Rebekah Brooks may have said that when she was in front of you, but I've never bothered to put the matter right because it's to trivial, but LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm pleased we've at least sorted that out. Yes. MR JAY Did you discuss the subsequently published round-robin letter which called for Tony Blair's resignation at that visit?
A. No, absolutely not.
Q. Did you discuss that letter with Mr Ed Balls?
A. No. After I'd resigned, there's obviously been lots of discussion since, but not before, no.
Q. I've decided not to ask the last two questions. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's your choice, Mr Jay. You're responsible for conducting this. MR JAY Okay. Can I ask you, please, about the future, Mr Watson?
A. Sure.
Q. You touch on this in your evidence. We passed over it but we're coming back to it now. You, I think, see a greater role for the ICO; is that correct?
A. Yes, sir. I think one of the issues you've that people have been contending with this is on notions of personal privacy in the age of information abundance in the digital age, and as a society we've not reached a settled view on that, nor will we, I think, for some years to come, and it strikes me that there is a role for the various commissioners that in some way regulate the privacy in this country. It's not just the ICO, but there's the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Information and the new Surveillance Camera Commissioner. It strikes me that there's a role for wrapping those functions up into a single body that could be a privacy commissioner and they would have the same powers but not more, other than an annual obligation to report to Parliament on the illegal personal information market so that that can be monitored, but they could also do research and policy about notions of privacy and help provide social policy-makers form their decisions. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's a far more wide-ranging view of life than is encompassed by the work of this Inquiry.
A. Yes, sir. It's I hope you don't mind we observing, but I think one of the dilemmas that your witnesses have is they have a different view of what is private and what is public, and that's partly because of the sort of disruptive power of the Internet. We have a generation below me that their digital footprint has been sort of left for eternity now in a way that no other generation has had to contend with, and so we're going to be wrestling with these notions of privacy for years to come and there isn't really a body a go-to organisation that is advising Parliament on public opinion on this and changing opinions, and it strikes me that any future-proofing might of reform might want to explore this route. I'm not saying give more powers to these commissioners; I'm just saying make them more coherent. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that, and it's very interesting, but if one looks at the powers that are operated and available to some of those whom you've mentioned, they are really to do with the way in which the state can interfere with the privacy of individuals, maybe the authorisation of interception of communications, which is governed by a very substantial piece of law, or the way in which there are checks on that, and retention of DNA fingerprints. All that material is one body of law which I recognise, but and I see the value of it because of the digital footprint that you've just mentioned, but it is rather different, isn't it, from the way in which society should control, regulate, be concerned with invasions of privacy that are not state-generated but press-generated?
A. Yes, sir. I think they're different, but I think a citizen very often wouldn't necessarily distinguish between an intrusion of privacy by a state or non-state actor, and my real point is I think the idea of privacy is changing in the minds of the public, and where these commissioners are wrestling with those notions, it seems coherent to set them in one place so that those policy discussions can be more closely centred. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It may be, but if I just pick up the point you've just made, the state can authorise an interception of communication and the statute will identify the circumstances in which that can be authorised. Then there's a surveillance commissioner to check that the thing is being done appropriately. But that's the state controlling state activity. It is rather different, isn't it, from the control of non-state actors?
A. Yes, it's completely different, but the requirement of the state to do that requires public buy-in and confidence from the public, and at the moment I don't think the public are well-served by policy-makers who have these conflicting demands on their time, and like Parliament has recently rationalised the Tribunal service or the Human Rights Commission, wrapping the different it's linked bodies together, and I think it would be useful if they were all wrapped into one. I'm not saying that there are totally different requirements on each of the commissioners or separate responsibilities, but putting them in one place might be useful. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I see the rationality for that argument. I'm just not sure how it fits into the press, because the test will always be different.
A. I think a part of the reason when future policy-makers require good research and advice, a body that becomes professional and skilled at dealing with notions of privacy I think is going to be useful to us, and can also actually help the press. I mean, the ICO I mean, I very strongly feel that the press deserve a more powerful Freedom of Information Act so that they can identify where politicians are failing to give them proper information, and one of the things that your Inquiry has yielded, by way of example on that, we managed to map out the relations the number of meetings between politicians and executives of newspaper groups, partly as a result of the Freedom of Information Act, but it took the 30-year Cabinet papers rule to know about the Rupert Murdoch with Margaret Thatcher in 1981. Had we had the Freedom of Information Act in 1981, we would have known in 1982 that that meeting took place and public policy would have been better served by that. The Freedom of Information Act is flawed in many ways. There is a ministerial veto that I would remove, and there is also there isn't a statutory obligation to handle internal appeals in a timely manner. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Watson, I quite understand that too, and these are absolutely sensible thoughts for a politician to have and to take into the political debate. But in the context of what I'm trying to do, is that not extending the envelope somewhat?
A. It might be, sir, but if you're looking at the conduct of journalism and ethics, then part of the reason they've been giving you that they had need to be so intrusive in unusual ways into the lives of politicians is politicians never give them any information, and the Freedom of Information Act is a way that journalism it's a tool of their trade now. They use it every day, and there are suggestions that the Act itself will be watered down, so I think if we want to support good, ethical journalism, we need a legislative framework that allows journalists open access to public government information. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So this part of your evidence is really directed to opening up to the press rather more information than it presently has?
A. Yes, absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. Well, I have the point. MR JAY The second general point, Mr Watson, where you refer to the need for an independent regulator to replace the PCC, by "independent", you mean what?
A. I think with independent arm's length removed from government, with some statutory powers. I think the I think the simple task of that body should be to oblige an editor to put a matter right when they make a mistake or get it wrong. I understand the remedy is far more complex than that but the outcome we want to be pretty simple. Time and time again, I know the Inquiry's heard that politicians we shouldn't have politicians regulating the press. I've not yet met a politician who actually wants that task, but I do think LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It is interesting that, because I've heard two politicians who have said, "Oh, yes, there would be lots who'd only be too pleased to get involved."
A. I think LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And then I've also heard somebody say, "No, no, I've never heard of anybody like that."
A. "I've never met an MP who would want to do that." But I do accept that there is a fear in the newspaper industry that politicians would like to, in some way, close down their assertive line of journalism and they do require reassurances, in whatever model replaces the PCC, I hope, that that could never happen. MR JAY Okay. The third general point, the need, which others have identified, to recalibrate, rebalance the relationship between politicians and the press. It's implicit in your evidence that you share the view that there is such a need, but how does one achieve such an end?
A. Ultimately, this is down to the conduct of individuals but I do think there are ways you can shape that relationship. Certainly transparency is one way, and I've mentioned improvement to the Freedom of Information Act and the way that government presents information. At the moment, ministers publish their diaries every quarter but they're not centrally published. Information is very inaccessible. And frankly, having been on the inside, I think that's probably deliberate, to make it harder for people to map out those relationships. They could very easily remedy that, and it shouldn't take an Inquiry of this stature to force them into it. You could just put the matter right tomorrow if you wanted to. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do you do that simply by centralising the publication of meetings and the like?
A. I think that's very possible to do, sir, and yes, I would. You know, people make I think the Civil Service are worried about factual errors and making mistakes that are then exploited. Frankly, if we get the model right, yes, there may be some mistakes, but there will be much greater transparency and that would go a long way to restoring public confidence in the relationship between politicians and the press, I think. MR JAY Those were all my questions. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much. Mr Watson, I appreciate MR DAVIES Sir, there are a few matters which I'd like to deal with in Mr Watson's statement. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes? MR DAVIES They're fairly brief. They are mostly things which Mr Watson doesn't really have first-hand knowledge of, so it may be easier if I just say them and if he wants to add to his evidence in the light of what I say, he may do so. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Have you passed them through Mr Jay? MR DAVIES Mr Jay, I think, knows our position on these but I don't think they are sensibly LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Speak and we'll see how we get on. Statement by MR DAVIES MR DAVIES I think the first three of these are points which occur in Mr Watson's statement and have not been covered in his oral evidence. The first is submission of accounts by News International. Mr Watson says that we have not filed accounts up to date. The position is that all the accounts have been filed. 62 sets of accounts were filed on time. Two were delayed until 8 May 2012. That was due to the reorganisation which has been explained to Companies House. It's now all up to date. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. MR DAVIES Second point, the emails relating to Mr Huhne, Mr Watson suggests that those were produced voluntarily by the Sunday Times. I'm not going to say very much about this because of the criminal proceedings but the position LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There was litigation. MR DAVIES There was a production order, which we opposed and it was made. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR DAVIES Mr Mulcaire's position. As the Inquiry may know, Mr Mulcaire has been resisting answering interrogatories in the civil proceedings as to the information, as Mr Watson has put it, contained in his head. That is his choice in that litigation. It's not controlled by us. We tried to stop paying his legal fees LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's gone to the Supreme Court. MR DAVIES That's gone to the Supreme Court. We were told we had to continue paying his legal fees despite the fact we didn't want to. It's not within our control. Lastly, surveillance of members of the Select Committee. As we have informed the Select Committee, no evidence has been found to suggest that any member of the committee other than Mr Watson was placed under surveillance. That is the case after an email search carried out for the MSC and after interviews conducted by Linklaters with three senior members of the News of the World staff. So far as Mr Watson is concerned, it is the case that he was under surveillance for a period between 28 September and 2 October 2009. We believe that that came about to stand up a tip for a story, not as a result of his membership of the committee, and that appears to us to be consistent with the terms of the emails which Mr Watson refers to in his statement, and which we provided to him on 20 March this year. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. MR DAVIES That's all I wanted to say. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. Is there any observation to any of that?
A. Yes, sir, there is. Firstly, a former chief reporter of the paper has alleged a conspiracy to blackmail with the surveillance, and if that is the case, I don't understand why James Murdoch would feel the need to apologise to a parliamentary committee for the surveillance. He said it was inappropriate and therefore I can't understand why they would take that position. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. On the matter of the accounts, I did check the accounts in early April, and the company issued a statement that said the accounts would be filed by the end of the month. So they were clearly eight days late and I apologise for not checking. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Don't worry about that.
A. I'd better not mention the Huhne production order. On Glenn Mulcaire, I merely point that the company paid nearly a third of a million pounds to pay his legal fees. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The argument there is that he's contractually entitled to that and that's a debate that I know has been argued but not yet decided in the Supreme Court, and in relation to production orders, I'm sure you've followed the way in which that has sometimes worked and sometimes, particularly recently, not worked.
A. I understand, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. Mr Watson, this is a topic on which you obviously have very strong views, I understand that. Is there any aspect of your evidences that you feel that we have glaringly omitted?
A. I don't think so, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much indeed. We'll have a break. (11.40 am) (A short break) (11.47 am) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, Mr Barr. MR BARR Good morning. Our next witness is the Right Honourable Alan Johnson. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR ALAN ARTHUR JOHNSON (affirmed) Questions by MR BARR MR BARR Mr Johnson, you've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement. Are the contents true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?
A. Yes, they are. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Johnson, thank you very much indeed for the work you've put into the evidence. I appreciate there are many calls on your time and I'm grateful for the assistance.
A. Thank you. MR BARR You have been the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle since 1997. In the last Labour government, you were a Cabinet Minister between 2004 and 2010, including, of particular interest to the Inquiry, a period as Home Secretary between June 2009 and May 2010; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. You tell us in your witness statement a little bit about the strategic leadership role that the Home Secretary has in relation to the police. The Home Secretary sets overall policy direction, is responsible for the allocation of national funding to forces, for the legislative framework within which the police operate, and there are also some powers of direct intervention; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. You explain the role of the Police Authority, the IPCC and the HMIC. The Inquiry is very familiar with those bodies and so I needn't dwell on the detail, but can I ask you this: is it right that the Home Secretary has a power to ask the HMIC to enquire into aspects of police performance?
A. Yes, I think that's right and I think their role, which was very much adviser to the Home Secretary, is an important one.
Q. You then move to deal with the question of standards, setting out for us in your statement the December 2008 Home Office guidance on misconduct. I'm looking now at page 2 of your witness statement. The quotation reads: "Police officers never accept any gift or gratuity that could compromise their impartiality during the course of their duties, police officers may be offered hospitality, for example refreshments, and this may be acceptable as part of their role. However, police officers always consider carefully the motivation of the person offering a gift or gratuity of any type and the risk of becoming improperly beholden to a person or organisation." In the light of what we now know about police relations with the media, do you think this guidance is sufficient or do you think there is room for it to be developed?
A. It seems to me to be sufficient. I'd be fascinated in the outcome of this Inquiry, but of course there is an issue here about you don't need guidance to know how to act properly and improperly, so I think that guidance, which I actually thought was much more recent, but it seems that it was 2008, is sensible. I never saw it in my period as Home Secretary. I wouldn't have expected to have read it. I would expect people to act with the professionalism that one expects both from police and politicians. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's a very fair comment, but let me ask you this: from your perspective, having held the office of Home Secretary, do you think that the evidence and you may not have seen it or read it or heard about it that I have heard about the extent of hospitality demonstrates a lack of good sense?
A. That would appear to be the case, sometimes at junior levels in the police and sometimes at very senior levels. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So although you and I might easily agree that rules are there for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools and that you can't govern everything by rules people have to understand what's going on and behave appropriately the question then arises whether something doesn't have to be said that makes that point rather more clearly.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's really the issue.
A. I think that's a very fair point. From the circumstances that you're inquiring into, it's quite obvious that that guidance probably wasn't sufficient and that more is needed. That would have surprised me as Home Secretary at the time. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And perhaps has surprised you as you've read what I've heard in the course of the last few months.
A. Yes. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR BARR I don't need to explore what you've told us about the media advisory group's guidance or the National Centre for Policing Excellence guidance because we're familiar with that. You tell us though a little bit about how the operational independence of the police works in practice vis-a-vis your role as Home Secretary, and that what actually happens in practice is that you don't have control over police operations and investigations but you are briefed about more important and significant operations and investigations; is that right?
A. Yes.
Q. The Home Secretary has responsibility for appointing the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. That's a role which also involves the Mayor of London, isn't it?
A. Yes.
Q. During your tenure, you were not responsible for the appointment of a Commissioner, but you were responsible for the appointment of the Deputy Commissioner, Tim Godwin; is that right?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Can you help us a little bit with how that process operated?
A. Well, so far as I can recall, it's the same as most senior appointments in other government departments where I have worked. There is a process that sifts candidates to whether they're above the line or below the line on certain pretty straightforward criteria of competence, experience, et cetera. At the end of that process, in this particular case, I believe there were two candidates that we had to that we were presented with, and we made the decision based on the a submission about the qualities of those two candidates, but then it was very much a decision for myself and the Mayor of London.
Q. When you were making your decision with the Mayor of London, did you take into account the individuals' competence dealing with the media or was that not a consideration by the time it reached you?
A. It was a consideration, particularly as the Deputy Commissioner would have been expected to deal with the media. I wouldn't say it was the main condition that we were looking at. It was basically Tim Godwin's experience, his capabilities in policing, but the ability to connect and communicate with the media it may have been more a Mayor of London point than for me but I don't think it was a very prominent feature. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You were looking for an experienced, capable police officer, and as I recollect, you were looking at somebody who'd been assistant commissioner for some time, who was the ACPO lead on crime and who had been responsible for a number of important criminal initiatives in London.
A. Yes. Actually, there wasn't much controversy about who to appoint between myself and the Mayor of London. MR BARR Are you able to help us one way or the other as to whether media handling and competence when dealing with the media is a matter that was considered before the papers came to you?
A. No, I can't. I'd be surprised if it wasn't, but I can't say that definitely.
Q. Can we move now to the question of phone hacking. We can start perhaps by reminding ourselves, at tab 11 of the bundle, of the allegations which the Guardian published on 8 July 2009. In that article, the Guardian brought to the public's attention the fact that News Group Newspapers had paid out very large sum of money to settle a case. They accused News Group of suppressing evidence, and perhaps for our purposes, if we look at page 2 of 3, just above the top hole punch, the paragraph reads: "But one senior source at the Met told the Guardian that during the Goodman inquiry officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into thousands of mobile phones. Another source with direct knowledge of the police findings put the figure at 2 or 3,000 mobiles. They suggest that MPs from all three parties and Cabinet Ministers, including former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, were among the targets." Was this an article that you read on the day it was published?
A. Yes.
Q. Was it news to you that John Prescott and Tessa Jowell had been the subject of voicemail hacking?
A. Not about Tessa, but John was my colleague in East Hull so we're fellow Hull MPs and he had mentioned it before to me, actually before I was in the Home Office.
Q. Over the page, towards the bottom LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry, that answer might be slightly confusing. You didn't know about Tessa Jowell but you did know about John Prescott? Is that the way
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. Your answer reads "not about Tessa". So was it news to you? Yes, it was news to you.
A. It was news to me about Tessa, but not about John Prescott. MR BARR Over the page, bottom hole punch: "Former Sunday Times editor Andy Neil described the story last night as one of the most significant media stories of modern times. 'It suggests that rather than being a one-off journalist or rogue private investigator, it was systemic throughout the News of the World and, to a lesser extent, the Sun,' he said. 'Particularly in the News of the World, this was a newsroom out of control.'" So it's plain from the face of the article, isn't it, that the Guardian, a reputable source, is saying senior politicians are being hacked, there's a cover-up, and the truth is thousands of phones have been intercepted and the rogue reporter defence is a sham.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. We'll come to what happened in Parliament in a moment, but before we do that, can you tell us what your personal reaction was when you read that article?
A. Well, concern. I think it was only a Guardian story, I don't think it was in any of the other newspapers, but I was obviously concerned. I was actually on my way to my very first ACPO conference. I'd not met Sir Paul Stephenson up until that point, but this was a perfect opportunity to do so. So I raised this with him in a meeting that was hastily arranged in a corner of the Manchester conference centre, five or ten minutes for us to say hello to each other and for me to raise this issue. So it was important enough for it to be the subject of my first conversation with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Q. Did you agree with Andrew Neil's comment that if this was true, it was a media story of really very great importance indeed?
A. Yes.
Q. What happened in Parliament is Dr Evan Harris raised an urgent question for you, which is set out at the top of page 4 of your witness statement. Because you were in Manchester, the response was dealt on your behalf by Mr David Hanson, wasn't it?
A. Yes.
Q. You set out in your witness statement what he said to the house. In a nutshell, it was a holding response, wasn't it, whilst the position was investigated?
A. Yes.
Q. On 14 July, you and Mr Hanson received a submission from the Director General for the Crime and Policing Group after you'd requested some assistance as to whether or not the HMIC should be brought in to conduct an inquiry. First of all and it may be an obvious question: what was it that had made the idea of calling the HMIC cross your mind?
A. It was seeing my predecessor, Charles Clarke, on the media actually saying that he thought the HMIC had a role here. That's why I asked the department to look into it.
Q. If we turn to tab 3 of the bundle, we see the advice that you received. Just looking at the first page of the document, looking at the summary paragraph, it reads: "Although a case can be made for requiring HMIC to carry out a review of the police handling of this case, on balance I consider it would set an unhelpful precedent and create an impression that any time concerns are raised about a specific police investigation, HMIC will investigate; it could lead to accusations that we are being led by the media, and that following recent exchanges with John Yates, we did not have full confidence in the MPS. I believe that we should await the outcome of the current CPS reviews, which is likely to be in the next few days. We should also wait to see whether the IPCC sees issues for it to investigate." And that advice to wait and see what the other bodies came up with was advice with which you agreed; is that right?
A. Yes. It was very sound advice. There's another factor that's not contained here, and it's the reason why David Hanson at the written at the ministerial statement had quite an easy time. It was the Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Greyling, who had a difficult time in Parliament, because of course the subtext to all of this was that the leader of the opposition had appointed Andy Coulson as his media adviser. So not only that advice was very sound; the other issue I had to be conscious of was that I was acting as the Home Secretary, not as a party politician looking to embarrass the Leader of the Opposition. The Coulson stuff is kind of an undercurrent to all of this in terms of the approach of politicians in government to this story.
Q. But looking at the factors that are summarised in the paragraph that I've just read, it appears that some of them are essentially presentational, aren't they? There's a concern that there may be accusations about being led by the media or appearing to lack confidence in Mr Yates. Generally speaking, in this sort of territory, how important are presentational considerations as opposed to more substantive
A. It's much further than presentational, with respect. I mean, for a Home Secretary to decide there's lots of police investigations going on, on a whole range of issues. For the Home Secretary to decide to intervene in an operational matter like this, on the basis of a newspaper article in one newspaper, not carried anywhere else in the media, when the Director of Public Prosecutions was looking into the evidence, would have been quite extraordinary. We can talk about benefit of hindsight later, but I think it would have been much more these are much more I think this is more than presentational. This is about the precedent that you would set. Front page of a newspaper, Home Secretary immediately responds by calling in HMIC LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And it's interfering with the operational independence of the police, at least on one level.
A. Which is the crucial issue, and which is really the guidance. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But were you surprised that you've commented that this was a very, very serious allegation. It's not just another newspaper article. You're probably quite used to newspaper articles. Were you surprised that actually, within the day, the police were able to say, "Nothing new here, don't need to worry"?
A. Well, there was a lot of pressure on them to respond quickly. It was very clear, when the Commissioner spoke to me, that he was asking John Yates not to have a complete drains-up inquiry on this; he was asking him to establish the facts around the case. And it was I said in Parliament subsequently, in a debate, when I was actually arguing to have this inquiry that you have to think of the atmospherics at the time. Most of the voices from other parts of the media was: this is the obsession of the Guardian. This was an element in this as well. So surprised that it was done so quickly. I'd have loved, quite honestly, to have politicians like to be seen to be doing things. Referring it to the HMIC would have been doing something, and in a sense would have be kind of protected me and been applauded by all kinds of people. Would it have been the right thing to do on the evidence in front of me? No, I still don't think it would have been. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not questioning that judgment at all, but I am very interested in your view of what you describe as the atmospherics, and indeed your conversation with the Commissioner. A drains-up inquiry means we turn over every single page.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But did you appreciate that actually all Mr Yates was doing was seeing whether the article, on its face, provided anything new without necessarily going back to any of the underlying material at all?
A. Well, I think I was kind of relying on the Director of Public Prosecutions, who was already examining this we were at the stage of 14 July here to look at that. I was also quite reassured by you may be coming onto this and I apologise if you are, but by one element of what John Yates came back with in that very quick and hasty establishing the facts exercise. He said that the MPS has taken all proper steps to ensure that where we have evidence that people have been subject to any form of phone tapping or that there is any suspicion that they might have been, that they have been informed, and the inference from that was if they haven't already, then they will be, so for my friend and colleague in east Hull, John, I could say, "Look, there was this allegation there were lots of phone numbers that Mulcaire had. No one actually informed all the people whose phone numbers were in his possession." That struck me as being very important, because if those phone numbers were in his possession, there must be the suspicion that their phones had been hacked, and I thought, perhaps rather naively, that people like John and Tessa and others would be contacted as a result of that and that that would be a major element in reassuring them about what the MPS were doing. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you read that as: "This is ongoing work that we're now going to do."
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not that it's all been done?
A. Yes. In fact, I believe that was actually relayed to me in a conversation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I see, and in relation to the second element, of course, the CPS, you appreciated, were only going to look at
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON the extent to which they'd been given material and whether they'd dealt with it properly?
A. I did appreciate that, but the other message from the Metropolitan Police Service was: "If the Guardian have any fresh evidence, will they give it to us? Will they bring it to us?" And that seemed to me to be perfectly straightforward. If there was any fresh evidence, that should be submitted. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The problem there is the word "fresh", isn't it?
A. Yes. We now know, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, I understand that it's very easy sometimes that's how it works. It's easy now.
A. Yes. Yes. MR BARR Were you aware on 14 July that the HMIC through, in particular Mr Baker of the HMIC, had had a word with one of your officials and was of the opinion that some sort of review would be appropriate?
A. Yes. The way it was relayed back to me I wasn't aware of Mr Baker's conversation was that Denis O'Connor is perfectly willing to do this, he's up for this, we wouldn't have to persuade him to do it.
Q. The bottom of page 4 of your statement sets out the second statement which Mr Hanson made, this time in written form to Parliament, and you set out the statement in its entirety. Over the page, on page 5, we see that the words you read out are in the fourth paragraph down, the paragraph between the hole punches, the one that begins: "As mentioned in his statement on 9 July, Assistant Commissioner John Yates is ensuring that the Metropolitan Police Service has been diligent, reasonable and sensible, and taken all proper steps to ensure that where it has evidence that people have been the subject of any form of phone tapping (by Mr Clive Goodman or Mr Glenn Mulcaire) or that there is any suspicion that they might have been, that they have been informed." You told us a moment ago that that was very important. Can you help us with whether or not the reassurance that you took from that passage played a role in your decision ultimately not to ask the HMIC to intervene?
A. No, it played no role at all.
Q. The matters proceed and there is an update following the CPS' review and you get another briefing, this time from the head of policing powers. We find that at tab 4 of the bundle. It's dated 20 July and again, we can deal with it shortly by looking at the summary paragraph: "We now have the benefit of the DPP's statement following the CPS review and of the MPS's response as to detailed questions from both Keith Vaz and to the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee." So not only do you have the CPS review, you also have further information from the police. "The statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions explained that he was satisfied that the CPS was properly involved in providing advice both before and after the charging of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and that the Metropolitan Police provided CPS with all the relevant information and evidence upon which charges were based, and that the prosecution approach in charging and prosecuting was proper and appropriate. He concluded that it would not be appropriate to reopen the cases against Goodman or Mulcaire or to revisit the decisions taken in the course of investigating and prosecuting them. The MPS responses to HASC and the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee suggests, in a way that the MPS was unable to articulate fully when the story broke on 9 July, that the police investigation was proportionate." So on its face, you have significantly more information available by this stage. The recommendation is that HMIC should not be asked to review the police investigation and if you agree, a written ministerial statement should be made. Was it at that point that you made the final decision that there should be no request for a review?
A. Yes. You'll see from the paragraph 14 of that submission, "added to political interference in operational policing decisions", which I may have been accused of. There was also an implied lack of confidence or criticism of the Director of Public Prosecutions. So it was it kind of made the decision more concrete.
Q. We'll come to the reasons next. In addition to those, there was a question of capacity, wasn't there, on the part of the HMIC?
A. There was, but really, it's my job to make sure they had the capacity. They were dealing with a number of issues and they were interviewing for more staff at the time, but that wasn't a consideration.
Q. Looking at the briefing note, the only passage of detail I'd like to take you to is paragraph 9, third page, following the internal pagination. This is summarising information from the police. Looking at the last sentence, it says: "He states that whilst other journalists' names appeared in material seized by police, there was insufficient evidence to support any criminal conspiracy on their part." Did that information affect your decision?
A. No.
Q. Are we to understand that what did affect your decision, effectively, was the significance of an interference by the Home Secretary
A. Yes.
Q. with a police matter and
A. Yes.
Q. the assurance you'd had from the statements made by the CPS?
A. Yes.
Q. Looking at this, wasn't one of the difficulties that some of the information that you were relying upon, and perhaps significant elements of it, came from the very people that you had to decide whether or not should be investigated?
A. That's always the case. If you're thinking of calling in the HMIC to investigate the police usually the Metropolitan Police, I would guess, as they're the biggest force you would always be relying, to a large extent, on the advice you're receiving from the police as to why they are pursuing this properly and why there's no reason to call anyone in to independently examine what they're doing. They would, of course, have been offended by a Home Secretary calling in independent people to look at how they'd approached this because it is, I think, more than an implied criminal; it's an explicit criticism.
Q. Is there any scope in the future for improving the process by which this type of decision is made? Perhaps I could float one suggestion, which might be that somebody from the Home Office goes to see the police to explore in perhaps a little bit more detail what the ground looks like before an intervention decision is made?
A. I think you could do that. At the moment, I could have asked Stephen Rimmer to go over and discuss this. I don't see how you have to remember, lots of these cases will not have the benefit of a front-page story in the Guardian. It will be people who are perhaps vulnerable, who have a real genuine complaint but no one's reporting it apart from them and people who say there's been a miscarriage of justice, the police have acted unfairly. So when you're deciding whether to call in the HMIC, number one, it shouldn't just be media-led. Ironically, I know, that's a large element of this Inquiry. It shouldn't just be because a newspaper, even the great sainted Guardian, which I read every day, is saying this should happen. There has to be a bit more basis for it than that, and in the end, I think the Home Secretary has enough officials, enough civil servants, enough advisers, their special advisers, et cetera, for them to be able to make that decision, and if they want to send someone over, it doesn't have to be part of a laid-down procedure. If they want to have a system where a senior official goes and talks to the police force concerned, they can do that now.
Q. With the benefit of hindsight, would you accept that this decision turned out to be a missed opportunity to get at what had happened a little earlier?
A. Not even with the benefit of hindsight do I think that. Obviously knowing what we know now as I said in Parliament, it would be great for me to say what a brilliant Home Secretary I was and how I saw through this, but with the benefit of hindsight, with everything that has happened since even, HMIC may well don't forget we weren't that far away from a General Election either. I don't know how long the HMIC would have taken. It may have just come back and reinforced the MPS's LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The real point is this, isn't it? It's not whether you call the HMIC in or anything else. What you have to be able to do is to rely on the information you're getting from the police.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And the difference between this case and the example you've just given is that in this case, not merely was it a newspaper but it raised important concerns, sufficient for you to talk immediately to the Commissioner about, which actually went to far more than: was a crime properly investigated? Therefore it was all the more important that what you were told was full, complete and thorough.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So the question might arise whether it was sufficient simply to do the exercise that Mr Yates decided to do on 9 July rather than for him to have said, "Actually, we ought to, if not take up the drains, at least do a bit more."
A. I wish he had said that and I wish they had done a bit more, but if you're asking me, with the benefit of hindsight was that the right decision, it's very difficult to divorce yourself from the atmospherics at the time, the position at the time. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that.
A. So I think for the Home Secretary to receive those assurances from the police, to see the outcome of the DPP's re-examination of the CPS evidence we hadn't got to the New York Times article or any of that stuff yet, or Milly Dowler. At that stage, deciding not to call in someone independently to examine it I think was a sound decision. I wish I had called them in, but LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not so sure, because I understand the point that you're making, that you make the judgment on the basis of the evidence and having regard to the constitutional position of the police, you and HMIC.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So I understand precisely what you're saying.
A. Yes. MR BARR Just to develop that a little bit, if you'd been told by the police that in fact they had a very considerable volume of evidence which suggested widespread criminality and phone hacking, and that the reason it hadn't been pursued further in 2006 had been because of other more serious policing matters, terrorism in particular, you would have expected either the police to have done something about that or you would have wanted to take action yourself; is that right?
A. Yes. Let's be clear what I was told. I was told that there was a body of evidence there in the inquiry that Yates hadn't dealt with, Hayman had dealt with. They had selected the clearest evidence to kind of, if you like, provide what they needed to deal with Goodman and Mulcaire, but yes, there were lots of other stuff there but actually it was immaterial to the fact that Goodman and Mulcaire had been found guilty and been imprisoned. Then came the and, you know, Yates was the head of counter-terrorism. We had a lot of things going on at the time in counter-terrorism. It wasn't so much saying, "Look, we could go a bit further and look for a bit more stuff, but we have other things to do"; it was a very clear LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, you've misunderstood Mr Barr. He's not saying that was happening in 2009. What he's suggesting is and I'll slightly change your question, Mr Barr that you might have been told: "There's a lot of material here, there are some difficult legal issues, there may be other people involved, but we took a stance we took a decision on what we had to do in 2006 because then there were all sorts of terrorist concerns."
A. I see, I see. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And that was a reasonable decision at the time. I think that's what Mr Barr was driving at.
A. I'm sorry, forgive me. I understand. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, it's
A. And I would still yes, I would want if I knew that there were they did have evidence of other people being involved LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Or possibly.
A. Possibly. The constant refrain here was that it didn't go any wider than Goodman and Mulcaire. MR BARR Move on now to 2010. In September 2010, the New York Times published an article, a very lengthy article, which again put the spotlight on what was alleged to have gone on. At tab 16 I won't go through the whole article because it is lengthy, but just to pick up on an illustrative passage or two, page 3, following the internal pagination, in the paragraph by the top hole punch, it says: "'News of the World was hardly alone in accessing messages to obtain salacious gossip. It was an industry-wide thing,' said Sharon Marshall, who witnessed hacking while working at News of the World and other tabloids. 'talk to any tabloid journalist in the United Kingdom and they can tell you each phone company's four digit codes. Every hack on every newspaper knew this was done.'" Then, at the top of page 6, following the internal pagination, the last sentence of that top paragraph: "A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. 'everyone knew,' one long-time reporter said. 'the office cat knew.'" So again, an article with some cause for concern. By this stage, you're out of government, but you tell us in your witness statement that you exercised your right as a former Home Secretary to go back and inspect papers. Why did you do that?
A. Because I was interested to refresh my memory as to what I was told at the time.
Q. And it confirmed that you were given an account vastly different from the allegations that were published in 2010?
A. Yes.
Q. Then we come to the summer of last year, when the hacking story became very important piece of news during July. At this stage in Parliament, as you've mentioned, it's right to say that you were very supportive of a public inquiry, weren't you?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Notwithstanding that it might lead to what's happening now?
A. Yeah.
Q. You were also very blunt in explaining why, and at the top of page 8 of your witness statement we can see that you've described the police as having been either evasive, dishonest or LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think that's our question, Mr Barr, but he did describe it because it's in an article that is exhibited. MR BARR Yes, it's in the parliamentary record. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR BARR Could I ask you why it was that you came to the conclusion that the police were either evasive, dishonest or lethargic?
A. Because it's quite obvious that there was no new evidence that all the evidence was there and had been there since 2006.
Q. Does that take us back to the passage we read earlier about the assurances that you've been given
A. Yes.
Q. back in 2009. At this stage, perhaps we could also look at tab 2. There's a letter to you from John Yates, dated 11 July. If we look at the second paragraph of that, it says: "The reason that a new investigation has been commenced and the situation has subsequently changed so markedly is that in January 2011, News International began to co-operate properly with the police. It is now evident that this was not the case beforehand. This has caused a new team to look more closely at information contained within the original material. The emerging findings are rightly a matter of great concern and have led me to make the very public apology you will have seen yesterday." So what did you make of that?
A. I actually quoted this to the Prime Minister in a question, which was a bit unfortunate, seeing as it's headed "private and confidential" and it was on the floor of the House, but I pointed out that in January 2011 was when Andy Coulson resigned from 10 Downing Street and I asked the Prime Minister whether the two dates were coincidental.
Q. Were you satisfied by this explanation as a response from the police or not?
A. Not really. I'm not in a position to judge that, but it seemed to me that of those three dishonesty, evasiveness or lethargy I think they were lethargic.
Q. Moving now to the question of the social relationships between the media and the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner, what level of awareness did you have about those sorts of contacts?
A. None, in the sense I didn't know who was meeting who socially.
Q. Did you know that Neil Wallis had been employed by the Metropolitan Police Service?
A. No.
Q. You were aware, weren't you, that Mr Hayman was publishing articles in the Times?
A. Because I read them, yes.
Q. Did you have any view about the appropriateness of a senior police officer leaving office and moving immediately to work for a newspaper?
A. No, I can't say that I did. I thought it was quite useful to get a senior police officer's perspective on some of these issues.
Q. Does that remain your position now?
A. Not quite, because it depends, you know, what the circumstances were in terms of him being offered this job, but it seemed to me a perfectly valid thing to do, and not unique, I don't think, because other former chief constables and senior police officers have given their view on issues in newspapers.
Q. You suggest for the future that the relations between senior police officers and the media should be transparent and that contact with the media should be confined to senior levels. Would you like to expand upon those views at all?
A. Well, just because it's become clear that at fairly junior levels there was a lot of contact, and indeed some accusations, which are a matter for the courts, about money changing hands, et cetera, and I think it's to put junior police officers in that kind of situation would be wrong. For senior officers, I think there has to be in this 24/7 media age, when the police need the public to help them on so many different police inquiries, it's very important there's a relationship with the media, but it should be people who are senior enough to take the can for problems that might occur in that who deal with the media or sorry sorry, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, please.
A. If there are junior people doing it, then they're doing it with the authority of senior police officers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There you are, you've answered what I was just about to raise, because speaking entirely for myself and without having fully considered it, I see very great advantage for public confidence in, for example, community policing, that local newspapers should be able to access the neighbourhood police officers to talk about crime or the fear of crime or what's happening in their neighbourhood, and to constrain that would seem to me to be going too far.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Equally, if there's a specialist officer, for example, on sex crime in a borough in London and there is a concern, it seems to me reasonable that a crime reporter should be able to speak to an appropriately experienced officer to help reassure or obtain evidence or whatever.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That was my question and then after I half-interrupted, you then provided the
A. I agree with that. I agree with that completely. Of course, there is a big difference here. In this whole discussion about the media between you just sparked this thought about the local media and national media. I mean, local media you know, the Hull Daily Mail and the Yorkshire Post are very important newspapers in my political life, but they're not they don't get involved in the kind of things that national newspapers get involved in. So as long as the as long as everyone knows what the limits of their association with the police are and as long as someone in authority understands the basis on which PCSOs or neighbourhood policing teams are dealing with the media and that it's transparent, then I think that's perfectly healthy and I think your point is very valid. MR BARR Moving now from police matters to the relationship between politicians and the media, I'd like to start by asking you some high level questions and first of all for a reaction to this quotation from Tony Blair in 1987: "The truth becomes almost impossible to communicate because total frankness, relayed in the shorthand of the mass media, becomes simply a weapon in the hands of opponents." Were you concerned that the way in which the media reports what politicians said, including yourself, made it such that you had to be very careful what you said?
A. Yes. And I think I mean, Tony Blair's point if I can think of an example, the MMR issue. You know, you remember there was a complete media storm which actually stopped children being inoculated properly against MMR and led to the return of diseases that we thought we'd eradicated years ago. I think that's a very good example of the media actually militating against properly government, and to take that a stage further, I seem to remember there was a great deal of prying as to whether Tony Blair's son, who was due to be inoculated at the height of all this, whether he'd had the MMR jab or not, and that was used against the Prime Minister as an argument I forget which way it went, whether he did or didn't LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think for some time he wasn't prepared to discuss it.
A. He wasn't prepared to discuss his own children, quite rightly, but it ended up as a front-page splash in one newspaper that he had either had it or hadn't had it. I can't remember which it was. So yes, those things, you had to watch what you said, not when you were talking to the Hull Daily Mail or the Yorkshire Post, but when you were talking to national newspapers, in case GM crops was another one, Frankenstein foods. The issues I dealt with: student fees, human fertilisation and embryology bill. The Government need to get very important and sometimes quite complex information across, but, you know, the slightest slip, it turns into something personal against a minister rather than an issue about the actual policy. MR BARR What features of the press' coverage was it that made it so difficult for you to get your message across to the public? What were the techniques that were objectionable?
A. Well, the newspaper itself would have an agenda. The journalists on that newspaper knew they had to follow that agenda. So, for instance, on Europe, you know, I remember Gordon Brown being castigated after 2007 for not having a referendum on the EU. He was pilloried. I remember the kind of stuff that appeared in the papers. Now, there was no way you were going to get a balanced view on that. It wasn't my ministerial responsibility, but it's an example of one of those issues. To use immigration, which was my bailiwick, there are lots of complex issues that you have to weigh up on an issue like immigration, but certain newspapers had decided the population was going to hit 70 million in a few years you don't hear much about that now and there was a real difficulty in explaining, for instance, what the points-based immigration system would do to journalists who came from a paper who, you were quite clear, was out to say that there was an open-door policy. There's never been an open-door policy on immigration. It's an example of the kind of care that has to be taken and the barrier between you and the public I mean, I'm an Enoch Powell. The politician who complains about the media is like the sailor who complains about the sea, but and I haven't got a solution for this, but it's just an illustration of how careful you need to be and the difficulties you face dealing with complex political issues where they are personalised to the extent that Tony Blair was mentioning in that speech.
Q. Just before he left office, Tony Blair made a now very well-known speech and he identified what he considered to be a number of traits in media coverage which had developed. Can I put those to you for your comment? "First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down." Do you agree?
A. For some newspapers on some issues, yes.
Q. "Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error; it has to be venal, conspiratorial."
A. I think you're going to find me agreeing with Tony Blair on most of this, yes.
Q. "Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes, it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits, but no one dares miss out."
A. Yes.
Q. "Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more, important than the news itself."
A. Certain newspapers on certain stories, yes.
Q. Can we move now from the general to your personal experience. You tell us in your witness statement that you occasionally meet journalists for meals. Is there any particular spectrum of the press from which you draw your contacts?
A. Well, once again, you have to differentiate. There's the kind of industry press. So when I was at health, the health correspondents were very, very knowledgeable about their subjects and you would have a completely different discussion. Education, similarly. So they a lunch with them, it wasn't kind of watching every word you said or fear of being misreported. It was quite a productive discussion because you could actually learn from people who had been as a minister, flitting through these departments, from people who had been dealing with that subject for many years. I think about the education correspondent for the Independent, who was tremendously knowledgeable. Then you have the political lobbyists, where you kind of do have to make sure, whether it's on the record or off the record, about what you're saying in the course of a pleasant lunch or dinner.
Q. Was there a different atmosphere with those titles which had constituency of floating voters compared to, say, an established support of the left or right?
A. No. Generally you enjoyed the meal more if it was someone you liked and you were perfectly capable of liking someone who came from a newspaper that was hostile to your political party, as you were of liking someone who was sympathetic.
Q. What were you seeking to get out of these meals?
A. I think it's what they were seeking to get out of me.
Q. We'll come to that in a moment.
A. What was I seeking to get out? Well, I was obviously seeking to get my point across as to why we were pursuing a particular case, at a particular time on fairly complex issues. Why, for instance, Nice was the best way to approve drugs. It was always a controversy whether drugs had been allowed. So whether it's on immigration or whatever, it's a chance to get your view across to the person who actually writes the stories.
Q. What were they looking for?
A. They were looking for that. I think they wanted greater understanding, but gossip was a and I don't blame them for this. Everyone's interested in gossip, you know, whether what's happening in Cabinet, who's said what, none of which I revealed, obviously, at any stage.
Q. Did you have any personal dealings with Rebekah Brooks?
A. Yes, I did, but it was rather spoilt by our first meeting. When I was running for deputy leader of the Labour Party, my team were very excited that News International wanted to meet me, so as I walked into this room where there was Rebekah, Trevor Kavanagh, Les Hinton, I shook her hand and said, "Hello, Rachel", and I don't think that went down very well. So getting the name wrong wasn't a good start. There was also some contact about a clinician called Mohamed Taranissi, who ran an unregistered fertility clinic and had been the subject of a Healthcare Commission inquiry and a Panorama documentary and I remember that Rebekah, when I was health secretary, was keen for me to look into that.
Q. That was an example of them pushing a particular story?
A. Yes, but not in an overbearing way. She was keen when I met her, she mentioned it and said that she'd send me something through the post.
Q. You said, in answer to my last question, that your team were excited about the prospect of you meeting Rebekah Brooks. Why the excitement?
A. This is a political team, of course. I was seeking deputy leadership of the Labour part. Because as we were excited to meet the Daily Mirror and whatever newspaper may kind of give their seal of approval.
Q. So you were hoping to get her support
A. Yeah, absolutely.
Q. I see. Moving to the future, what do you see as the best way forward to ensuring the public has confidence in what is passing between its politicians and journalists?
A. I'm not sure whether there's a there's I believe in self-regulation of the press. I'm not looking for some kind of bible of dos and don'ts. I think the Ministerial Code is sufficient to tell ministers what they should or shouldn't be doing. For politicians who are not ministers, there's basic common sense. How can the public be reassured about this? I think your Inquiry might contribute to that. But I think generally there's a healthy scepticism not cynicism, but healthy scepticism amongst the public about both of those professions and I don't think anything that we do will change that in terms of LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But we need to improve it, don't we?
A. Yeah, but I'm not sure how. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We need to improve the lot in which, for example, politicians are held, not least because it's critically important for our democracy here am I telling you this that we attract the very best into public life, and if they feel they're just going to be traduced all the time
A. I just don't know I agree with that. I agree with that. I just don't know how you're going to do it. I had an experience, which I may as well relate here, with the News of the World, for instance. This is the kind of thing that you have to kind of accept as part of your life. They were running a front-page story about me when I was health secretary. This is January 2008. It's the Saturday before publication. My special adviser rings me up and says, "The front page story in News of the World tomorrow is about you having an affair with a district nurse called Sarah from Exeter." So I rang the editor of the News of the World and he said, "Yes, we've had this all corroborated. It was in her blue Toyota and you were listening to Mozart at the time." I pointed out to him that I'd never been to Exeter as health secretary, that I was a government minister in London with a constituency with Hull. "How the hell do you think I was going to drive a Toyota to Exeter?" He said, "The story's been corroborated. The woman herself has three children. She's putting her family on the line." And I said, "Well, run the story. It will upset a lot of people in my family no smoke without fire and all that but run the story and it will be a really good pension fund when I take you to court." The story was absolute rubbish and he didn't publish it, but with that level of checking of facts, the fact that that could be all over the front page of the and sort of, in a way, damage your life forever, some of these fictitious stories. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's part of the point. That's one side of it. Let's just focus a little bit more on the general political dialogue. Of course politicians have inevitably got to deal with journalists that's their mechanism for getting their message across but do you think there is room for the House and of course, all this is for politicians, not for me to conclude that there should be slightly different approaches to those who are opposition spokespersons, on the opposition front bench, because of the risk that you carry forward what you've done in opposition into when you get into government? I'm actually picking up something that Alastair Campbell was talking about, that "we had a relationship and actually we didn't change it once we got into government and we should have done".
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I wonder whether there isn't scope for saying that Parliament should provide some assistance, so that everybody is aware and you might say, "Well, actually, all the MPs in the country are presently aware of precisely what's going on."
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But I would hope to be a little bit more enduring than the current MPs, not that they haven't got long and healthy lives in front of them, but to provide some steer that just provides some framework within which people can exercise their discretion. Do you think that's a good idea or not?
A. I tend to the view that this is about culture and changing the culture. Why are some elements of our media so spiteful in this country? You don't see it in other countries. Why is such personal spite directed? Women politicians get a tough time. Patricia Hewitt, Ruth Kelly, ministers I replaced I had a far tougher time I'd take over their department doing exactly the same things and suddenly there was no press furore about it. It's that spite. It's the picking on the families. It's the nastiness, the nastiness, real nastiness that you have to face. Now, that's a cultural thing. I take the point that I wasn't in opposition. I came in straight into government in '97, but I take the point that I think he's making, that we'll never go back to those days of fawning over major or I hope we don't go back to those days fawning over major media proprietors in the hope that we'll get a better deal. I mean, I think all of this should confine that to the past. Whether you can introduce anything, even in fairly light touch regulation LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not even regulation, necessarily.
A. I'm not sure. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not even in regulation, just guidance for those doing these jobs.
A. Perhaps a bit more transparency. I do take your point that in opposition, where I was thinking, you know, there's less interest you're not in government so there's nothing there's no Ministerial Code or anything. You kind of make it up as you go along in opposition, I guess, but I wasn't focusing on that point that Alastair made, that if you're doing that in opposition before you move into government, then you forge relationships that actually cause you a problem once you're in government, and I think that would cause me to think about that again. But the press in other countries does not have this spiteful approach. It might be a lot duller, by the way, and less interesting and sell fewer newspapers, although with social media all of that is changing. Most politicians can put up the attacks on them. It's the fact that they know that the press and the media, some elements of it, are looking to attack their families, and I think that's difficult to legislate for. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. MR BARR That, I think, sir, covers the remaining questions that I had. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. There's one other matter that I wanted to raise with you. You used a phrase, just as we got on to talking about politicians, when you talked about supporting self-regulation. I'd just like to explore with you what you mean by that, because I think that phrase means very, very different things to different people, and they understand different things by it. Do you mean by that that you think that the present system, the PCC and its code, is sufficient?
A. No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do you mean by that that the regulation ought to be independent of government, independent of politicians and conducted by the press, or broadly independent of the press?
A. I think it's the second. The trouble with the situation at the moment is it's voluntary whether the press enter into it. There's one major national newspaper that's not signed up to it. So all the press has to be included. It has to be completely independent of government. Self-regulation in the sense that the press have are not having this imposed on them, there's a consensus that this is the right way for them to proceed. So it's more your second example than the first. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But actually I wonder whether what you've just said doesn't contain a mutual inconsistency. Because once you say that all the press has to be included, then I'm not quite sure why it isn't being imposed on them.
A. Yeah, there is a contradiction there, but it's ludicrous to have a system of regulation where the public can complain about an article and then find that because that newspaper hasn't signed up to the process, that they're beyond LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, so
A. beyond the system. So it has to be self-regulation in the sense that it is not you know, we're not doing anything North Korean here. We're not interfering with the freedom of the press and no one would want to do that, and we're not setting down a great set of rules that would prevent the media doing the kind of things that they've done, whether it's exposing thalidomide or all the other great exposures that they've made. But that does cover every part of the media and does give the public some assurance that if something damaging is said about them in the media and these are not people who have power. These are people who are often the families who are affected, that they have some form of redress, and the redress you can't escape that redress by saying, "We're not signed up to that. Sorry, we're not part of it." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Or: "Even if we are, we're going to leave it."
A. Or: "We're going to leave it and we'll do nothing about it." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So does that mean that there has to be some structure somewhere that sets up an independent regulatory regime, which obviously has appropriate representation from the press upon it? Does that really encapsulate what you're saying?
A. Yes. If the press were I'm sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Because that means, once I talk about a structure, that probably means that the structure has to have been set out, however far back from the front line it is, by Parliament.
A. Yeah. Well, I suppose you can it's not inconsistent to say that Parliament can set out a structure, like we set out a structure for independent police complaints, we set out a structure for HMIC, we set out a structure for a number of independent LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There's the example that was given yesterday: regulation of lawyers.
A. Yeah. That's something I've never had to deal with. Yeah, Parliament setting a structure which allows self-regulation and a consensus that this is the proper way to do it, so that actually the press are engaged, not because they have to be but because they LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm just going to press you, because you've used the two words "self" and "consensus" again. Do you mean and if you do that's fine, but I just want to test it that the press ought to be regulating themselves because that's self-regulation, "We do it ourselves" or do you permit of independent regulation that involves press interests but has a very substantial independent element? And by "consensus", do you mean that the press have to sign up to it because that runs against, as I have suggested, the idea that everybody has to be in.
A. Well, the press have to be part of it. Everybody has to be in it, is where I start from. Probably there are different ways of defining self-regulation, but the important thing to me is that the press are not being dragged kicking and screaming to a regime that they fiercely disagree with. There may be an independent element there, they may have to accept that there's an independent element there, but within that independent element, there is also there is media involvement in this. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. There are ways that you could change the current system that I think could move to the kind of system I'd like to see. I wouldn't throw the whole of LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'd be very interested to know how you could change the current system to fit in with the requirements that you've identified, and as regards the kicking and screaming point, the issue may be that anything in one sense, anything that in any sense impedes the way the press can do its business as it wants to do it
A. Oh well. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON might lead to kicking and screaming.
A. Yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not saying it would but it might.
A. It's worth a trying, to see if the kicking and screaming occurs or not. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you do have an idea as to how it might be done using modification of present models, I'd be very interested to hear about that, but that's up to you.
A. Thank you. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much, Mr Johnson. Yes, Mr Garnham MR GARNHAM There's an single question LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand. Questions by MR GARNHAM MR GARNHAM Mr Johnson, you said in answer to Mr Barr a little earlier that all you were told in July 2009 about the MPS investigation in 2006 I say that to locate what you were talking about you said you were told that there was a body of evidence in the inquiry that Mr Hayman had dealt with, that they that's the Met selected the clearest evidence to provide what they needed to deal with Goodman and Mulcaire, yes, there was lots of other stuff there, but that was immaterial to the fact that Goodman and Mulcaire had been found guilty. My one question is: what were you told about the other stuff, to use your word, that the Met had which was immaterial to the Goodman and Mulcaire conviction?
A. None. The general flavour of this was that they had used enough evidence to convict Mulcaire and Goodman. There was other evidence against Mulcaire and Goodman not against anyone else, against those two people but what they'd used was sufficient to get them imprisoned. MR GARNHAM Thank you very much. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. Mr Johnson, thank you very much. o'clock. (1.04 pm)


Gave a statement at the hearing on 22 May 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 7 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 22 May 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 52 pieces of evidence


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