Blogger Guido Fawkes summoned to Leveson Inquiry
Marta Cooper: Blogger Guido Fawkes summoned to Leveson Inquiry
28 Nov 11

Political blogger Paul Staines, better known as Guido Fawkes, was today summoned to the Leveson Inquiry to explain how he gained access to Alastair Campbell’s witness statement three days before Campbell was due to appear in the Inquiry witness box.

Staines posted a draft of the former Number 10 communications director’s written evidence on his website yesterday, claiming he obtained it legally. The document was still available on the site today. [Update: the statement was removed at 9:30pm tonight.]

Staines is due to appear at the Inquiry on Thursday afternoon.

Lord Justice Leveson warned this morning that anyone leaking or publishing future witness statements could face high court action under a breach of section 19 of the Inquiries Act, which restricts the publication or disclosure of any testimony prior to it being made orally, outside the confidentiality circle of Leveson, his assessors, the Inquiry team and core participants.

Leveson added that he did not want to give Staines “the oxygen of additional publicity”, and so withdrew his plan of posting Campbell’s statement on the Inquiry website today, deciding to delay publication until Wednesday — the originally intended time. Associated Newspapers’ counsel, Jonathan Caplan QC, argued in favour of delaying publication, saying that relevant parties should be given time to make submissions on the Campbell evidence before it is made public. Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Inquiry, said that the version on Staines’ website was “quite an early draft.”

As with last week’s evidence, today also saw further exposure of the worst excesses of the tabloid press. Chris Jefferies, the former teacher wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates last year, described how the media “shamefully vilified” him with coverage that was “intended to appeal in every possible way to people’s voyeuristic instincts”.

He and Jay ran through a series of headlines, largely from the Sun and the Mirror. One read “Murder police quiz nutty professor”, another “Was killer waiting in Jo’s flat?” A slew of articles labelled him a “creepy oddball”, “lewd”, a “peeping Tom” who had an obsession with death and was associated with a convicted paedophile. “The press were trying to have it every possible way,” he said.

While in custody, Jefferies was unaware of the coverage. He said lawyers and friends advised him against reading it or to go out and visit friends for fear of being “besieged” by the press. ” I felt like some recusant priest at time of reformation,” he said, “going from safe house to safe house.”

The stories were untrue, and Jefferies successfully sued eight papers in total for libel earlier this year, with the Sun being fined £18,000 and the Daily Mirror £50,000 respectively for contempt of court.

Jefferies said he would “never be able to recover” from the events of the past twelve months, and that “there will always be people…who retain the impression that I’m some sort of very weird character who is best avoided.”

Broadcaster Anne Diamond and singer Charlotte Church also gave evidence. Diamond claimed she had been targeted by Rupert Murdoch after telling him his newspapers “seem intent on ruining people’s lives.” She described a phone call she received from a News of the World reporter after a visit to a Harley Street clinic. “He said, ‘we know you’re pregnant, confirm or deny’,” Diamond said. Out of fear of miscarrying, Diamond denied she was pregnant, but said the paper called her a “liar” when her pregnancy was eventually revealed. She added that a Sun reporter posed as a doctor in the hospital where she gave birth.

She described the death of her son from cot death when he was four months old, and how, within an hour, a scrum of photographers were outside her home. Diamond added that she and her husband had “begged” Fleet Street editors to stay away from the funeral, but the couple were long-lensed by a photographer there. A photo of them carrying their son’s coffin then on the front pages of the Sun. Diamond revealed that the paper had told her and her husband they had the photo and would print it with or without the couple’s permission; claiming their image would be tarnished if they refused to co-operate with the tabloid’s cot death campaign.

When asked by the Inquiry counsel why she credited the paper with raising funds for a cot death campaign in an article earlier this year, Diamond said: “the Sun was a very large circulation tabloid paper, and we were able to use it as a force for good.”

She also upheld regulation of broadcasting as proof that solid, investigative journalism can thrive. “I wish we could achieve same in the press,” she said.

Church, meanwhile, recalled having to “suffer the indignity” photographers trying to take photos up her skirt and down her top; she described a News of the World story reporting her father’s affair as “horrific”; revealed that the paper printed details of where she lived despite having previously published a threat of plots to kidnap her.

The Sun revealed she was pregnant before her family knew, Church told the Inquiry. She said she suspected a voicemail from her doctor had been hacked by the paper. “Only my doctor and partner knew,” she said.

Church also claimed that, aged 13, she was offered either “good press” or £100,000 to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding to Wendi Deng. While Church and her mother were keen on the payment, the singer’s management advised she waive the fee. Church was told Murdoch was “a very, very powerful man and [I] could certainly do with a favour of this magnitude.”

News Corporation, meanwhile, has denied the allegations and said that Church’s performance was a surprise to Murdoch.

The finger was also pointed at the police today, with former army intelligence officer Ian Hurst accusing the Metropolitan police of “corruption” and had covered up journalistic misdeeds.

Hurst was informed by BBC’s Panorama programme this year that his computer had been hacked by the News of the World, and was shown transcripts of his own emails that were sent to the Dublin office of paper in July 2006. Hurst was told that the paper hired a private detective who employed a “specialist hacker”, known as Mr X, to access his computer. Hurst revealed that, through sending a bogus email in 2006, Mr X had infected the Hurst family’s computer with a Trojan programme that could allow him to access Hurst’s messages and other documents.

Mr Hurst added that documents seized in 2007 by the police showed the security on his computer had been compromised and information had been obtained. However, he added, the authorities chose not to act. Hurst was only told by the Metropolitan police about the hacking this year. The Metropolitan police, he said, had “let society down”.

Jane Winter, director of human rights organisation British Irish Rights Watch, also told the Inquiry today that Hurst had told her earlier this year that “confidential” and sensitive” emails between them had been accessed illegally.

The hearing continues tomorrow, with evidence from Guardian journalist Nick Davies, former News of the World reporter Paul McMullen, and ex-tabloid reporter Richard Peppiatt.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.