The Leveson Inquiry continued with its blend of the harrowing and the invasive today as more victims of alleged press intrusion gave evidence at the high court.
Margaret and Jim Watson, whose daughter Diane was stabbed to death by a fellow pupil at her school in 1991, slammed “misleading” articles written in the Glasgow Herald and Marie Claire that portrayed their daughter’s killer as a victim. Without legal recourse, they were told there was nothing they could do to clear their daughter’s name. The following year, their teenage son killed himself. He was found holding copies of the articles, which the Watsons say contributed to his suicide.
The Glasgow Herald released a statement this afternoon, saying it “deeply regrets any action which added to the Watson family’s grief over the tragic loss of their daughter and later their son.”
In a powerful account today, Margaret Watson said the articles “tore everything we had of Diane apart.” She added, “the dead shouldnt be besmirched by the will of some sick journalists.”
Watson has campaigned for the law to be changed so it is no longer impossible for the dead to be defamed. While the Scottish government has published consultation paper on defamation of the deceased, the Watsons are waiting for the results.
She also criticised the notion that restrictions on reporters would have a “chilling effect” on the press. “What about the deadly effect it has on the victims?” she asked the Inquiry.
Ex-footballer Garry Flitcroft made a similar argument when he described the taunting his family received once the press revealed details of his extra-marital affair. Flitcroft had sought an injunction preventing the Sunday People revealing details of the affair, but once the injunction was lifted, Flitcroft said his marriage collapsed and his children were teased. He added that fans’ chants at his football matches caused his father to stop attending the games, and contributed to his suicide several years later.
Flitcroft maintained his affair was a matter between himself and his wife, and was not of public interest. “If I’d been done for match-fixing or taking cocaine, it’s in the public interest,” he said.
Though he did not have evidence, Flitcroft said he “strongly suspected” the Sunday People had hacked his phone to get details of his affair. He said his 2001 injunction spurred the paper to launch a “dirt-digging exercise”, which to led to the discovery of a second extra-marital affair.
Also giving evidence today was Mary-Ellen Field, a former business adviser to supermodel Elle Macpherson. Field told the Inquiry of how Macpherson had accused her of leaking stories to the press, and was told she could either go to rehab for “alcoholism” (an accusation Field denies) or be fired.
She heeded Macpherson’s request out of fear for losing her job, but was then sacked in 2006 by her company, accountancy firm Chiltern. Field said this had a “very serious effect” financially, adding that her health suffered as a result.
Field learned in 2007 of phone hacking carried out at News of the World by Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, and that Macpherson had been targeted. Her subsequent emails and texts to Macpherson went unanswered. Attempts to find out from the police if she had been a hacking victim were also fruitless, until earlier this year, when Field was contacted by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police investigating the practice.
Lord Justice Leveson described her experience as “collateral damage”.
Last to give evidence was actor Steve Coogan, who said an extra-marital affair was revealed in a “sociopathic sting” led by former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and the paper’s then showbiz reporter.
Coogan said reporter Rav Singh had warned him in 2002 of a suspected “sting”, telling Coogan he would receive a phone call from Coulson’s office: “There was a girl in Andy Coulson’s office who was going to speak to me on the phone, the phone call would be recorded and she would try to entice me into talking about intimate details of her and my life,” he said.
While no story was published, Coogan claimed he was the victim of a successful sting by Singh and Coulson in 2004. Singh agreed not to publish explicit details about Coogan’s extra-marital affair in April of the same year, provided he would confirm certain details. However, Coogan said his manager later received a phone call from Coulson saying his phone interview with Coogan had been recorded, the story would be published, and that Singh’s word was “just a ruse”.
He also detailed how a profile of him in the Sunday Times featured photos of his children, which Coogan had not authorised. Although the Times later apologised, Coogan said “all these apologies are closing door after horse has bolted. You can’t give back the pound of flesh you’ve taken.”
Defending why he had not challenged the press, Coogan quoted his agent as saying, “they will come after you. Do you really want to make enemies of these people?”
Coogan said choosing silence was the “lesser of two evils”, adding that mechanisms of redress were not straightforward. “I wish the press were able to regulate itself. But has been given many opportunities and failed.” He said of the PCC, “the hacking scandal completely passed them by.”
Earlier in the day, Associated Newspapers were accused by victims’ lawyer David Sherborne of adopting “intimidatory tactics” after it issued a statement saying Hugh Grant was guilty of of spreading “mendacious smears” in the evidence he gave to the Inquiry yesterday.
Neil Garnham, QC for the Metrpolitan police, warned Leveson that witnesses may fear giving evidence if they were to then face similar accusations of lying by the press. Leveson, who admitted he had not read this morning’s papers, shared concern, saying that he “would be unhappy if it was felt that the best form of defence was always attack.”
Jonathan Caplan, QC for Associated, argued the paper was “under pressure” to respond to Grant’s claim yesterday that the only way the Mail on Sunday could have sourced a 2007 story on his relationship with Jemima Khan was through phone hacking. Caplan added that he had had no opportunity to cross-examine Grant yesterday.
The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from Mark Lewis, Sheryl Gascoigne, Tom Rowland and Kate and Gerry McCann.
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