Associated Newspapers loses Leveson journalist anonymity bid

An application by Associated Newspapers to prevent journalists giving anonymous evidence to the Leveson Inquiry has been refused at the High Court today.

Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Sweeney and Mrs Justice Sharp today rejected the application for judicial review, noting in their ruling that it was “not for the court to micromanage the conduct of the Inquiry by the Chairman.”

The ruling read: “It is of the greatest importance that the Inquiry should be, and be seen by the public to be, as thorough and balanced as is practically possible,” Were journalists to be prohibited from submitting evidence anonymously, it went on to say, there would be a “gap” in the Inquiry’s work.

Toulson continued: “I am not persuaded that there is in principle something wrong in allowing a witness to give evidence anonymously through fear of career blight, rather than fear of fear of something worse.”

He added that it was “important to recognise that the evidence in question will be part of a much wider tapestry” and that Associated and others were open to submit non-anonymous evidence.

Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, challenged Lord Justice Leveson’s November ruling on anonymous evidence last week, arguing that “untested” testimony from journalists could tar its titles “with a broad brush”.

Mark Warby QC, counsel for Associated Newspapers, told the court last week that anonymous evidence may damage the “rights and interests” of all tabloids, and that titles were “likely to be defamed” if allegations of impropriety were made by journalists.

The Inquiry will resume on Monday, with evidence from BBC, ITN and Sky.

Read the full ruling here [pdf]

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Associated lawyer questioned over Hugh Grant "smear"

Associated Newspapers’ legal chief was questioned at the Leveson Inquiry today over the company’s statement accusing Hugh Grant of making “mendacious smears” against the paper.

Liz Hartley said Grant has used speculation “to accuse our group of phone hacking, which is a very serious allegation. We respond by defending ourselves.”

“And you’re responding by accusing him of perjury,” Lord Justice Leveson responded.

During his November testimony, Hugh Grant spoke of a 2007 story in the Mail on Sunday that claimed his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks due to his late night calls with a “plummy voiced” studio executive. Grant said the only way the paper could have sourced the story was through accessing his voicemail, and that he “would love to hear what their source was if it wasn’t phone hacking”.

Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s publisher, responded with a statement accusing Grant of making “mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media”. Hartley also revealed today that editor Paul Dacre, due to appear at the Inquiry next month, helped to draft the statement.

Victims’ lawyer David Sherborne suggested to Leveson this afternoon that the journalists responsible should give evidence under oath on 6 February to establish the source of the article.

Associated Newspapers has consistently denied that any of its staff were involved in phone hacking.

The Mail’s recent coverage of Grant, namely the birth of his daughter, was also a topic of discussion. Hartley denied that details regarding the birth had been obtained from a hospital source, asserting that the source came from Grant’s “celebrity circle” of friends.

She noted the difficulty of reporters establishing facts in the story, suggesting the real solution to this would have been for Grant’s publicists to say they would prefer the media to “desist”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from Daily Express publisher Northern & Shell.

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More tabloid accusations in second day of Leveson evidence

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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This morning at the Leveson Inquiry (15/11/11)

The need for a free press is now “as great, if not greater, than it has ever been”, a lawyer for News International said today as the Leveson Inquiry began its second day of hearings.

For Rhodri Davies QC, a key issue is “not why does the press know so much, but why does it know so little”. He stressed that NI supported a model of independent self-regulation, that the PCC could be improved, and that the press is “not above the law.”

Davies also apologised to phone hacking victims, stressing that the practice was “shameful” and “should not have happened”. He added that NI accepts “there was no public interest justification” in hacking.

Regarding the hiring of a private investigator to carry out surveillance on hacking victims’ lawyers and members of the select committee, Davies said “it wasn’t journalism at all and it was unacceptable.”

Davies contested the figure revealed yesterday by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Inquiry, that 28 NI reporters had been involved in phone hacking. He said that believes the police are the only people who have seen the entire set of Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, which contained five corner names — Clive Goodman and other News of the World staff referred to as A, B, C and D — and asked Jay’s figure of 28 be “rechecked”.

He conceded, however, that the 2,266 requests for voicemails cited in the 11,000 pages of notes were “2,226 too many”. Referring to the five reporters, Davies said “five names is five names too many”.

He added that he was not going to give any assurances that phone hacking did not occur “by or for the News of the World after 2007”, but stressed that lessons had been learned from the jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire. He cited the setting up of an internal committee at NI as one of the steps the company was taking to ensure phone hacking did not happen again.

Also speaking this morning was Jonathan Caplan QC on behalf of Associated Newspapers. He too condemned the practice of phone hacking, adding that no journalist at Associated Newspapers has engaged in phone hacking, bribed or bribes police officers.

Caplan also stressed that the PCC could be made more effective but “did not need to be replaced.” The virtue of the current system, he said, is that complaints are generally heard and resolved quickly, free of charge and without the use of lawyers.

He made the case for all newspapers being part of a self-regulatory system, adding that it was “unacceptable” that a newspaper owner should be permitted to opt out of one.

To this, Leveson said he could not see how this would be achieved without a law forcing all newspapers to sign up.

The hearing will continue this afternoon with an opening statement by Northern and Shell, which publishes the Express and Daily Star.

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