The chief constable of Avon and Somerset police has denied that the force leaked information or guided the press about Chris Jefferies after the Bristol landlord was wrongly arrested for the 2010 murder of Joanna Yeates.
Testifying at the Leveson Inquiry this morning, Colin Port said to behave in a collusive manner was “abhorrent”.
“We don’t give off the record briefings,” Port said, stressing it was “not normal practice”. His colleague, Detective Chief Inspector Philip Jones, who was the sneior investigating officer in the Yeates inquiry, also testified that there were no off the record briefings on Jefferies. “If there were, they were unauthorised,” Jones said.
In his second witness statement to the Inquiry in January, Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace claimed he had been informed off the record that “the police were saying that they were confident Mr Jefferies was their man.”
Port said Wallace’s claim was “absolutely outrageous”.
Jefferies, a retired English teacher, successfully sued eight newspapers for libel last year, with the Mirror being charged £50,000 for contempt of court. Dutch national Vincent Tabak was later convicted of Yeates’s murder.
Wallace called the episode a “black mark” on his editing record and expressed “sincere regret” to Jefferies and his friends and family.
Port said the force did not name Jefferies either on or off the record. He said there had been an “inadvertent” leak, but stressed this was a “genuine error”. He noted that leaks in the force were rare, and if they did occur, it would be due to “malice, spite or money.”
Also testifying this morning was Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby of Surrey Police. He described the press interest around the abduction and subsequent murder of teenager Milly Dowler in 2002 as “unprecedented” and “immense”, with some senior officers involved deeming elements of the media “extremely demanding, and in some respects, mischievous”.
He said the force’s Media Relations Team was “unprepared” for such heavy press attention and that there were not enough resources to deal with the “overwhelming” interest in the case.
He added that the senior investigating officer in the Dowler case initially declined offers from the News of the World and the Sun for rewards relating to information of Milly’s whereabouts, “fearing that it would generate large numbers of spurious calls that would distract from the core police investigation.” Yet the officer eventually felt that he “had little choice but to cooperate with them”, after the papers indicated they would offer a reward with or without Surrey Police’s cooperation.
“Rewards can be really useful in investigations in generating interest. In this case I’m not sure that a reward was necessary,” Kirkby added later.
Kirkby told the Inquiry he was conducting an internal investigation into the information obtained by the News of the World in 2002 regarding the hacking of Dowler’s voicemail. The findings, due to be completed by May, will be made public and submitted to the Inquiry.
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Former police officer and TV presenter Jacqui Hames, who was put under surveillance in 2002 by the News of the World, gave an emotional account to the Leveson Inquiry today, describing the “great anxiety” caused by the intrusion.
The former police officer, who joined Crimewatch in 1990, explained she could not think of any reason why the News of the World would put her and her then husband under investigation, but suspected that real reason for the surveillance was her police officer husband’s involvement in the investigation of the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan. Hames suggested that the News of the World wanted to derail the case.
Hames tearfully explained how information obtained by Glenn Mulcaire could only have been gathered from her personnel file, suggesting she had been “sold down the line” by someone in the police force. Upon seeing the information in Mulcaire’s notebooks including her payroll and warrant numbers, along with previous police accommodation, Hames recalled being “shocked” and “angry”.
She began saying: “As a police officer you learn to compartmentalise, you put your private and public life into two different places.” Lord Justice Leveson encouraged her to stop as she became visibly upset, commenting “the cause of this inquiry is not to aggravate the distress caused.”
She added: “I think sometimes it’s easier to dismiss certain people because they should be able to put up with it, but I don’t believe anyone should have to put up with it and that’s why I came here today and stuck my head above the parapet.”
As a former police officer and with her presenting role on BBC TV programme Crimewatch, Hames felt she had been able to “see the media from the inside”, allowing her to undertake her current role as a media trainer for detectives. In her statement to the inquiry, she suggested enhanced media training for police officers at all levels of the force.
Hames advised the court that it was possible for police officers to have a relationship with journalists, while retaining professional integrity. She added “there’s no reason not to if you are open and honest.”
Liberal Democrat MP and phone-hacking victim Simon Hughes described an “unforgivable” failure by police to investigate the extent of phone hacking during his evidence.
Appearing before the hearing, Hughes told the court it was clear from 2006 that staff at the highest level knew the full extent of News of the World payments to Glennn Mulcaire, and described the lack of investigation from police regarding this as a “completely unacceptable failure”.
Hughes described being “frustrated even now” that action wasn’t taken in 2006. He said: “If there had been robust action in 2006 a lot of the illegal action might have been shut down and a lot of the people who are now known to be victims might not be victims or might not have suffered as much.”
During the prosecution of Glenn Mulcaire, Hughes was not told by the police the private investigator had obtained his phone number and secret office “hotline”, information the MP had tried to keep under wraps, following his involvement as a witness in a murder case.
In 2011, during a meeting with officers from Operation Weeting, Hughes said he was shown pages from Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, along with other evidence, including transcripts of telephone calls, his home address and phone numbers. In the notebooks, there were three names of News of the World employees.
“The police showed me the pages [from Mulcaire’s notebooks], they asked me to identify what I could. They indicated there may be in this book some names of other people with whom Mr Mulcaire was working … They opened the issue without leading me to the answer.”
Hughes also explained that during the 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership campaign, his office was contacted by a journalist from The Sun regarding a “private matter”. In a meeting with the journalist, Hughes was advised that the newspaper had acquired records of telephone calls made by the MP, relating to his sexuality. Following an interview with the tabloid, The Sun ran the article “outing” Hughes.
Previous to the media speculation around his sexuality, Hughes described being “odds on favourite” to win the leadership vote, and described a “direct impact between that revelation, press coverage and my political reputation.”
Hughes described complaining to his mobile phone provider of “a systemic failure” with regards to his voicemail, after messages he knew had been left were unavailable, and after occasions when his voicemails were completely inaccessible.
The MP also discussed the “unhealthy relationship” between the press and politicians: “I understood how influential tabloids became, saw the desperate effort of party leaders to gain favour with media. I regarded it increasingly unhealthy.”
Hughes added that he believed scrutiny of politicians in the media is important: “Of course we have to engage with the media, and we should be subject to their scrutiny. I’m not asking for a less robust press and less active engagement, but there shouldn’t be people going in through the back door of Downing Street. We need to have a system which is transparent, and open and we know the score.”
Guardian journalist Nick Davies returned to the hearing to give a lively testimony for the second module of the inquiry.
Davies explained that often official police sources prefer quotes to remain unattributed, his definition of “off the record”. He said: “90 per cent of the work I do is off the record. Certainly that includes officially authorised interviews with police officers. It really isn’t sinister. I think the immediate fear that a police officer has when they sit down with a journalist is that they will be misquoted. Off the record eliminates that.”
The journalist described the risks of closing down all communication between journalists and police, comparing it to saying “I got food poisoning last night, I am never going to eat again,” but stressed the importance of “getting to the bottom of what went wrong with official flow of information” relating to phone hacking, describing it as “catastrophic.”
He added: “it isn’t that official sources are inherently good or that unofficial sources are inherently bad. Don’t identify unidentified sources as the cause of the problem. It would be a mistake to say off the record is the source of the problem, it’s not sinister, it helps people to tell the truth.”
Branding the self regulation and media law in this country as “useless”, Davies suggested taking the Freedom of Information act as a theoretical model: “all info should be disclosed unless it is covered by the following exemptions. I’d like to see the same model for the police. Why not be open? It helps avoid abuse.”
Davies added that it was not an ethical worry for a police commissioner to meet with newspaper editors to talk about policy, or specific cases, but that it became an issue if “we now discover it was an active ingredient in the subsequent failure to investigate News of the World.”
Chris Jefferies also appeared before the hearing for a second time. Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in 2010, described a pique in media interest following his second statement to the police in December of that year.
He said: “until then I had not been the subject of any particular media attention but that suddenly changed. A Sky news team were extremely anxious to talk to me, a large number of reporters and photographer’s appeared at the address where I lived. They had somehow got to hear about that second statement, and they were extremely anxious to hear if I believed I had seen Jo Yeates leaving the property on the 17th December with one or other people.”
He added: “There was feverish interest in talking to me and fact it happened day before arrest was remarkable to me.”
In a very measured response, Jefferies added that reports that police had said he was “their man”, was “not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the police might want to give the impression of considerable confidence, that a considerable step forward had been taken in the investigation.”
Jefferies suggested that it should be a “far more serious offence” for police who disclose inappropriate information to the press.
In his witness statement, Jefferies said: “It is my very firm view that it must be considered a far more serious offence than it currently is for police to disclose inappropriate information to members of the press and that to do so should be an imprisonable offence, subject to a public interest defence.”
Ryan Parry, the Daily Mirror journalist whose byline appeared on the libellous coverage of wrongly arrested Bristol landlord Chris Jefferies said the episode was a “watershed moment” for the British media.
“All we can do is learn from this and improve for the future,” Parry told the Leveson Inquiry. The Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 and The Sun £18,000 respectively for contempt of court over its coverage of Jefferies. It was revealed today that the Sun has withdrawn its Supreme Court appeal against the contempt ruling, while the Mirror’s appeal is ongoing.
Parry said he was pleased with how he had conducted himself on the coverage of Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in December 2010.
“If he came across…as an eccentric, it’s because the evidence suggested he was,” Parry said of the correspondence he had had with Jefferies’ former students. One story carried the headline “Nutty Professor”, while in others Jefferies was referred to an “oddball”.
Gary O’Shea, a journalist at the Sun who had also covered the case, told the Inquiry that their coverage should have been more “neutral and dispassionate”, and said that the paper’s libel settlement with Jefferies was an acceptance of this.
“We don’t often go wrong, we don’t often make mistakes, and when we do they’re honest mistakes,” O’Shea said. The paper’s publishing director, Stephen Waring, also took responsibility for a headline in a story about Jefferies titled “Obsessed by death”, and apologised to the former teacher.
Earlier in the day, the Inquiry heard from a selection of women’s groups who discussed the sexualisation of women in media. Anna Van Heeswijk, of pressure group Object, said the redtops’ page 3 feature existed “for the sole purpose” of women being sex objects.
Van Heeswijk added that violence is often trivialised and eroticised in the papers, and pushed for “consistent” regulation of print media, arguing that the press should abide by the taste and decency watershed that determines what can be broadcast on television before 9pm.
Heather Harvey of Eaves Housing for Women told the Inquiry that media coverage of women and the sexist abuse they may encounter online “actually curtails and limits” women’s freedom of expression and their ability to engage in public debate.
Overhyped headlines and inaccurate stories were also slammed today. Inayat Bunglawala of Muslim group Engage accused the Daily Express and the Daily Star of being “the most egregious offenders” in relation to Britain’s Muslim community. He and Robert Jay QC read through a series of headlines from the two redtops — one from the Express read “Christmas is banned, it offends Muslims” — which Bunglawala said were aimed at increasing hatred and prejudice against Muslims.
Bunglawala noted that he got a one-paragraph clarification after complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about a story in the Star that claimed remembrance poppies were banned in Muslim areas. He added that it was a “very odd situation” that the Express and the Star are not members of the PCC.
Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre praised Britain’s “excellent” science journalists but blamed sub-editors for writing inaccurate headlines. She cited a report in the Independent today headlined “Once they were blind, now they see. Patients cured by stem cell ‘miracle'”, which describes how two blind people have shown signs of being able to see again.
“Within science extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but in the newsroom it’s the exact opposite,” Fox said, lamenting media reports of preliminary findings. “It would solve a lot of problems if journalists just didn’t over-claim for these stories.”
The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from journalists Roy Greenslade and David Allen Green, RMT union leader Bob Crow and further testimony from investigative journalist Mazher Mahmood.
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The editor of the Daily Mirror told the Leveson Inquiry he believes there is a “willingness” for online news providers to sign up to a regulatory framework.
Richard Wallace, who has edited the paper since 2004, said that “legitimate” online news providers would want to join a new regulatory body because “it gives them a lot of cachet”.
He said that “responsible” online news sources would be more successful. “The out and out cowboys, I don’t see in the long term they can survive,” he said, adding that “people want information that is competent and true.”
Asked about press tycoon Richard Desmond’s view that having current editors serve on the Press Complaints Commission creates rivalry, Wallace said that serving editors should play only an “advisory role” in a new body. He suggested former editors and ex-lawyers should serve, enabling the new body to call editors to account.
Discussing the relationship between the press and the political sphere in the UK, Wallace said that he did not believe the media were too close to politicians, but said News International had “particular influence”.
“The reason Rupert Murdoch has so much power is because we choose to give it to him,” he said, arguing that “politicians should have shown a lot more backbone”.
“They’re there to look after the welfare of the people, not the welfare of a media organisation,” he said.
He was also quizzed over the Mirror’s inaccurate stories about Chris Jefferies, the former teacher wrongly arrested in late 2010 on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates. Wallace told the Inquiry that off-the-record briefings from Avon & Somerset police, who said they were “confident” that Jefferies was “the right man”, “coloured” his judgement.
He called the episode a “black mark” on his editing record and expressed “sincere regret” to Jefferies and his friends and family. “Jefferies’ name will for ever more be printed on my mind,” he said.
The Daily Mirror was fined £50,000 for contempt of court over its coverage of the former teacher.
Meanwhile, on phone hacking, Wallace said he did not believe the practice had occurred, but added it “might well have been” hidden from him.
He added that he had never heard the Paul McCartney voicemail message to Heather Mills that former Mirror editor Piers Morgan told the Inquiry he himself had listened to.
Discussing the departure of his predecessor, Wallace said Morgan was dismissed over the publication of a series of hoax Iraqi prisoner abuse pictures. “It was a catastrophic error of judgement and he paid the price,” Wallace said.
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