Express Editor claims PCC 'should have intervened' in McCann coverage

The editor of the Daily Express has suggested to the Leveson Inquiry today that one of the reasons for the paper opting out of the Press Complaints Commission was because it failed to stop the tabloid publishing defamatory articles about the McCanns.

Hugh Whittow said: “Because of the McCanns I think that was a huge problem for us and I think they should have intervened.” He added that “no one was intervening at all, and the coverage “just went on and on”.

Kate and Gerry McCann accepted £550,000 in damages and an apology from Express Newspapers in March 2008 for what the publisher admitted were “entirely untrue” and “defamatory” articles.

Whittow told Lord Justice Leveson: “I don’t blame the PCC. I just think in hindsight they might have been able to intervene and perhaps this will reflect in the body that you set up.”

Whittow was deputy editor at the time of the paper’s libellous coverage of the parents of the missing toddler, and said was not party to the decision to withdraw from the PCC.

Daily Star editor Dawn Neesom also testified to the Inquiry this morning. As counsel Robert Jay QC took her through a series of front-page stories from the paper, Neesom admitted headlines can at times “go too far”, with one story headlined “Terror as plane hits ash cloud” resulting in copies of the paper being removed from airport newsagents’ shelves over fears they could cause panic among travellers.

Earlier in the day Express Newspapers’ legal chief, Nicole Patterson, revealed to the Inquiry that the company was using private investigator Steve Whittamore in 2010, five years after he had been convicted for illegally trading information.

Going through a list of invoices from Whittamore’s company, JJ Services, Jay revealed that the earliest date of payments to the firm was 31 January 2005, and that Whittamore was still carrying out services for Express Newspapers in 2010.

Patterson said was not sure if Whittamore was still being used by the company’s papers. Jay called this surprising, given the “cloud hanging over” the private investigator.

Patterson added that the company carried out an internal investigation into phone hacking and other unlawful news gathering methods at its tabloids going back to 2000. She said there was no evidence to suggest phone hacking “or anything of that nature” had occurred.

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Brooks and Coulson "scum of journalism", Leveson Inquiry told

The former deputy features editor of the News of the World told the Leveson Inquiry today the paper’s editors knew that phone hacking was taking place.

In his explosive testimony, Paul McMullan accused former News of the World editor Andy Coulson of having “brought the practice wholesale” to the paper. He added that ex-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was well aware of hacking, saying “we did all these things [hacking phones] for our editors.”

He went on to call the pair “scum” for denying any knowledge of the practice and “trying to drop me and my colleagues in it”.

In his two-hour account, McMullan said phone hacking was a “perfectly acceptable tool…if all we’re trying to do is get to the truth.” He went on to say the hacking of abducted schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was “not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do”, adding that the reporters involved were “doing their best” to find her.

McMullan admitted he had attempted to hack the phone of footballer David Beckham, but failed once Beckham answered the call. He also said he had swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother’s number for Beckham’s with a fellow reporter.

McMullan painted a vivid picture of life at the now-defunct News of the World. He described giving chase to celebrities as “such good fun”, adding that he would be told by the features desk to “take a fast car and see what you can get.” He recalled one of Princess Diana’s security guards offering to tell the paper when she was landing at Helsinki airport in exchange for £30,000. In another instance he recounted, former editor Piers Morgan congratulated him for stealing photos of a former lover of John Major. He earlier quoted Morgan as saying, “I don’t care what it costs, I just want to get the defining stories of the week”.

McMullan repeatedly defended his trade, saying he “used any means necessary” to “catch people who rule over us.” He recounted pretending to be “Brad the rent boy” to get a photo of a priest spanking a young man. “I was either a drug user, a drug dealer or a millionaire from Cambridge,” he added.

When asked about his views on privacy, McMullan was blunt: “Privacy is evil…[it] is the space bad people need to do bad things in.” He added, “Privacy is for paedos” and claimed that “in 21 years of invading people’s privacy, I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good.”

He added that public interest was defined by circulation. “I don’t see it’s our job to force the public to choose, ‘you must read this and you can’t read that’,” he said.

Also speaking today was The Guardian’s Nick Davies, who uncovered the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World this year.

He told the Inquiry that Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator hired by the paper, had only “facilitated” the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone in 2002, and that it was reporters at the paper who listened to and deleted her voicemails.

Davies said Mulcaire was “a brilliant blagger, so he could gather information [and] data from the mobile phone company.”

Earlier this month Mulcaire denied deleting Dowler’s messages.

Davies also said the journalism industry was not “interested in or capable of” self-regulation, citing the Press Complaints Commission’s failure to properly investigate the extent of phone hacking in 2009. He said that the PCC did not take into account getting remedy for victims of the press, adding that apologies should be published as prominently as the stories that had contained incorrect or damaging information.

He cited libel as the “worst burden” facing journalism, advocating a system of arbitration so libel cases could be dealt with outside the courts.

He spoke in favour of an advisory body to guide reporters on whether they were operating in the public interest, noting how it was often difficult to know what the public interest boundaries were.

Former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt was also in the witness box, describing the atmosphere of the tabloid press as one of “you toe the line or you get punished.” He added that the paper was ideologically driven, and that a reporter’s job was “simply to write the story how they [the paper] want it written”.

When asking editors if he should meet an anonymous caller who phoned the paper and made sensational claims about the death of actor Matt Lucas’ husband, Peppiatt said he was told to “just write it up.”  He added that he invented a story about model and actress Kelly Brook seeing a hypnotist. He said the news editor had offered £150 to the first person to come up with a page 3 story at 6pm on a Sunday.

Reading out a stream of fabricated headlines and recounting a trip to Scotland to stage a mock proposal to Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle, Peppiatt said at the forefront of tabloids’ minds was questioning how far to push boundaries. He added that much of the Star’s content was based on stories taken from the Daily Mail, and that if a reporter found a Mail story was based on poor evidence, “you would be kicked back to your seat fairly robustly”.

Peppiatt labelled the redtops’ practice as “free speech Darwinism…[they] will shut up voices contrary to theirs.” He noted how one freelance reporter at the Star expressed unhappiness over the tone of the paper’s coverage, and was then given “every anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant” story for the next fortnight.

He added that he was “sick” of editors “stepping forward saying ‘moral considerations are at the forefront of our minds’,” saying it was “certainly not true.”

However, he highlighted the economic pressures facing newspapers, citing financial reasons behind why he stayed at the Star. “There are so few jobs for journalists in current climate,” he said, “I couldn’t afford not to be working.”

Peppiatt, who resigned from the tabloid in March 2011 after two years at the paper, also said he had received threats after his departure, including a message that said “you’re a marked man until you die”. He said he was the victim of a “campaign of harassment”, and told the Inquiry he was taking legal action against an unnamed person in the tabloid world who he says threatened him for speaking out.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from former Number 10 director of communications Alastair Campbell, and Alec Owens, an ex-policeman who worked on the Information Commissioner’s Operation Motorman inquiry.

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