As the first module of the Leveson Inquiry drew to a close yesterday, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre refused to retract a statement accusing actor Hugh Grant of “mendacious smears” against his company unless Grant agreed to take back the “toxic and explosive” statements made about the Mail.
In a heated debate Dacre and David Sherborne, counsel for the core participant victims, discussed answerphone messages left for Grant from a “plummy-voiced woman,” described in a 2007 Mail on Sunday article. In his evidence to the Inquiry in November, Grant suggested that the information for the story, which suggested his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks, could only have been accessed by phone hacking.
Dacre, who was recalled to give evidence on the issue for a second time this week, said: “Our group did not hack phones and I rather resent your continued insinuations that we did,” adding that he had given the Inquiry his “unequivocal word” on the matter earlier in the week.
Dacre accused Sherborne of “attacking my group rather unpleasantly”. Referring to Grant as the “poster boy for Hacked Off,” Dacre went on to add that the actor “is obsessed by trying to drag the Daily Mail into another newspaper’s scandal.”
Lord Justice Leveson Leveson suggested that the editor may need to appear before the Inquiry again at a later date. Dacre replied: ” I have shown this week I am prepared to devote a lot of time to this.”
Heather Mills, who also appeared before the Inquiry yesterday, said she had “never” played voicemail recordings to former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan. In his evidence to the Inquiry last December, Morgan claimed he had heard voicemail tapes, in which Mills’ then partner Sir Paul McCartney sang an apology and asked for forgiveness, that had been obtained legitimately, but he refused to “compromise” his source.
Mills added: “I couldn’t quite believe that he would even try to insinuate [that], a man that has written nothing but awful things about me for years, would relish in telling the court if I had played a voicemail message to him.”
The court also heard how Mills had recorded over 64 hours of footage of alleged harassment from journalists, including evidence, shown to the court of a car chase involving paparazzi which resulted in a crash.
Thursday’s session also focused on bullying within the journalism industry, hearing a number of anonymous testimonies from reporters. Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) presented 12 written accounts to the court, detailing “tremendous pressure,” “macho culture” and other “degrading” treatment.
One testimony described a journalist being forced to write “anti-Islam stories”, and being called the “token lefty” when they complained. The journalist described being “in tears” at the treatment, but explained that it continued.
Another said: “three or four staff suffered physical collapses, almost certainly to some extent as a result of the stress.”
Former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson also described a “culture of bullying” at the newspaper, explaining that “you will do what you are told”. Edmondson said that everything was dictated by the editor and explained editor Colin Myler, who replaced Andy Coulson following his resignation in 2007, continued the newsroom bullying.
Edmondson also denied drafting emails sent by Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter of the News of the World, to women involved in an orgy with ex-motorsports boss Max Mosley in 2008, though he added it was “more likely that I would have asked” Thurlbeck to contact them.
Edmondson told the Inquiry he believed the emails to be a “threat”, chiming with the inference of Mr Justice Eady that the messages amounted to blackmail, as suggested in the judgment following Mosley’s successful privacy action against the News of the World in the same year.
He was also quizzed about extracts of Kate McCann’s diary that appeared in the paper in 2008, contradicting claims made by Myler that Edmondson had sought permission to publish from the McCanns’ spokesman, Clarence Mitchell. Asked if he had led editor Myler to believe he had “made it clear” to Mitchell that the paper had the whole diary and planned to publish parts, Edmondson replied: “No.”
Appearing via video link, Darryn Lyons of photo agency Big Pictures, explained that his photographers tried to stay in line with the PCC code, but added that photographers, picture agencies, and publishers no longer know where they stood in the industry.
“Celebrities court publicity when they want to, and all of a sudden they want to switch it off. I don’t agree people should be hounded up and down the street. I do agree people should be photographed in public places, we have a free press and a free press should be able to work in public places,” he said.
When asked about the legal case against his group brought by actress Sienna Miller regarding photographs taken of her on holiday, Lyons said that paparazzi had been taking pictures of people on holiday since “Brigitte Bardot was seen sunning herself on the beaches of St Tropez”.
PR veteran Max Clifford told the Inquiry that he had agreed his own hacking settlement with former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks over a “quiet lunch in Mayfair.” Clifford agreed to £220,000 a year for three years plus legal costs, and to provide the newspaper with tip-offs.
Clifford said he believed the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World and the Leveson Inquiry had “frightened people”. He added that he was aware of “several stories that would have dominated the headlines,” over recent months that had not been published.
The Inquiry will resume with module two, examining the relationship between the press and the police, on 28 February.
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