Paul Staines accuses Sunday Mirror editor of authorising hacking

Political blogger Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes took the stand at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, and made numerous allegations relating to phone hacking. Appearing before the court, Staines, who is well known for his website’s “tittle tattle, gossip and rumour”, accused politicians, journalists and editors alike.

Staines told the court that two journalists had confirmed to him that Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver had authorised phone hacking and blagging, and went on to accuse Telegraph journalist Gordon Rayner of using private investigator Steve Whittamore. The blogger said that the journalist’s name appeared 335 times in  Operation Motorman files, and 185 of those appearances were in relation to alleged illegal transactions.

The allegations continued, as Staines described selling a series of photographs to the News of the World of Chris Myers, special advisor to Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a gay bar, following his publication of a story on Hague sharing a hotel room with Myers. Staines said the pictures, which were sold for £20,000 but were never published, were bought to take them off the market.

Describing “lobby terms”, a term applied to off the record information divulged to journalists by politicians, Staines said that it went “beyond off the record” and often resulted in “journalists complicit in politicians’ lying.” Staines added: “Journalists shouldn’t accept anonymous briefings, because most of the time it is used to besmirch other politicians, without them getting their fingerprints on it”

With regards to the attacks from the press on people such as Chris Jefferies and Kate and Jerry McCann, the blogger said:

“I think ultimately, the McCanns and Chris Jefferies have been able to get reparations through the courts. Stopping these abuses from happening means you’ll lose the freedom of the press.”

Staines added: “Phone hacking is against the law and criminal sanctions are available to deal with that. We don’t need press reform to deal with that.”

In reference to his Irish citizenship, the blogger also said: “What I think you’re missing is that I’m a citizen of a free republic and, since 1922, I don’t have to pay attention to what a British judge orders me to do.”

Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust and Will Moy from Full Fact also appeared before the court.

In a lively and entertaining submission, the pair, who gave their evidence together, discussed PCC data and gave their suggestions for regulation of the press.

Moore explained that most often problems with dealing with complaints do not stem from the PCC, but from news organisations dragging their feet: “through all my experience the PCC secretariat have been very helpful and done the best they can. In many cases the problem is with the  newspaper outlet, not the PCC.”

Moy suggested that regulation was necessary to “counteract market failures” and added that publishing accurately was “a matter of basic civic responsibility.”

Moy added:  “If a newspaper has been told that there is a serious problem with a headline, if a complainant goes away, it doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away. A regulator would pursue the problem, a complaints handler pursues the complaint.”

Helen Belcher, who appeared on behalf of TransMediaWatch described the issues surrounding media coverage of trans people to the court.

“Most trans people now, when they’re the subject of an article they deem worthy of a complaint, don’t bother, becausd the PCC has received a number of complaints and it appears that nothing ever changes as a result of those complaints.”

She explained that the use of the single word “tran” caused great distress to a number of trans people: “The word ‘tran’ dehumanises an individual. Trans people are not solely trans, they have other interests they do other things. They have different categories, and to constantly reduce trans people to one category dehumanises them.”

Belcher described the routine misgendering of trans people within the media, and the use of intrusive “before and after” photographs which are “incredibly offensive” to the subjects. She said: “It’s routine. It happens today in the press, despite the editors’ protestations that everything is sorted out.”

Editor in Chief of online newspaper Huffington Post, Carla Buzasi explained the importance of consulting digital media on the Leveson inquiry, describing it as “the future of the media in this country.”

The editor suggested that some news organisations were not interested in being a part of the PCC because they did not “hold it in high regard,” and suggested that a future regulator would need to be sufficiently respected that it would be “foolish” not to be a part of it.

Buzasi said that no phone hacking, blagging or subterfuge took place at the Huffington Post.

Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions also appeared, and advised that a policy specifically for journalists, on what a prosecution will consider when investigating a journalist in doing their work as a journalist will make things clearer. Starmer advised that an interim policy would be drawn up in a matter of weeks.

Pam Surphlis of Support after Murder and Manslaughter in Northern Ireland (SAMM NI) gave evidence to the court via video link.

Surphlis explained that SAMM NI was set up after she read “salacious gossip” about the death of her father. The group went on to conduct a study into  the relationship between journalists and the victims’ families; and effects of press coverage on the victims’ families. The study found that journalists were “intrusive and insensitive in their approach.”

She added that the PCC code relating to dealing with deaths is not “user-friendly.”

Surphlis said she was grateful to the inquiry for enabling SAMM NI to have a voice that someone is prepared to listen to.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson


Blogger Guido Fawkes summoned to Leveson Inquiry

Political blogger Paul Staines, better known as Guido Fawkes, was today summoned to the Leveson Inquiry to explain how he gained access to Alastair Campbell’s witness statement three days before Campbell was due to appear in the Inquiry witness box.

Staines posted a draft of the former Number 10 communications director’s written evidence on his website yesterday, claiming he obtained it legally. The document was still available on the site today. [Update: the statement was removed at 9:30pm tonight.]

Staines is due to appear at the Inquiry on Thursday afternoon.

Lord Justice Leveson warned this morning that anyone leaking or publishing future witness statements could face high court action under a breach of section 19 of the Inquiries Act, which restricts the publication or disclosure of any testimony prior to it being made orally, outside the confidentiality circle of Leveson, his assessors, the Inquiry team and core participants.

Leveson added that he did not want to give Staines “the oxygen of additional publicity”, and so withdrew his plan of posting Campbell’s statement on the Inquiry website today, deciding to delay publication until Wednesday — the originally intended time. Associated Newspapers’ counsel, Jonathan Caplan QC, argued in favour of delaying publication, saying that relevant parties should be given time to make submissions on the Campbell evidence before it is made public. Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Inquiry, said that the version on Staines’ website was “quite an early draft.”

As with last week’s evidence, today also saw further exposure of the worst excesses of the tabloid press. Chris Jefferies, the former teacher wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates last year, described how the media “shamefully vilified” him with coverage that was “intended to appeal in every possible way to people’s voyeuristic instincts”.

He and Jay ran through a series of headlines, largely from the Sun and the Mirror. One read “Murder police quiz nutty professor”, another “Was killer waiting in Jo’s flat?” A slew of articles labelled him a “creepy oddball”, “lewd”, a “peeping Tom” who had an obsession with death and was associated with a convicted paedophile. “The press were trying to have it every possible way,” he said.

While in custody, Jefferies was unaware of the coverage. He said lawyers and friends advised him against reading it or to go out and visit friends for fear of being “besieged” by the press. ” I felt like some recusant priest at time of reformation,” he said, “going from safe house to safe house.”

The stories were untrue, and Jefferies successfully sued eight papers in total for libel earlier this year, with the Sun being fined £18,000 and the Daily Mirror £50,000 respectively for contempt of court.

Jefferies said he would “never be able to recover” from the events of the past twelve months, and that “there will always be people…who retain the impression that I’m some sort of very weird character who is best avoided.”

Broadcaster Anne Diamond and singer Charlotte Church also gave evidence. Diamond claimed she had been targeted by Rupert Murdoch after telling him his newspapers “seem intent on ruining people’s lives.” She described a phone call she received from a News of the World reporter after a visit to a Harley Street clinic. “He said, ‘we know you’re pregnant, confirm or deny’,” Diamond said. Out of fear of miscarrying, Diamond denied she was pregnant, but said the paper called her a “liar” when her pregnancy was eventually revealed. She added that a Sun reporter posed as a doctor in the hospital where she gave birth.

She described the death of her son from cot death when he was four months old, and how, within an hour, a scrum of photographers were outside her home. Diamond added that she and her husband had “begged” Fleet Street editors to stay away from the funeral, but the couple were long-lensed by a photographer there. A photo of them carrying their son’s coffin then on the front pages of the Sun. Diamond revealed that the paper had told her and her husband they had the photo and would print it with or without the couple’s permission; claiming their image would be tarnished if they refused to co-operate with the tabloid’s cot death campaign.

When asked by the Inquiry counsel why she credited the paper with raising funds for a cot death campaign in an article earlier this year, Diamond said: “the Sun was a very large circulation tabloid paper, and we were able to use it as a force for good.”

She also upheld regulation of broadcasting as proof that solid, investigative journalism can thrive. “I wish we could achieve same in the press,” she said.

Church, meanwhile, recalled having to “suffer the indignity” photographers trying to take photos up her skirt and down her top; she described a News of the World story reporting her father’s affair as “horrific”; revealed that the paper printed details of where she lived despite having previously published a threat of plots to kidnap her.

The Sun revealed she was pregnant before her family knew, Church told the Inquiry. She said she suspected a voicemail from her doctor had been hacked by the paper. “Only my doctor and partner knew,” she said.

Church also claimed that, aged 13, she was offered either “good press” or £100,000 to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding to Wendi Deng. While Church and her mother were keen on the payment, the singer’s management advised she waive the fee. Church was told Murdoch was “a very, very powerful man and [I] could certainly do with a favour of this magnitude.”

News Corporation, meanwhile, has denied the allegations and said that Church’s performance was a surprise to Murdoch.

The finger was also pointed at the police today, with former army intelligence officer Ian Hurst accusing the Metropolitan police of “corruption” and had covered up journalistic misdeeds.

Hurst was informed by BBC’s Panorama programme this year that his computer had been hacked by the News of the World, and was shown transcripts of his own emails that were sent to the Dublin office of paper in July 2006. Hurst was told that the paper hired a private detective who employed a “specialist hacker”, known as Mr X, to access his computer. Hurst revealed that, through sending a bogus email in 2006, Mr X had infected the Hurst family’s computer with a Trojan programme that could allow him to access Hurst’s messages and other documents.

Mr Hurst added that documents seized in 2007 by the police showed the security on his computer had been compromised and information had been obtained. However, he added, the authorities chose not to act. Hurst was only told by the Metropolitan police about the hacking this year. The Metropolitan police, he said, had “let society down”.

Jane Winter, director of human rights organisation British Irish Rights Watch, also told the Inquiry today that Hurst had told her earlier this year that “confidential” and sensitive” emails between them had been accessed illegally.

The hearing continues tomorrow, with evidence from Guardian journalist Nick Davies, former News of the World reporter Paul McMullen, and ex-tabloid reporter Richard Peppiatt.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.

Guido's advice to the Chinese Communist Party's propagandists

This is a cross post from Guido Fawkes

It is not often that Guido is invited to speak to an audience of Communists, so the invitation to speak to twenty or so visiting Chinese Communist Party propagandists and Information Ministry officials was hard to resist. The audience at the seminar included security officials, it would be fair to say that this was not a home crowd. Almost as bad as a Goldsmith’s Media Studies audience, but not as left-wing. (more…)