Leveson denies "hidden agenda"

Lord Justice Leveson has stressed there is no “hidden agenda” to his Inquiry into press standards.

In opening remarks to this morning’s session — which were posted on the Inquiry website — Leveson said he understood “only too well” journalists’ anxieties over the “dangers of a knee-jerk response” to the phone-hacking scandal that erupted last summer, but added that “no recommendations have been formulated or written; no conclusions have yet been reached.”

Leveson was making his first public response to a Mail on Sunday story on 17 June that alleged the judge had threatened to quit over comments education secretary Michael Gove had made to Parliament in February, in which he suggested a “chilling effect” was emanating from the Inquiry.

Leveson said he did contact cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood following Gove’s comments to clarify whether the government still supported the Inquiry.

“I wanted to find out whether Mr Gove was speaking for the government, whether it was thought that the very existence of the Inquiry was having a chilling effect on healthy, vibrant journalism and whether the government had effectively reached a settled view on any potential recommendations,” Leveson said. “Put shortly, I was concerned about the perception that the Inquiry was being undermined while it was taking place.”

The judge said it was “absolutely correct” for the press to hold the Inquiry and himself to account, but added it was “at least arguable that what has happened is an example of an approach which seeks to convert any attempt to question the conduct of the press as an attack on free speech.”

Simon Walters, the article’s co-author, appeared at the Inquiry this afternoon. He was not quizzed over the story, having been called to give evidence before it was printed.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow.

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negative Daily Mail police coverage reaction to Damian Green arrest, says senior policeman

A former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police has told the Leveson Inquiry he felt critical coverage of him in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday was a reaction to his arrest of a Tory MP in a leaks probe.

Bob Quick told the Inquiry that both papers had been critical of his investigation, in which former shadow immigration spokesman Damian Green was arrested, having received leaks from a civil servant. Neither Green nor the civil servant were charged, with the Crown Prosecution Service saying there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a case against them.

Quick said that some of the subsequent media coverage was “a surprise”. He noted that the then acting commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asked him to drop the investigation, and former assistant commissioner John Yates had also told him the inquiry was “doomed”.

“I didn’t feel I had huge support from my colleagues,” Quick admitted, noting that coverage from the Mail on Sunday had affected his family’s safety and that he moved his children out as a result.

Describing events leading to the December 2008 story, Quick said the Mail on Sunday had asked him about his wife’s wedding chauffeur service, questioning if he or other police officers in uniform drove the cars. Scotland Yard’s press office later told Quick that the Sunday paper would run the piece as a front-page story. The paper never did, conceding there was no truth to the article, but instead published a piece titled “Security scare over wedding car hire firm run from top terror police chief’s home”.

Earlier in his lengthy testimony, Quick added that in 2000, while he was working with Scotland Yard’s anti-corruption command, he became suspicious about the relationship between journalists and officers suspected of corruption, following a covert operation that revealed corrupt payments to police officers for information. He told the Inquiry that when he recommended an investigation in a report to his then boss Andy Hayman, Hayman said it was “too risky”.

Quick also noted that, on two occasions when he was invited to drinks at a wine bar near Scotland Yard, he saw Yates, Stephenson and the Met’s ex-public affairs chief Dick Fedorcio having drinks with former News of the World crime reporter Lucy Panton and the Sun’s Mike Sullivan. He noted his surprise at seeing the Daily Mail’s Stephen Wright in social engagements with Yates, despite having been critical of the Met.

Such socialising, Quick said, had the “perception of looking inappropriate”, adding that he felt there was a “risky interface between the police and journalists who are in a fiercely commercial environment seeking scoops, exclusives and stories”.

Also in the witness box today was the Met’s ex-deputy commissioner, Tim Godwin, who also expressed concerns that socialising with journalists would create a “perception” issue.

Godwin revealed there was “one style” of conduct with the press favoured by the management board, and there was his own, in which he felt uncomfortable socialising with the press. Lord Justice Leveson pressed him on the matter, questioning him on the possibility of his senior colleagues having a separate “set of values”, to which Godwin responded that it was more a difference of style than a difference of values.

The Inquiry continues on Monday.

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

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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Mail on Sunday editor details private investigator use

The editor on the Mail on Sunday today conceded that the paper used private investigator Steve Whittamore after he had been charged with illegally trading information.

Peter Wright, who has edited the paper since 1979, told the Leveson Inquiry that Whittamore was used in a “small number of cases” after he was charged in February 2004.

In the same month, Wright said he instructed staff not to use Whittamore “unless there was an extremely good reason and all other means had been exhausted”.

Wright said the Mail’s use of Whittamore “virtually stopped altogether” in September 2004. Whittamore was given a conditional discharge in 2005.

During a lengthy exchange with Robert Jay QC and Lord Justice Leveson, Wright said he discovered in August 2011 that Whittamore provided information illicitly to some reporters. “I was uncomfortable that it appeared he might be using methods of which we would not approve, without the knowledge of those who were commissioning him,” he said.

Operation Motorman, carried out in 2003, investigated the use of a private investigators by the media to obtain personal information. In the 2006 report published by the Information Commissioner’s Office disclosing the 22 newspapers that had regularly used Whittamore to access illegally-obtained information, the Daily Mail topped the list with 952 transactions. The Mail on Sunday came fourth, with 266 transactions.

Wright said Whittamore had been used for a story published in February 2003 to establish the ownership of a scooter used by union leader Bob Crow.

He said: “Whittamore didn’t supply stories. He was used primarily to find names and addresses of people we needed to speak to in the course of researching stories.” He added that Whittamore was paid a total of £20,000 to trace information.

He said that Associated Newspaper’s request to see the ICO’s report was turned down, although the company accepted its findings.

Wright also said he did not believe the paper’s staff had used phone hacking to obtain stories.

“I have absolutely no evidence that phone hacking ever did occur,” he said. “I would hope that if phone hacking had been going on that it would have been brought to my attention.”

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