Paul Dacre refuses to withdraw "mendacious smears" statement

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.

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

Thurlbeck denies being part of Mosley "strategy"

The former chief reporter of the News of the World has Denied any involvement with the paper’s strategy over publishing a story accusing ex-Formula 1 boss Max Mosley of engaging in a Nazi-themed orgy,

Neville Thurlbeck told the Leveson Inquiry he was not involved in any decison to put video footage of Mosley’s orgy on the News of the World website. He added that he was not instructed by the newsdesk to notify Mosley of the story, and therefore did not seek his comment.

“I am just person who is investigating [a story]”, Thurlbeck said.

Lord Justice Leveson seemed stunned at Thurlbeck’s lack of involvement. “Aren’t you being a bit unkind to yourself,” he asked, “you were the chief reporter.”

Thurlbeck responded that strategy decisions were made by the editor. “The chief reporter and the news editor…are all very grand-sounding titles but they don’t really call the shots at all.”

Thurlbeck said he imagined the editor would fear the story would be prevented from coming out if Mosley were notified prior to publication. “We all know Mr Mosley would have sought an injunction,” he told the Inquiry. in the event of an interim injunction, he said, the story would have been leaked and become the “currency and property of our rivals.”

Thurlbeck agreed with counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, that there was no public interest in the piece without the suggestion of a Nazi theme, and it was this feature that “persuaded” him the story was in the public interest. He said the consenus at the paper was “we had a legitimate story we need to run.”

Thurlbeck received fierce questioning from Jay and Leveson. He was examined over emails to the women involved in the Mosley orgy about a follow-up story. They were offered anonymity, a sum of money and pixellation of their photographs, or the opposite if they did not agree to the paper’s terms. Thurlbeck took full responsibility for sending the emails, but told the Inquiry they were drafted by news editor Ian Edmonson.

“It was offering the girls a choice,” Thurlbeck claimed. Leveson pressed him, reminding him of Mr Justice Eady’s inference that the emails constituted blackmail, and asked if the girls’ right to privacy had been discussed at any point. Thurlbeck said it had not.

Mosley sued the paper for a breach of privacy in 2008. He was paid £60,000 in damages.

Thurlbeck also defended his splash on David Beckham’s affair with Rebecca Loos, noting that the footballer had cultivated and marketed an image of having a fairytale marriage. “We felt it important to expose it as a sham,” Thurlbeck said.

He repeatedly refuted evidence given to the Inquiry by former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan that painted an image of corruption at the redtop. Thurlbeck asserted that the paper’s staff were “exemplary” and that the culture at the paper was one of “thoroughness”. He added that McMullan’s view that circulation defined public interest was a “travesty”.

Thurlbeck added that a greater focus on privacy matters had rendered kiss and tell stories a “dead” genre.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from the News of the World’s former head of legal, Tom Crone; Farrer & Co lawyer Julian Pike; and Harbottle & Lewis’ Lawrence Abramson.

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

Max Mosley wins on privacy, loses on libel

Interesting news from Paris, where motorsport boss turned privacy campaigner Max Mosley has had mixed results in his cases against News Group and News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck.

Unsurprisingly, Mosley won his privacy case against the publishers of the (dear, departed) News of the World. France is well known for the primacy given to privacy by its courts, so if the Mosley story (quick recap: video of him indulging in S&M games with prostitutes), was ruled to be a breach of privacy in London, it was almost certain to be a breach of privacy in Paris.

Interestingly, however, Mosley lost his case against NotW reporter Neville Thurlbeck (he of the infamous “for Neville” email at the heart of the News of the World phonehacking scandal) on the grounds that Thurlbeck could not be held responsible for the distribution of the newspaper in France.

So who exactly would be liable for a libel suit in this case? The publisher? The distributor? The lorry driver?

For some background on the case, read Ian Burrell (may contain traces of me).


An awkward day for the press to praise itself

The arrest, on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemails, of the chief reporter and the former news editor of the News of the World occurred, with a certain elegance, on one of those days when the press gathers to congratulate itself at a “glittering gala dinner”.

The annual press awards of the Society of Editors even held out the prospect of a run-off for the top prize involving both the News of the World and its nemesis, the Guardian.

Among the obvious questions to be aired among the guests — many of whom have been insisting for years, with a most unjournalistic scepticism, that the phone hacking story would never go anywhere — was how the press might report this interesting and important legal development.

After all, the Sun, the Mirror, the Star, the Express and the Mail have all tried their best to keep the hacking story from their readers ever since it first broke in 2006. And when other papers have reported the affair — as the Guardian, the FT and the Independent all have — they have been dismissed as misguided or (hah!) politically motivated.

Now, it must be said, with people under arrest, tabloid editors have the option of abiding closely by the contempt of court restrictions — restrictions which when it suits them they so often interpret in the most flexible manner. So we are set to witness a rare example of the press glimpsing what it might be like to be its own victim, and acting accordingly.

I’m not about to break the contempt law here either, but it is clear by now that those restrictions alone will not be enough to keep the scandal, in its widest sense, under wraps. The same day, after all, saw a remarkable new twist in the dispute between the Metropolitan Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions over — essentially — who was to blame for prematurely burying the hacking affair in 2007. The DPP, Kier Starmer, released a long and detailed letter which appeared to contradict directly the claims on this point of Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates.

As if that were not enough, the Met also appears to be heading towards an awkward libel trial over its assertion that a solicitor, Mark Lewis, had wrongly attributed to a police officer a claim that there may have been 6,000 phone hacking victims.

And perhaps most sensationally, the private legal actions for breach of privacy against the News of the World by the likes of Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan are not only growing in number, but are moving forward in a way that surely should alarm Rupert Murdoch’s London henchmen. All such cases are now to be dealt with by one judge, Mr Justice Vos, and he has thus far shown little sympathy for the newspaper.

In interim rulings last month Vos appeared to sweep aside a number of key points in the defence offered by the News of the World. To the suggestion that there was no concrete evidence to show private investigator Glenn Muclaire actually hacked the phones of Andy Gray (though he had accumulated all the means to do so, and had apparently tried), Vos replied that he was satisfied that “interception of Mr Gray’s voicemails was something that Mr Mulcaire was undertaking regularly”. As for the proposition that there was nothing to link the paper to these activities, the judge announced bluntly that he disagreed, and that Mulcaire was effectively a News of the World employee.

A few days ago we learned that James Murdoch was leaving London to move to the heart of his father’s empire in New York. Young James was at the helm of News International here from early 2008, so he carries the ultimate responsibility for sustaining over two years the claim that hacking was all a finished affair involving just one rogue reporter. If the time comes to hold James accountable — say, before a public inquiry — we can look forward to his return.

Listen to Brian Cathcart’s podcast on the phone hacking affair here

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London. He Tweets at @BrianCathcart