Comics Dara Ó Briain and Dave Gorman and scientist Professor Brian Cox joined Index and the Libel Reform Campaign at Downing Street to demand a public interest defence in the defamation bill
Former police officer and TV presenter Jacqui Hames, who was put under surveillance in 2002 by the News of the World, gave an emotional account to the Leveson Inquiry today, describing the “great anxiety” caused by the intrusion.
The former police officer, who joined Crimewatch in 1990, explained she could not think of any reason why the News of the World would put her and her then husband under investigation, but suspected that real reason for the surveillance was her police officer husband’s involvement in the investigation of the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan. Hames suggested that the News of the World wanted to derail the case.
Hames tearfully explained how information obtained by Glenn Mulcaire could only have been gathered from her personnel file, suggesting she had been “sold down the line” by someone in the police force. Upon seeing the information in Mulcaire’s notebooks including her payroll and warrant numbers, along with previous police accommodation, Hames recalled being “shocked” and “angry”.
She began saying: “As a police officer you learn to compartmentalise, you put your private and public life into two different places.” Lord Justice Leveson encouraged her to stop as she became visibly upset, commenting “the cause of this inquiry is not to aggravate the distress caused.”
She added: “I think sometimes it’s easier to dismiss certain people because they should be able to put up with it, but I don’t believe anyone should have to put up with it and that’s why I came here today and stuck my head above the parapet.”
As a former police officer and with her presenting role on BBC TV programme Crimewatch, Hames felt she had been able to “see the media from the inside”, allowing her to undertake her current role as a media trainer for detectives. In her statement to the inquiry, she suggested enhanced media training for police officers at all levels of the force.
Hames advised the court that it was possible for police officers to have a relationship with journalists, while retaining professional integrity. She added “there’s no reason not to if you are open and honest.”
Liberal Democrat MP and phone-hacking victim Simon Hughes described an “unforgivable” failure by police to investigate the extent of phone hacking during his evidence.
Appearing before the hearing, Hughes told the court it was clear from 2006 that staff at the highest level knew the full extent of News of the World payments to Glennn Mulcaire, and described the lack of investigation from police regarding this as a “completely unacceptable failure”.
Hughes described being “frustrated even now” that action wasn’t taken in 2006. He said: “If there had been robust action in 2006 a lot of the illegal action might have been shut down and a lot of the people who are now known to be victims might not be victims or might not have suffered as much.”
During the prosecution of Glenn Mulcaire, Hughes was not told by the police the private investigator had obtained his phone number and secret office “hotline”, information the MP had tried to keep under wraps, following his involvement as a witness in a murder case.
In 2011, during a meeting with officers from Operation Weeting, Hughes said he was shown pages from Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, along with other evidence, including transcripts of telephone calls, his home address and phone numbers. In the notebooks, there were three names of News of the World employees.
“The police showed me the pages [from Mulcaire’s notebooks], they asked me to identify what I could. They indicated there may be in this book some names of other people with whom Mr Mulcaire was working … They opened the issue without leading me to the answer.”
Hughes also explained that during the 2006 Liberal Democrat leadership campaign, his office was contacted by a journalist from The Sun regarding a “private matter”. In a meeting with the journalist, Hughes was advised that the newspaper had acquired records of telephone calls made by the MP, relating to his sexuality. Following an interview with the tabloid, The Sun ran the article “outing” Hughes.
Previous to the media speculation around his sexuality, Hughes described being “odds on favourite” to win the leadership vote, and described a “direct impact between that revelation, press coverage and my political reputation.”
Hughes described complaining to his mobile phone provider of “a systemic failure” with regards to his voicemail, after messages he knew had been left were unavailable, and after occasions when his voicemails were completely inaccessible.
The MP also discussed the “unhealthy relationship” between the press and politicians: “I understood how influential tabloids became, saw the desperate effort of party leaders to gain favour with media. I regarded it increasingly unhealthy.”
Hughes added that he believed scrutiny of politicians in the media is important: “Of course we have to engage with the media, and we should be subject to their scrutiny. I’m not asking for a less robust press and less active engagement, but there shouldn’t be people going in through the back door of Downing Street. We need to have a system which is transparent, and open and we know the score.”
Guardian journalist Nick Davies returned to the hearing to give a lively testimony for the second module of the inquiry.
Davies explained that often official police sources prefer quotes to remain unattributed, his definition of “off the record”. He said: “90 per cent of the work I do is off the record. Certainly that includes officially authorised interviews with police officers. It really isn’t sinister. I think the immediate fear that a police officer has when they sit down with a journalist is that they will be misquoted. Off the record eliminates that.”
The journalist described the risks of closing down all communication between journalists and police, comparing it to saying “I got food poisoning last night, I am never going to eat again,” but stressed the importance of “getting to the bottom of what went wrong with official flow of information” relating to phone hacking, describing it as “catastrophic.”
He added: “it isn’t that official sources are inherently good or that unofficial sources are inherently bad. Don’t identify unidentified sources as the cause of the problem. It would be a mistake to say off the record is the source of the problem, it’s not sinister, it helps people to tell the truth.”
Branding the self regulation and media law in this country as “useless”, Davies suggested taking the Freedom of Information act as a theoretical model: “all info should be disclosed unless it is covered by the following exemptions. I’d like to see the same model for the police. Why not be open? It helps avoid abuse.”
Davies added that it was not an ethical worry for a police commissioner to meet with newspaper editors to talk about policy, or specific cases, but that it became an issue if “we now discover it was an active ingredient in the subsequent failure to investigate News of the World.”
Chris Jefferies also appeared before the hearing for a second time. Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in 2010, described a pique in media interest following his second statement to the police in December of that year.
He said: “until then I had not been the subject of any particular media attention but that suddenly changed. A Sky news team were extremely anxious to talk to me, a large number of reporters and photographer’s appeared at the address where I lived. They had somehow got to hear about that second statement, and they were extremely anxious to hear if I believed I had seen Jo Yeates leaving the property on the 17th December with one or other people.”
He added: “There was feverish interest in talking to me and fact it happened day before arrest was remarkable to me.”
In a very measured response, Jefferies added that reports that police had said he was “their man”, was “not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the police might want to give the impression of considerable confidence, that a considerable step forward had been taken in the investigation.”
Jefferies suggested that it should be a “far more serious offence” for police who disclose inappropriate information to the press.
In his witness statement, Jefferies said: “It is my very firm view that it must be considered a far more serious offence than it currently is for police to disclose inappropriate information to members of the press and that to do so should be an imprisonable offence, subject to a public interest defence.”