Morning Hearing on 12 January 2012

Dawn Neesom , Nicole Patterson and Hugh Whittow gave statements at this hearing

Hearing Transcript

(10.07 am) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Good morning. MR JAY Two preliminary matters, if I may. First of all, the running order for today. The first witness will be Nicole Patterson, then Dawn Neesom, then Hugh Whittow, then Peter Hill, then Paul Ashford and then Richard Desmond. Secondly, I need to, as it were, read into the transcript statements from the last two or three days, which we are taking as read. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR JAY By which I mean we have read. In relation to the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, these are the statements of Louise Ann Hayman, John Mullin and Stefano Hatfield. In relation to the Financial Times, John Ridding, Lisa MacLeod, Scott Henderson, Tim Bratton and Alison Fortescue. In relation to Associated News, it's Kevin Beatty and James Welsh. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's important that we do this because that's the indicator to the public that these statements are now considered part of the record of the Inquiry, and will be available on the website for all to read. MR JAY Thank you. The first witness, therefore, is Nicole Patterson, please. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY Who is under tab 8. MS NICOLE PATTERSON (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Your full name, please?
A. Nicole Patterson.
Q. Thank you. In file 1 of those bundles in front of you, you'll find under tab 8 a copy of your witness statement dated 16 September of last year.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. You've appended to it a statement of truth and you've signed and dated it; is that correct?
A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. So you explain you're the head of legal at Express Newspapers. Does that include all the Northern Shell titles?
A. The four newspapers, the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday.
Q. Yes, but not the magazines, I understand?
A. Not the magazines.
Q. Thank you. You've also provided six exhibits to your statement, some of which we will look at in due course. As for your career, Ms Patterson, you qualified as a barrister, then worked at the criminal Bar?
A. Yes.
Q. You then went to the Express in 2002. You returned to the Express after maternity leave and time off in 2006, and then after a diversion, if I can put it in those terms, to a firm of solicitors, you returned full-time to the Express in 2008 and now you're head of legal, have been since May 2011?
A. I started as a night lawyer in 2002 when I was there until in 2006 I started a three-day week.
Q. Thank you.
A. And then left and then came back full-time.
Q. Thank you. We, of course, have read your statement carefully. I'm just going to alight on a miscellany of points, certainly by no means all of them. Can I ask you about paragraph 8 and the example you've given us about the Sunday Express running a piece on baggage handlers at Gatwick Airport and an application form for security clearance had to be completed. I was interested in the sentence: "I advised the reporter on how to complete the application form as honestly as possible." Could you help us a little bit with that, please, because presumably a degree of dishonesty was involved?
A. That was what I was trying to avoid.
Q. Okay.
A. That's what I said to him: "If you apply for the job as a baggage handler, you have to complete the application form as it is." That was my advice to him. As I said, I don't know what happened to the whether any story was whether any story came out of it or whether in fact they did do that, but that was always my advice.
Q. Did you see presumably you did see the application form?
A. I saw the application form, but I don't know whether he completed it and I don't know whether he actually applied for a job. It was just something that they were asking my preliminary advice upon.
Q. Okay. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Would you expect to be involved in the merits of the use of subterfuge in any particular case? Would that fall as part of your responsibilities?
A. If they came to me for advice on anything they were planning to do, then yes, but I was never asked to advise on it. That was the only thing LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, no, just generally.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I mean, that's part of your remit?
A. Yes, it is. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Because we've seen a number of lawyers and some say, "Yes, that's within my remit", and others say, "No, no, that's editorial, not within my remit".
A. It is within my remit if they come and ask me about it but I can't do anything if they don't ask me about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, even I recognise that. Yes. MR JAY If a form had been completed, which you don't know whether it had been
A. No.
Q. would you expect, however, to have been asked for your advice on the final version of the form?
A. Yes, I would.
Q. Did you say that to the journalist involved? Make that point clear to him or her? Presumably a him in this case.
A. Well, he was asking me about completing it, "What should I do, how should I say this, what should I say to that?" and I gave him my advice and away he went, but I didn't see whether he had in fact completed it or applied for the job.
Q. Thank you. Can I ask you about the internal investigation which was carried out or is still being carried out into phone hacking, blagging and related issues?
A. Mm.
Q. This starts at paragraph 15, Ms Patterson, at our page 01533. You decided to carry out an internal inquiry. The first meeting took place on 26 July and you'd been leading it?
A. Yes.
Q. You tell us at least at that stage it was still at a very early stage. We're now some months on and presumably things have advanced. Is that so?
A. Well, we haven't found any evidence to suggest that anybody was doing any phone hacking or anything of that nature, no.
Q. Okay. It's not entirely clear how far back you're going. Are you going to 2005 or are you going to the year 2000, which is when Northern Shell acquired these titles?
A. We went to the year 2000.
Q. Thank you. In paragraph 16 you say: "I have been particularly concerned with any large or unexplained payments." Have you found any such payments?
A. No. When I say "large or unexplained", the largest unexplained payment I think we came across was about GBP 1,500 or 1,600, which in terms of our spend is very, very small.
Q. Apart from carrying out a financial investigation, which you detail quite clearly in your statement, has your investigation extended further, for example interviewing journalists who were working at the paper at the material time, interviewing editors? Can you explain a bit more what's been going
A. Not formal interviews, but we I asked the news editors and editors as well, and deputy editors, for names of search agents or private investigators that they had used, then we used those names to search in our accounts, but the names that we had, you see in my statement, they're companies Express Locate and SystemsSearches, and that was all I had.
Q. Right. Can I ask you about the five agencies. This is paragraph 18. The second one, JJ Services, is that Mr Whittamore's company?
A. I believe it is.
Q. It's clear from documents we are going to look at that your company was engaging JJ Services in 2004 and 2005; is that right?
A. Mm.
Q. Is JJ Services still being used?
A. I don't know the answer to that.
Q. How do you know the methods deployed by any or all of these search agencies, in particular if they are illegal methods?
A. I don't.
Q. But in terms of your remit, Ms Patterson, an internal inquiry into, amongst other things, blagging, it might be said you ought to be approaching these agencies to get an explanation of how they carry out their business. Would you agree?
A. You might say that. We the way that it operated was that the news editor of the day went into morning conference with the editor, picture editors and everybody, everybody concerned with the production of the newspaper. They would decide on the agenda for the day, on the stories that they wanted to cover, what was in the news, what was coming up. The news editor would then as I understand it, the news editor would, as it were, divvy up who was going to be covering what story, and the reporters would go and they would do what they what they how do their own research. As I understand it from the news editors and reporters, as they have told me, we don't have systems to search systems and that kind of thing internally, and they would ask for details of how to contact people or addresses or whatever it was, but I at the time that we were looking at, I don't think anybody had really asked, "How do you do this? How do you find your information?" They were as far as we were well, I can't say as far as we were aware because until we started having a look at this, I didn't even know that we used these search agencies. Longmere Consultants, Searchline, SystemsSearches and Express Locate are all names of search agencies that I know that are used by law firms to find and serve people with papers, and totally legitimate as far as I was aware, and I'm not sure that when you employ anybody that you ask in great detail whether they how they go about doing what they do. You employ a company to do something for you and you expect that they would do it within the law. You expect that. Not that you don't care. You expect it.
Q. Maybe one hopes that, Ms Patterson?
A. Well, I wouldn't I wouldn't say that. I would say if I employ a company to do something for me, then I expect that they would do it professionally and within the law.
Q. Do you know the nature of the information these search agencies were obtaining for Northern Shell?
A. No. No, I don't. Sometimes the search was just the subject matter of the search is detailed and sometimes it says "confidential enquiries" but it's impossible to marry up a story with a search. We tried as much as we could, but even when we were able to marry up the dates and stories, it's impossible to tell from the article that appeared in the newspaper what information was gathered.
Q. Well, one could ask in those circumstances the journalist involved, if still at the paper, to assist, could one not?
A. One could ask the journalist to assist when we had a look at the lineage sheets and I went to the journalist and said, "What was this for?" you know, it's so far back, they don't remember. More often than not, it was GBP 75, GBP 80, GBP 100. It's very little money, according to our kind of spend. So they would just be basic computer searches for names and addresses, things like that. That's as far as we were able to take it.
Q. Okay. You presumably had in mind the two reports from the Information Commissioner, ""What price privacy?" and "What price privacy now?"
A. Mm-hm.
Q. The papers in the Express Group do feature in the Information Commissioner's table in the second reform report.
A. Yes.
Q. And we know that JJ Services was really the focus of both reports?
A. Mm.
Q. Did you carry out more detailed enquiries in relation to the activities of JJ Services in 2004 and 2005 of both the financial records and the journalists?
A. No, we didn't. In the table that appears in the second report, I think as a group we were mentioned in I think about 63 searches that we had asked Steve Whittamore to do. I'm not sure what over what period that was. It was prior to 2005, certainly. We tried to marry up to the two, but, as I said, it's almost impossible to do that.
Q. We'll spend a little bit of time, but not much, looking at the exhibits. I should ask you about the last sentence of paragraph 20, because some words are clearly missing. Maybe if you can just add them back in for us. Just look at that sentence, please. It doesn't at the moment make complete sense. Is it something along the lines: "If the work is more time-consuming, the fees will not be a set fee but will be subject to negotiation, and the vast majority of these fees are below ?500." Is that how
A. I have no knowledge of how the fees were negotiated. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON We're trying to understand the sentence, actually.
A. Oh. Possibly, mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's your sentence.
A. It is. Always when one writes a statement, when one reads it back, sometimes it's like this. It did appear from the searches the financial searches that we did into our records, that there were a lot of similar amounts, GBP 75, GBP 83, whatever. So I took it from that that that was a similar type of search each time that they were asking for from a particular database and sometimes there are fees that were a little higher, sometimes there were fees that were more than ?1,000. So I took it from that that if the fee was a little higher, that it was a different type of search or it was subject to a negotiation, that kind of thing, but I had no hand in doing those negotiations. MR JAY Let's just see if we can deduce anything further from the exhibits. Maybe we can't. If you could go, please, to NP2, which is under tab 10, and the first page, 01549. Here we're looking at Express Locate International Limited, an invoice which was paid on 31 January 2005. We can work out the rest. It's just the VCHR line description, that is the subject of the article, is it, or the story?
A. I believe so.
Q. But I think that's all we can deduce. We can't work out what the service provided was?
A. No.
Q. If you look a little bit lower down, four lines down, the story is: "Liar love rat exclusive."
A. Mm-hm.
Q. That could cover a multitude of sins well, actually only one sin but a multitude of targets.
A. Multitude of potential targets, yes. Well I wouldn't call them targets; subjects.
Q. We'll gloss over one or two of the others. Middle of the page, celebrity enquiries, all very vague. We do get some names two-thirds of the way down, Jade Goody, Big Brother. That might have been for the Star, wasn't it, because we can see STR?
A. Yes.
Q. We can work that out anyway probably from the subject matter. And then Charlotte Church. We can see a bit more about JJ Services
A. That could relate to New! and Star magazine, possibly not the Daily Star.
Q. Fair enough. Move forward please to 01558. This is JJ Services. We know Mr Whittamore's company was JJ Services. It's possible this is a different JJ Services, but it's doubtful. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's unlikely, given it says "JJ Services (Whittamore)". MR JAY Oh, does it?
A. Yes, unlikely. MR JAY Then the possibilities are dwindling. I didn't see that, actually. Oh yes, it does, in very, very small writing at the top. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's why I've taken off my glasses. MR JAY Yes, one does need to. I can't really read that.
A. This is my search.
Q. It's your search?
A. It's my search, so the accounts department would have been searching under the name of Whittamore or JJ Services.
Q. What's quite interesting, though, is the dates. The earliest date, at least on this search, is 31 January 2005. He's still carrying out services last year. If you go to 01560
A. Mm.
Q. you can see the last item there is 30 July 2010. The other thing that's interesting is the amounts of some of the invoices. Go back to 01558, and about 12 entries down you see the amount GBP 2,287.50.
A. Yes.
Q. That may be for a number of different searches, but well, perhaps you can help us with that?
A. I'm afraid I can't. I have really no idea what it was for.
Q. Mm. Is he still working for Northern Shell?
A. Well, the last search or the last entry was what date was the last entry? 2010?
Q. Yes.
A. I don't know the answer to that.
Q. Someone might say there's at the very least a cloud hanging over him, as he has a criminal conviction. You're still using him. Why not find out from him what methods he deploys?
A. It's a matter for the news editor and the editor. It's not something that is within my remit, I'm afraid, and I can't speak for them.
Q. No, you can't. Have you drawn these matters to the attention of the news editor and the editor?
A. Yes.
Q. And what advice you don't have to tell us the advice.
A. No.
Q. But I think what you can tell us is whether this is being pursued with Mr Whittamore?
A. I can't tell you that.
Q. Okay. You can't because you won't or because
A. No, because I don't know.
Q. Okay. NP3, page 01589. These, I think, are lineage sheets, is this right?
A. Yes.
Q. In a sentence or two, what is a lineage sheet?
A. A lineage sheet is I'm not sure I can do this in a sentence or two. It's what whoever is responsible for the accounting on the day on the newspaper on the news desk. So it could be the news editor or one of his deputies, and every time there is any type of expense that is not a cash expense that doesn't result in a receipt, it goes on lineage and then it's written down and then recorded by the managing editor's office.
Q. Thank you. I think what you've tried to do here is to ally entries in the lineage sheet with particular stories.
A. Mm.
Q. You haven't got very far, we understand why, and there is such a story, is there, at the next page, page 01590?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Just trying to work out which well, it doesn't oh yes, we can see. It's the one "Girls' gang killers face life". We can see that in the lineage sheet.
A. It's very difficult to tell from the lineage sheet, marrying up the article, what information was gleaned or what they asked Express Locate to do.
Q. The same applies to JJ Services, because we can see JJ Services further into the lineage sheets.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. But we glean as much or as little from examining those as we have already done. Further analysis, I think, of the lineage sheets is under tab 12, NP4; is that right?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. To summarise it, is that equally inconclusive?
A. It is. The writing on the sheet here is I believe it's one of our accounts department, and we asked them to marry up the amounts with the entries that had gone into the computer, and they tried to get what they could, sometimes they couldn't find anything and sometimes sometimes they could. We were searching our records for days trying to marry these things up. But as you can see, there isn't a great deal of information on there.
Q. No. And then NP5, again, Ms Patterson, in a nutshell what is this?
A. This is just an explanation of some of those things that we did find. We asked them to have a look at certain names that were perhaps of interest, so you can see at 1693 there's a mark A, which says: "Natasha Murat." That's a day rate, so ?240 would have been a day rate. I don't know what that really means. But the accounts department then prepared this the managing editor's office actually prepared this sheet for me: "Search for possible connection to Robert Murat." What type of search that would have been I really can't tell you. A computer search? I just I don't know.
Q. It looks as if your internal inquiry is not getting very far thus far; is that right?
A. We've done what we can. In my statement I did try to put it into a bit of context. I think our total spend on these types of searches in the ten years that we did was about ?115,000. I had a look yesterday with the managing editor, and in 2008 we spent 9 million on pictures. So in terms of our total spend, these they're very small amounts for very little work is what I'm saying. So ?240 for a day rate, I'm just not sure what they would have been if they would have been doing anything other than simply searching for information. But, as I say, I can't say what they were doing.
Q. Someone advising you might say, "Why not write to each of these five companies and seek a detailed explanation from them as to the nature of the work they tended to do for your company, the methods they've deployed in each case and the sources they attain in order to provide the information".
A. Mm.
Q. That someone advising you may be me in posing the question, but could you not have taken those steps before giving your evidence?
A. We didn't.
Q. You haven't, okay. In relation to phone hacking, I think yesterday's witness told us that what she did was to look through the records to see whether there's any reference to Mr Mulcaire or any company associated with him. Have you done that?
A. When I asked the questions of the editors and news editors, the name never came up. Any company associated with him didn't either, so
Q. I'm sure that was the position, but it's a question of what the financial records might or might not have shown. Have you undertaken an analysis of the financial records, even a cursory one, to see whether relevant names come up?
A. No. No, because I wasn't even told that we'd ever used anything in connection with Glenn Mulcaire, so
Q. Okay. Can I ask you finally some more general questions, please. Paragraph 28. The circumstances in which you queried the source and the veracity of the information, can you tell us a little bit more about that, first in the context of accuracy libel, which is presumably your first concern, and then in the context of privacy, Ms Patterson? When do you query a source?
A. Every time I think that there might be a problem with the information I've asked them "Where is it from? Who gave you this material? Where did you get it from?"
Q. But what alerts you then to any suspicion that there might be a problem?
A. I don't fact check, because if I was fact checking, I would be there all day and that's for the journalists to do, but if I read a particular story and there is a fact and I wonder whether it is true or not, or if it isn't true would lead to a problem, then I ask them, "Where did this come from? Can you be sure of this? Where did you find it? How did you come across this information?" and I expect them to go back and I expect an answer before I clear it.
Q. Thank you. That's very clear. So that's tackling the first question and perhaps paramount question of accuracy.
A. Mm.
Q. But when it comes to privacy issues, what, if anything, do you do in that context?
A. It depends whether it's information or whether there are photographs. If there are photographs, I ask who took them, where did they come from, how did they come to be taken, is it a member of the public that sent it in, where did you get it from, what are the circumstances. All of those questions I ask.
Q. Thank you.
A. But of course there are certain photographs that we have that are taken on yachts, especially in the summer season, and there are all sorts of people who parade around on yachts and some of them want to be photographed and some don't, so there are all those considerations to be taken into account as well. It's a very fine balancing act. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just before you leave photographs, you said, "I don't fact check", which I quite understand, "but if I see a fact and if it's not true, there would be a problem". Does that mean that when you're asking questions about facts, you're asking questions about facts which might generate a legal problem?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So if it's a general story, which is unlikely to generate a potential claim in libel, then that would not concern you? I understand it, but I'm just trying to get to grips with what you do.
A. Of course I am concerned with accuracy, but if someone presents me with a story which says anything, you know, "There are 5 million people standing outside this building", I wouldn't necessarily ask them to go out and count them. You know. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. That's not a bad example in one sense, but you may not necessarily make a decision whether it's true or accurate or not in that sense, but there isn't a legal problem with that fact.
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So is that a fair description of the line?
A. Mm. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you see a legal problem with the fact, you'll want to analyse it?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON To fact check. But if there is no legal problem, then obviously you want it to be accurate but you're not going to be bothered about asking questions about it?
A. It's not that I'm not bothered about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm sorry, that's a poor choice of words. You would not be concerned to make further enquiries about it.
A. That is fair, because I expect that when I'm presented with a story or some copy for legalling that the journalist will have done their job and that those facts will be correct, and if there is a legal problem with any of them, then I ask them, "Where did it come from? How did it come about?" MR JAY I think the issue is not just the legal problem as regards accuracy, which I've described as the first problem; it's the second and possibly third problems which arise in the context of privacy and perhaps wider ethical issues and the code. It's the extent to which you, if at all, investigate those matters. Do you see the point, Ms Patterson?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. And what do you do? You've told us in the context of photographs, I understand your answer, but what about in the context of the printed word?
A. Give me an example. What do you mean?
Q. Well, there will be stories about celebrities which might involve health issues or might involve personal matters, intimate relationships, which may appear in certain of your titles, more likely in title X rather than title Y. It's whether you address your mind not just to whether the story's true, but whether the correct public interest, private rights balance has been conducted?
A. Yes, of course I do.
Q. How do you do that?
A. Well, if there's a story about somebody's medical history or something like that, we absolutely say, "Under no circumstances should you print that information", or but obviously there are a lot of stories that we get through celebrity PRs and there are a lot of things that come to us from the celebrities themselves, which in any other circumstances might be considered private, again that's another fine line that we have to balance. Although it may appear to somebody reading the paper that perhaps it shouldn't have been in there, if it's come from the person themselves, then but that person is never going to say that it would come from them. So
Q. That's a straightforward example, because the only fetter, if the stories come from the celebrity himself or herself, the only fetter would be, I suppose, taste. But if the story has not been sourced from the celebrity himself or herself, a third party, it might have been paid for, what is your approach to that? Particularly in the context of intimate relationships, privacy issues.
A. We're talking about kiss-and-tell now, are we?
Q. Well, for example, yes.
A. We just don't do that. We don't do that any more. If it's private information, it's private information, and that's the advice I give.
Q. Okay. So it's not the policy of any of the Express titles to print stories, is it, which bear on the private lives of celebrities? I doubt whether you would go that far?
A. I can't say what the policy of the title is. That's not a matter for me. I'm the legal department and the policy of the titles is down to the particular editor. If I am asked for my legal advice, I give very strident legal advice.
Q. Which in general terms is what?
A. Which in general terms is, "If it's private information, it's private information, and you shouldn't do it."
Q. Okay. I've asked this general question of others in your position. To what extent in percentage terms is your legal advice followed? Is it generally followed or not?
A. I would say it is generally followed.
Q. How often in a year would your advice be overruled or not accepted, rather? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Not so much overruled. Presumably you advise on risk.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And you say, "This is the risk of taking this step", and
A. Well, not very often. I think we I am a bit more strident than that. I would never I don't think I would say to an editor, "The risk is 75 per cent". I don't think we work like that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You're prepared to say this is just
A. Yes. MR JAY All right. Two other questions. First of all, we've seen from other evidence in relation to the Express titles that following its departure from the PCC there was an in-house internal complaints committee.
A. Yes.
Q. One or two witnesses cover how that works, but I understand you are at the centre of it. So in your own words, how does that committee work, please?
A. All of the editors and group editorial director are part of that committee, but in essence how it works is the complaints filter directly through to the legal department. The legal department will deal with the complaints. If it's a financial settlement, then that goes elsewhere to the one of the group managing directors in negotiations with myself. And any apology or correction is dealt with by the legal department and the particular editor concerned. We haven't yet had I was going to say an opportunity, but that's not the right word. A reason to convene as a whole, because we haven't had really anything that needed that level of discussion. We have had an amplifications and clarifications column in the Daily Express I think for well, certainly since I've been there, since 2002. Anything that needs amplifying or correcting goes in there, and any other apology will be subject to negotiation with myself and the editor and the complainant, and that's how it works.
Q. Thank you. And the amplifications and corrections column, is that on page 2?
A. No. In the if it's simply clarifying something not potentially well, not I was going to say not a big problem, but just simply a matter of a word that's wrong or something, it goes on our letters page, and it's always it's been there for about 20 years, that column. If it's something more serious, it will go on a page to be negotiated between the legal department and the editor and the claimant's solicitor or the claimant, if they don't have a solicitor. On the Daily Star, our apologies page is on page 2.
Q. Thank you. And finally this question: did you advise in relation to any of the McCann stories?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Which, of course, culminated in legal action?
A. Yes, it did.
Q. I'm not going to ask you about that. The focus has been on a number of stories between September 2007 and January 2008, as you know.
A. Yes.
Q. Did you advise in relation to all or just some of those stories?
A. If I was on duty at the time, I would have advised as and when. MR JAY I can't ask you, I think, what you did advise
A. No. MR JAY unless privilege is waived, and you're not the person who could waive privilege. I don't think I can press that question further. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. Could I just ask a slightly different question sorry, Mr Jay, have you concluded? MR JAY Yes, I have, sir. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON A slightly different question. You talk about your contact with the Press Complaints Commission and the code, but to what extent do you consider your clients bound by the terms of the code?
A. Absolutely bound. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Why is that?
A. Because as journalists we abide by we state that in the newspaper. We abide by the Editors' Code. We still do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And that's irrespective of your not being members of the Complaints Commission?
A. Yes. On the back of all four titles, we have a section that says, "We, as a newspaper, abide by the Editors' Code." LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY Thank you very much, Ms Patterson. The next witness is Ms Dawn Neesom, please. MS DAWN NEESOM (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Thank you. Your full name.
A. Dawn Neesom.
Q. Thank you. Your witness statement is located in the first of those three files under tab 19, Ms Neesom. Dated 16 September. It has one exhibit. You've signed it and appended to it a statement of truth, so this is your true evidence. You are currently and have been since 2003 the editor of the Daily Star newspaper; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. In terms of your career, Ms Neesom, I think there's one correction and one addition you'd like to make?
A. There is. I started my career as a contributor to local newspapers. My first full-time job in journalism was on Women's Own magazine, which isn't mentioned here. That was in 1988. Then I went to work on the Sun and then the Daily Star.
Q. You left Women's Own in 1992. You went to the Sun as a features writer?
A. Yes, it was 1993, I think. It was 1993, sorry.
Q. The precise dates don't matter but it's right that you're punctilious.
A. Yes, it's 1993.
Q. Then you joined the Star first of all in 1997 and you've been the editor since 2003?
A. That's correct.
Q. So you were working under two editors at the Sun?
A. Yes.
Q. Kelvin MacKenzie and I think Stuart Higgins, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. In terms of culture, I have asked this general question of editors, you've been in the industry for 25 years or so?
A. Oh.
Q. Nearly.
A. Yes.
Q. How does the culture differ, if at all, as between the Sun and the Star?
A. Obviously the Sun is a fantastic paper, it's the market leader, it's a much bigger paper than the Daily Star, and it's a more full-on environment.
Q. Yes. What do you mean by that?
A. It's a more fast-paced active environment with a lot more staff and it's just it's quite a scary place to work, I thought.
Q. Okay. And how, if at all, has the culture at the Daily Star changed since you became its editor?
A. I've tried obviously the Daily Star readership is quite male-dominated still, I think it's about 65 per cent male, and what I've tried to do is tried to make it more female, without making it too girlie, as it were, and losing the core readership, so I've tried to tone down some of the more masculine, laddish elements of the paper.
Q. Thank you. One witness, it was Mr Peppiatt, described the Star as a right-wing tabloid. Is that a label which you're comfortable with?
A. We are a tabloid newspaper, and we're not the Guardian, that's for sure.
Q. Thank you. In terms of your staff, you do fairly say you're the leanest-staffed daily tabloid newspaper. That's paragraph 46.
A. Yes.
Q. That may or may not be a fact which satisfies you, but it's a reality. But in terms of its impact, if any, what is the impact of having so few staff?
A. I think it makes everybody more focused, because it is a very small team and you have to you do work a lot harder. The staff on the Daily Star are fantastic, there's a great group of very young journalists coming through there, and I'm very proud of all of them, but they do work incredibly hard, and I think it does focus your mind to be more accurate and more open about what you're doing.
Q. But some would say it works precisely in the opposite way. Because people are under such pressure and there are not enough of them, accuracy is sacrificed. Would you accept that?
A. No. We always try to employ people that pride accuracy above all else.
Q. How do you achieve that ambition?
A. We try to we I like to pride myself on the fact that the Daily Star gives young journalists from the provinces the opportunity to get a foothold in Fleet Street, which is quite difficult to do these days. Sometimes it's a casual basis. So we try to recruit the best that we can, and, you know, I'm very proud of the people that we do have working for us.
Q. I'm sure you would want to recruit the best you can because that's what everybody wants to do, but how do you go about doing that?
A. The actual recruitment process is organised by the news desk, who work very closely with local agencies and local newspapers.
Q. Is it the Star's policy to recruit casual journalists before they move on to being staff journalists?
A. I think that would be a policy common to a lot of newspapers.
Q. So how does that work? Are they on temporary contracts and if they meet the grade, they're then formally recruited?
A. Yes.
Q. So it's a sort of probation period of 12 months, is it?
A. It depends on whether staff vacancies become available. I think we have, off the top of my head, I think it's about five staff reporters, news reporter jobs, so they come up quite rarely, so they are highly sought after.
Q. So out of the 80 staff what percentage are staff journalists and what percentage are casual journalists?
A. On the news reporting desk, it's about half and half.
Q. Thank you. And then elsewhere, is it about the same or different?
A. Some departments are more staff than others. Like our production team are probably more staff contracts, they've been there a longer time, they're more experienced journalists.
Q. Thank you. And what about freelancers? Is it the policy of the Star to use those?
A. We do use freelancers, yes, in common with most titles.
Q. Yes, and it may be difficult, but if one is looking at news, for example, what percentage of your output of your stories come from freelancers?
A. Most of the stories we publish in the paper come from probably the staff journalists.
Q. Okay.
A. We don't have a very big freelance budget.
Q. What are your training programmes, if any, for your staff journalists?
A. We don't particularly have an in-house training programme as such at the moment. However, that is something that I am working on with Nicole to change. We do rely on most of the people we employ as journalists to be trained and to know how to do their jobs.
Q. So by definition the same answer you would give to your casual journalists, if that can be a fair way of describing them?
A. Yes, most of them are qualified journalists, yes.
Q. But what about wanting your journalist to write according to the Daily Star brand?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. So far as there is a brand. How do you achieve that objective?
A. I think it's quite as I say, it's a very small staff, we're all sitting on the same news floor. I think most people are aware of what the Daily Star is about as a newspaper. I think you come and work for the Daily Star, you know what it's about, and it's quite clear from the minute you walk onto the news floor what our priorities are as stories.
Q. Okay. So they absorb the culture and brand of the paper fairly quickly
A. Very easily absorbed.
Q. if their antennae are twitching in the right way?
A. Yes.
Q. Is that right? Okay. Can I ask you about paragraph 6, please, Ms Neesom. You say it's your role to ensure that standards are being met?
A. Yes.
Q. I think there may be at least two questions. The Editors' Code of Practice and the PCC code is, as we've heard, one of the relevant standards you apply; is that correct?
A. Yes, indeed.
Q. How is that enforced if, as we know, the Star is not part of the PCC?
A. The fact that we are not part of the PCC hasn't really made much difference to the way we operate because we have always adhered to the Editors' Code of Practice and we continue to do so.
Q. But how is it enforced?
A. It's just expected of the staff and it's enforced by people not being very happy with them if they mess up.
Q. So is it your practice that if you identify a potential breach of the code in a story which is put up to you
A. Yes.
Q. you immediately alert your journalist to that fact?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. What happens if a story is published, because this must happen, which you haven't, as it were, blessed, since you're not going to be able to approve all the stories? What do you do then?
A. If a story is published that has breached the code?
Q. In your view.
A. The journalist concerned will probably be warned by the news desk that they have done something wrong.
Q. You say "would". Let's imagine there isn't a complaint, but you spot such a story
A. Yes, the journalist
Q. and you form the judgment that there may have been or was a breach of the code. What do you do about it?
A. I personally probably wouldn't talk to the journalist concerned, but the news desk or my deputy editor would.
Q. Do you give an instruction therefore to the news desk or the deputy editor to do that?
A. I have been known to pass comment if I'm not happy with something, yes.
Q. Okay.
A. My husband looks at me like that as well.
Q. I'm not sure whether that was referring to me or the judge.
A. Lord Leveson.
Q. Okay. Paragraph 10, please.
A. Sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm usually responsible for the jokes.
A. Sorry. Your jokes are much funnier. MR JAY You tell us about what the Star is.
A. Yes.
Q. It's not a political paper?
A. No.
Q. It's not an investigative paper?
A. No.
Q. You cover primarily but obviously not solely celebrity entertainment stories?
A. Yes.
Q. You point out and this needs to be emphasised, I think, and you would wish to do so that in the vast majority of cases, the sources for your stories are obvious. They come directly from the celebrities themselves or their PR teams or are picked up from other media; is that right?
A. Yes, indeed. Very much so.
Q. Could you explain, because it might be said to be counter-intuitive, particularly when you're fed a story by the PR team of a celebrity, what's the process, how does that work?
A. We work very, very closely with celebrities and PRs. The Daily Star is an entertainment, it's there to put a smile on people's faces, so we do work very closely with celebrities and their PRs and if they come to us with a story and it's a suitable story, we'll discuss it further and decide whether it's suitable for publication.
Q. Okay. You say, last four lines of paragraph 10, on the very rare occasions when a story's source is unclear, you carry out further investigations. Presumably we're talking about there the circumstance where the story has not come from the celebrity
A. Yes.
Q. has not come from the PR team, has not been picked up from some other media outlet, but may be a more sensitive source. Is that what you're addressing there?
A. Yes, it is, yes.
Q. What do you do in those circumstances?
A. As I say, we ask what the source is and we try to make sure that the source is as reliable as we possibly can.
Q. But does the Star have people who are close to the celebrity circle who sometimes leak out information to you which the celebrity himself or herself would not be happy about, which we've seen examples of? Does that happen sometimes?
A. It does happen occasionally, but it is quite rare, to be honest with you. I mean, to be honest with you, a lot of the time celebrities leak their own stories.
Q. How many sources are required before you would print a story? Just one or more than one?
A. It depends on the story. Obviously if the subject of the story is the source concerned, it's just the one. It depends entirely on the story.
Q. So if the subject of if the source does not emanate from the celebrity himself or herself, would you be looking for more than one source?
A. Yes, we would.
Q. Is it the policy of the Daily Star to give prior notification of stories to the subject matter?
A. Yes, it is. I always insist that we do go to if it's a story concerning somebody, we do try to go to their agent or their PR for a comment on the story.
Q. You try to, but are there circumstances when you print, having failed to?
A. We do our utmost to get through, to contact people, but obviously people are sometimes not contactable.
Q. Can I ask you, this follows on from paragraph 10, paragraph 12. It's really the concept of entertainment, which is in the fourth line.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Much of its content is intended as entertainment.
A. Yes.
Q. Might it be said that if the objective is to entertain, there isn't an overwhelming or overriding need to ensure that the story is true and accurate; would you accept that?
A. No, no, of course not. To be entertaining doesn't necessarily mean that you can just make a story up. It still has to be accurate and true.
Q. It might be said, if I can put the question a slightly different way, that there might be a kernel of truth, but to make the story more entertaining, you have to spin a bit and weave a bit around the edges. Would you accept that?
A. I think the Daily Star has a certain style of writing that appeals to the readers and stories are written in the way we know appeals to the readers.
Q. I'm not sure whether that accepts the proposition I put to you or rejects it. It might be said to accept it, but could you help me, please?
A. It's well, can you repeat the question again, sorry?
Q. There might be a kernel of truth in the story, but in order to make it more appetising and entertaining to its readers, which obviously you are plugged into
A. Yes, of course.
Q. you spin, embroider and weave around the edges of the story. Does that happen?
A. It's I wouldn't quite put it in those words, but as I say, it's written in a style that we know works for our readers.
Q. I think it's Mr Peppiatt who said to us that there was at one time an obsession with a particular celebrity that was Katie Price or Jordan. I don't know whether that celebrity is still an obsession of your readers, it matters not. But he was talking about a year or two ago. And in order to make her of continuing interest to your readers, you had to embroider and repeat and tell the same story in different ways, otherwise it was no longer going to be published.
A. I've known Kate since she was 17 years old and believe me, Kate doesn't need any help in embroidering her life. She does that quite well herself.
Q. You say in paragraph 12, the use of the word "therefore" in that sentence: "Much of its content is intended as entertainment, and therefore ethical questions do not always arise." What did you mean by that?
A. I think if it's some of the small stories we run, sort of like "So-and-so has a new haircut, it looks lovely", I didn't see there was an ethical debate to be had about that.
Q. Okay, I understand. Paragraph 17, please. This is the issue of the use of search agencies.
A. Yes.
Q. You weren't aware that search agencies were being used at all, is this right, until their existence was adverted to you by your legal team?
A. That's true.
Q. Did it cause you any surprise that you didn't know?
A. Yes, it did, to be honest with you.
Q. After all, it might be said you're the editor, it's the sort of thing you should know?
A. Absolutely.
Q. Why do you think you didn't know?
A. Because I haven't been on the road as a journalist for a long time, and in my day we didn't really do that sort of thing, so I I don't know. I don't question the staff on a daily basis as to their hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute movements, so but yes, I wish I had known.
Q. One explanation might be, and I just put it to you as a hypothesis, that if you have an organisation with a good system of governance, the term we've been using is corporate governance
A. Yes.
Q. then the individuals at the top, the editor, and managing editor, would be made aware of the use of private it's not private investigators here, but search agencies, because that's what the system does, it brings these matters to your attention, and the fact that they weren't brought to your attention suggests that there might be something wrong or inadequate with the system. As a criticism would you accept that or not?
A. I think there might be some truth in that. Our system would throw up things financially, I think, as Nicole discussed earlier on, and on the lineage sheets those things would come up. On the Daily Star, the lineage sheets are always signed by my deputy editor, I don't sign them, and as I said, the figures seemed to be GBP 50, GBP 70 here and there, so it's not something that would come to my notice in that way.
Q. Having studied these documents, two points might be made. You have a financial system?
A. Yes.
Q. And you have a staff handbook?
A. Yes.
Q. But that's it. There's nothing much more, is there?
A. There's not much more, no.
Q. Have you given thought as to whether the system of governance might have to be supplemented in order that precisely this sort of issue could be brought to your attention
A. Yes, absolutely. It's a conversation Nicole and I have had several times now. We are looking to how we can tighten up how our journalists work and to make sure that, you know, everyone is aware of how the paper works properly, because I think there have been mistakes in the past.
Q. You may not have come to any final conclusions, but can you tell us your emerging thoughts about how the system might be approved?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. Any system is capable of improvement?
A. Yes, of course, always.
Q. This isn't a criticism but just tell us a bit about this, please.
A. The conversation that we've had is that when we have new young junior reporters coming into the office, whether they be on a staff basis or on a contract basis, we are setting up some sort of seminar that we could have with them where we talk through how the papers work, the codes we abide by. It would be sort of like a couple of days where we just talk to them and tell them how we work, basically.
Q. So that is a training programme?
A. Yes, yes.
Q. And I understand that, but in terms of the continuing running of the organisation, what improvements, if any, do you think might be desirable?
A. As you say, you can always improve a system, so it's something we are looking at now on a daily basis, and as I said, that's one thing we are going to put in process quite soon. And then it would just be monitoring that and seeing how that progresses.
Q. So nothing else? That's the only suggestion that you're putting forward to us? Is there anything else you could share with us?
A. At present, that's pretty much it.
Q. Okay. Can we move on, please, to paragraph 24. There's one correction you probably want to make to the second sentence. You say: "As I hope I have explained, when the Daily Star pays external sources for information, it is invariably to those individuals who are the subject of the story." I think you mean "usually"?
A. Yes.
Q. Then you say in those circumstances, if I paraphrase, there isn't really a balancing exercise because the source is the celebrity themselves.
A. Very often.
Q. So the only fetter would be considerations of good taste, I imagine?
A. Yes.
Q. Is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. And that would be a matter of your judgment, would it?
A. Yes, or if I'm not there, my deputy.
Q. Then you say there are stories where this is not the case, in other words you were talking about kiss-and-tell.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. But I think you want to point out that kiss-and-tell stories have dwindled in number, is that right, in recent years?
A. True. I mean kiss-and-tell stories have always been more an area that the Sunday titles have specialised in rather than the daily titles and I think they are decreasingly popular with the readers and I think they are done less and less. I think the Internet plays a large part of this as well, because you can read everything you want to read more or less about anybody straight away online, and a lot of celebrities do their own kiss-and-tell versions on the Twitter sites, which is quite astonishing. We can't compete with that, so I think it is a dying storyline.
Q. Is it a question, you think, of public taste changing or is it a question that you've really been beaten to the start line, that the Internet has published the story first and therefore the public doesn't want to read it again in the Star? Is it the latter?
A. I don't think certainly public tastes have changed, given the publicity of certain Internet sites and the amount of people that follow certain celebrities. I think the taste is still there. I just think they are reading it online now.
Q. You say in that context the first priority, the story must be accurate?
A. Yes.
Q. Because obviously if it isn't it's notionally binned. Then you say you weigh up the public interest and the interests of your readers. Why is the interests of your readers relevant?
A. Because we love our readers. They're what pays our wages, basically.
Q. But it might be said that this is putting too much weight on what is of interest to the public, rather than what is truly in the public interest.
A. Ah, that debate.
Q. Would you accept that?
A. It's the nature of any newspaper or magazine to appeal to its readership, and that is what we judge each story on. We want our readers to enjoy the product we are presenting them with.
Q. But would it be fair to say that that, as it were, creates a sort of presumption that if you think the story is going to interest or titivate your readers, that would, as it were, drive the agenda forward and lead to the publication of the story, unless it's thought to be excessively intrusive of the private rights of the subject of the story? Do you accept that possibility?
A. Well, the stories we publish, as I said, we abide by the Editors' Code, and we publish stories that we think our readers are interested in.
Q. Mm.
A. I don't know how else to answer that apart from that.
Q. Okay. You say then in kiss-and-tell stories this would often involve assessing the public persona of the individual involved. Could you define more closely what you mean by "public persona"?
A. Basically it's how people perceive somebody. Say, like a footballer, for example. You know, somebody who has the public image of being a family man, happily married, et cetera, et cetera, but is also, on the other hand, having several affairs and doing drugs or whatever, that's what I think I mean by the public persona.
Q. Can we put doing drugs to one side, because I can see that that may fall into a different category.
A. Yes.
Q. But does it amount to this: it's how you think your readers perceive the individual involved?
A. Yes.
Q. Rather than a more thorough analysis of whether the individual involved has said something expressly, for example said something about the merits of family life, and then you can demonstrate by his or her behaviour that there's a contradiction. Do you see the difference?
A. Yes, I think so.
Q. How does it work for you? I think you may be saying, well, the primary consideration is how our readers perceive the individual involved. Is that fair?
A. I think so, but most of the time the public perception, our readers' perception of a figure is pretty much what they tend to be.
Q. Okay.
A. Does that make sense?
Q. It might do.
A. I don't know either.
Q. Do you see the problem here? Because it may be that your policy is to place excessive weight on what you think your readers really want to read about, however intrusive that might be, rather than a correctly calibrated analysis of where the public interest falls in relation to the private rights of the subjects of your stories?
A. We always take note of privacy and we do abide, as I said, by the Editors' Code.
Q. You take note of privacy or you pay lip service to it?
A. We take note of privacy.
Q. Okay.
A. Serious note. It gets expensive if you don't.
Q. Can I ask you a number of specific questions
A. Yes, of course.
Q. about the front pages. I've shown you these. The copies have improved a bit since the ones I showed you earlier. Just wait a bit while I put these together. Yes, here's the Daily Star. These are all Daily Star ones, I think.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. Just checking they aren't the Star on Sunday. I'll hand this up to you. You've seen these in black and white, I think, earlier. We have better copies now.
A. Thank you. MR JAY I'm just going to hand them up to Lord Justice Leveson in the right order. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I can sort out the order, don't worry. MR JAY Here we go. (Handed) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY First of all, it should be understood that you've had very little notice of this; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. The first headline: "Telly king Cowell is dead." And then there's words underneath.
A. That you can't read on your photocopy.
Q. You can't read, no.
A. It says "The show is finally over for Simon", I think.
Q. Yes. It could be said someone reading this will say, "Oh, heavens above, he's died". Is that fair?
A. Um
Q. I know he's probably only my age and therefore it's unlikely, but
A. The nature of the Daily Star is we are a very young tabloid newspaper. We don't have historic readership, we don't have subscription, we don't have home delivery. We do rely on people picking up the newspaper off the news stands, which is why our front pages have to be as eye-catching as we can make them. "Telly king Cowell is dead" in particular was a quote from Gary Barlow, and obviously you only have a finite amount of words you can fit on a page 1 as a headline. The subject explains as far as a TV show is concerned, I believe the exact quote was and obviously Gary Barlow was only joking, because that's the nature of their relationship "As far as we're concerned, Cowell's dead", as far as the show was concerned, and that is explained in the sub-deck and the copy. But yes, it was designed to be an eye-catching headline.
Q. Yes, to create as much impact as possible in order that the person passing the newspaper stand might say, "I'll buy the Star today"; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Even though if one was going to be pernickety about it, if not slightly pompous about it, it's wrong, isn't it?
A. Um it's dramatic. Eye-catching.
Q. The next one: "Terror as plane hits ash cloud."
A. Yes.
Q. This is 21 April 2010.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. There was no plane hitting an ash cloud, was there?
A. It was taken from a TV documentary that was on television that night, and this is their reconstruction of that. As I said, a lot of our stories are taken from TV programmes.
Q. It was a computer-generated image taken from a TV programme?
A. Yes, which the copy did make clear.
Q. Showing a plane on fire; is that right?
A. I can't quite see if it's on fire or not, but it was sort of like going through a cloudy bit. It was taken from the TV programme, it was a grab from the TV programme.
Q. There are no inverted commas here, are there?
A. Because, as far as the headline was concerned, it was referring to the terror on the TV programme, and this is the dramatisation.
Q. Anybody looking at this, would think, "Heavens above" and this isn't funny at all.
A. No, of course not. It's not funny.
Q. Fortunately it didn't happen, that the plane had hit an ash cloud and there was terror as a result. Wouldn't that be fair?
A. It would be fair. As I said, it was taken from a TV programme who did do exactly that.
Q. Were you aware that some airport authorities thought that this headline was so irresponsible that they removed copies of the Daily Star from airports?
A. No, I must admit I wasn't.
Q. That wasn't brought to your attention, nor the fact that the Media Standards Trust complained?
A. No. No, that's the first I heard.
Q. Really?
A. Serious, yes.
Q. You did publish a correction on 17 July 2010?
A. Yes.
Q. Which I have seen, in which you say: "This may wrongly have suggested that the photo depicted an actual event." And then you apologised for any misunderstanding, didn't you?
A. Yes. An apology that was agreed, yes.
Q. Agreed with whom?
A. With the people that complained. I'm not sure who the actual complainant was.
Q. Not the Media Standards Trust?
A. I think it might have been a PC I don't recall.
Q. You weren't in the PCC then, were you? Maybe you were. This was 21 April 2010. I think you left in January this year, didn't you? January last year.
A. Yes, I think so.
Q. To the best of your knowledge, we can find out, did the PCC intervene over this headline?
A. I honestly can't remember.
Q. What is your considered view now of this headline?
A. It maybe overegged the pudding and occasionally headlines go too far. Maybe this was one of them.
Q. If the mindset, Ms Neesom, is to create as much impact as possible, and/or to entertain, that might drive you to use headlines of this sort regardless of the truth, would you accept that?
A. No, there are lines to be crossed and occasionally, I admit, we do cross lines, as does every newspaper, I believe, but no, we do have standards.
Q. Sometimes you cross a line by a millimetre and sometimes you cross it by a kilometre. We're close to the latter, aren't we, here?
A. Yes. It's probably slightly more than a millimetre in that case, yes.
Q. Slightly more?
A. Slightly more.
Q. Hmm. Then the last one: "English Defence League to become a political party."
A. Yes.
Q. This is 9 February 2011.
A. Yes.
Q. I've been asked to put it to you that this headline is entirely fabricated.
A. Not at all.
Q. What do you say about that?
A. It is based on a fact.
Q. And what is the fact?
A. We this particular group were going to go on I think it was I can't remember which it was a mainstream TV programme, and we were concerned about their appearance on this TV programme, so we spoke to a source connected to the group and they said that their long-term ambition was to become a political party. We weren't the only paper to run this news story, and I believe recently a Sunday broadsheet has run a similar story exposing fundraising that has this aim in mind.
Q. I've also been asked to put to you that the Star had decided at a morning conference that this was the story going to be run the next day, after a phone poll suggested readers sympathised with the English Defence League. Is that correct?
A. Not at all, no. It was based on the fact that this particular group were going to go on a TV programme which obviously it's well-known we are a Jewish company, and we were quite concerned about that.
Q. Was the agenda rather different? Because it might there are two possibilities here or three possibilities. One is that you're just reporting a fact neutrally. One is that you're reporting a fact with the spin it would be appalling if the English Defence League were to become a political party because they are a fascist party, or a third might be it's a good idea that they become a political party because we sympathise with them. Where was the Star in relation to
A. The Star in relation to this, as I said, we are run by, you know, we are a Jewish company, a Jewish-owned company, was we were worried by this development and we still are. I found this story in I can't remember what story it was, it was a Sunday broadsheet, and they exposed people that were fundraising for this to happen, and that is still going on.
Q. I'm moving off headlines onto more general questions.
A. Okay. MR JAY Of which I've given you notice, but I think we might might we take our break before those? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Certainly. Certainly. Seven minutes. (11.25 am) (A short break) (11.34 am) MR JAY Ms Neesom, I go back to the use of search agencies.
A. Yes.
Q. You heard the evidence this morning in relation to Ms Patterson, the inquiry, the internal investigation which is being undertaken. Have you been made aware before today of the preliminary results of the investigation, especially the use of five search agencies?
A. No.
Q. So that hasn't been drawn to your attention before now; is that right?
A. No.
Q. And the use of JJ Services, is that news to you or not?
A. I've never heard of JJ Services, to be honest.
Q. Whilst you were editor you still are editor of the Daily Star, the Information Commissioner's report came out. I think it's right to say that your paper was near the bottom of the list; is that right?
A. I think we had two incidences, and I think Nicole would agree, we're not sure whether it's the Daily Star or the Daily Star on Sunday. Both titles were lumped together, so I don't even know it's the Daily Star.
Q. But in relation to the continued use of JJ Services, at least until 2010, from these documents, is that something which causes you concern?
A. Yes. I didn't know we did.
Q. All right. Why is it that it was only today, you think, that you learnt of that?
A. I don't know.
Q. Notwithstanding that this internal investigation has been going on since 26 July last year, does that cause you surprise?
A. It does, I must admit, yes.
Q. It goes back to the issue of corporate governance and proper systems in place, because you're the person at the top?
A. Yes.
Q. At the pinnacle of the hierarchy. Does it suggest to you that something needs to be done to improve systems?
A. Definitely, yes. Systems can always be improved and this is definitely one of them.
Q. But what are you going to do about it?
A. I will discuss it with Nicole and Paul Ashford. Immediately.
Q. You told me before we had our break what you've done thus far is to consider bringing in better training programmes?
A. For reporters, yes.
Q. But nothing more than that to date?
A. Obviously, now I think we do need to have a conversation.
Q. Okay. Mr Peppiatt told us, and therefore I need to put it to you at least for comment, that it's the agenda which dictates the story, and the agenda is defined by what your readership want to read. Is that fair or not?
A. We are in the business of selling newspapers, so we do try to make the product as suitable to our readers as possible, if that's the same thing.
Q. It may or may not be the same thing, but when we get to whether comment about fact is appropriate or not, or balanced or not, if you have a preset agenda before you investigate the facts, then the story might be said to be written up to meet that preset agenda. Is that something which the Star does?
A. No.
Q. And why do you say that with such or any confidence, Ms Neesom?
A. Because we write stories to be as accurate as possible. So if there's they're written in a certain way, they're written in Daily Star style, absolutely.
Q. Is there an anti-Islamic agenda at the Star?
A. No, not at all.
Q. Is there a tendency to describe people as Muslim thugs on the one hand, and their targets as British on the other hand?
A. No, not at all, because you can be British and Muslim.
Q. But in the context we're talking about, you'll always be British and Muslim, won't you?
A. Sorry?
Q. Can I take you to some specific
A. Yes, please.
Q. stories? A slight technical difficulty is that the website I'm looking at cannot be printed off, but I have it online here and I'm going to hand you my iPad and we have another iPad I'm going to hand up. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Don't worry about me. MR JAY You're going to have it as well because we have it online for you. In order to stop that falling asleep, I'm going to have to ask you to
A. Keep wiggling it about.
Q. That sort of thing.
A. Yes.
Q. The first headline, and this is for 7 September 2011, this isn't the anti-Muslim agenda, this is another example of distortion of facts, allegedly: "Sex tease Amy gets BB boot." And BB in that sentence is Big Brother.
A. Yes.
Q. Do you have that?
A. Yes.
Q. "An eviction shock for sobbing telly babe." And the Tabloid Watch point out that she hadn't been evicted from Big Brother.
A. I honestly don't remember this story, I'm sorry. I don't know what the "boot" refers to. It could have been from The Only Way is Essex, from her agency. I'm not familiar with the story, I'm sorry.
Q. Underneath the big headline it says: "Eviction shock for sobbing telly babe."
A. Yes.
Q. So it is being suggested that the boot is the eviction from Big Brother, isn't it?
A. As I say, I'm not familiar with this story, so I don't know.
Q. So you don't accept this is another example of a titivating headline in order to attract readers?
A. It's certainly a titivating headline and the yes, the aim was to attract readers.
Q. Can you scroll down a bit to the heading "Muslims in the Daily Star".
A. Yes.
Q. Tabloid Watch says: "During November, only seven different topics appeared as the front page lead on the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday." You're not responsible for the latter.
A. No.
Q. Here's the list, together with the number of times they appeared, and we see the X Factor 12 days, Katie Price and/or Peter Andre six days, Muslims three days and then various others. I think the question at this stage is does that give a fair representation of how the Daily Star front pages tend to work?
A. No, not at all, because this was November and I think the store here is about people burning poppies.
Q. Yes.
A. So it's not a fair representation of every month, obviously.
Q. The people burning poppies are "Muslim thugs", according to your headline, but if you scroll down a little bit further down the page we're going to gloss over Daily Star Sunday, since that's not you.
A. Yes.
Q. That's the headline: "Hooks GBP 10,000 handout." I needn't ask you about that.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. But the first headline: "Armistice Day outrage. Muslim thugs burn poppies. Sickening scenes on British streets."
A. Yes.
Q. Is that your choice of language?
A. I don't remember if I actually wrote the headline or the sub-deck, but burning poppies on streets I think is pretty outrageous behaviour.
Q. Is it the policy of the Star to balance stories such as this, particularly if you're going to give them such prominence, with stories of a different nature, which give you a different picture, in other words?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. Are you able to give us any examples of pro-Muslim stories, if I can put it in those terms?
A. Yes. There was the story of the recent riots in the summer, where there was a very, very brave man who spoke out to the Islamic community about his son's death and we it was a very, very positive story and a very moving story.
Q. Okay. The next headline, if you scroll down, Daily Star: "Muslim thugs aged just 12 in knife attack on Brit schoolboy." Do you see that?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. But it was clear, wasn't it, that this was merely and I don't diminish it in any way threats posted on Facebook rather than an actual physical attack; do you accept that?
A. I I must confess I am not familiar with this particular story, I'm reading it here, and Facebook death threats, I think that's an attack, whether it's physical or on Facebook. I mean, most children these days are bullied and attacked constantly on Facebook and I think it's a problem.
Q. No doubt it is, but the wording "Muslim thugs aged just 12 in knife attack", that does suggest to one objective reader, at least, that there was a physical attack on whom you describe as a Brit school
A. Yes, I agree it could be interpreted that way.
Q. Could be or could only be interpreted in that way?
A. I said I'm not familiar with this story and I didn't write the headlines, so
Q. Again, it's the tendentious language. The Muslim thugs are British, yet it's the "Brit schoolboy". So you have the very uncomfortable juxtaposition and a tendentious message you're transmitting, would you accept?
A. I think it could be interpreted that way. As I said, I'm really not familiar with this story, which is a bit frustrating.
Q. You're resisting, or you're entitled to resist, the interpretation I'm putting on it, but it might be said that you are overresisting an interpretation which is the only interpretation you could fairly put on this story; wouldn't you agree?
A. I think yes, you can interpret it in the way you've interpreted it, and obviously people have done, you know, for which is you know, is not good.
Q. It's not good, but what, if anything, is being done about it to address this bias, Ms Neesom? Because you're the editor, you're the person responsible for this sort of message.
A. Yes, absolutely. We are not biased against Muslims. This is one story that, as I say, I am frustratingly not aware of, I don't remember writing this headline, so it's an issue we will address when I go back to the office.
Q. But this sort of story goes onto the front page of your paper in this language, I would suggest to you, because you know that it what your readers want to see. Is that not right?
A. We put stories on page 1 that we think the readers are interested in, yes, that is true. Whether this story appealed to them in particular, I don't know, I don't know what the sales figures were for this day. It's frustratingly not a story I'm aware of.
Q. But you would be able to tell us, would you not, if there had been a clamour of outrage from your readers once they read that paper, because your email box would be absolutely bristling with such emails, which presumably didn't happen, did it?
A. I honestly don't remember.
Q. But you would remember if it did happen, wouldn't you?
A. As I don't remember the actual story, it's I'm not sure.
Q. There are examples of stories this is Tabloid Watch again.
A. I don't know what Tabloid Watch is, I'm sorry.
Q. You really don't know?
A. No, I seriously don't. MR DINGEMANS Can I raise one matter, sir, about these headlines? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mm. MR DINGEMANS I've given my learned friend as much latitude as possible. I did ask him for notice of questions that were going to be put to editors simply so they could prepare. My learned friend very fairly gave notice to Ms Neesom around 9.30 that he was going to raise these matters, but there are perfectly proper questions that can be made of the headlines, but the witness has not had an opportunity or any fair opportunity to go back and research the detail. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm very happy if, when that happens, you want to write to the Inquiry, and I will make sure that it goes into the record of the Inquiry. MR DINGEMANS I'm very grateful, sir. MR JAY I think the point Tabloid Watch, rightly or wrongly, are making is that your policy is to single out stories or interpretation of stories which are anti-Islamic, but there are many stories which are or go entirely the other way. So, for example, this is just one example they give, a youth association in Croydon raised ?20,963 as part of their Poppy Appeal. Is that the sort of story which the Daily Star has ever published?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. Of course?
A. Yes.
Q. That sort of story?
A. Yes. We do publish positive stories.
Q. Can you give me any examples of those?
A. In connection with the poppies?
Q. Yes, or at all.
A. The example I gave earlier of the riot story.
Q. If I were to invite it wouldn't be me, it would be Lord Justice Leveson invite you to come back to us in writing, and you can have as much time as you like, over the past year of pro-Islamic stories, however you want to characterise it, which give us at least a balanced perspective, you would do that, would you?
A. Yes, of course, delighted to. Yes.
Q. Okay. We'll see what you provide. There's another example of a poppy painted on the front of a mosque, that that attracted a demonstration, much to the chagrin of the Imam, and you're telling us that's the sort of story you would also publish, would you?
A. Sorry, who painted the poppy on the mosque?
Q. The mosque itself painted the poppy on the front of the mosque because of the fact that it was Remembrance Day, or about to be, but that attracted hostility.
A. I'm not aware of that story, I'm sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I suppose the real point is not so much specific examples, but I'm sure you're conscious of what Mr Peppiatt said when he gave evidence, and it's really the underlying thrust, rather than the individual examples. MR JAY Yes.
A. I am aware of what Mr Peppiatt said, yes.
Q. I think your evidence is that you don't accept the charge that there is an anti-Islamic agenda.
A. No, not at all.
Q. And if there were a pro Islamic agenda, or rather, if I can put it in these terms, a balanced agenda, how would that play out with your readers, do you think?
A. Fine. We do have a balanced agenda and we've never had a problem with the readers.
Q. What feedback do you get from your readers in relation to front pages such as this, if any?
A. We have a forum page, which is like a modern version of a letters page, where readers text in their thoughts and comments.
Q. If I'm focusing on this particular agenda, but of course there may be others. Are the messages largely supportive or largely hostile?
A. On what subject?
Q. The anti-Islamic issue.
A. It's not something they tend to text about, to be honest with you. They text more about TV programmes and who fancies who and stuff like that. The forum page is it's light-hearted fun. Politics really isn't a big issue with the readers.
Q. Maybe it isn't, but the issue we're focusing on at the moment, I fully accept it's a political issue in the wider sense of the term, but I think the sense of your evidence is that you don't get any feedback which is hostile to this sort of front page. Is that fair?
A. Hostile to that as in?
Q. Opposing it.
A. Opposing sort of the poppy burning thing?
Q. The two front pages we've been looking at.
A. The poppy burning, yes, that did get a lot of feedback from readers, yes.
Q. And what was, in general terms, the thrust of the feedback? Was it
A. They were angry.
Q. Was it one of shared outrage with the position you were taking?
A. They were angry. They were angry that people were burning poppies, yes. Regardless of who was doing the burning, they were angry about it. As I think I mean, most papers did run that story. I think the Sun also ran that on their page 1 and did a similar line.
Q. I think the issue is not so much running the story, but the tone of the running, in particular the front page caption. Do you see that?
A. Yes, I do. My recollection is that I believe we had a very similar line to the Sun. I don't know, I can't remember the actual headline.
Q. Mr Peppiatt also told us that a huge amount of material comes through PR agencies and is then cycled or recycled into your page. Is that true or not?
A. I think in common with all titles we get an awful lot of PR stuff through, yes.
Q. But does the Star tend to use it as really the basic fodder for its celebrity stories?
A. No, no, not the basic fodder, no. It takes a large part of it, but
Q. So PR stories are a substantial part of the Star's daily business, isn't it?
A. Yes, I mean yeah, I don't think there's anything wrong with using PRs, although some of them can be a bit bad.
Q. In terms of pressure put on journalists, is it right that if a certain level of stories or number of stories is not printed in the year, I think he gave the figure of 12 stories, then journalists are fired?
A. I've never heard that before, I'm sorry.
Q. How often are staff journalists fired for failing to achieve?
A. I don't remember ever firing a staff journalist, to be honest with you.
Q. Okay. Would that be your responsibility or the managing editor's?
A. It would be my decision to fire somebody, but the managing editor would probably carry out the actual task, but I don't remember ever firing anybody.
Q. What criteria do you use in relation to whether casual staff should be promoted or become staff reporters?
A. Purely on how well they performed as a casual reporter.
Q. How is that assessed?
A. On their day-to-day operating.
Q. Yes, but what criteria, if any, do you apply?
A. How good a reporter they are, how accurate they are, how many stories they bring in, the accuracy of those stories. Just how good a journalist they are.
Q. Is this audited or put in writing in any way, or is it just your gut reaction to how they've performed?
A. It is mainly I rely on the experience of my very experienced news desk. They're the ones that deal on a day to day basis with the young reporters we have, so I trust their judgment.
Q. Do you use appraisal forms, or is it just a question of asking them?
A. It's just a question of talking amongst ourselves.
Q. So there aren't any appraisal forms; is that right?
A. No, we don't do appraisal forms, no.
Q. Is this another example of rather thin or nonexistent systems, in other words it's all done by feel and by judgment?
A. I must admit, I've never worked anywhere that has had an appraisal form for journalists.
Q. Okay. Do your reporters have any recourse if they believe they are having to act unethically? In other words, is there a whistle-blowing policy at the Star?
A. We are, as I said, a very small team. I sit on the news floor all the time. It's a very open team. We all talk to each other on a daily basis. You can talk to me, my door is always open. If I'm not sitting on the news floor, you can talk to the news desk, human resources, the managing editor, you can talk to Mr Ashford. There are loads of ways of going about it.
Q. You may well have an open-door policy, Ms Neesom. That's not the same as a whistle-blowing policy. Do you see the difference?
A. I guess so, yes.
Q. But do you have a whistle-blowing policy or not?
A. I'm not sure what a whistle-blowing policy would actually consist of, to be honest with you.
Q. I've seen many examples of it, indeed in LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The idea is that somebody can make a complaint in a way that doesn't in any sense reflect on them, and therefore won't or can't be taken out on them.
A. Yes, we have a human resources department who are completely independent of the newspaper. MR JAY But normally these days, if I may be forgiven putting it in these terms, an organisation with a clear system of governance will have a whistle-blowing policy so it's made absolutely clear that if you blow the whistle, and in your sort of context it would be a journalist feeling that he or she is being asked to behave in an unethical manner, there's a clear procedure to be followed and it's absolutely crystal clear that there will be no comeback on the journalist. Do you understand all of that?
A. Yes, of course I understand that.
Q. Do you have such a system or not?
A. They can go to human resources. We don't I've never had a whistle-blowing experience, to be honest with you.
Q. It might be that someone, a journalist, feels that the sort of headlines we've been looking at stray well over the line of what's ethical and they want to complain about it, but they feel that they can't precisely because if they were to, they would be out of the door. Do you see that?
A. No, it doesn't operate like that on the Daily Star. We're not that sort of company. I'm certainly not running that sort of news floor.
Q. There was litigation, I think it's right to say, over the Christopher Jefferies case; is that right?
A. Yes.
Q. And the defamatory article was on the front page of your newspaper, was it?
A. Yes.
Q. And of course you were in good or bad company, since you weren't the only paper sued over the
A. I think there were lots of people involved, yes.
Q. There were lots of papers involved. I think there were eight papers involved, weren't there?
A. Yes.
Q. So there was good strength of numbers, but can I ask you about the apology, which was published on 30 July, because I have been asked to put this to you, 30 July last year?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. That the apology was on page 2, not on page 1, but I think you're in a position to explain why; is that right?
A. I think that was as was agreed with between the legal teams.
Q. So that was
A. That was acceptable to
Q. a settlement which Mr Jefferies came to?
A. That was acceptable to him, yes.
Q. Can I ask a little bit more about that? The articles in question were published on 31 December 2010 and 1 January 2011.
A. Yes.
Q. I've given the dates. I know Mr Mohan, for example, of the Sun was on holiday at that time and it's for that reason I didn't ask him questions about it, but were you on holiday at the time?
A. I was on holiday over the New Year period, yes.
Q. So you didn't know about the articles, is this right, until you came back into the office?
A. That's true.
Q. But were you involved in any way in the litigation over the articles?
A. No.
Q. Were your views sought at all about whether the articles were defamatory or acceptable?
A. It was dealt with by the legal team.
Q. Is this your evidence, you had no input at all into any of the process which culminated in settling the case with Mr Jefferies and publishing an apology; is that right?
A. The legal team came to me and said, "This is the complaint that's been made, we need to make an apology, we need to make it on page 2", and I said, "Yes, fine".
Q. Did you not investigate the matter any further than that?
A. I asked the news team as to what had happened, how the story had come about and what the background was to it, yes.
Q. All right, so you did carry out an investigation. What was your attitude to the story when particularly when it was explained to you that you would have to make a payment to Mr Jefferies on the grounds that it was defamatory?
A. I was annoyed that we'd messed up.
Q. What did you do about that, if anything?
A. I discussed it with the people concerned.
Q. And who were those people? The journalists and the news editor?
A. And it would have been the person duty editing the paper on the day, yes.
Q. What were the nature of the discussions in general terms?
A. They weren't cuddly. I was annoyed. I mean, it shouldn't happen.
Q. You were annoyed because it cost the paper money or you were annoyed because it was unethical or something different?
A. On both counts, on both counts.
Q. What, if anything, has been done within your systems to ensure this sort of thing and I know you were in good company, numerically at least, seven other papers but this sort of thing wouldn't happen again?
A. Well, it's an ongoing process. We just on a daily basis make sure these things do not happen. To the best of our ability. We were in good company, and most newspapers did that story very badly. It wasn't a good time. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's interesting, I hadn't really thought about the fact that because it was over the New Year, all the top people in these newspapers were likely not to be there, and therefore the top people, the editors, weren't applying their minds to the particular issue and it was being done at a lower level.
A. It would have been LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I hadn't worked out the timing on it.
A. Because it was New Year's Eve, I think most editors would have been away and it would have been duty editors that were taking part in that, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That's an interesting facet. MR JAY To be clear, I was using "good company" either ironically or
A. I know, I know. I appreciate that.
Q. You were in fact in very bad company, although they were
A. Very bad company. It was not it was a bad mistake. I mean newspapers, all newspapers, make mistakes.
Q. I think what interests the Inquiry is that there were eight titles which were sued over the same sort of story. Same sort of defamatory story. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Does that happen, that you'll pick up stories from other press?
A. I think all titles pick up stories from other newspapers and magazines, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON One of the things that Mr Peppiatt said was, "If it's in the Daily Mail, it's okay for us".
A. The Daily Mail is obviously a market leader, a very good newspaper, has a very good website, but we don't just lift stories from their website and put it in the paper without at least checking. MR JAY It's something I've noticed, and I'm not giving evidence, that there are certain papers who do indeed lift articles from other papers, because I have personal experience of that in the sense that I've seen that on numerous occasions, but can I ask how it works? Is there a team within the Star which reads your competitors' papers?
A. It's the job of a journalist to read every newspaper every day.
Q. And if, for example, you see, inverted commas, a good story, close inverted commas, from another paper, that you may recycle that in a slightly different way?
A. It depends on where the story is seen and what readership crossover there is, yes.
Q. Of course, provided that the judgment is formed that the story may be of interest to your readers and provided that you may satisfy yourself that the story is not defamatory, you'll then use it, will you?
A. I don't see a problem with that, no.
Q. Is there a tendency to use stories from papers which are positioned in the same sort of political domain as your paper; in other words, to make it more explicit, the right-wing press, if I can be given for using slightly tendentious language?
A. Not necessarily, no. I mean, if there's a story, it's a good story, no matter what paper or magazine it's in, you know, we will consider using it.
Q. Did you have any involvement with stories about the McCanns?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did any of those stories result in litigation?
A. Yes.
Q. Against your paper?
A. Yes.
Q. And were those stories of similar character to the stories we've seen in the context of the Express, your sister paper?
A. Yes.
Q. And did you have any involvement in those stories, in particular headlines?
A. I would have done, yes.
Q. You would have or don't use the conditional. You either did or you didn't?
A. It depends on what headline we're talking about on what day.
Q. So some of them I think your answer is you were involved in some but not necessarily all?
A. Not necessarily all, no.
Q. Right. How did it come about that such defamatory and distressing stories ever found the light of day in your paper?
A. From memory, we were the source of the stories was entirely coming from Portugal. We had one reporter out in Portugal covering the story and we were being fed stories by the Portuguese police and press.
Q. You were being fed them, but that suggests that it was almost an automatic response that you would include them in your paper?
A. Yeah. The source of the stories was the Portuguese police and press.
Q. But is this right, that because of the nature of the information, that it was really leaks from the Portuguese police, that your sources couldn't really be checked, could they?
A. It was very hard to check sources, yes.
Q. So you were running a huge risk, weren't you, in publishing these stories?
A. Yes, there was a risk, yes.
Q. A risk or huge risk?
A. It was a risk, and, you know, to this day I regret I regret what happened in the McCann case, and I can only repeat the apology we published on page 1, very happily published on page 1, to the McCanns for the hurt and the distress we caused them.
Q. Of course we understand that, Ms Neesom. It's just the thought process at the time, that it must have been obvious to you that not merely was there a huge litigation risk, which you called it wrong, but also that the stories were extremely wounding and damaging
A. Yes, and I
Q. in that not merely had the McCanns physically lost their daughter, she had disappeared, but the accusation was they were responsible for that. What was your thought process, if any, as to the ramifications of publishing such stories?
A. With hindsight, I as I say, I am deeply sorry for the upset we caused. At the time, I honestly don't recall what my thought process was. It was a story that was a huge story, it was the only story everybody was talking about whenever you went, and the interest was huge. And the stories we were getting were coming from what I thought at the time was a reliable source, ie a police force.
Q. But wasn't the guiding factor then this: that the story was of huge interest to your readers
A. To everybody.
Q. You knew that. The story would have the possibility, at least, of increasing your sales, and therefore, regardless of its truth, you were going to run it. Is that not fair?
A. I'm not sure that it did increase sales. I can't remember the sales figures. We ran the story because it was huge, it was the only story of the day. Nobody else was talking about anything else wherever you went. You went to the supermarket, people talked about it. It was a huge, huge story, and mistakes were made, for which I am truly sorry.
Q. It's the size of the story which is the predominant consideration and also the impact it will have; is that fair?
A. Yes. Obviously big stories are big stories, yes.
Q. Thank you. Some general questions, which you have been given notice of.
A. Mm-hm.
Q. What, please, is your vision for the paper, and in what way will you realise that in the way you lead your organisation?
A. Well, obviously after this morning there's a lot of work to be done. As you say, systems can always be improved and that's something we will work on as a newspaper. My vision for the newspaper as a whole is it's a very difficult time for the entire industry. I want to see the paper improve. I think the Leveson Inquiry is a brilliant opportunity for us to move on as a group, as an industry, and improve. Mistakes have been made, dreadful mistakes have been made. I love the industry, I'm very proud to call myself a journalist and I really want to move on and make things right and make it work together.
Q. What, if anything, have you done to change the culture of the organisation which you head?
A. As editor of the Daily Star? I in reference to the Daily Star itself, I have tried to make it more acceptable to both sexes. It was a very laddie paper. I've tried to make it more acceptable to both sexes. I've tried obviously to grow the circulation, and I've tried to make it a fair and accurate and entertaining newspaper.
Q. In what respects does the organisation now reflect your leadership?
A. I hope we produce, on balance, a fair, accurate, entertaining newspaper that the readers enjoy.
Q. What is your biggest priority going forward?
A. There's a very obvious answer to that: obviously to stay in business. It's a very difficult time, as I said. The competition from the Internet is huge, it's a problem all newspapers will face, but the vision going forward is to be successful, to basically move on from where we are today in a positive way.
Q. I address the issue of regulation.
A. Yes, of course.
Q. Others will deal with this in more detail, but the Northern Shell papers left the PCC in January of last year?
A. Yes, they did.
Q. It wasn't your decision, of course?
A. No.
Q. We understand that. Was it a decision which you were happy with?
A. It was a decision I I I agreed with the board's decision to withdraw from the PCC. I did feel that it had sort of lost its way somewhat, and with hindsight I think that has proved to be the case. But I really do believe there is a way forward and we had a very positive meeting with Lord Hunt just before Christmas, and it was amazing because all the newspaper editors were in one room together working to improve the industry, which I think is a fantastic thing and I think it's a fantastic opportunity to do so.
Q. I'm going to ask a question in these terms. I mean, ignoring Lord Hunt and what your other editors think
A. Yes.
Q. the question is directed only at you: what improvements to the regulatory system would you propose?
A. Oh, gosh. I think self-regulation can work. I think it's a dangerous area when you have editors on a self-regulatory panel, because people have agendas. But, yes, I'm in favour of self-regulation and I think it's something that we do need to think long and hard about.
Q. Yes. I'm not sure that that's giving us any practical solution apart from we need to think more about it. Is there anything tangible you could give us, Ms Neesom?
A. Pretty much, as I said, pretty much with what we discussed with Lord Hunt I think is there are a lot of positive suggestions in there. I could go through them, but I'm sure
Q. We don't need them because he'll give those to us.
A. Exactly, yes.
Q. But what we might need is your view, untrammeled by the views of others. Is there anything you want to add to what you've just said?
A. Not really, no. As I said, I think self-regulation can work, and I think this is a positive start to it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I think, really, one could ask you to answer your own question. Because what you said just a moment or so ago was this I'll just find it that you felt the Inquiry was a "brilliant opportunity for us to move on as a group
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON as an industry, and improve". So the real question is how would you move on? What would you encourage me to say or do that will allow you to move on?
A. I would encourage you to listen very carefully to what people are saying and take into consideration their views and you're far more intelligent than I am, so I know you're going to come up with something very good. MR JAY Yes, thank you very much.
A. Thank you very much. MR JAY It's Mr Whittow next, please. MR HUGH WHITTOW (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Thank you very much. Your full name, please?
A. Hugh John Whittow.
Q. Thank you. In file 1 under tab 17, we will find your witness statement, please, also dated 16 September 2011.
A. Yes.
Q. There's a statement of truth that's been signed by you and this is your evidence.
A. Right.
Q. It should be recognised that all the evidence from the Express papers, I think, have come in by the initial deadline the Inquiry set you, so you in that sense have done yourselves proud, if you don't mind me saying so, but can I ask you about yourself? You, of course, now are the editor of the Daily Express?
A. Yes.
Q. And have been since the retirement I think of Mr Hill, which was February 2011.
A. That's right.
Q. As regards your career, you joined the Daily Star in the late 1970s. In the mid-1980s you joined the Sun?
A. That's right.
Q. Under Kelvin MacKenzie, as we know?
A. That's right.
Q. You returned to the Star to become a deputy editor. When was that about?
A. I went back in about 1986 or 1987. I didn't go back as deputy editor, I went back as a news reporter and quickly became the night editor, night news editor.
Q. And then you became deputy editor?
A. I then became news editor and then I became deputy editor about four or five years after that.
Q. Thank you. And then at some stage, it's not clear from your statement, you became the launch editor of the Daily Star Sunday?
A. I did.
Q. When was that about?
A. It was 2001, I think, 2002.
Q. And then you moved to the Daily Express and now of course you're the editor of the Express. Can I ask you this general question: you've been in the industry for some time?
A. Yes.
Q. The difference, if any, of culture between the newspapers, the ones you've worked in, is there any?
A. Not really. You know, when I started on a weekly paper all those years ago, we abided by the same rules and principles. I've been to different newspapers, some are more energetic than others, but they all seem the same to me. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Could I just press you on that in one regard? Is the culture that operates in your newsroom today different from the culture that operated in the Sun under Mr MacKenzie?
A. There is a big difference, yes. But on the other hand we still have some characters. It's not LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I wasn't saying
A. a church. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I wasn't suggesting you don't have characters, but before we talk about the characters, I'd very much like you to explain what the big differences are, and I will let Mr Jay elaborate with you.
A. The change came when computers came into the building. Everything is now very, very disciplined. There used to be a carefree attitude, I suppose. There was a lot of people around in those days. It's very practically every newsroom, I would imagine now, is tight-knit and, as I say, very disciplined, everybody knows their jobs and everybody goes about it, and it's probably the biggest difference is that people work twice as hard, or three times as hard. MR JAY Mr MacKenzie told us, if I paraphrase his evidence correctly, that he was a bit of the in the "lob it in" school just wait for the end of the question but made it clear that in his view things have become much more cautious and it's no longer the standard which is applied. Can you comment on that?
A. I heard part of Mr MacKenzie's evidence and I know him reasonably well. I can't remember it being a "lob it in" operation at all. There was a lot of consideration given to all stories. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's interesting, because he said it at the seminars, and
A. It wasn't lobbed in at all. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But he said it in the seminar and he was deliberately given the opportunity to say something different when he was giving evidence, and what one might say for the sake of effect at a seminar might not be quite what you'd say in evidence formally
A. Perhaps he thought it was being lobbed in, but I don't think the journalists thought it was being lobbed in, because if you ever did anything wrong or got anything incorrect, you soon knew about it. MR JAY And how did you soon know about it?
A. You were told in no uncertain terms that you'd messed up.
Q. Maybe he was speaking from the perspective of an editor rather than the perspective of a journalist. Is there a difference?
A. He may have been, yes. Perhaps he wanted to generate that sort of atmosphere. But it was a very tight-run professional ship.
Q. Of course, this issue cuts a number of ways, because if your evidence is that there's been no change in culture from the 1980s compared with 2012, it might be said that everything's the same, there have been no improvements, no deteriorations.
A. No, I did say that everything has been tightened up since computers started hitting the news rooms. There's more discipline, everybody knows their jobs' descriptions, and everybody works together now. People used to go off on a tangent quite often. We all know what we're doing these days.
Q. Okay. Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 8 of your statement. This is the culmination of a section in your evidence when you explain to the Inquiry how the newspaper operates and there are a number of conferences which occur.
A. Yes.
Q. That's the same sort of picture we have from all the papers, although of course there are parochial differences, that's understood. You explain that the front page is the only page you really do yourself, so is this right, you select the main headline?
A. Yes.
Q. And the way in which it's turned, is that right?
A. The way the front page is drawn, yes.
Q. And what is the thinking? Is it to create maximum impact?
A. No. The main task of the day is to do the story of the day. If bin Laden, when he died, that was the story. When the tsunami happened earlier in the year, the earthquake, they became the big stories of the day. You follow the main story. The royal wedding. You know, these are obviously examples.
Q. Yes, but it isn't quite as simple as that, because it depends how the story is described. If you go back to the sinking of the Belgrano, there are two possibilities, or many possibilities. You can put up a caption, "Gotcha", or you can put up a caption, "Tragedy, 1300 Argentinians might have died" and there are all sorts of possibilities in between.
A. Of course.
Q. But do you accept the point or at least the possibility that the caption will do two things
A. The headline, you mean?
Q. The headline. It will define the tone and direction of the paper?
A. Of course.
Q. But it will also create impact, do you accept that?
A. I do, yes.
Q. Can I ask you some general points about ethos? Do you lay down an editorial line for news journalists or do they absorb osmotically?
A. They absorb it.
Q. How?
A. We, as you can see from my written statements, we have so many conferences during the course of the day which start at 10.15 in the morning, they go right on until about quarter to 2, and then we restart again at about 4.15 and that goes on until about 5.30, 5.45. So they have a complete picture of what is going on in the newspaper, and we don't twist anything. We just present the news of the day.
Q. That's a rather bald way of explaining what happens. Every newspaper because facts don't speak for themselves, or very few do comment on the facts, don't they?
A. Yes, but we've got comment pages where we cover that inside. And our leader pages.
Q. It isn't just about the scientific iteration of a fact; it is about and this would be true of all newspapers putting across a certain line, a certain agenda, a certain world view; do you accept that?
A. Yes.
Q. And the world view of the Express is one which your journalists will absorb, unless they're very stupid, and they're not, after having worked in the newsroom for some time; is that right?
A. That's correct, yeah.
Q. To what extent are journalists expected to show both sides of a story?
A. It's a necessity. I insist on it. It was something that I the way I was brought up: when in doubt, check it out. And if you're still in doubt, leave it out. It's as simple as that, really.
Q. That answer demonstrates that it's drummed into journalists really from day one that stories have to be accurate.
A. From day one.
Q. But that's a different point to the one I was putting to you, namely the extent to which journalists are expected to show both sides of a story.
A. I'd think that that answers the question, doesn't it? They are told that we must get a reaction, we must get a comment, and we do present that in the paper. It would be a very rare occasion when it didn't happen.
Q. I think your answer means this: it's the policy of the Express to notify the individual who may be the subject of the story of the nature of the story and get a comment from them; is that right?
A. Yes.
Q. And that is what you mean by getting both sides?
A. Yes, but if they disagree with the story, we will make sure that that gets due prominence.
Q. What happens if journalists consistently fail to bring in or stand up stories?
A. Nothing.
Q. Nothing?
A. Nothing.
Q. So they just continue
A. Most stories these days are not brought in by journalists. They come through the system. We hear a lot of stories just on the wires, on television, on radio. Stories there's 24-hour news and we work on those stories. Not many are brought in. Probably the diary, they bring in their own stories, they go that's our showbiz page. They go to functions, they talk to showbiz stars and that's where they get their stories, they bring those sorts of stories in.
Q. How would you define a good journalist?
A. They have to be very talented, they have to be very bright and very thorough.
Q. You might be defining a good lawyer, or you might not. Can you be a little bit more precise than that?
A. How can you, you know?
Q. Okay. How would you define, if this isn't an unfair question, a good editor?
A. A good editor is someone that knows almost everything that's going on in the paper, gives the staff the right direction, he gives the staff loyalty and gets it in return.
Q. The political position of the Express, and this is not intended as criticism because every paper's entitled to have a position, is currently right of centre?
A. It is, yes.
Q. It takes a certain position on issues such as Europe?
A. It does and in fact we've got a crusade to get Britain out of Europe, which we launched some time ago and we're very happy with.
Q. Yes. You're, of course, entitled to have that, but does that come from you or from somewhere else?
A. No, that came from another paper. That was felt to be the mood at the time, the best way for the country to go, and that's what we embarked on and that's what we intend carrying on with.
Q. So is this a sort of collegiate decision from those high
A. Yes, I think
Q. Just wait for the end of the question high editorial and subeditorial positions within the paper? Is that how it works?
A. It was almost certainly raised by one of our senior political commentators who said that that was the way things were going, there was a lot of feeling. We tested it with our readers, they felt the same, and that's why we've kept on a true path.
Q. How are these things tested with readers?
A. We have phone-ins, we have letters pages. I have a huge number of correspondence. It's easy to judge what they're interested in.
Q. Yes, okay. Is this right, is this how it works, that your finger is constantly on the pulse of your readers, and really the objective is to ensure that what you write resonates with your readers; is that right?
A. To a certain extent, but I do get a lot of letters from people saying, "You know, we didn't like that feature, we didn't like the way you treated that story", so we don't always write to please the readers. We present the truth, hopefully.
Q. Well, I think without entering into a philosophical debate, to state that you present the truth is really attempting to achieve the impossible. You attempt to put forward one version of the truth, can we at least agree on that? Or do you say it is the truth?
A. I won't put anything in the paper unless I think that it is true.
Q. That's certainly correct in relation to a fact. There are certain facts which either occurred or did not occur. We're talking
A. But at the time, at the time of writing.
Q. But you know, Mr Whittow, that the question is directed to something else. It's directed to comment, it's directed to opinion, and I think we must agree that your objective is to put forward one version of the truth, isn't it? If the answer is no, or your objective is to put forward only the truth, then there isn't a need to show both sides of the story because there isn't another side of the story. Do you see the logic of that?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. This isn't a philosophical debate.
A. I understand.
Q. I couldn't resist. Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 11 and the issue of new recruits.
A. Yes.
Q. And freelancers.
A. Yes.
Q. First of all, what proportion of your journalists are freelancers as opposed to staff journalists?
A. Throughout the whole of the floor, that includes sports, city, features?
Q. Yes, just a general percentage.
A. I would think probably 20 per cent.
Q. Are freelancers?
A. Are freelance. I'm not absolutely sure, but I think about 20 per cent across the whole floor.
Q. We heard from one of your competitors, and you may or may not agree, that there are difficulties with freelancers because you have less control over them. If you train them up too well, they end up working for your competitors?
A. Yes.
Q. And there are disadvantages. What's your view about freelancers?
A. You know, I don't want to hark back to the old days, but that's the way it's always worked in Fleet Street. You got a job as staff reporter by working your way up through the provincial the weekly papers, provincial papers, and then unless you were very, very fortunate and got a staff job you'd have to become a casual in Fleet Street, and your talents would be tested and you'd hope that you got a job in the end.
Q. Who's
A. The standard has improved dramatically because of graduate trainees. There are many journalistic courses now. Everybody still wants to be a journalist, believe it or not, and so there's a very big pool to pick from.
Q. Yes. In terms of hiring recruits, particularly at the bottom, is that something you
A. How do you mean, the bottom?
Q. The junior, the most junior recruits?
A. Yes.
Q. Particularly those of postgraduate level. Are you responsible for heading up that or does someone else do it?
A. No, it's normally the heads of department. Every department within the paper recruits people on a casual basis. If they want to employ them at some stage, they don't hesitate to come and see me.
Q. The PCC issue, paragraph 14. The point you make there because I'll take this up with Mr Ashford and Mr Desmond if necessary.
A. Yes.
Q. You say: "Complainants started to use PCC decisions to support legal claims."
A. Yes.
Q. Was that your concern?
A. It wasn't a concern at the time. It was a perception. I was aware that it was happening.
Q. But was that the real reason for leaving the PCC?
A. I don't know the real reasons, because it was taken at director level.
Q. But weren't you party to the discussions which led to that decision?
A. No, I wasn't the editor then.
Q. True.
A. I was the deputy.
Q. So it's Mr Hill I should really ask about that?
A. Yes.
Q. I think I can ask you this: is it your personal view that that decision should have been taken or not?
A. I think, yes. I do go along with it. I don't think that it was serving our best interests at the time. I think you know, I'm not an expert on this but because of the McCanns, I think that was the a huge problem for us, and I feel that perhaps they should have intervened, you know. Everybody had too much leeway. There was nobody intervening at all and as a result the story carried on and on and on.
Q. So is this right: your feeling is that it was right to leave the PCC
A. Yes.
Q. because the PCC let you down in failing to stop your paper publishing
A. That was one of
Q. Just wait for the end of the question publishing defamatory articles about the McCanns; is that your evidence?
A. That's one of the reasons, yes.
Q. Are you seriously putting that forward as a reason, that the PCC failed to stop you freely publishing a defamatory article?
A. As I say, it was one of the things that was happening at the time.
Q. I'm just surprised that I know you're not the only one to put this forward, but it does cause the notional eyebrows to be raised. I'm surprised it's put forward as a reason at all. Do you see that? You were entirely free to publish those articles or not. They were grossly defamatory, we know. You end up paying GBP 550,000 and you blame the PCC for failing to stop you doing it?
A. I understand. No, I don't blame the PCC. I just feel that I think I did say in hindsight I thought that perhaps they might have been able to intervene, someone from outside, and perhaps this will reflect in the body that you will be setting up.
Q. Do you have some better reasons for leaving the PCC or not?
A. I think it's best if others answer those questions, because I was not the editor at the time.
Q. Okay, I'll take up that invitation with others. Responsibility for checking sources. This is a topic which has been asked of many others, and your evidence may well be very similar.
A. Yes.
Q. You say in paragraph 17, the second line, "and this is in the context of central sources". I think you mean central stories, possibly, in that sentence?
A. Yes.
Q. To be clear, that's important stories?
A. Mm.
Q. You always know how the story has been sourced. Could you just elaborate on that, please?
A. That's the 11.15 is the time of the morning news conference. We have the news editor, the picture editor, the sports editor, the city editor, the diary editor, and they all present their offerings for their menu for the day, and they give me a list and next to every story that they've highlighted will be the name or an agency who have supplied the story to the Daily Express.
Q. So if a story has come from this would usually be in the context of a celebrity, but has come from someone close to the celebrity, you will know in general terms, is this right, the nature of the source?
A. If I ask if I ask additional questions, because with the celebrity, there will probably be a staff name by the side of the story, so I'd have to go to the news editor and say, "How did we know about this? Where did it come from?"
Q. I think you're making it clear that if it's a central story, you will always know how the story was sourced?
A. Yes.
Q. I don't think you're saying by that that you will always know the identity of the source, are you?
A. No, but if I wanted to, I could probably find out. Or if I needed to. I would go to the news editor or his deputy, who will have talked to the reporter doing the job.
Q. In relation to any particular story, and imagine it's a central story, would you know if subterfuge had been used?
A. No, it wouldn't. It wouldn't be obvious, but I wouldn't expect it to be done on the Daily Express. They have strict instructions how to behave these days, so I wouldn't if it happened, I would be very, very surprised.
Q. You're allowed to use subterfuge if it's in the public interest under the code, aren't you?
A. If it's in the public interest, but I would discuss it with the news editor during the course of the day.
Q. But often you wouldn't know if subterfuge were used unless you asked the question. You agree with that?
A. Yes, I agree with that.
Q. But there may be stories, because of what's said, where your suspicions would be raised?
A. Of course.
Q. And then the question is asked?
A. Of course.
Q. Is that your practice?
A. That is the practice. I won't be kept in the dark about it.
Q. That assumes that your journalists and everybody else are open with you, doesn't it?
A. I think they are. I'd be very surprised if that wasn't the case.
Q. Okay. Can I ask you about paragraph 18?
A. Yes.
Q. You say you believe that ethics play a big role in the Daily Express?
A. Yes.
Q. And in print media?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. In that sentence, are you referring to all print media or are you referring just to the titles you have responsibility for?
A. The titles that I'm responsible for.
Q. "I abide by strong moral values." We all say we do that. I'm sure you do.
A. I do. I'm law-abiding, I pay my taxes, I behave properly, I treat people properly, so I expect that in return.
Q. But by that statement do you mean this: exposing other people's failures to abide by strong moral values as you see them, or by the paper's own moral values?
A. I think that there are certain standards which you have to judge as and when they arise. You know, I couldn't possibly say that applied to one person or to another.
Q. In answer to one of our questions, it's paragraph 28 of your statement, 00719
A. Yes, page 28?
Q. Yes. You ask about the factors you take into account in balancing the private interest of individuals against the public interest.
A. Mm.
Q. You don't really do more than say: "I always consider that the story has to be accurate and in the public interest." I mean, some editors have given us a detailed breakdown of what they mean by the public interest and what's more, the factors they take into account in reaching a balanced decision, but you haven't, have you?
A. No, I haven't, but if you want to ask me about it, what would you like me to say?
Q. Well, what general principles do you apply?
A. Well, first of all, I use the Editors' Code of Conduct. I have abided by that from day one. I will not publish anything unless I'm confident that its accurate, and I will never break the law intentionally.
Q. Yes, but weighing up private interests, how is that done, if at all?
A. In, what, the private interests of the person that I'm doing the story about?
Q. Exactly.
A. I have to you know, I have to take a balanced view on that, whether or not I'm invading his privacy, whether or not it's justified, whether or not he's in the public he or she are in the public eye. There are so many things to consider, and I will not take that decision lightly. I will always talk to the lawyer. The lawyer's always available at the Daily Express.
Q. We've seen reference in the evidence of the previous witness, Ms Neesom, to the public persona of individuals. You recall that? How do you define the public persona of a private individual? Or rather, let me remove the epithet "private".
A. Can you just sort of
Q. Take a footballer. What public persona would a footballer have? And what are the factors which make up that footballer's public persona?
A. I don't quite understand what you
Q. I mean is a footballer a role model merely by virtue of being
A. Well
Q. I can help you a bit more merely by virtue of being a footballer, or does a footballer become a role model because he's the captain of a team or does a footballer have to say something which makes it explicit that he's occupying a certain role before he becomes a role model?
A. It could be any of those things, couldn't it? If he says something and then we find that he's going and doing something completely opposite and he's in the public eye, he's fair game.
Q. There's a big difference, though, between my three propositions. We may well accept the third
A. If you break them down
Q. that if someone says something explicit, "I believe in family values", and perhaps goes a bit further, it may apply more to a politician than a footballer, then I understand your answer, but what about the first category?
A. I can't remember it.
Q. It's the footballer who says nothing, but it said to be a role model merely by virtue of being a footballer. What do you say about him?
A. As I say, I have to consider it on its merits on the day. There is no other way of doing it. If you give me some specific examples LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'll give you an example. Somebody plays in a Premier League football team.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's not one of the big teams.
A. I understand. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But I take Premier League because he obviously earns a fair amount of money.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON He's not in the public eye otherwise, he doesn't have endorsements, he doesn't he keeps otherwise a private life, he's married with a couple of kids, but he has an affair with somebody and that emerges.
A. Well, that story wouldn't interest the Daily Express. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, actually
A. That would be my decision. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The fact it wouldn't interest you doesn't actually help us as to the question of how you view issues of privacy.
A. But I'm interested in what example if there's an example, I could tell you. MR JAY Well, is your feeling simply this: it wouldn't interest the Daily Express because you know your readers wouldn't in fact want to read such a story rather than it would be unethical to print such a story? You see the difference, presumably. Is it more the first than the second?
A. Probably, yes.
Q. Okay. I think it might follow from that that if you knew it was of interest to your readers, then you would publish it, wouldn't you?
A. Look, I don't make snap decisions. I wouldn't be prepared to comment on that because I'd like to weigh up the circumstances.
Q. I think what I'm trying to do is to identify the principles
A. Okay, I understand.
Q. and maybe try gently to suggest that it's the agenda which might drive the story and the agenda is driven by what you think your readers like to read. Do you accept that point or not?
A. Of course.
Q. You do accept it?
A. I do accept it, but I don't automatically assume that everything I write is going to suit all my readers. I don't write, I don't write the paper to please every reader.
Q. No. But I think
A. And that's made perfectly clear in all correspondence I get.
Q. That must be right. It would be impossible to write a paper which would please everybody
A. I understand that.
Q. all the time, but subject to that caveat, I think you agree with my proposition, do you?
A. Yes.
Q. Thank you. Can I ask you about private investigators?
A. Yes.
Q. Paragraph 21.
A. Yes.
Q. You say you've become more aware of this issue in the last four to five years?
A. Yes.
Q. Can you explain, please, how and why?
A. I must admit I had no knowledge of it at all until it started appearing in the newspapers and on the television. No knowledge at all. And that surprised me.
Q. When were you made aware of the Information Commissioner's 2006 reports?
A. I don't know. I can't remember.
Q. But do you think it was at the time they were published or do you think it was somewhat later?
A. Well, I said four or five years ago, so that would have been about 2006, so perhaps it marries up.
Q. But you're not quite sure, are you?
A. No, I'm not, no. I've had no dealings you know, all the way through my career with people like that, so it's never entered into my thinking. I've become really aware of it recently.
Q. You say in paragraph 21, two lines from the top of page 01717: "We always ask on a regular basis if we are behaving ourselves and I am always reassured that we are."
A. Yes.
Q. That's a very general question, isn't it? Can't you be more specific?
A. It may be, but I speak to the news desk on a regular basis. You know, weekly, twice a week, three times a week. In fact, I've been on to them since the matter was raised here earlier on this morning, and they assure me that they do not use the people you've been talking about this morning, and they have not been using them.
Q. Then you say: "As it has never been flagged up then I assumed we have never used one." But we know from evidence we've seen from the first witness today that the Express have used search agencies
A. I'm not sure whether or not that's the Express you see, you're talking the group, so I don't know whether that was the Daily Star, the Daily Star on Sunday, the Daily Express or the Sunday Express, so I'd have to look at that in more detail. But from the people who would require their services, they assure me that they don't use them.
Q. It's clear that this isn't something which has been brought to your attention until very recently; is that right?
A. Yes. Although I have been asking for some time. I've been asking them on a regular basis for a long time now.
Q. You say: "As it has never been flagged up Can you explain what you mean by that?
A. Nobody has actually come to me and asked me, "Can I use this agency?"
Q. In the fourth line: "I have though recently discovered that some reporters have used the services of search agencies." Do you see that?
A. I'm not quite sure, but I'm listening to your questions.
Q. All I'm doing is reading out a sentence in your witness statement.
A. Yes. Where are you now? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Which page? MR JAY 01717, four lines from the top of the page.
A. Yes. Search agencies, yes.
Q. I mean, to be fair to you, you may be intending to draw a distinction between private investigators and search agencies?
A. I am. That's what I mean, yes. I understand we've used search agencies, but not private investigators.
Q. By the time the Information Commissioner was reporting in 2006, he was looking at the activities of Mr Whittamore before February 2003, and at that stage, of course, you weren't an editor, were you?
A. No, I was deputy.
Q. You were the deputy of the Daily Express?
A. I was, yes.
Q. Notwithstanding that, I accept that you were the deputy editor, Mr Thomas' second report identified 36 transactions which he believed were positively illegal transactions, and seven journalists at the Daily Express. Was that something which was drawn to your attention?
A. It wasn't, no.
Q. Is it something which you think ought to have been drawn to your attention as deputy editor?
A. Yes, definitely.
Q. And why do you think it wasn't?
A. I have no idea, but I'll be asking the questions.
Q. You'll be asking the questions?
A. I will.
Q. I'm just wondering why it is that you're answering the questions once you've finished giving evidence, rather than at some stage beforehand. Is that a fair observation?
A. It may be a fair observation, but I genuinely had no knowledge.
Q. It also says at the end of paragraph 21: "I am assured that the search agencies operate within the confines of the law."
A. Yes.
Q. I think the fair answer would be: you don't in fact know whether they operate within the confines of the law, but the expectation is that they would, is that not
A. That's correct, and I do speak to people who are very professional and I take their word for it that they've gone through the necessary procedures.
Q. You haven't spoken to the search agencies, though, have you?
A. I haven't, no.
Q. Okay, I shall move on from that. Paragraph 26. So we understand the position, cash payments to sources simply are not allowed at the Express; is that right?
A. They used to be, I think, a long time ago, but not for as long as I can remember. Nobody has ever drawn that to my attention, either, brought that to my attention.
Q. Because we've heard from others that some sources want to be paid in cash, they don't have a bank account or they want for their own reasons to receive cash.
A. Yes.
Q. Is it the position that the Express would say to such an individual, "Terribly sorry, we can't accept your story"?
A. I can't answer that because I've got no knowledge. Nobody's ever drawn that to my attention.
Q. But as the editor, Mr Whittow, surely that's something you would know about
A. Well
Q. if sources were receiving cash?
A. I assume because nobody's come to me that it hasn't happened. I don't know.
Q. I just wonder what the systems are at your paper. Isn't this something that you really ought to know about
A. I think
Q. one way or the other and
A. To be fair, I think that the systems that are adopted at the Daily Express are probably better than any system that I've worked under in Fleet Street, and throughout my whole career.
Q. So you're comparing the Daily Express now, is this right, with the Sun in the 1980s and the Star in between?
A. The Star, the Evening News, every newspaper that I've worked on. It used to be a ridiculous system, but now we can account for the payment for every story in every paper the following day.
Q. The suggestion is not that it is wrong to make cash payments to sources
A. I accept that.
Q. but the suggestion is more whether you ought to know whether your paper does, and if so, in what amounts and in what circumstances.
A. I can only tell you because I've never been asked. I don't think the matter's arisen.
Q. Okay. Some general questions, please. There are some headlines, aren't there, I want to put to you. These have been drawn to your attention, but, I have to make it clear, very late in the day. That's to say, this morning.
A. Yes.
Q. Can I hand these to you? (Handed)
A. Thank you very much.
Q. The first headline front page, 31 March 2011: "Chip shops ban salt." Is this right: three chip shops in Stockport took part in a voluntary trial scheme in which extra salt was left behind the counter rather than on it?
A. Yes.
Q. The headline suggested that there was a ban and that it was wide scale, when it was neither; is that correct?
A. It says so: ban in chip shops. So there were three shops and it was an experiment and it would have been it would spread out if it was successful or not. It was a good story, everybody was talking about it. Salt in the diet is always an issue, isn't it?
Q. I think the point is that there wasn't in fact a ban. The extra salt was left behind the counter rather than on it
A. I I accept that.
Q. Is this an example of a headline which is designed to capture the eye and the mind of the reader, irrespective of whether or not
A. I think
Q. it was misleading?
A. everybody who has fish and chips has a view on whether or not they want salt on it. I'm not going to say it's the most important story in the world, but it's certainly a talker.
Q. It's certainly not the most important story in the world, but it's found its way to the front page of the Daily Express
A. I accept that because it's a good talker.
Q. Yes.
A. And if you couldn't have salt on your chips tomorrow, I'm sure you'd be very upset about it.
Q. Salt, vinegar and red sauce as well, Mr Whittow. Can I look more seriously at: "75 per cent say quit the EU now."
A. Yes.
Q. It's fair to say that that 22 October 2011 headline
A. Yes.
Q. the YouGov poll in fact showed 28 per cent of people did support quitting the EU
A. Yes.
Q. and 47 per cent supporting renegotiating the terms.
A. Yes.
Q. You've abrogated the two to get to 75 per cent, which is misleading, isn't it?
A. Well, what you say, it's misleading, obviously I can't read the copy, but I'm sure that in the body of the copy it's explained.
Q. That may well be right, and let's assume it is, and we can't read the body of the copy, but the question relates to the headline
A. I have to
Q. that the headline
A. accept what you say. Yes, that is right.
Q. Is it another example of two things: one, a misleading headline; do you accept that?
A. I accept that from what you say, yes, but I would like to
Q. Okay. And secondly, it's one which you know will prey on the mind
A. Yes.
Q. and the viewpoint of the majority of your readers
A. Yes.
Q. and strike a comfortable resonance; is that fair?
A. Yes, that is fair.
Q. Okay. Some general questions in line with questions I've asked others, just bear with me, please. What is your vision for your paper and in what way will you realise that vision in the way you lead your organisation?
A. Well, the vision for the paper is to look after our readers. They've shown tremendous loyalty to us over the years. Provide them with what they want. It's not just front-page scandal stories; it can be anything from crosswords, sport, comment, features. It's just giving them the complete package.
Q. What have you done, if anything, to change the culture of the paper?
A. I have a very, very good working relationship with the staff. They're very loyal to me and I'm very loyal to them, and as a result of that I think that we are we've got at very good organisation going forward.
Q. Thank you. In what respects does the organisation now reflect your leadership? And you've been the leader now for 11 months.
A. For the newspaper?
Q. Yes.
A. We've done many crusades, as we call them. We I could give you a list. We've had major success on the inheritance tax debate, we've helped well, without the Daily Express and Richard Desmond, the Bomber Command Memorial, which is going to be one of the biggest memorials ever built in Britain in the last certainly 20 years, would never have come to fruition. We're doing our crusade on Europe. Those are the sort of things we will continue. We've also raised a considerable amount of money for the victims of the riots in the summer. So we're doing a lot of good things.
Q. Yes? And what is your biggest priority going forward?
A. To keep the Daily Express buoyant, popular and profitable, and hopefully keep and encourage more readers. MR JAY Mr Whittow, there will be more questions after lunch about regulation and the future of regulation, but I think it's probably better if we pause now and come back. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, I think that's probably sensible. If that's all right, just 2 o'clock.
A. I don't mind continuing, if you wanted to MR JAY I think I would prefer to pause. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The trouble is, lots of people have to make their arrangements. Thank you. (1.01 pm)


Gave a statement at the hearing on 12 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 3 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 12 January 2012 (AM) ; and submitted 7 pieces of evidence
Gave statements at the hearings on 12 January 2012 (AM) and 12 January 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 3 pieces of evidence


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