Afternoon Hearing on 20 March 2012

Hearing Transcript

(2.00 pm) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MS BOON Sir, the next witness is Timothy Gordon. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR TIMOTHY JOHN GORDON (sworn) Questions by MS BOON LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much for coming from South Wales, Mr Gordon.
A. You're welcome. MS BOON Please give your full name.
A. Timothy John Gordon.
Q. You've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 10 February this year?
A. Yeah.
Q. You've signed a statement of truth in the standard form; is that right?
A. That's correct.
Q. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?
A. It is, yes.
Q. You've been the editor of the South Wales Echo since November 2010?
A. That's correct.
Q. Before that, you edited Wales on Sunday for eight years?
A. Yes.
Q. You've worked as a journalist for over 20 years?
A. Mm-hm.
Q. In that time, you've been a general reporter, night editor of the Western Mail, and worked on the news desk at ITV Wales?
A. That's correct.
Q. You've not at any time been a specialist crime reporter, however?
A. No.
Q. Your crime correspondent, Abby Alford, has provided a statement to the Inquiry. Her statement is taken as read. That's right, isn't it?
A. That's correct. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON She happens to be on maternity leave, so it's perfectly reasonable that we do that. Thank you. MS BOON Before I move on to relations between the media and South Wales Police from your perspective, what sort of crime story does your paper aim to cover? Is there any particular kind?
A. Oh, it's a wide and varied range of crime stories, from small local crimes all the way through to big murder cases, and obviously police stories as well in terms of job losses or what's happening generally with the police.
Q. So it's the full range, not just about the crimes themselves, but to some degree police politics?
A. Absolutely, yeah.
Q. In terms of the culture, you say that you would describe the relationship generally as straightforward and professional?
A. Yes, I would, yeah.
Q. But you understand from talking to some of your reporters that it can be difficult to get information quickly from police press officers?
A. Yes, there have been issues over the years with the police press office officers, particularly at weekends when they don't work, when we can find it particularly difficult to get information. When the press officers aren't working on the weekends, our reporters call up the duty inspectors and often we have found a certain amount of reporters have told me that even though they have been told that something is happening a member of the public may have rung in to say there's an incident happening in such-and-such a place once we ring up the duty inspector, they quite often say to us: "No, there's nothing happening, we don't know anything", and then on the Monday/Tuesday, a press release might come out detailing an incident that has happened.
Q. Have you sought to resolve that issue?
A. Partly part of the meeting that we had with the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable, part of the conversations that we had during that meeting were in relation to that at the time. They were talking about staffing, over the weekends, the press office, but that hasn't happened yet.
Q. Your crime reporter, Abigail Alford, says that since approximately 2009 she's noticed a gradual sea change in that the police seem more hesitant about making contact with the press than previously. First of all, is that something you recognise, a sea change, and secondly, is it something you can account for?
A. It's certainly something that a lot of my reporters talk about. Somebody like Abby it's interesting that Abby thinks that as well herself. Somebody like Abby, who would have regular contact with the police and would build up contacts with the police offers, would have a better opportunity to get information flowing quickly and more freely. Other reporters might find that more difficult because they don't have the contacts and they don't know the specific officers, so it could be a question of trust there to begin with.
Q. Yes.
A. Funnily enough, I asked some of our reporters to put some notes together for me before I came down today, and one of them has told me about Gwent police if you don't mind going through this where, in the recent times, in recent weeks, the Chief Constable of Gwent police has put together guidelines for police officers and media. In these guidelines, which I understand have been sent to every police officer in the force, they've been told they cannot speak to a member of the media without prior permission from the press office. When we asked the head of press why these guidelines had been created, my reporter was told they were tightening up due to Leveson and the Filkin report. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON They can't be tightening up due to anything I've done yet.
A. I think there's a general feeling I've certainly noticed it as well in the past few months that people are deciding not to engage with each other and not to talk openly with each other. So there is almost a sense that everybody is waiting to see what the outcome is. People are already beginning to not talk to each other, and the fact that this has happened in Gwent would suggest that that's true. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. I just wonder, when you raised the issue about the weekend duty, why the answer to the Chief Constable wasn't: "You don't need a press officer on duty weekend; you just need the inspector to be prepared to tell us!"
A. Absolutely. That's absolutely correct and right. In the meetings that we had with the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable, you actually find out that the higher up the force you get, there's certainly a feeling there that they're willing for more information to be released, but that notion doesn't seem to have trickled down to the officers. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's a bit difficult to draw that inference in relation to Gwent.
A. Certainly in relation to Gwent, it's entirely the opposite, yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You haven't received a copy of that
A. I don't have a copy of that, no. MS BOON In terms of your personal contact, as editor of the South Wales Echo, with South Wales Police, you set out in your statement the level of contact with the Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and assistant chief constables.
A. Yes.
Q. What you say can probably be taken as read, but is it fair to summarise your contact as limited mainly to very formal meetings to discuss issues of concern at that time?
A. Very much so, yes. Yeah, a very sort of professional relationship that is dealt with on that basis.
Q. I think there was one meeting that was of a more social nature.
A. Yes. Following on from the meeting that we had in our offices, the first meeting came about when the police cuts were being announced. So they wanted to talk to us about the police cuts that were coming in, we wanted to talk to them about the issues we had about the flow of information, so we had that meeting and following on from that meeting, we invited the Chief Constable and his partner and the Deputy Chief Constable and her partner to an evening dinner, the Inspire Wales awards.
Q. But it's not your practice to have regular or even occasional lunch or dinner meetings with senior officers?
A. No. I think it's probably a point well worth making in terms of the differences, as I see it, certainly between the regionals and the nationals when it comes to expense accounts and expense policies I did a sum last week in preparation for coming down here, where I looked at how much we spent in a year on entertaining people. This took into account editors and probably 58 journalists who would be front-facing, so who would have the opportunity to take somebody out for a drink or a meal, and the calculation that I came up with was that the average reporter/editor spends, on average, 71 pence a week on taking people out. It's not something that's in our culture and hasn't been for a very, very long time.
Q. If the expense account were larger, would that alter things? Would that alter practices?
A. I may go to lunch more often! No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it's a cultural thing. It's not a precise amount of money; it's the way the business goes. Do you think that you run your relationship with the police as other regional editors run their relationships with their local forces and that London and the Met is just different? Or do you think there's a difference in Wales?
A. No, from what I know from my fellow regional editors and we do meet up quite often is that the way I'm expressing myself would be very, very similar to them. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And of course you're part of the Trinity Mirror Group?
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So there are a large number of regional newspapers involved in that.
A. There are. We're the biggest regional newspaper group in Britain. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MS BOON We've heard from other witnesses that these meetings over lunch and dinner can be useful in terms of fostering a relationship of trust. It's implicit in what you're saying that you don't feel it's necessary to have that level of contact for there to be a good working relationship between
A. I certainly have no issue with a journalist taking somebody out for a drink or a journalist taking somebody out for lunch. It's just that we don't tend to do it that often.
Q. I see.
A. But I don't have any problem with it.
Q. And the other way around as far as you recall, you've never accepted hospitality from South Wales Police?
A. As far as I recall, no, I certainly haven't, unless of course you're you know, if a cup of tea when I visited the Butetown police station counts as hospitality, and there may have been the offer of a biscuit. I can't remember.
Q. Turn to paragraph 24 of your statement, our page 00921. You expressed the view there that it's important that journalists maintain a professional relationship with police officers.
A. Yes.
Q. In your own words, where do the boundaries lie in this relationship?
A. I think it's really important for me that our journalists are totally professional in their dealings with the police. By that, I mean that they are honest, forthright and they deal with integrity in all their dealings with the police and police officers. I say that because it's important. Sure, you can get to know an officer, and I think there's a great value in our reporters getting to know their local officers so they can understand exactly what's happening in those areas, so they can have open and frank discussions with what's happening in their areas, crime, and the only way the public can be helped to allay the fears of crime or whatever. But also I think it's really, really crucial that that relationship is kept professional, so that if there ever comes a time when we have to ask the hard questions and we have to ask the hard questions of that police officer, that we can do so without fear or favour. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Did you have any difficulty, in connection with asking hard questions and in the light of your relationship with the police, in relation to your reporting of the collapse of the recent very substantial corruption trial?
A. No. No, we didn't. We were able to ask the hard questions, I think, although there are still some answers that are out there that haven't been given to us yet. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not investigating the states of your investigative work; I'm just wanting to know how that impacted on the relationship.
A. Part of the meeting when the Deputy Chief Constable and the Chief Constable came to see us as well was also to do with that case, where are they informed us that they would be giving us a full off-the-record briefing on what was coming up in the case at the time. The officers in question, or the officers who are in command now, weren't part of the force at the time, so they were very clear that they wanted this to be an open appraisal of what had happened, because they didn't want to be coloured or tainted by what happened in the past. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And you found that's what happened as you asked questions, that they were open and
A. Well, obviously we had to wait for the case to happen. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Of course.
A. Then the case happened and it collapsed. There's a bigger story there, probably, than we know. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you haven't found anything about your relationship has impacted adversely upon your ability to ask the questions and maintain the dialogue?
A. No, because our relationship is a purely professional one. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MS BOON Do you give any training or guidance to your reporters or new reporters along the lines that you've set out to assist them in securing a professional relationship only?
A. Are you talking specifically as regards to the police?
Q. Well, yes.
A. There's no specific training where we say, "This is how you should deal with the police", but most of our journalists will have gone through journalism school, so they're all trained. If some of them come to us as trainees, then they're on a two-year probation period. So we have a training manager who trains them through for their NCTJ finals.
Q. You don't give any additional guidance to your reporters about relations with the police or relations with contacts generally, about maintaining professional distance?
A. Yes, we do talk to the reporters about maintaining a professional distance from people, yeah. Or from the police, yeah.
Q. How would you know if your crime reporter were developing an overly close relationship with any one or more police officers?
A. In terms of expenses obviously I've outlined that we don't really have huge expense accounts, but every expense within Trinity Mirror has to be signed off by a senior editor, so every expense is seen. Any gifts or well, any gifts or any hospitality which is given to one of our journalists which would be of a significant amount would be expected to be that journalist is under our policy guidelines, would have to let a senior editorial management know that that had happened.
Q. So the expenses aren't just seen; they're scrutinised, are they?
A. They're scrutinised, yes.
Q. When asked about the extent to which you oversee communications between your crime reporter and the police, you state that it would only be during discusses about stories that issues might arise.
A. Yes.
Q. What sort of matters might alert you to a problem?
A. Obviously during conversations when we're discussing stories that have come up, if there's anything at all in there that my instinct would lead me to think that there might be something awry or something not right, then I would be asking the questions: where did the information come from? Who gave it to you? How did you get it? And then we would discuss the story and decide whether we believed that story was right for publication or not.
Q. Are you aware of any reporter receiving information from a police officer that might be termed a leak? When I say "leak", I mean information that that officer might not be allowed to provide to a journalist?
A. No, I'm not, no.
Q. Would you be concerned if one of your reporters were actively seeking that information from a police officer or a member of civilian staff?
A. Actively seeking? What do you mean by actively seeking that information?
Q. I suppose asking questions that might go further than the police officer would otherwise be prepared to go.
A. No, I can't see one of our reporters doing that. I know that Abby, in her statement, was quite clear that she never ever asked an officer to give her information that he would be unhappy with it appearing in print.
Q. If Ms Alford were to come to you and say, "A police officer has just given me information, I think it's a leak, I don't think he or she was authorised to give me that information", what, if anything, would you do at that stage?
A. We'd have to sit down and discuss what that story was and what that leak was. If it had to do with the public interest and we felt that our readers should know about it, then we would have a discussion about the story. We would look to see if we could stand it up in another area, from another source as well, at the same time, and we would discuss it fully with our lawyers as well before publication if we decided to publish. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It's not so much merely that an officer might not be authorised; it's if it was abundantly clear he positively wouldn't have been authorised, that he'd been forbidden from doing it. That's really the tenor.
A. Yeah. Again, this is down to the public interest, so we would have the public interest discussion about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MS BOON Have you or, to your knowledge, your reporter received any unofficial prior notification about arrests or raids or other police action?
A. I know that reporters are often given notification of some arrests and sometimes they're invited to go along on raids to pick up people. Say, cannabis farms or whatever. So that happens quite a lot. When I attended the Butetown police station as a guest, I was taken into the Monday conference meeting, where all the events of the weekend were discussed and that I was alerted to the fact that there may have been some arrests that day. But that's very, very, very unusual.
Q. In terms of the future, you set out in your statement what you say should not be done. You're concerned about avenues being closed off or a code of practice being created which encourages no discussion or puts in place a filter, for instance the press office. Do you have any thoughts on what should be done?
A. I am all for the free flow of information. I think it's really important in a democratic society that that happens. I'm concerned that Gwent police have announced that their officers can't talk to the media unless they are given prior permission from their press office. I'm concerned that we find it difficult to get information and weekends and even during the week I'm concerned that there are occasions when the press officers can be difficult and it seems like they're withholding information from us. I would much prefer that we could move forward trusting each other, that my reporters could build and develop relationships with police officers on a professional basis, so there is no fear of favour granted on either side but that the information is free flowing, and I would much prefer if police were encouraged to give as much information as they possibly could.
Q. If the police are encouraged to give as much information as they possibly can, and they are given clear guidelines, would you have concerns about any requirement to make a written record of contact with journalists?
A. I think my fear about a written record it already sounds like you're proposing that there may be something wrong with talking to a journalist and the mere fact that you're suggesting that everything has to be written down and taken as a note LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, I don't think that Ms Boon was suggesting that everything had to be written down, but that the fact of contact should be noted, as you might note something else.
A. Well, my only concern in that area would be that if you are putting up an extra block, even if it's just taking a note, unless it's to officers who have an abundance of notes to take already and are always complaining about having an abundance of notes to take and not having enough time to go out and do their job because of form-filling all the time that would be my concern, that that's just another thing that they would have to do. I would rather let the relationship move forward. There is a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and professionalism. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I wasn't suggesting, and I don't think Ms Boon was suggesting, form-filling, but, for example, a note in a diary: "Met Mr Gordon of the South Wales Echo, discussed burglary statistics in Romney(?)", or whatever.
A. As I say, my only fear would be, as I mentioned before, that it's just another thing that may discourage officers from talking. MS BOON Just to test it in this way: police officers are accustomed, when they're out on patrol or generally operationally, to making records in their pocket notebooks of contact that they've had, what they've been doing. They know that by doing that there's no suggestion that what they've done is inherently wrong. Do you think it could not be seen as part of an officer's day that if he or she speaks to a journalist, that a brief record is made?
A. I can see that as a possibility, but I still have the feeling that it has a tinge of: if they're talking to a journalist, they have to be very careful of what they're talking about.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add to anything you said before or to your statement?
A. No, only that that I'd like it to be sort of clear that there is a huge difference between the regional press and what appears to be happening in the nationals, or in some nationals. The regional press is a very, very different arena and we seem to work in what appears to be a very different way, judging by some of the stuff that has been said in this Inquiry. We work within our communities. We work very close to our communities. Integrity is a mainstay of our business. It's really important for us to be honest, it's really important for us to try and tell the truth. We work in our areas every day, so our readers won't allow us to get away with anything that isn't right, and that's what we try and aspire to do every day.
Q. You say that there are a number of differences between the regional media and the national media. Do you feel that you've referred to all the differences that you would like to?
A. When I say "differences", I'm only speaking in terms of some the things that have come out from the Inquiry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Have they surprised you?
A. Yes. Yes. MS BOON Thank you. Those are my questions. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON A couple more questions, if I could ask. First of all, I have seen another editor from South Wales, as you probably know.
A. (Nods head) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But I am keen to learn whether there is anything in the way in which life operates in Wales that is different from what I've learnt not about the nationals I take your point on that but in perhaps the regions of England that I should have regard to, whether there's any particular Welsh feature which you feel it's appropriate to bring to my attention.
A. It's a difficult question for me to answer. I have only ever worked in England in Leicester, and that was over 20 years ago. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right.
A. So I don't know if there is a huge variation, but from talking to other editors around a group, I don't believe so. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON All right. My second question is this: I'm very grateful to you and obviously your staff, who have helped fill you in on details. Is there anything that you've picked up from them that, albeit hearsay, you would like to share with me from the work that you've done preparing to come today?
A. I think the only thing from my staff is that there is a fear that it's becoming harder and harder to talk to police officers, it's becoming harder and harder to get a release of information, quickly, timely, and clear, and that would be our main concern. Because of the way we work and the communities that we work in, it's really important for us that information flow is fast and that it is that it comes to us without any issues or any problems with it, that we can't get access to it. If you could imagine sort of working in an environment nowadays where you have social media, you have Twitter, you have Facebook. Our reporters are hearing about things happening on Facebook and Twitter before the police are confirming them to us, before they are telling us what's happening, and for us, what we really need to do is have a relationship with the police where they will release information to us as quickly as possible. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that. Mr Gordon, thank you very much indeed for coming.
A. You're welcome. MR JAY Sir, we have three witnesses from the West Midlands. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Very good. MR JAY I have decided, subject to your view and I haven't discussed it with you that we'll hear Mr Faber first. He's the editor of the Birmingham Express Star. Then we'll hear the Chief Constable and Inspector Sally Seeley together, but after Mr Faber. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm entirely in your hands, Mr Jay. Not always, but on this occasion. MR JAY Thank you. So it's Mr Faber, please. MR ADRIAN FABER (sworn) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Thank you, Mr Faber. Your full name, please?
A. Adrian Faber.
Q. Thank you. You provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 26 January of this year. You've signed and dated it, but there isn't a statement of truth on your statement. That doesn't matter. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?
A. Yes, indeed.
Q. In other words, you're content to attest to its truth. I think I was wrong in saying it's the Birmingham Express Star; I think it's the Wolverhampton Express Star?
A. That's correct.
Q. Thank you. You are the editor of that paper and have been for the past ten years; is that right?
A. That's right. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Just give me a picture, could you? In the Midlands, how many regional newspapers operate?
A. There are three daily newspapers, one that covers Wolverhampton and the back country, which is the Express Star. There is the Birmingham Mail, which is the Birmingham paper, and then there is the Coventry Telegraph, which covers the southern part of the West Midlands. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON They're separately owned?
A. Coventry and Birmingham are owned by Trinity Mirror and we are an independent family-owned newspaper. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. Well, we've heard Trinity Mirror from Wales, so that's fair enough. Right. MR JAY You have a circulation, I think, of 105,000?
A. That's correct.
Q. Does that make you the regional newspaper with the largest circulation in the United Kingdom?
A. That's right.
Q. Thank you. We're going to pick up on a number of points which you've made in your helpful statement, Mr Faber. First of all, the culture change which you identify in paragraph 2 and the introduction of press officers. Tell us a little bit about that and the advantages and disadvantages that that has brought in.
A. That is something that has developed over probably the last 10 to 15 years, insofar as the access to individual police officers is limited and media enquiries tend to go through the press office. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are that when there is a major incident or a force-wide event, then there is a central point of contact where you can go to to get information and request interviews. The downside to it is that there is increasingly limited access to the actual police officers on the ground, and it tends to be that the press office is there to provide standard information and if we want to go further than that and find out more, we will try to go to the individual officers, but sometimes we are referred back to the press office.
Q. You point out that this has ramifications in relation to what many of your readers are interested in, namely what you describe as low level crime, such as burglaries and theft.
A. That's right.
Q. You wish there to be more information released in relation to those crimes; is that correct?
A. Yes. Probably not unnaturally, the police will concentrate on the bigger crime, the murder or the big robbery, and what tends to happen is very often information about low-level burglaries, thefts, small-scale assaults aren't released, probably because there are an awful lot of them and it's a lot of work putting all that information out, and I think it's important that we don't lose sight that for a lot of our readers, the smaller-scale crime is as important, if not more important, than the bigger crime. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Do the crime maps help?
A. The crime maps do help. The crime maps certainly do help. But very often that's information that's released at a later date. Very often what we're after is the sort of story where a number of burglaries have happened in a particular area or a number of thefts have happened in a particular area, and we want that information quickly because we feel it's right that our readers have that information available so they can react appropriately if they think it's necessary. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Would that necessarily be collated by the police in that way?
A. Not necessarily, I don't think. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That might be part of the problem.
A. Not necessarily, but very often when we make the enquiries, when we know that that has happened, then that information is available. MR JAY You refer on the first page of your statement, towards the bottom this is our page 58565, where you say: "This manifests itself with the police view that the public have an exaggerated perception of crime which is fuelled by media coverage." I just wondered what the evidence base was for ascribing that as the police view.
A. Certainly we know that one of the police views is that there is a need for public reassurance, that the public shouldn't be unnecessarily alarmed, and I think sometimes that can take the form of some details being not withheld but not necessarily actively put out there, so that people are less there is a feeling, if you like, that if small-scale crime is put together and the press will put an exaggerated and dramatic headline upon it, and sometimes communities will get an exaggerated fear of crime in a particular area. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON There is no doubt, is there I think it's a consequence of a number of surveys that the fear of crime is greater than the risk of actually being the victim of a crime, in fact because the quantity of crime is decreasing.
A. I would agree. However, if there were six burglaries in a particular street or six break-ins of garden sheds, then I think it's appropriate that the public should know that, that that has taken place, so that they can take appropriate action if necessary, rather than saying, "Well, it's only a small number break-ins and we don't want people to think it's happening everywhere, and the Express Star will put an overly dramatic headline on it and everybody will be terrified that burglaries are happening everywhere." I think I would argue that the reader is intelligent and perceptive enough to be able to make their own judgment. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It also depends how you tell the tale, doesn't it?
A. Of course it does. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you tell the tale in that way, then that's the conclusion they'll reach.
A. Maybe, but nonetheless, I think the reader will always draw their conclusion from it. I don't think we would ever exaggerate, necessarily.
Q. You refer, Mr Faber, to a tier of bureaucracy between the journalists and police officers, and this is the interposition of the press office.
A. Yes.
Q. Are we to draw from that this point: that when your crime reporter, for example, wants to speak to a police officer, that is prevented, or does just take a while longer to get that organised?
A. It would tend to take a while longer to get that organised, and I think here it's very often a time pressure as opposed to any other pressure. I don't necessarily think it is an unwillingness to arrange for us to speak to a particular police officer. I don't think that's the case. It's very often a time pressure and an extra element that's introduced between the journalist and the police officer.
Q. And you are in competition now, if that's the right way of putting it, with all forms of electronic media, including social media
A. We are.
Q. which increases the time pressure, doesn't it?
A. It does.
Q. Paragraph 3, please, of your statement. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You have an online edition as well?
A. We do. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Which is free to anyone?
A. Which is free to anybody. We also have an iPad app. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, I wasn't asking you an advert, Mr Faber. The point I was making was going to be rather different, that this is no longer: "We need to know for tomorrow morning's paper"; this is, if not 24/7, not far removed from that.
A. It's not even tomorrow morning's paper. We publish on the day, so we can ring up at 7 o'clock in the morning and say we need something for the paper by 9 or 10 o'clock that morning. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. MR JAY You explain, Mr Faber, the nature of your contacts with senior officers. Over the last 18 months, you've met the Chief Constable at your office to discuss future planning. You've met the Wolverhampton police superintendent to discuss the riots last summer. This is to provide background information, context
A. Yes, indeed.
Q. which stories, in due course, might be written with greater
A. Yes, indeed. Yes.
Q. people have used the terms colour and texture?
A. None of those were meetings to be reported upon. They were all for that background information.
Q. So off the record in the sense of non-reportable as well as non-attributable?
A. Yes.
Q. So these are informal discussions and it's implicit in what you say that they're not in any restaurant or wine bar or pub; they're in an office?
A. They're in my office.
Q. What do you think about the ethical considerations if one were to transfer these meetings to a more social environment? Do you think that's appropriate or not?
A. I don't see anything wrong in a drink or a coffee or a sandwich at lunchtime. I think if it starts to get much more elaborate than that, then I would probably start to feel uncomfortable.
Q. What is it which is making you hypothetically uncomfortable?
A. I think you start to blur the professional relationship. There is the opportunity professionally to have a good relationship, but equally there is the danger of it going too far. Quite where that line comes I'm not altogether sure, but there is certainly a consideration to be made there.
Q. The chief constable you refer to is sitting in this Inquiry room, and you would no doubt say it's implicit in your statement that you have a good relationship with him?
A. (Nods head) Yes.
Q. You don't feel that relationship would be enhanced by taking it to the sort of social environment I've mentioned?
A. I don't think it would be enhanced or no, I don't see how it what difference it would make. You're able to have a perfectly professional relationship without elaborate entertainment or socialising. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Have you been surprised by the evidence? I asked that question before.
A. Yes, I think I have and I think my colleagues in the office have been surprised as well. MR JAY The Inquiry's also received a fair amount of evidence about the dissemination, the transfer of informal information from police officers to journalists, often, I suppose, unauthorised or the boundaries may be unclear. First of all, is that the sort of information which would be of interest to your newspaper, even were you to receive it?
A. Information that was would be considered inappropriate to release?
Q. I'm not necessarily putting it that high, but information which the disseminator would realise there was at least an issue as to whether it should be communicated to a journalist?
A. We would certainly be interested, I'm sure. Whether we published anything would be another matter.
Q. Can we just take that in stages, Mr Faber? Without giving away any trade secrets, is it the sort of information which you do happen to receive from time to time from police officers?
A. Not that I can remember. I can't think of an occasion where we've received information that I've looked at and thought: "Crikey, we should certainly not be in possession of this information."
Q. Oh right.
A. No, I can't.
Q. And if your crime reporter had been in receipt of such information, he or she would have discussed the matter with you
A. Absolutely, yes.
Q. prior to any issue arising as to publication?
A. They would.
Q. The second question is really a hypothetical one: that if you were ever in receipt of such information, what do you think would be the ethical and practical considerations which would arise in your mind before you decided whether or not to publish?
A. Well, we would first of all have to put it to the public interest test. That would be that it wasn't simply tittle-tattle, that there was a public interest potentially a public interest matter for us. And I think at that point, if there was information that had been given to us by a police officer, we would have to verify that through another way or through a more senior source before we published anything.
Q. So you
A. I think there's an important point here, insofar as most regional editors, including myself you are a hands-on manager. So the provenance of each story or each story that is brought to you is tested fully. Anything that is contentious or potentially contentious, or where a public interest issue is likely to come about is tested to the nth degree before we publish.
Q. I understand. So the public interest issues which might arise hypothetically in relation to information which you receive from police officers, they probably do arise in practice if they relate to a celebrity or other areas of possible public concern, but there's a clear private interest in keeping the information unpublished?
A. Yes.
Q. Is there I won't ask that question. Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 5 of your statement, where you tell us about what your crime reporter has and what he or she does. You say in the second paragraph: "Our crime reporter would have a number of telephone numbers for police officers and press officers. He estimates that he could have up to 70 numbers of police officers and press officers. Not all are currently serving officers." So it would follow from that that your crime reporter is able to speak to some police officers, bypassing the press office?
A. Yes, indeed. I would say all those numbers have been volunteered to him by those individuals.
Q. Yes. When you say, "Not all are currently serving officers", does it follow that some information is provided to you from people who are not serving officers but formerly were?
A. No, I don't think that's the case. I think it's more the case that those are old phone numbers that are
Q. I understand. Can I ask you about paragraph 7. The question was: "What are the police seeking from you?" You say: "The police have been anxious to highlight crimes and use the significant relationship and power of [your] newspaper in order to get information from the public that could help with investigations. "Secondly, they're looking for publicity and coverage, for example, of good police practice and initiatives. They're also keen to provide information about successful investigations that have led to arrest and convictions in the courts." Are there ever situations which arise in which you would publish negative stories about the police?
A. Oh yes, there would be. Yes, there would be.
Q. Could you help us a bit about those? What are the general subject matters?
A. A great concern to our readers, for example, are the savings that are having to be made in the police, so the reductions in the number of police stations, the reductions in numbers of officers. That would be those would be important stories for us. So, if you like, there is a balance there between: yes, there is the positive story of the successful investigation and the successful court case or the successful crime initiative, but equally there are critical stories as well.
Q. Yes.
A. I think part of having that relationship and trust means that that's accepted, if you like, that that is that no one is looking for preferential treatment, particularly.
Q. You're saying that you don't think the police have any difficulty with that, that they understand it's part of your job to report in that way; is that right?
A. Yes, I wouldn't yes, absolutely.
Q. Has some of the information and material from the negative stories been provided directly by police officers who may be disgruntled by what's going on?
A. We probably get occasionally we get letters. Not that often, I have to say. It doesn't happen that often. And very often, they are stories that are sort of ill-informed, if you like, are not really there when they're looked into.
Q. I see. Your crime reporter, of course, is not a member of the Crime Reporters Association.
A. That's right.
Q. But that in itself doesn't create a difficulty in your relations with the police because none of your immediate competitors are members.
A. No, that's right.
Q. And you indicate that the sort of hospitality which has been offered and it's very limited, paragraphs 10 and 11 of your statement, 58569. There have been occasional trips to local football games
A. Yes.
Q. and the occasional drink but nothing more than that?
A. That's it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you could probably match the evidence of your Cardiff colleague, 71 pence per week per journalist. I don't ask you.
A. It wouldn't be much more. It wouldn't be much more.
Q. Paragraph 15. You're sometimes given information about upcoming arrests or raids. You explain the usefulness of that. Are you ever invited along on such arrests or raids?
A. Our staff are. Yes, they are. Not me personally, but our staff certainly are. We've been a number of occasions when we've been invited on drug raids, cannabis houses, particularly in the aftermath of the riots last summer. On a couple of occasions, we were invited along to raids to recover stolen goods.
Q. Can I ask you to comment on the public interest issues here. Do you ever show the faces of the suspects or the arrestees?
A. No, normally those are blanked out. Those would be blanked out.
Q. That's an editorial policy which you apply
A. Yes, it is. It is, yes. After their conviction, we would use them, obviously, with their faces.
Q. The other broader point: what do you think is the public interest of you being invited along occasionally on these raids?
A. I think it's important that our readers understand and see that justice is being done, I suppose it is, as its most basic. I think it's good for them to understand that people are being brought to justice and that I think that we provide the balance. Yes, we do do the negative story when people are complaining and protesting about their local police station being shut or the hours being curtailed, but nonetheless we do highlight the good work as well, and I think it's important for a paper that serves a particular community that we present a balance, because we are very much going back to the same people again and again for information, for stories, and if we don't strike that balance, if we're not seen to be fair, then people don't talk to us again.
Q. Thank you. In paragraph 14, you make it clear that you do receive off-the-record updates on incidents and investigations and you raise the very difficult issue of missing people.
A. Yes.
Q. Is there anything in addition which you'd like to say about that? Why an off-the-record briefing might be of assistance there?
A. Missing people can be a difficult area. There can be a great deal of difference between a young person who goes missing walking home from school, who has never done anything like that before, and it is completely out of character, compared to a missing young person who has disappeared for a couple of days but has probably done it on five, six, seven previous occasions. Obviously the police will issue the photograph and a few details with both of those stories. However, the background information allows us to make a judgment on quite what show quite how high a profile we would use that story and picture.
Q. You're just giving that by way of an example?
A. Yes.
Q. But it demonstrates the value of off-the-record briefings
A. The other area where probably we get, if you like, off-the-record briefings would tend to be prior to court cases to give information ready for publication when a court case comes to an end, on the understanding that it isn't for publication at that time but is at the time of the after the trial, and obviously if the person involved is found not guilty, that information is not used.
Q. Yes. At paragraph 18, the paragraph which is, on the internal numbering of your statement, page 9, our page 58572, you make a significant point. It's one which we heard from the previous witness about the importance of mutual trust. Could I ask you, please, to elaborate on that point, develop it in your own words, please, Mr Faber?
A. I think this is a significant difference between ourselves and the national press. Insofar as any regional local paper operates within its own communities, we depend on our contacts within that community. If we don't have their trust and their understanding and their respect, and they don't have ours, we don't have those contacts. We can't go back to those people again. Our staff myself and all my staff live within the community that we serve therefore you very quickly get to hear if people think that you have behaved inappropriately over an issue or a particular story. You very quickly pick up that vibe because you're living within it. So for us, balance, integrity, trust, accuracy as far as possible are absolutely critical to us. Without those, we significantly lose our power.
Q. You make it clear that the consequence of that and of those values you say there's a fairly clear line that is understood by the police and the journalists at the Express Star which cannot be crossed without some reaction from the reader: "This line is different to that which would be acceptable in a national newspaper because of our deep community contacts."
A. Yes.
Q. So you're clearly suggesting there that you adopt, if I may say so, a more conservative approach?
A. Yes, "conservative" with a small "C".
Q. Yes.
A. That's absolutely right.
Q. That's an important point. We've heard it before and no doubt we'll hear it again, but it's important that it is heard. Paragraph 21, you go back to the issue of police press officers, which you describe as a necessary evil. I don't think you're suggesting there that they shouldn't exist; is that fair?
A. No.
Q. I ask you, please, about the HMIC report. You address the question of whether contacts between police officers and the media should be recorded, by which I mean the fact of their occurrence being noted.
A. Yes.
Q. You, in line with most, if not all, of your colleagues, are against that.
A. Yes.
Q. May I ask you why?
A. I think it's introducing a codification, if you like, into what is a less formalised dialogue. Recording sounds fairly innocuous, making a note in your diary. However, once it starts to be recorded in that way, that each one has to be recorded, and at some point presumably would have to be submitted in some sort of way, I think there is a danger that both sides, the journalist and the police officer, slightly begin to look over their shoulder and say, "Well, should I be saying this? Oh crikey, I've had two contacts here with the press; is this right?" And suddenly there begins to be an element of doubt comes into it all. An element of slight suspicion starts to come into the system. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand that, but isn't it right that a police officer should be thinking that if he's seeing a journalist three times a week, he might have got the calibration of the relationship slightly wrong?
A. That could happen on occasions. When there is a substantial investigation or a substantial court case, that may well happen LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I agree, but take us away from that. This is merely routine.
A. No, I still feel that that is an element of concern, because certain officers could have a number of contacts, completely innocently, with a journalist, and I just I do feel that somehow, once that element of recording comes into it, compulsory recording comes into it, then there is a slightly different dimension to it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The risk is that if you don't have some mechanism, it becomes utterly it could be anything. It's uncontrollable. I see the force of the argument that there should be much more openness, and that's one of the things that you've said, and it's why you cast press officers as having a negative impact as well. You want to get the story, and you don't see why the story shouldn't be given to you by the person who is most able to tell it, not mediated through a press officer.
A. Correct. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I understand the point. So one might argue that there should be a far more relaxed attitude to allowing police officers to speak to the press, but on the other hand, you wouldn't want a complete free-for-all because if there's a free-for-all, there's no control, so that then you run the risk that it gets somewhat out of hand and all sorts of material that is legitimately confidential and should be confidential leaks into the public domain without any mechanism of control at all.
A. But LORD JUSTICE LEVESON What I'm saying is that this may not be it may be that there has to be something that balances a greater access, a more open exchange of information, to prevent it being a free-for-all. You can disagree with me, but do you understand the point that I'm trying to make?
A. I do. But at the moment we don't have that system of recording and we don't particularly have a problem. We don't have a free-for-all. We have professional people on both sides. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you've already said that you're concerned that you don't always get through to the right source. You started this by saying, "Well, I recognise the need for press officers, but I'm losing information out", and I'm saying I understand that. If it's a press office, there's no problem
A. Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON because the press office will know.
A. Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So what I'm saying is if you want to remove the conduit of the press office, has there not got to be a balance?
A. But would recording those conversations necessarily make police officers any more open, any more accessible? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, it may be that a Chief Constable might say, "I want officers to be open and accessible. I want them to be prepared to engage in dialogue with the press, at an appropriate level and only on subjects about which it's appropriate to talk. I want that, but I have to have some sight of what's going on. I have to have some sort of understanding of the four corners of this policy, and unless there's something there, then it's a free-for-all. I can cope with that very simply by saying, 'Go through the press office', and they'll identify the extent of contact." Then I run into your other vice.
A. I worry about that coding. I do worry about it. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you
A. I understand your point. I understand your point fully, but I worry that that coding, that codification, that ruling on contact, of every single contact, which can be at different levels LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Everybody has to apply common sense.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If you bump into a policeman in the street, you say
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON "Hello, Constable. How are you?" You don't have to make a note of that. I'm actually taking you on face value that this is a professional dealing with a professional. Of course. But you might have to choose: "I'd rather go through a press office or I'd rather not go through a press office and accept some other This won't necessarily be my decision. I'm not saying what the answer is.
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm merely postulating the possibility for you to consider to test your proposition that you should have one without the other.
A. It is very difficult, because it isn't simply you don't simply have a journalist rings up a particular police officer, a particular detective or a uniformed officer. It can come in all sorts of different ways, different levels, different importances, and if every single contact somehow is codified, I think it makes it very difficult for a relaxed response. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you prefer to have to go through the press office?
A. No, no, no, absolutely not. Absolutely absolutely not. I would prefer LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Nothing?
A. there be access to the police without necessarily the police officer having to feel she they have to record that contact. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON The value of having to record it and I'm pressing you a little bit because this is, I think, very important.
A. Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON is that it just does make the police officer think: "Is this right? Is this sensible? Does this fit with the policy of openness that my Chief Constable has encouraged me, or is there a risk that this is just going a bit too far?"
A. But I don't think we have I don't think in the West Midlands there is a problem with us having information that is secret, that we shouldn't have. Equally, I don't think there's a problem with police officers giving out information that they shouldn't be. We have a very professional, trustworthy relationship. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But you're unhappy that it has to go through the press office?
A. Yes, we have certain professional frustrations that we have to go through the press office. However, that doesn't mean to say that we're necessarily completely unhappy with the relationship. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm very pleased to hear it.
A. We do speak regularly to police officers. When the riots were taking place, they were most professional at keeping us informed. So I think we're introducing, through this codification, an extra dimension that probably locally isn't necessary. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well. MR JAY Well, thank you, Mr Faber. Those were all the questions I had. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I have one other question, and this is going to come somewhat out of the left field, I'm afraid. You will be aware that prior to Christmas, I received a considerable amount of evidence about the way in which the press interacted with the public, and one of the issues that was raised with me, which I am still considering, obviously, is the impact of the digital revolution on the commerciality, particularly of regional newspapers, and the change of the dynamic away from the classifieds, which alter the profitability of newspapers
A. Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON and therefore the extent to which they can serve their community. The example that I gave to a number of editors was the fact that when I was a young barrister, there were court reporters in Liverpool Crown Court every single day, and they were also at the magistrate's courts and they followed the courts and they followed the local authority meetings and health authority meetings. These reporters now seem to be diminishing in number dramatically. So I wanted to give you the opportunity you don't have to take it because you've had no warning of this at all to provide your insight as an extremely experienced editor over many, many years of a large number of different regional newspapers. Now, if you want to think about it, that's fine. If you prefer not to answer it, that's fine.
A. No, I think I'm quite happy to answer that. The past few years have been extremely painful for regional newspapers in terms of declining revenues, in terms of the switch from the printed word to online. As far as the Express Star goes, we are in the lucky position to still have something like 100 journalists. So we still cover the court, we still go to all the council meetings in the boroughs that we serve. There are several boroughs that we serve. We attend the health authority meetings, we go to Crown Court, we go to the magistrate's court. Not every newspaper is in that lucky position. However, I think what has happened now is that in many areas journalistically we're talking about people are having to work harder, quicker, cleverer, and there is increasing pressure. There's no doubt about it. There is increasing pressure, and the problem that all newspapers face is having to resource websites, which we're having to do journalistically, and at the same time attempt to make money. And that is proving the difficult area. Everybody at the moment is wrestling with how you appoint credible online services, online, on your phone, on your iPad, and attempt to make money. That is the crucial that is the crux of what the economics of regional newspapers are now about: maintaining the newspaper and at the same time attempting to turn the digital operation into a profitable operation. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Let me ask a compendious question, because I think I know what your answer is going to be, but again, answer it or not as you wish. The issues that I've had to face over the last few months you've dealt with in relation to the police, but would it be right that the sorts of concerns that have been expressed by a large number of people to me are not reflected in the concerns that you have to face in Wolverhampton?
A. In terms of the difference between national and regional? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes.
A. Absolutely right. I can safely say we have never hacked anybody's phone, we have never paid a public official, police officer or anybody else any money for anything. We have never been asked for money for anything. I can safely say that every dealing with any police officer of West Midlands police or any other police force that I have dealt with over the years, I have never but had professional treatment. What would the difference between national and regional is immense, and I think my colleagues and I have been most surprised. They are not what we deal with on a day-to-day basis in Wolverhampton at all. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON You've not had privacy issues?
A. I don't think we have, no. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I just thought I'd remind everybody that there was an earlier part to this Inquiry. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Faber. We'll have a break. (3.14 pm) (A short break) (3.22 pm) MR JAY The next two witnesses are Mr Sims and Ms Seeley, please. MS SALLY CLARE SEELEY (sworn) MR CHRISTOPHER PETER SIMS (affirmed) Questions by MR JAY MR JAY Thank you. Please sit down. I'm going to invite each of you, Mr Sims first, to provide your full names and to affirm your witness statements. Your full name please, Mr Sims? MR SIMS Christopher Peter Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands police.
Q. Thank you. You've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 17 January 2012. There's a much smaller statement which relates to Staffordshire, but we're not going to address that in any detail. Are the contents of that statement true? MR SIMS Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Sims, I'm sure you appreciate, and so that everybody else is reminded, the assessor appointed to assist me in relation to police matters was, of course, a former Chief Constable of your force. MR SIMS Yes. MR JAY Then you, Ms Seeley, can you provide us with your full name and then I'll invite you to affirm your statement. MS SEELEY It's Sally Clare Seeley.
Q. Your statement is dated 28 February. I'm not sure you've signed it yet. It doesn't matter. Is this your true statement? MS SEELEY It is. MR JAY Mr Sims, first of all, you are currently the Chief Constable of the West Midlands police. You started off though in the Met in 1980. You've worked your way up the ranks. You were Chief Constable of Staffordshire between September 2007 and June 2009? MR SIMS Yes.
Q. You've been in post then for two and three-quarter years; is that right? MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Then you, Ms Seeley, you are a chief inspector within the West Midlands police. You joined in 1991 and you are currently the head of corporate communications. You've held that post since April of last year; is that right? MS SEELEY That's correct.
Q. Mr Sims, can I ask you some general questions about your force. The size of your force, first of all, and the geographical area it covers? MS SEELEY Okay. Well, it covers the old county of West Midlands. So the black county, Birmingham, Solihull, down to Coventry, I think a population of around 2.8 million people. We have around 13,000 staff, made up of around 8,000 police officers, police staff, police CSOs and specials.
Q. Thank you. Ms Seeley, I'm sure you'd like to deal with this question. The staff within your department, how many are there, please? MS SEELEY There are 30 in my department.
Q. Thank you. You are not, as it were, someone who has worked in the press before. You're a police officer and doubtless you will go off to do more formal policing in due course? MS SEELEY (Nods head)
Q. What do you think are the advantages and the disadvantages of the fact that you're a police officer first and foremost and not a press officer? MS SEELEY I think there's a level of objectivity, and as I come into the department, I will remain there for just a relatively short period of time, approximately two years. So the relationships that are formed, I believe, remain professional and objective. So that adds a benefit to having a police officer in there, and obviously, being a police officer with 20 years' service, I add a real context and understanding of policing to the work that we do within the department, and that supports my team.
Q. Mr Sims, in paragraph 2 of your statement, our page 55065, describe the nature of your relationship with the media. You describe it as traditional and transactional. What do you mean by "transactional"? MR SIMS Only that it's mostly driven by news, so the volume of contact is mostly a function of what's going on. What's going on can be about crime, but equally it can be about changes within policing as well, but it's very much driven by events.
Q. Thank you. Then in paragraph three, Mr Sims, you explain the nature of your relationships with editors. They take place occasionally, but not very often, and always in a formal office environment; is that right? MR SIMS Yes, it is.
Q. Later on in your statement, paragraph 7, we don't have the question that was posed to you, we just see the answer, "Never". The question was: "To what extent have you accepted hospitality from the media whilst Chief Constable?" And the answer is "Never" MR SIMS Never.
Q. to that question. I mean, first of all, has any hospitality been offered to you by the media? MR SIMS No.
Q. You can't, I suppose, answer the question why not because we'd need to know from the person who was offering, but it suggests that there's an understanding at the very least, between you and relevant editors that this isn't the sort of thing that happens in the West Midlands. Why do you think that is? MR SIMS I think your previous witness went to the heart of this, that it's a professional relationship, it's based upon events, it's based upon long-term understanding of what's going on and it functions very smoothly without the need for there being any artificial creation of relationships.
Q. Do you think this is a function of the obvious fact that there are fewer editors with whom you would have dealings, and moreover those are editors with whom you have to have dealings because they're the heads of a limited number of regional papers? MR SIMS I think that there is a sort of mutual dependence that is strong. I think that's a really positive thing because I think the editors that I speak to have a real stake in the way the West Midlands develops, and I share that as well.
Q. Do you have a view as to the ethics of hospitality, the offering of it and the acceptance of it, between media and police? MR SIMS I don't think it's specifically a media issue. I think it goes to the heart of the police role, which is to be impartial and to be seen to be impartial.
Q. Implicit in that answer is that your view is that it shouldn't happen. Is that right or not? MR SIMS There may be occasions it's a very broad definition, hospitality. There may be occasions when it could be appropriate, but no, I don't think it should be part of the way we work. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Could I just ask, Mr Sims, you've never worked in the Met? MR SIMS No, I was 15 years in the Met. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, I'm sorry. Have you been surprised by what you have heard about the relationship between the most senior officers in the Met and reporters or do you think that's just a natural consequence of the way the Met works? MR SIMS I think there is a very different context in the Met to the context in which we operate outside, and again, the previous witness sort of hinted at this from a journalistic point of view. I think the sort of relationships are different between national media and police. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON That might be so in fact, but really my question was: should they be? Is there a reason? Is there an explanation for that? MR SIMS I'm probably not the best witness to answer that, sir. I've certainly been surprised when some of these issues have come forward. I genuinely don't think they happen beyond that particular era and location. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. I would accept that you wouldn't necessarily be the best witness, except by saying that you did 15 years in the Met, you make yourself rather more qualified. MR SIMS Well, as a very junior I worked up to the level of chief inspector, so LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But the reason I ask is because I'm struggling to see why there should be a difference of approach I understand the dynamics are different between London and the rest of the country. It may be there should be, but I'm struggling to see why there should be. MR SIMS Equally, I'm sure that it would be wrong to generalise about the Metropolitan Police, 50,000 people. You know, it would be wrong to LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And I wouldn't dream of doing that. And I understand that. The risk that, of course, we've had to confront is the perception MR SIMS Yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON that there is an issue, whereas there may very well not be, and it's quite wrong, but the perception has certainly been identified. MR SIMS Yes. MR JAY Can I ask you a general question about the press office. This will then link into paragraph 12 of Mr Sims' statement. At paragraph 2 of your statement, you describe the role and remit of the press office, and you make it clear that media engagement is just one facet of the role it plays and occupies. May I ask you briefly to elaborate on that? MS SEELEY Yes. My department is responsible for corporate communication. So that's all the communications outside of the call-handling function for the force. So we will deal with operational communications, which is the media side of things, but also we deliver to the local areas, so the territorial communications, supporting our local neighbourhood teams, also supporting corporate departments in communicating their work and managing their demands, and then clearly the way the organisation is reshaping, we have a real need we've always had a need, but a real need in this changing era to strengthen our internal communications, which we're responsible for delivering against as well.
Q. Thank you. This then links into paragraph 12 of Mr Sims' statement, but it may be, Ms Seeley, you are best placed to deal with this, that all engagement with the media is recorded and monitored by the press office; is that correct? MS SEELEY That's correct.
Q. And you say: "Records are kept of media contact and requests, and wherever possible, interviews are recorded, along with actions." Is this limited, then, to the fact of there having been a contact, rather than the substance of what the contact was about, or is a gist kept of what the contact was about? MS SEELEY There is a general gist in relation to the contact and the reason for that contact. We'll understand who the contact was with within the journalistic sense and within the force, and what the rationale and what the purpose of that contact was, and then the communications that came as a result of that, and clearly we monitor that more widely, because the result of that contact will be seen through publications.
Q. Does this system cover, though, direct contacts between the journalist and the police officer? Ones which bypass the press office, in other words. MS SEELEY Well, the force policy directs officers to contact to inform the press office of contact with journalists so we can support them in their contact with the media and ensure that they're the right person and that they're appropriately supported in that contact.
Q. Maybe we should look at the policy. I don't know whether you have the same file as I'm working from but if you have, it's tab 6 and it's a document called "West Midlands police, press and public relations department, guidance on force and departmental policy". MS SEELEY Yes.
Q. It starts at our page 07870. It may be the relevant paragraph is paragraph 7, at the bottom of our page 07874. Am I in the right place? MS SEELEY Yes.
Q. I'm not quite sure what this means, though, Ms Seeley: "All staff should have Press Bureau open on their computers to enable them to answer basic queries from the media where the response is evident from the log." So is this right: the police officer on the intranet system will be able to work out what the lines are MS SEELEY No, no, sorry. This is specifically relating to a system that is available to my staff, and I know it's previously been introduced into the Inquiry. It's the Solcara Press Bureau system, so my staff, when they receive queries, they will look at the Solcara Press Bureau system with that contact. So this relates to my staff sitting with their systems open so they're ready to record that contact as quickly as possible.
Q. Yes, my apologies. MR SIMS Sorry, it's probably worth just saying as well that one reason for recording that is that most of this in major crime cases will be disclosable. So what this is doing is it's creating a disclosure product that can feed into criminal cases. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Why would it be disclosable? MR SIMS Because we would have to disclose exactly what went out to the media and when. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON If it undermines the case of the prosecution or assists the case of the defence? MR SIMS Well, we'd reveal it in every case. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I see. So this goes beyond the CPIA? MR SIMS Yes. Well, it's supportive of the principle, yes. MS SEELEY It ensures that we have a consistent record of our communications in that area, so we can share that information with the media as a whole. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON How long has this policy been in operation, that a police officer should, if he's contacted, make sure you know about it? MS SEELEY I don't know the exact date. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON No, no, no, just generally. MS SEELEY It would be something that I would routinely have done. As a police officer within the organisation, I would have sought support, because it wouldn't be something that I would readily have encountered, would be contact with the media. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Have you ever found out that officers haven't told you? MS SEELEY Yes. MR SIMS Yes. I think this long pre-dates the discussions here, and it is about providing professional support. It is actually designed to encourage officers to feel that they can make appropriate comment to the media. It's there as a confidence-building support. In the context we're talking about, of course it also is creating a record of what's going on. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And do you have experience of officers who actually should have told you but didn't tell you? MR SIMS There will be, yeah. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Is that a problem for them or for you? MR SIMS You know, it can cause little bumps, but we deal with them. MR JAY So the recording of the activity is both at the press office level and at the individual officer level, who is expected to notify you who will keep the record; is that right? MS SEELEY That's right, yes.
Q. Is part and parcel of the thinking here that it's a restraint on police officers giving out inappropriate information to the press, or does that sort of point simply not enter your radar? MS SEELEY Staff are guided to talk within their role and remit and their areas of business and understanding. This is about supporting the force in understanding the information that has been shared and supporting staff in sharing that information, because the issue with officers being approached directly is that there are thousands of officers within the organisation. Are they the most informed? Are they the best to give that information to that journalist or to whoever is querying that? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON So you provide an extra reason for it, that extra reason being to make sure that the best information not necessarily the most police-friendly, but the most accurate, the best information is used to respond to the query. MS SEELEY Yes. MR SIMS Perhaps I'd give another reason, which is kind of efficiency. MS SEELEY Mm. MR SIMS I can't necessary afford for all 13,000 employees to be chasing after media contacts. It makes a lot of sense to focus that effort professionally through people that do this full-time. MR JAY Mr Sims, may I ask you, please, to develop a point you make on page 5 on the internal numbering of your statement, our page 55069, four lines down, when you say: "West Midlands police employees can expect to have contact with local or national media. However, the amount of contact significantly depends upon their role and function." I think we learn more about this in tab 9, which is the media training manual. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Which starts at our page 07927. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. On my understanding, this is standard material which obviously is owned by the press and public relations department, but it aids training of police officers in their contacts with the media. Have I correctly understood it? MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Some basic principles are set out. For example, 07931, page 5 on the internal numbering, this is the level of information which should be provided and the type of information, with the emphasis on obvious points such as clarity and precision. Then it says in capitals: "Remember, it's not the role of the police to act as censors." MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Then on the next page, our page 07932, "Who should talk to the media?": "The main purpose of the press and public relations department is to relieve officers from the pressure of speaking to the media. Why should they spend valuable time talking to journalists about handbag snatches?" Clearly, there's a resource issue here and an expectation amongst the community you're serving, that that community would not wish officers to be spending a disproportionate amount of time speaking to journalists, but on the other hand would understand that a reasonable amount of time should be spent; is that right? MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Then the next bullet point: "But don't forget talking to the media gives you a chance to get your message across and build up a relationship with them. So there are occasions when you should talk to journalists." So the principle of openness and transparency. Then the next point: "The question you should as yourself is why shouldn't you speak to the media rather than why should you. As a general rule, only inspectors and above should talk about policy-related matters." Then I paraphrase. The press and public relations department is better placed to deal with those matters, unless you're fairly senior, that is, but if it does relate to an operational issue and it falls within your area of knowledge, then feel free to talk. Is that the general message? MR SIMS Yes, and particularly neighbourhood officers will be talking to different groups all the time, and probably really since this guidance and training package was written, the onset of the digital age means that a number of my neighbourhood officers frequently have thousands of Twitter followers that they are talking to continuously about local events.
Q. Yes. MR SIMS But this is, I suppose, a sort of it's not a contradiction. It's a sort of controlled empowerment. We want people to be open, we want people to talk, but we want to encourage people to talk about things that they understand and know about and to do it in a climate where they're getting the full support of Sally's team.
Q. Are you able to say about how long this policy has been in place? I can't find a date on it. MR SIMS I think it pre-dates my arrival, so several years.
Q. Then the last bullet point: "Constables and sergeants are often naturals at speaking to the media and as a general rule, they should not be afraid to answer questions. But they should limit themselves to the facts and not speculate, give opinions or talk about policy-related issues." That's more common sense advice? MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Then there's some general advice on the next page on getting fair coverage, and then further general advice as to how best to conduct an interview, which again I'm sure is entirely sensible. Mr Sims, you were going on to talk about the advent and increasing importance of social media and Twitter. How is that working within your force and how is it impacting at all on what journalists are doing or wanting to do? MR SIMS Well, I think it's working very well for us. I mentioned in my statement a couple of examples (a) of local officers tweeting to local followers, principally, and being able to provide quick information. We heard, for example, the shed break example that was being talked about. We can now, in effect, put that sort of information into the public domain almost instantly. Classically, this is a development that has both opportunity and risk, and we accept both, so that within the press office team we monitor those officers that are using social media, to try, again, to support what they're doing. We want to encourage it to happen and it is growing exponentially at the moment in terms of its usage. Again, I think I mentioned in the statement another, I think, slightly different example, where one of my inspectors who leads on my behalf on mental health issues has thousands of followers from that sort of professional community who interact with each other through social media and increase the sharing of knowledge, so just two or three examples where it can be a very, very positive thing indeed. In the wake of the riots, we won an award for the degree to which we were using social media, firstly to try to counter false rumours that were spreading, but also to give the public as much information as quickly as we could.
Q. Might it be said I'm not saying this is a disadvantage that one by-product of this is it places greater pressure on the press office, because if matters are being disseminated by social media, then journalists are saying, "We're not getting a slice of this", and therefore they are demanding an even more urgent response from the press office to cover that ground and maybe provide greater information. Is that what's happening, do you think? MS SEELEY Well, journalists are under pressure because of the dynamics of social media, as has previously been discussed, but journalists follow us on social media, so they're picking up the information that we're sharing directly from source, so either from the force social media accounts or from the officers. So there is a benefit there where they are having that real-time sharing of information that was called for previously.
Q. Thank you. Mr Sims, you deal with the issue of gifts and hospitality in relation at least to your policies at paragraph 20 of your statement and following, page 55070. My understanding is that the policy which is currently in place is force directive 02/2010, which is under tab 11. MR SIMS Yes. Yes, I'm there, yes.
Q. It starts at page 07958. I think the relevant part really is 3.1: "Appropriate gifts and hospitality up to the value of ?75 may be accepted and given without a recording of details." But then if we go to the next band, ?75 to ?250, it has to be authorised by a commander or departmental head, and then above ?250, the director of resources. MR SIMS Mm-hm.
Q. I think it's fair to say that the draft 2012 policy is more stringent. MR SIMS Yeah.
Q. It's under tab 2 and it starts at page 55089. So this is the policy which is yet to be imposed, but is under consideration, under consultation; is that correct? MR SIMS Yes, and I think we find ourselves out of step by, I think, a well-meaning anti-bureaucratic attempt to put financial values where financial values are probably not a good determinant of recording practice. So we do want to move away from it. Simultaneously, we're moving towards putting all of this into the public domain directly, which I think again is helpful. And behind all of this, frankly, sits not a lot. This is LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Because it just doesn't happen? MR SIMS Well, it happens in little pieces. This is, you know, people retiring and being given ?50 by the community. This is sort of unusual stuff, really. So on that basis, I suspect we have underplayed its importance and we are working to make sure it gets the (a) that it's in line with national best practice, and it gets the sort of LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, that raises a slightly different question. I think next week I'm seeing somebody from ACPO, but is it sensible that different forces should have different policies on this or is it sensible that there should be a national policy? MR SIMS I think the it's one of those areas that traditionally 43 forces have come up with different forms of words. I don't think the public would understand why that was the case, and it seems entirely right that we do all converge our policies, and I think that's a recommendation from the HMIC report and very happy to do that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes. It's a question of calibrating it correctly and putting it across in language that's simple, straightforward MR SIMS Absolutely. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON and not overly complex. MR SIMS Yes, I agree. MR JAY It's arguable I just put it as lightly as that that paragraph 2.6 of your draft, page 55091, is easier to understand than the Metropolitan Police's new policy, but I only say that tentatively. I've said it's arguable. If you look at the advice here, it's quite clear, really, what's acceptable and what isn't, and indeed the general standards which should apply in making the individual officer decide what may be acceptable and what isn't. MR SIMS And I think you've hit upon a really important point, that we shouldn't equate integrity with recording processes. Recording processes, you know, have actually a very limited impact, I think, on personal behaviour, so our emphasis has always been to work upon values. We do a lot of work with officers about values, and I think people understand instinctively what is acceptable and what isn't.
Q. So when you give examples of items that are unlikely to be acceptable, you're not laying down rigid rules? You probably are in relation to cash. MR SIMS Mm.
Q. Alcohol well, the odd offer of a pint of beer, that would be okay, presumably, but not more than that. Lavish food or entertainment well, it's a question of fact and degree. Again, you say with you this is all largely hypothetical. MR SIMS (Nods head)
Q. Then you give examples. Private boxes at sporting events. So the occasional tickets to watch a game of football which isn't in a private box would be acceptable; is that, generally speaking, right? MR SIMS Well, I think LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Depends how Wolverhampton Wanderers are performing, presumably. MR SIMS Don't, please, sir. That's not fair. I think context is everything here, and much more important than the nature of the gift, if you like, is where it has arrived from and, I suppose, implicitly what expectations come with it. That's why I think, in a sense, the old policy was too much about numbers, when actually the important thing is about what is the context here. MR JAY And also what the public might think. MR SIMS Absolutely, yes, indeed.
Q. At the end of 2.6, you say: "Certain events and products should be avoided, especially where there's no tangible policing or community link or benefit and where embarrassment or reputational damage to the force could be caused." So again, a reasonable touchstone for acceptability. MR SIMS Mm.
Q. I move on to paragraph 25 of your statement, where you say you cannot find any evidence of informal contact with the media. That's probably consistent with the evidence we've heard from Mr Faber, but, of course, proving a negative is difficult to establish. By "informal contact", you're referring there to what, though? MR SIMS I suppose I could have used the word "social contact", perhaps. Going back to the opening page of the statement, I think the contact that exists is a sort of transactional contact that is aimed from both sides at either delivering information, producing a story, but I don't I've no knowledge or evidence of contact that goes beyond that.
Q. Some of the questioning of Metropolitan Police officers and their journalistic counterparts has been along the lines of trying to capture whether there's informal dissemination of information from the police to the press, some of which might be unauthorised. Is that, in your view, a problem in your area? MR SIMS No.
Q. You said that with some confidence. I'm sure you're right, but what is the evidence base for that? MR SIMS I suppose it's the nature of the information that we're dealing with, the nature of the product that we monitor in terms of press, TV, radio. There's no evidence of that sort of information coming into the public domain.
Q. Would you agree with that, Ms Seeley? MS SEELEY I would, yes.
Q. I just wonder, though, why, in the last sentence of paragraph 25, the policy is being re-examined. You mention the HMIC report, but MR SIMS Well, I think and I sit here today, don't I? In some respects, I'm sort of quite surprised to be sitting here today talking about these issues, but they clearly have gathered a lot of public interest, and we need to make sure that not only the facts are right, but the perception is right as well. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Surprised to be here to be talking about it because this just isn't an issue for the West Midlands or because it really shouldn't be an issue or isn't an issue for the police? MR SIMS No, I would put it like this: in all the contact I have with communities in the West Midlands, opinion-formers in the West Midlands, this just has never arisen as an issue. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON But don't you think that in itself is a very interesting and important fact? MR SIMS Well, if I'm here to prove a negative, I suppose, yes. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, you're here rather than describe it as proving a negative, I would rather say: to provide context for the culture, practice and ethics of the relationship outside the context that I am provided by the Metropolitan Police. So I'm sorry if West Midlands council taxpayers are losing out on you for the day. MR SIMS Not at all. MR JAY You do make the point, though, Mr Sims, that there have been leaks from time to time, paragraph 31 of your statement. This relates in particular to disgruntlement, if that's the right word, flowing from budget reductions and some members of staff who may be at the wrong end of these. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Their job being made more difficult or perhaps even non-existent. That has given rise to some leaks of information? MR SIMS It has, and we are losing over 2,500 posts over the next few years and having to go through some really difficult decisions and I suppose I'm not surprised that some people would feel that they want to take some of those issues to the media.
Q. How do you know about the leaks in those cases? Is it because you have been able to track a particular story which has resulted to antecedent disclosure? MR SIMS I think the case I'm particularly thinking of, the person in question appeared as a silhouette on local television. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Well, that's pretty good evidence. MR SIMS Yes. MR JAY Paragraph 33, Mr Sims. There have been 15 investigations. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. I should make clear what the precise question was. Bear with me one moment. These are investigations into actual suspected leaks. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Ten failed to produce conclusive evidence. Two investigations led to minor disciplinary action. A further three investigations are, at present, ongoing. So the two investigations we're looking at it may be unnecessary to go into the details of those and I am sure you wouldn't wish to do so, but do they relate to the type of issues you're referring to in paragraph 31? MR SIMS Not entirely. I think this is sort of a fairly broad basket of examples that we've put under the heading of "leak". Principally, these are actually dissatisfaction from involved members of the public at the way information has entered the public domain. So, for example, there is a complaint that officers have disclosed details following the death of a relative of a complainant, and if I can, this does get very much back to the previous witness. One of the hardest areas, I think, in the relationship between the police and the media, is around disclosure of personal information. Quite understandably the media will push us to be disclosing more. We sit somewhere in the middle, where we're also protecting privacy of individuals. And actually, a number of these cases are where, from the individuals' point of view, we've not created that balance in the right way.
Q. I understand. In paragraph 38, which relates specifically to the Bribery Act you say towards the end of that paragraph, 55073: "All officers have received significant training around culture and values and all supervisors receive technical training on anti-corruption measures." The training around culture and values, presumably, is this the generic training MR SIMS Yes.
Q. which informs all police officer decisions and value judgments? MR SIMS Yes, I suppose particularly around decision-making, where, along with a number of other forces, we've been doing a lot of work to try and help officers find ways of making what, in our jargon, we call values-based decision-making, which in effect is making good judgments and being able to support why those judgments have been made.
Q. And privacy issues are part of that process, are they? MR SIMS Yes, in general terms. I mean, if you like, the rights of the individual feature as a balancing issue in most decisions.
Q. Okay. Can I ask you, Mr Sims, now, a specific point about paragraph 43. The question was about media crime, which was a question which has been asked generally of police officers. You refer to one investigation in February 2011 in relation to the insertion and then discovery of a covert recording device within a mosque. I think the upshot was, though, that that in itself didn't amount to a criminal offence. MR SIMS No.
Q. And that was the end of the investigation. MR SIMS I understand that the people within the mosque that found the device made a referral to Ofcom. Ofcom were comfortable that public interest was being served and there was no further action. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON This was about alleged inappropriate treatment of students; is that the MR SIMS It was that programme, yes. It was partly filmed in Birmingham, partly in Yorkshire, and the device was in a classroom attached to a mosque. MR JAY Can I ask you about subparagraph (d), harassment by journalists. MR SIMS Perhaps I'll
Q. Yes. Can you give us a bit of the background to that, please? We don't need to know the individual cases, of course, but the general points which arise. MS SEELEY I think this relates more specifically to when we do have national media involvement in cases and where victims have been in touch with us because there have been intrusive methods to try and obtain details about them or about the case, such as door knocking within the local area and how matters are reported. MR SIMS But in fairness, our experience has always been that if we challenge that behaviour, the behaviour seems to stop. MS SEELEY Yes.
Q. And you challenge that behaviour by doing what? MR SIMS Contacting the newspaper or TV station, whatever it is. MS SEELEY Directly. And obviously there'll be staff or officers, but press office staff deployed within that area and we will identify where the issue is and deal with that at source. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Are you talking about local media outlets or national media outlets? MS SEELEY My experience, although limited but I have discussed this with my head of news, who has seven or eight years' experience it's predominantly the national outlets, because, as we've previously heard, the local outlets are embedded within those communities and rely on the trust and confidence of the communities for sales but also information. MR JAY Your jurisdiction, as it were, for asking or telling or instructing the journalists to stop, are you applying the Protection of Harassment Act? MR SIMS Common law.
Q. Common law? I understand. MS SEELEY I think that comes down to the relationships and that journalists don't want to be having a disparate relationship with us.
Q. The conversation may be only along the lines of: "Please stop"? MS SEELEY Yes.
Q. It isn't more preemptory than that. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, the issue comes if they say, "No, why should I?" Then you have to look at it. MR SIMS Of course, and that's where you could enter the harassment bit. MR JAY Yes. Mr Sims, paragraph 45, the question was: what is your current impression of the culture within Midlands police in relation to its dealings with the press? The implication might be that before July 2011, the relationship was good, but it's deteriorated since. Is that what you're intending to convey? MR SIMS No. No, not at all. No. What I was trying to say in that paragraph really is that there is a at the heart of the relationship, there is a sort of healthy tension, really, and having heard the previous witness Mr Faber would say that he's seeking more information from us, seeking it quicker. We, on the other hand, will probably challenge him around, you know, defending the reputation of the force, trying to make sure that what we do is presented as favourably as possible, and that's the sort of daily tension that's acted out, I think, in a very professional environment for the interests of the public.
Q. One of the points Mr Faber made it's paragraphs 2 and 21 of his statement but I can summarise is that there is a certain degree of concern of slowness of being able to make contact with the relevant person, relevant police officer, and access having to be mediated through your office. I think the concern was not that you prevented access, but rather that it was happening too slowly. Do you feel that there's any validity behind that complaint? If there is, what if anything could be done about it? MS SEELEY I feel at times that there clearly are tensions and Mr Faber did refer to deadlines, but officers are only on duty for a given amount of time. It may be that the person they want to speak to isn't available as and when is required, but we do try to facilitate contact as quickly as possible and then identify another relevant officer to support them in their enquiries. I'm mindful that and again, I think that the Chief Constable's already previously touched on this with social media putting information into the public arena rapidly, there is a pressure on us to release information that we have a duty to ensure is accurate and correct and that we protect the victims and their families by ensuring that it's accurate and correct before we release it to the media. So again, there are tensions that come with our access to that information and to ensure that that's accurate. MR SIMS I'd perhaps just add it's not a wilful approach. MS SEELEY No. MR SIMS I think this is just the sort of bump and grind of, you know, daily news that is absolutely getting faster and faster and expectations of information getting quicker, and we can't always resource that, and it's not necessarily, I think, my job to put more and more people in and more and more resource into this to necessarily help with deadlines. But I do think there's a huge overlap of interest more generally. MS SEELEY Yes, but those professional relationships that have been discussed are exactly what's required for us, to understand each other's drivers and demands and those tensions, to bring about the strength of relationships, especially with the local and the regional media.
Q. Another point you make, Ms Seeley, paragraph 39 in your statement you're dealing with the value of off-the-record conversations and you give three particular types of case at our page 10101, on the internal numbering page 20, where off-the-record conversations may be valuable. We've already heard the example of missing persons. Then domestic incidents, where one can understand the utility of the off-the-record briefing. Then bomb hoaxes and security scares. What are the issues which arise in the last category? MS SEELEY With bomb hoaxes and security scares, quite often the national media are interested in those and would like to respond to those. We will get calls from the national media saying they have a team but, for example, they'll be based in London, so is it appropriate to deploy that team? And we like to add some context around that, where we have information where we believe that it's a false call or that the there isn't a suspicious issue or package there, and that the roads or the area will be opened imminently, but we can't share that with the public until it's finalised and we're confident that that is the way that it's going to go, and so we can share that in an off-the-record briefing with the media so they can decide whether to deploy or not. However, in the interests of public safety, we're not in a position to share that information with them at that time. MR SIMS I think more generally there is a shared interest in denying the hoaxer the sort of oxygen of publicity that they're seeking. That, again, comes back to the fact that our local media is working in the interests of the wider community, as I think we are. MS SEELEY Yes.
Q. I've been asked to raise this issue with you, Mr Sims: do you have a policy on media ride-alongs, by which I mean, having the media attend raids and arrests? MR SIMS Yes. It's not something we do all the time, but we do do it from time to time, and actually the example that Mr Faber used following the riots is a really good example, where, I suppose, from a public interest point of view, we wanted to reassure the public that people weren't able to loot shops in the West Midlands with impunity, that there was a deterrent that was there, but also to use the opportunity that the media coverage created to push forward on the unidentified photographs that we had at that stage. So it is controlled. It's something that the press office organises. There is a sort of contract, if you like, in terms of what's disclosed, but I think used in a sparing fashion it can be very positive.
Q. What's your view about the privacy Article 8 human rights issues which arise? How are those rights, in other words, protected, if at all? MR SIMS That is part of the contract, and as you heard previously, that is making sure that photographs are pixelated and that we don't allow details of people that haven't been charged with an offence to enter the public domain.
Q. So provided that the journalists don't enter private appropriate and provided that the suspects' face is pixelated and details aren't given up which might indicate who he or she is, then all privacy issues are, as it were, catered for? MR SIMS I think they're balanced, aren't they, against the public interest of doing it.
Q. Mr Sims, finally but we're not going to deal with it today because it arrived only late yesterday afternoon you have provided us a witness statement dealing with the PNC security issues. That statement I'm confident we'll be able to take as read, but in due course, not today. MR SIMS All right.
Q. It will need to be considered by others. You've also provided us but we probably don't need to publish it the more recent guidance on the use of social media, including Twitter. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Can I ask this: is there any difficulty about publishing any of those guidances? MR SIMS No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON It might be useful to deploy the material in relation to Twitter. MR JAY Yes. We will make that available then. MR SIMS Yes.
Q. Again, it was only provided recently MR SIMS And it's a policy that we've literally been working on in the last few weeks. MR JAY We'll arrange for that to be put on the system. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you. MR JAY Thank you very much. Those are the questions I had. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I want to go back to the very beginning of your evidence, if you don't mind. I think you said there were 30 people employed in your team. How many of them are police officers and how many are civilians? MS SEELEY I'm the only police officer within the department. So they're all trained police staff members. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON How many of them have a background in journalism? MS SEELEY Five have a background in journalism sorry, five are trained within journalism, and four have a background within journalism, two of those within the print media and two of those within radio, all on a local basis. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Right. Has there been a tradition in the West Midlands that the head of the communications team should be a serving police officer or is that recent? MS SEELEY No, that's been the tradition within West Midlands police. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And I well understand your explanation that there is a value in that, because, first of all, you know the business, the police business, and secondly, your period in office, as it were, is temporary, so there isn't time for any suggestion to develop of inappropriate favourites or friendships or relationships because you'll pass on and somebody else will start from scratch. MS SEELEY (Nods head) LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Mr Sims, I suppose it's a managerial question. Do you see anything in the operation that West Midlands has to undertake that is different, save for size, than the operation which the Metropolitan Police has to undertake. MR SIMS In terms of media? LORD JUSTICE LEVESON In terms of media. MR SIMS Yes, because our contact with national media is very limited. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm not expressing myself very well. MR SIMS Sorry. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON I'm interested in the idea that there is a positive value in having a police officer as the director of the operation, not only because of the professional background of the officer but also of the rotation skills and how that would play out MR SIMS I understand the question. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON also in the context of the need to develop sufficient professionalism, because by the time the chief inspector's really got into the job and understands every single nook and cranny of it, she'll be running Coventry or whatever might be her next role. MR SIMS I think there is a balance, isn't there, between professional skills and between having someone who is identifiable, and Sally does do some media work on our behalf and can act as the sort of credible voice for West Midlands. I think there's a balance between having that and between having some professional capability as well, and I think the way we've balanced this thus far is that we have some professional people who give knowledge, skill, continuity, that sit behind LORD JUSTICE LEVESON She mentioned her head of news. MS SEELEY Yes. MR SIMS Yes, some very able people. I think the huge benefit of having the police officer there is to connect that function to the values of the rest of the force and to make sure that it never sits as a sort of an adjunct to the force; it is part of its core operation. It is actually a very operational department. It's pretty much a 24/7 continuous operation, works closely with major investigations and so on. So I think it helps build that connectivity. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON And for West Midlands and I spare the chief inspector's blushes it's appropriately staffed at chief inspector rather than higher-ranking level? MR SIMS Yes, the Chief Inspector reports directly into the Deputy Chief Constable. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Oh, I see. MR SIMS So that provides the focus in terms of strategically what's happening and then the team are able to sort of execute that requirement. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Yes, that's an important detail. So there isn't a superintendent and a chief superintendent MR SIMS In between. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON that stand between her and the most senior ranks? MR SIMS No. No. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Thank you very much indeed. Thank you both for coming. MR SIMS Thank you very much. LORD JUSTICE LEVESON Very good. Tomorrow morning,10 o'clock. (4.25 pm)


Gave a statement at the hearing on 20 March 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 2 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 20 March 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 2 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 20 March 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 6 pieces of evidence
Gave a statement at the hearing on 20 March 2012 (PM) ; and submitted 33 pieces of evidence


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Future of journalism
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Background & history
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Subsequent developments
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Ethics & abuses
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