Leveson inquiry live blog.Good morning and welcome to the
Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, will give evidence today as the inquiry turns its attention to module three and relations between politicians and the press.
Coulson has been at the heart of both Fleet Street and Westminster, first as News of the World (NoW) editor from 2003 to 2007 and later as David Cameron’s communications director. He resigned both posts as a result of the phone-hacking scandal.
The former editor is expected to face close scrutiny of his appointment by Cameron, just four months after his NotW resignation after the paper’s royal reporter, Clive Goodman, pleaded guilty to phone-hacking related charges and was jailed.
Coulson was arrested and bailed on 8 July 2011 by the Metropolitan police in connection with conspiracy to unlawfully intercept communications and payments to police officers. He has consistently denied any knowledge of or involvement in any criminal activity at the NotW.
The inquiry will also hear from Viscount Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail General Trust, publisher of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Mail Online and Metro.
Please note that comments have been switched off for legal reasons.
The ComRes poll of 500 people in the prime minister’s Witney constituency in Oxfordshire found that 49% believe Cameron is too close to the media empire, while 35% disagree.
The poll will make uncomfortable reading for No 10, which is bracing itself for potentially damaging revelations from the evidence of Andy Coulson today and Rebekah Brooks tomorrow.
Andy Coulson is to give evidence this afternoon, reports the Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh.
Leveson timetable today: Rothermere on this morning. Then Robert Jay on press and politicians. PM – Andy Coulson. Keep your diaries clear.
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) May 10, 2012
Gossip amongst the snappers is that Coulson has already taken the train this am; left home at 8.30am. Speculation about his likely route.
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) May 10, 2012
Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, is expected to be today’s first witness.
In a rare public appearance on behalf of his company, Rothermere told a parliamentary committee in December that he felt “personal concern” at the Daily Mail’s coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in 2007.
Rothermere told the committee it was his duty to “fiercely protect” the editors of his newspapers and that he had not admonished Paul Dacre for the Mail’s Madeleine McCann coverage, despite the title being sued for libel by Kate and Gerry McCann.
Lord Justice Leveson says he has used section 21 of the Inquiries Act to “interpose” – or summon – the editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Mullin, after it published an article based on material in Andy Coulson’s witness statement.
He is the first national newspaper editor to be summoned in this way.
Viscount Rothermere has taken the stand.
Here is a profile of the Daily Mail proprietor.
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, is questioning Rothermere.
He asks Rothermere about the success of the Daily Mail and Mail Online.
Rothermere believes the Daily Mail has been “built on solid ground” and a unique place in the market.
It is built on firm ground with loyal readership – people are prepared to pay a cover price which generates 60% of our revenue.
Jay asks why Rothermere is proud of Mail Online.
Rothermere says: “It has a global footprint, one of the most looked at newspaper sites in the world … built on a fundamental belief in a trust in journalism as opposed to technology. That’s what makes me proud.”
Rothermere says his family has “a fundamental belief” in the editors and entrepreneurs who run their newspapers, including the Daily Mail and Metro.
“We think this is a differentiator,” he adds, pointing out that these are the principles of Lord Northcliffe.
Jay asks if Rothermere is apolitical.
Rothermere has been a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords. He says it is important for him not to show political preference and, therefore, lean on his editors through inference.
I think it’s very important in my role not to exhibit partisan political [viewers] … puts undue pressure on my editors to support a view they think i might have. I don’t want to influence them by inference.
He adds: “At times inevitably the paper will do things that makes one feel uncomfortable. At that point it stretches the notion of what I have just said.”
Rothermere says he tries to keep his feelings to himself, even if he believes people are being treated unfairly in his newspapers.
Lord Justice Leveson asks whether politicians know they can meet Rothermere if they believe they are being treated unfairly by the Daily Mail.
Rothermere says by and large he will refer politicians’ complaints to Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail. On occasion, Rothermere will ask Dacre to look into a specific complaint and make contact with the politician in question.
Largely I refer them back to Paul Dacre. If there’s an instance I feel justify merit I may bring that up with Paul and suggest he talk to the politician. I won’t get involved on a level of opinion but if someone comes to me and says ‘your newspaper has printed an untruth’ I will say to Paul ‘This person has written a letter – would you look into it?’ They will either talk to the politician directly or write back to me and say there is no truth in it. Sometimes people have a different opinion of truth … I don’t want to get in a position of constantly having to deal with this issue.
Rothermere is asked whether he believes the Daily Mail has ever gone too far.
“Sometimes we have breached or appeared to breach and made apologies. I regret those instances,” he replies.
Rothermere says he can see why people feel an inquiry into the ethics of the press is necessary.
“Some elements of our industry have not necessarily acted in the right way, apparently, so it is probably worthy of review,” he says, adding that he is confident the Daily Mail has acted ethically. “And I am willing to stand up for us.”
Rothermere is asked about Rupert Murdoch’s comment that Mail Online is a gossip site that steals content from other sites.
“Certainly, Mail Online glories in the fact that it isn’t just a newspaper online,” Rothermere says.
Jay asks if Mail Online pilfers material from other sites.
“I don’t get involved in that level of executive control,” Rothermere says.
Asked about Mail Online as a business, Rothermere says if the company did not invest so much of its revenue in expanding the business the website would already be profitable.
In his witness statement, Rothermere says he allows his editors to make decisions without regard to commercial considerations. Asked by Jay, he describes those considerations as “advertisers, sometimes they threaten to pull advertising”.
Rothermere is asked about the resignation of Peter Wright as editor of the Mail on Sunday.
Paul Dacre felt Wright should make way for a younger editor, says Rothermere, adding there were some personal reasons.
I think Paul [Dacre] felt Mr Wright should make way for a younger, newer editor for various reasons, some personal which I don’t wish to go into. Paul wanted to retain Peter’s great skill as a journalist to help him navigate a path through appropriate and ethical conduct.
Michael White, the Guardian’s political commentator who is at the Leveson inquiry, has just tweeted:
#Leveson Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, is giving evidence to hacking inquiry.He seems a nice, modest young man, very un-Murdoch.
— MichaelWhite (@MichaelWhite) May 10, 2012
Rothermere says Dacre doesn’t feel the need to tell him before he launches a particular campaign.
When Dacre launched the plastic bag campaign, he says, “at the time we were polybagging the Sunday paper, we had to change our supplier to a biodegradable one. I said if he had given us a bit of notice we could have changed that before he launched the campaign.”
Jay is leading Rothermere through his diary of meetings with politicians.
Until 2008 you were seeing more government and Lib Dem politicians than Conservative politicians, says Jay. “Yes I think that’s right,” Rothermere replies.
Rothermere says he has known deputy prime minister Nick Clegg since he was an MEP for Leicester. “He helped us with some legislation in Europe” in the 1990s, he adds.
On his meetings with politicians, Rothermere says:
They try to impress you with their vision for the country. They then might complain about the fact the paper’s not supporting them. They don’t talk about the commercial interests of the papers. Nor do I encourage them … Sometimes they feel the paper’s been hard on them, they implore on me to have some sort of influence. I tell them that will not be the case.
Rothermere says he has sent two text messages to politicians: one to Nick Clegg and one to David Cameron, following the public debates before the 2010 general election saying “congratulations on a job well done”.
Jay asks what Rothermere made of Dacre’s friendship with Gordon Brown.
“I thought it was amusing and I used to tease him about it,” says Rothermere. He adds that he liked Brown and was not opposed to the unlikely friendship.
“Paul has an economic view of the world which is quite different to Gordon but they shared an affinity with one another which is surprising.”
Jay asks whether Rothermere attempted to get close to political parties that looked likely to be elected in order to secure political favours.
He denies this, but adds: “It’s important for us to have a good commercial relationship with all governments so they listen to what we have to say about … regulation.”
Rothermere says he met with more Conservatives as it became clear the Tories were more likely to win the 2010 general election.
He says the purpose was to “find out what their commercial ideas were, to familiarise ourselves with them on a commercial basis. I suspect leaders of the opposition want to try and get in with high ranking media individuals so they instigate more meetings.”
Jay asks if Rothermere, like others, was beginning to assess the Conservative party were more likely to win the next election, or be the major force in parliament.
“It did look like there was going to be some form of change. It’s important for the company to be adaptable to that,” Rothermere says.
Rothermere says he has never discussed phone hacking with government or opposition parties.
Rothermere is asked about various private meetings and social occasions attended by politicians and media magnates.
He met with David Cameron, Michael Gove, Michael Green, former head of Carlton Communications (and the PM’s ex-boss), Jeremy Hunt and others for lunch at Chequers in July 2010, the inquiry hears.
Rothermere says the only media-related conversation was Hunt’s attempt to get the Daily Mail group involved in his local TV plans.
Jay asks if Rothermere discussed the News Corp bid to take full control of BSkyB, announced on 15 June 2010, with Cameron, Gove or Hunt.
“No I did not. I am absolutely positive,” says Rothermere.
Rothermere had a formal meeting with Hunt and Ed Vaizey on 25 August 2010. He says he did not discuss the BSkyB bid on this occasion.
He adds that he “cannot recall” having discussed the controversial bid – which his newspaper group publicly opposed – with any politician.
Jay asks if he thinks he might have done.
No, because it was obviously a very contentious issue. It’s unlikely that I would have got an answer I wanted anyway. The only answer we would have been wanting was a fair review of the process. I didn’t really see any politicians at the time other than these two meetings. I had a very full agenda during the meeting with Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt. At that time it was Vince Cable who had the decision, I didn’t see him and don’t think I have ever spoken to him in my entire life.
“It’s also not my job to go around lobbying politicians on things like this,” he adds.
Jay is asked about The New Machiavelli by Jonathan Powell, a former aide to Tony Blair.
In the book, Powell referred to an ongoing spat between the Daily Mail and the Daily Express in which both titles wrote unflattering articles about the other paper’s owner.
Rothermere admits the Daily Mail called Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express, a “pornographer”, then says the Express began writing about his illegitimate son of whom Rothermere is “very proud”.
He says: “He seemed to think the fact I have an illegitimate son is of some concern. I am very proud of my son. I don’t make a secret of it – the idea i am offended by it is slightly offensive.”
Murdoch MacLennan, former managing director of Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers, intervened in the dispute and went to a lunch at the Howard Hotel with Desmond “to try pour oil on troubled waters, so to speak”.
MacLennan went to the lunch, which Rothermere says was on Desmond’s invitation.
Following the lunch, Desmond announced publicly that there had been a truce and that the titles would stop the personal attacks. MacLennan did not believe there had been a truce and that Desmond “was just making trouble”.
Rothermere adds that the supposed truce did not last long, because the Express apparently ran further articles criticising the Daily Mail owner.
Jay says: “This in microcosm raises the privacy and harassment concerns we touched on earlier. There isn’t really a public interest in talking about you?”
Rothermere replies: “If he had found something genuinely shocking he had every right to publish.”
Jay says there was no public interest in what he did publish.
“I don’t think so, no,” says Rothermere.
Leveson points out the risk that newspapers use the power of their position to have a go at someone and invade their privacy with no public interest justification.
Rothermere says: “There is obviously a danger of it, yes. It is not a conduct that we condone in our company. Paul Dacre’s decision to attack Richard Desmond’s ownership of the Express … he thought the government had acted wrongly and it was not in the public interest.”
“If we have a free press there will always be a danger that someone will try to abuse that power. I do not try and do that. I am very mindful and respectful of the power our newspaper has.”
Rothermere is asked about the Daily Mail’s coverage of Madeleine McCann in 2008.
He says “as a parent you would have to be inhuman not to feel deeply” about Madeleine going missing.
Firstly, it was obviously a very big story because of the nature of it. The McCanns encouraged publicity for very good reasons. And then there was, I believe, the problems of the jurisdiction [in] Portugal creating briefings. I think our journalists were unfamiliar with the way the Portuguese police operate … a number of allegations were made which we regret … and immediately rectified it and made a donation. It’s a regrettable occurrence but it is the nature sometimes of journalism to do that.
Rothermere is asked for his thoughts on press regulation.
He is careful to say only that there is “a perception that self-regulation has not worked”.
Pressed by Jay, he says: “The form of the PCC has not been able to establish a level of trust and faith that is necessary for it to function properly. That is almost certainly the case.”
Rothermere believes the PCC has worked as a complaints body, and adds that it is not the job of the commission to administer the law.
Lord Justice Leveson intervenes. He asks whether self-regulation is also about the industry ensuring that its practices are not just “the absolute minimum”.
Rothermere replies: “I would like to think so. It is very difficult to enforce the law on people where you have no authority to do so.”
Leveson asks about media plurality and newspaper ownership in the UK, which he says consists of “six families, a couple of companies and one or more trusts”.
Rothermere says he can see why people would be concerned about this arrangement.
“It’s hard to imagine, though, a free press that isn’t run by commercial interests,” he adds. “We try to be as fair as we possibly can, we believe in ethics, that good journalism is ethical journalism, in putting our faith in journalists – most journalists on the whole are good people and want to find the truth.”
The Guardian’s Michael White has just tweeted:
#Leveson Lord R blames Portuguese police for Fleet St’s libels on the McCanns. Hisjournos never knowingly print lies, he asserts. Hmmm
— MichaelWhite (@MichaelWhite) May 10, 2012
Leveson says if proprietors are not benign they “materially affect the way we learn what happens in our democracy”.
Rothermere says: “Plurality is the best guard. If you get a Hearstian situation you don’t get a natural balance – the universe gets out of kilter.”
Leveson asks whether newspapers really do hold each other to account. “It doesn’t happen very often, does it?” he adds.
The whole business of interception of voicemails, 2005 and 2006 and concern about sentences on those who were breaking the law really dies a death until it so happens the Guardian and the particular journalist in the Guardian [Nick Davies] runs with it and runs with it pretty vigorously. And then nothing happens and then the New York Times picks it up. Who guards the guardians? Have the press failed in that regard, to keep an eye on everyone else?
Rothermere replies: “The Guardian certainly surfaced much of what has now become public knowledge so I would say that was an example of the press regulating itself.”
Leveson responds: “Do you think? It took the best part of five years, three years before the 2009 article, then something in 2010, then in 2011. They really did have to – this is not an advertisement for the Guardian – I am raising the issue.”
Rothermere says the Guardian has his admiration for Davies’s work on phone hacking.
Leveson asks about Rothermere’s links with politicians.
Is he able to privately meet politicians while remaining transparent about “what is an opportunity for lobbying”, asks Leveson.
Rothermere says he takes that responsibility very seriously and believes it is important for him to be “an outsider”.
In order to be an effective newspaper publisher you have to be an outsider. Ultimately when things are exposed you have to have degree of aloofness and professionalism. Means it’s sometimes hard to make friends and keep them. That is the cost of doing the job properly.
Leveson says it is legitimate for the coal industry to lobby for coal and greens to lobby against. “The way our democracy works we elect politicians to make decisions and allow commentators to criticise the decisions whichever way it goes,” he says.
The question then becomes, at the level of the press, where there is not a deal – I’m not for a moment suggesting there is a deal – where there can be a recognition that these things are of interest to the press and what we believe to be important, no one’s saying ‘if you do this we’ll support you, we’ll go down your route,’ but creating the common understanding has with it danger unless it’s open or transparent.
Rothermere concludes: “If there is a matter of industry I have a particular view, like the EU privacy directive, the best form of that conversation is in there office with public servants with the whole thing being on the record. I like doing business and pleasure and don’t like mixing the two.
“If I invite someone to my home or their home on a friendly basis and use my access to bore them with my particular problems that’s not very good manners.”
He adds that it is appropriate to talk general politics in an informal environment but specific issues “are best done in an office environment where everything is on the record” as it stops any accusations of undue access.
Rothermere has completed his evidence and the inquiry is taking a short break.
Here is a short summary of this morning’s evidence:
• Independent on Sunday editor summoned by Lord Justice Leveson over Andy Coulson ‘leak’
• Viscount Rothermere said Daily Mail coverage of Madeleine McCann was “regrettable”
• Paul Dacre felt Mail on Sunday editor should step aside partly for personal reasons, Rothermere told inquiry
• Rothermere texted David Cameron after 2010 public debates congratulating him on performance
• Had lunch at Chequers with Cameron, former Carlton Communications chief Michael Green and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt among others in July 2010
The inquiry has resumed.
Lord Justice Leveson marks the opening of module three as the inquiry turns its attention to the relations between politicians and the press.
Leveson says module three will ask whether the relationship between politicians and press has “got out of hand”.
“Does it need to be recalibrated?” he asks.
Leveson adds that he intends to make recommendations that will ensure the vital flow of communication for a democracy.
He will refer to the Calcutt report and historical inquiries into the conduct of press and poltics.
Leveson says he wants to succeed where others have failed.
It should not simply represent the next footnote in failed efforts to find a correct approach to the regulation of the press.
He adds that he will “vigorously resist” any attempt to drag this module of the inquiry into a party political dispute.
Leveson says he may have to look at the ministerial code but will not judge on whether it has been breached. “That is simply not my job,” he asserts, referring tacitly to the recent controversy around Jeremy Hunt’s conduct over the News Corp bid for BSkyB.
Leveson says this module of the inquiry will not draw him into questions of the fitness or suitability of Rupert Murdoch or anyone else, senior policemen or politicians.
Referring to News Corp’s bid for BSkyB, Leveson says: “This inquiry cannot take the place of an inquiry by Ofcom or the Competition Commission.”
He warns that he is not attempting to trip up or trap star witnesses and there will be no cross-examinations.
“Those who look for forensic fireworks should turn to fictional trials,” he says.
Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, now makes his opening remarks on module three of the inquiry.
He points out that the inquiry will examine whether both politicians and press have acted ethically in this relationship. However, he adds that the conduct of politicians will “not occupy centre stage”.
Jay outlines the issues which “occupy the heartland” of module three, as well as some hinterland issues.
Jay says that “off the record” conversations and informal contact between politicians and the press can be a part of a healthy democracy.
The relationship becomes less healthy, he says, when the public is misled or “if journalists seek to make the news rather than report it” and if politicians pay more attention to coverage of their policies in the media rather than the detail of their policies.
He reads an anonymous comment from one core participant who described the relationship between some politicians and the press as “incestuous and self-serving”.
Jay says the heart of the matter is that the press are perceived to have influence over the public which can be traded by the government of the day in return for sway over media policy.
He he uses the word “perception” because it perhaps can never be proved a newspaper has won an election for a particular party, such as in 1992. Can be argued either way, he says. It can be argued the Sun reflected public opinion that would have delivered the same result either way.
But Jay says politicians “must still believe that newspapers can make a difference – why else would they go to such lengths to cultivate access” to people like Rupert Murdoch?
Jay suggests that Rupert Murdoch suffered “selective amnesia” around his meeting with then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981 before his purchase of the Times.
“If you accept Mr Murdoch’s evidence on this topic the point goes no further. If you do not the consequences … go wide-ranging,” Jay says, adding that inferences might be drawn about Murdoch’s true intentions and are “capable of bearing on Mr Murdoch’s integrity”.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, has just tweeted:
Jay suggests Rupert Murdoch has “selective amnesia” about his lunch w Thatcher in 1981. Cd bear on his integrity #Leveson
— alan rusbridger (@arusbridger) May 10, 2012
News International has the greatest potential influence over politics, says Jay, while Associated Newspapers also has sway with its connection with middle England.
He adds that there is “likely to be a correlation” between market share of the newspaper market and influence over politics.
Jay says an important theme of this module will be to examine a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct, citing the royal commissions, two Calcutt reports, the response to the death of Princess Diana and Operation Motorman.
He adds: “Questions clearly do arise – genuine disinclination to clip the wings of the press and hold the right people to account?”
Jay raises the News Corp bid for BSkyB.
He says the terms of reference for the inquiry do not permit Lord Justice Leveson to decide the immediate political fate of the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
However, he says the inquiry is concerned to uncover to what extent the minister may have failed to fulfil a quasi-judicial function because he was too close to News Corp.
Jay says the question is whether Hunt’s dealings could be perceived as “a microcosm of a too cosy relationship” between politicians and the press.
Jay says the emails by News Corp’s Frederic Michel to Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser show us “light refracted through two intermediate prisms”.
“I express no view one way or another … However it is right I should echo the note of caution you sounded on 26 April. If the emails were direct communication between the culture secretary and James Murdoch the case would be relatively clearcut.
“They are not. What we see is light refracted through two intermediate prisms. Inevitably what we are seeing is not white light but many colours of the rainbow.”
Jay adds: “If you were to conclude otherwise there is a range of possible findings. The least serious finding is an appearance of bias in relation to the special adviser’s dealings [with News Corp].
“The most serious is that the nature of the relationship was such that the secretary of state was prepared expressly to authorise a special adviser to have convert relations with a lobbyist … to put another way, provide a running commentary on the bid giving assurances it would ultimately be successful.”
He adds: “Politicians are entitled to be friendly with whomsoever they might choose. The issue is where the lines should be drawn.”
The Guardian’s deputy editor, Ian Katz, has just tweeted:
Goodness…did Robert Jay just say inquiry was looking into “propinquity” of politicians and media folk? Almost trumps his “pellucid” moment
— ian katz (@iankatz1000) May 10, 2012
— ian katz (@iankatz1000) May 10, 2012
Jay concludes his opening remarks by comparing “the apparent similarity of thinking” between Rupert Murdoch’s evidence and memoirs by Tony Blair.
Lord Justice Leveson turns to the Independent on Sunday article about Andy Coulson. The article, apparently based on leaked evidence from Coulson’s witness statement, reported that the former News of the World editor had shares in News Corp while he was David Cameron’s director of communications.
Meanwhile, Alastair Campbell is embroiled in a Twitter spat with the Telegraph columnist Toby Young.
@toadmeister would you care to withdraw your libellous tweet claiming I leaked my Leveson statement, and apologise?
— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) May 10, 2012
Young has not yet responded.
John Mullin, editor of the Independent on Sunday, has taken the stand.
David Barr, counsel to the inquiry, is questioning Mullin, who confirms he was personally involved in the decision to publish this story.
Mullin says the Independent on Sunday received Coulson’s witness statement last Thursday, but had confirmed the shareholding prior to this.
Pressed by Barr, Mullin says he is not prepared to comment further than to say the statement did not come from a core participant or a member of the inquiry team.
Mullin confirms he was shown Coulson’s witness statement, which he read, but has not retained it or a copy of it. Barr asks why he read it.
Human nature. In retrospect it would have been much better all round had I not read it.
Mullin confirms that the Independent on Sunday already had three sources on Coulson’s News Corp shareholding.
Barr asks if the statement gave him a fourth source.
I wouldn’t put it like that. Had we been a daily newspaper we would have been perfectly able to publish the story we published in the Independent on Sunday on Thursday before even receiving the statement.
He repeats that the statement was not used a source.
Mullin says he did not believe the inquiry’s order restricting publication of confidential material applied to this story because they had three independent sources who had confirmed Coulson’s shareholding.
“Nothing that appeared in our story didn’t come from the three sources that I’ve outlined,” he says.
Lord Justice Leveson says he is anxious to ensure that evidence is prepared in an orderly fashion, not to censor or keep it secret.
“The risk is by doing what you’ve done is you’ve created a dialogue … with people having to respond, before we’ve even heard it,” Leveson says.
Mullin maintains that this was an issue of “massive public importance” and that the inquiry should not stand in the way of “good, honest journalism”.
Leveson says it wasn’t because someone broke the confidentiality agreement about witness statements.
Mullin repeats: “We have used nothing from Coulson’s statement.”
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, has just tweeted:
Mullin: “We may not be the world’s greatest newspaper. We may not even be t greatest paper in our own building”#Leveson
— alan rusbridger (@arusbridger) May 10, 2012
Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian, tweets:
Terrifically robust performance by John Mullin at #Leveson defending his running of Coulson shareholding story
— ian katz (@iankatz1000) May 10, 2012
Barr says there was “no public interest” in revealing something that was going to be revealed in a witness statement four days later.
Mullin says the key issue regarding Andy Coulson is who knew what and when.
“My job as editor is to put in the public domain the key question that has to be answered. I think putting that in the public mind before Andy Coulson gives evidence is perfectly defensible journalism,” he adds.
Barr contends that it was not in public interest to publish four days before due to come out in public inquiry.
“I didn’t know how you were going to deal with the shareholding issue,” says Mullin.
Barr comments that Mullin’s statement contains what could be read as an apology.
Mullin says he made the decision to publish the story and, with hindsight, there was scope to seek informal guidance of the inquiry.
However, he suggests this would not have dissuaded him to publish the story. He apologises for the trouble it may have caused the inquiry.
“With hindsight there might have been scope to seek some sort of guidance from inquiry. I do apologise for the trouble this has cost the inquiry and apologise for effort you have had to go to today, it wasn’t our intention, we are motivated only by trying to get to the bottom of this issue, as is the inquiry,” he says.
Leveson says, rather grumpily: “Alright.”
Mullin: “We are motivated only to get to the bottom of this issue, as is the inquiry.”
Leveson says he will think about what Mullin has said very carefully.
The inquiry has now broken for lunch. It will resume at 2pm, when Andy Coulson will give evidence.
Here is a short summary of the second half of this morning’s evidence:
• Independent on Sunday editor maintained it ran legitimate story on Andy Coulson, after being summoned by Leveson inquiry.
• Lord Justice Leveson said it was not his duty to decide the political future of the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, over his dealings with News Corp.
• Emails from Hunt’s adviser raised serious questions over a perception of a “too cosy” relationship between Murdoch and government, counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay said.
• Rupert Murdoch may have shown “selective amnesia” about relations with Margaret Thatcher and Times takeover, Jay said.
Labour MP Tom Watson has tweeted:
For information: Details of the changes made to the ministerial code by the PM in regard to contact with media moguls: tom-watson.co.uk/2012/05/minist…
— tom_watson (@tom_watson) May 10, 2012
Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World and ex-No 10 communications director, has taken the witness stand.
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, is questioning Coulson.
He asks about reports that Coulson keeps a personal diary in the style of Alastair Campbell. Coulson says that is not correct.
His recollection is from memory and from personal notebooks.
Jay says he will not be asking about Operation Weeting or Operation Elveden. Coulson is on police bail under both Scotland Yard investigations.
The counsel asks Coulson about his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, his former boss.
“We haven’t spoken for a while for obvious reasons,” Coulson says.
Jay asks how often did they spoke after July 2007.
“We would talk now and then. I wouldn’t say we spoke every week. Over that period of time, ‘regularly’ is the word I would use,” Coulson says.
Coulson says he has no insight into Rebekah Brooks’s political allegiances, other than the political stance of the Sun while she was editor.
Jay asks if Brooks was close to politicians.
“Yes, through the course of her work I think she was close to politicians,” Coulson says. “As to her personal views, how she voted, I have no idea.”
Jay asks which of the cultural aspects of the News of the World Coulson wanted to change when he became editor in 2003.
“I don’t recall any,” answers Coulson. He says he wanted to redesign the paper.
Rupert Murdoch used to call Coulson on a Saturday night when he was editor of the News of the World, but on “irregular occasions”.
Coulson says cannot recall any conversations with Murdoch about the content of the News of the World, aside from the sports pages.
He says he might tell Murdoch if the News of the World had a good scoop, but not always.
Sport was crucial to the commercial success of the News of the World, says Coulson.
Jay notes that Coulson keeps bringing his answers on to neutral topics, such as sport.
Did he ask about circulation figures? “He may well have done,” says Coulson.
Coulson says he might “offer a view” to Murdoch about how the country felt politically about a specific issue, but not about the long-term view.
There were some issues that as an editor he wanted to champion, he adds, but a successful newspaper is one that is in tune with its readership.
Coulson says he “thoroughly enjoyed” working for Murdoch, who he describes as “warm and supportive”.
“I wasn’t particularly close to him – I wouldn’t want to overstate it,” he adds.
Jay asks if Coulson turned down the editorship of the Daily Mirror following the resignation of Piers Morgan.
“There were conversations … but I chose not to,” says Coulson.
Coulson is asked about why the News of the World decided to support Tony Blair in the 2005 election.
He does not believe the paper was “wildly enthusiastic” but it was possibly reflecting the mood of the country at the time.
Jay asks if Coulson discussed the News of the World’s stance with Rebekah Brooks.
“No, I don’t think so,” he says, adding that there was a “rivalry” between the Sun and the News of the World even though they were owned by the same publisher and supported the same political party.
Coulson says he does not believe he “was pushed or encouraged or told” to support a specific political party, when pressed by Jay.
Asked about Murdoch, he says: “I didn’t have a conversation with him. I don’t remember one, I don’t think it happened about the 2005 election. I followed my own path. I don’t think I was pushed or encouraged or told. I was determined we would spend a reasonable amount of time with politicians from both parties and we would make up our minds.”
Coulson is asked about the News of the World’s relationship with David Cameron, whom he met a few times before the 2005 leadership election, and at a dinner in Blackpool in October 2005 that was hosted by Les Hinton.
Jay asks if Coulson wanted Cameron to become Tory leader in 2005.
Coulson says he does not believe he had formed a view, and describes his paper’s “hug a hoodie” coverage as “not particularly helpful to Mr Cameron”.
Coulson says he was never explicitly asked by the Tories whether they would win the support of the News of the World.
Jay suggests this was the “clear subtext” of Coulson’s conversation with politicians from all sides.
The Labour press team is tweeting a series of questions for Coulson, including this one:
— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) May 10, 2012
Coulson is asked about an exchange with Gordon Brown in 2006 which the latter suggested he had “on good authority” that Coulson would be made editor of the Sun.
Coulson thought that Brown was trying “to impress on him his closeness to Mr Murdoch”, adding that the prediction was a “hopeless” one.
Jay asks Coulson about a News of the World story about Osborne in October 2005. The story also ran in the Sunday Mirror, but the News of the World version was more favourable to Osborne.
Coulson says the News of the World story did not go easy on Osborne, but concedes that the Sunday Mirror’s accompanying leader was slightly more strongly-worded than the News of the World’s “as you’d expect”.
Coulson says his newspaper’s front-page splash, “Top Tory coke and the hooker”, can “in any way be described as career-enhancing for George Osborne. The idea we went easy on him is ridiculous.”
Jay points out the leader in the paper, which said Osborne was a “young man when he found himself caught up in this murky world”.
Jay turns to Coulson’s resignation.
Coulson says he had “the conversation” with Les Hinton, then executive chairman of News International, but not with Rupert Murdoch.
“It was my decision, there wasn’t a negotiation or discussion about whether I would or wouldn’t,” he says.
Coulson is asked about his severance agreement with News International.
He says the staging of his severance payments was “reasonably standard practice”. That agreement meant he was technically still receiving payments from News International while employed by the Conservative party.
He says he had shares in News International but sold them immediately on leaving. He also owned News Corp shares.
Coulson was approached by George Osborne in March 2007, according to his witness statement being read by Jay.
The pair met for a drink and Osborne asked whether Coulson would be interested in joining the Tories.
Guto Harri had a conversation with Cameron about the communications director job prior to the Osborne meeting, Coulson says.
Coulson says he received commiserations from Blair and Brown after he resigned in 2007. He does not remember any from Cameron.
Coulson says he went into the meeting with Osborne “with a degree of reluctance”.
Leveson presses Coulson that he must have wondered why the Tories wanted him, given his lack of political experience.
“I remember very well saying to Mr Osborne and later to Mr Cameron that television is going to be very important,” he says, adding that the was already thinking about the TV debates that happened three years later, prior to the 2010 election.
Jay asks: “Did it not occur to you ‘why are they asking me to do this job?’”
Coulson replies: “Possibly it did. But once that first conversation was underway, Mr Osborne said ‘I want you to meet with Mr Cameron’ – it went on from there.”
Jay says it was very different from 18 years in journalism in which Coulson ended up as editor of the News of the World – now he was being asked to do something completely different.
I had been the editor of a national newspaper for many years that involves politics as we have discussed. I was dealing with issues, I ran campaigns. I aimed to be in tune with readership which was vast. Those things I’m sure were attractive. The route from journalism to politics – I was hardly the pioneer. Have been several people gone from newspapers to politics.
Jay asks whether Osborne mentioned Coulson’s connections to News International.
“I don’t remember it being a specific conversation … may well have been a conversation I worked on the News of the World. I’m sure the conversation would have touched on my previous employers in some way,” says Coulson.
Was it the elephant in the room?
Jay says the Tories knew Coulson was close to Brooks and Murdoch.
Coulson responds: “I went into the meeting – I didn’t see it as an interview. My initial reaction was slightly reluctant but I was intrigued and had further conversations and decided it was something I wanted to do.”
Jay asks Coulson whether Ed Llewellyn, chief of staff for David Cameron, or Francis Maude raised the convictions of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking with him.
“I don’t remember but it’s possible,” says Coulson.
In Coulson’s witness statement he says David Cameron asked him about Clive Goodman case.
Coulson says: “I said to him what I said publicly. I knew nothing in terms of what they did.”
He adds that he told Rebekah Brooks about the Tory communications director offer and she was pleased for him. He does not believe she had any influence over his appointment.
Lord Justice Leveson presses Coulson on why he believed he was right for the Tory spin doctor job.
“I’m sure in the conversation I would have tried to impress on them I could do a good job,” says Coulson. “Without looking like an appalling big head.”
“My broad experience went across from 1998 when I stopped working as a showbusiness reporter I was involved across the paper both the Sun and the News of the World and had launched whole series of websites on the internet.”
Coulson told Cameron and Osborne that his News International background “could not be seen as a factor” in guaranteeing the support of those newspapers, he says.
He says “I think that is fair to say” that politicians were keen to get close to the Sun.
Jay asks if Brooks was the most important person in securing the support of the Sun.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” says Coulson.
He adds that he wanted to have good relations throughout. “You can’t rely on a call to an editor … attempting to build a series of relationships where when you had something positive to say had best possible chance of coverage.”
Coulson says the Conservatives had “very good relationships” with most papers, including the Guardian. The only newspapers that this didn’t apply to were the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, but he also spoke to them.
“The party had an electoral mountain to climb, of historic proportions,” he says.
Jay asks if Coulson advised Cameron to become as close as he could to Brooks.
“No,” he says. “There was a family connection. She lived relatively close to his constituency home – that was the genesis of it.”
Jay asks whether there is any validity to the “implied trade-off of support” between newspapers and politicians.
“I don’t really,” says Coulson. “In the course of the election campaign there were issues a whole range of newspapers considered were important to them. Where our policies overlapped I would seek to maximise that. But once in government you got on with the business of governing.”
Cameron has said “we all got too close to News International”. Was that a sentiment he expressed before you left in January 2011? “I don’t think so,” says Coulson.
Coulson says he does not believe there was a “grand conspiracy” or improper discussions between News International and the Tories.
Jay asks Coulson to consider whether it was more subtle than that.
“As I sit here now … things are gonna change, I think things have already changed, and I think that process had already started while I was there,” Coulson says.
The inquiry is now taking a short break.
Here is a short summary of the key points from Coulson’s evidence so far:
• Andy Coulson received severance payments from News International while employed by the Conservative party
• Coulson was “reluctant” about the Tory spin doctor job when approached by George Osborne in 2007
• David Cameron asked Coulson about Clive Goodman’s conviction for phone hacking
• Coulson does not believe senior No 10 figures Ed Llewellyn and Francis Maude asked him about phone hacking
• The Sun was a top priority for Cameron ahead of 2010 general election, Coulson says
has now been published on the inquiry website.Coulson’s witness statement
Coulson says of the Sun’s support in 2010:
“I was, in truth, a little disappointed by the manner in which the Sun decided to switch support. I felt it was more a rejection of Labour than a positive endorsement of us. If I’d had half the influence on The Sun that some claim, the front page would have looked very different.”
On his relationship with Fred Michel, the News Corp executive at the heart of the BSkyB bid lobbying, Coulson says in his witness statement:
“I met Fred Michel on a few occasions for coffee including one occasion, possibly, in No 10. The agenda was always general and we did not, to the best of my recollection, ever discuss News lnternationaI’s commercial agenda (including BSkyB). He also helped organise a lunch between David Cameron and the former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar when we were in opposition. I can’t recall, but it is possible, that Mr Michel attended that lunch.”
The inquiry has resumed.
Coulson confirms that he owned restricted stock units in News Corp to the value of about £40,000 while employed as Tory communications director.
He says he did not consider this while Tory spin doctor “and I should have done”.
Coulson confirms he attended national security council meetings and when asked if he saw documents designated top secret or above while in No 10, despite not being vetted to the level appropriate for his role, replied: “I may have done, yes.”
He says he cannot recall whether Cameron sought further assurances about phone hacking after the Guardian’s 2009 stories.
Jay turns again to his relationship with the News of the World in the runup to the 2010 election.
Coulson says he “doesn’t recall a specific conversation” about the endorsement of the News of the World but would have had conversations with newspaper editors about securing their endorsement.
“For me it was about a broad range of relationships … With the News of the World I had a relationship with the political editor and I knew one of the columnists who I had hired. We tried to have good relationships.”
The Guardian deputy editor, Ian Katz, has just tweeted:
Here’s reminder of what No 10 said when we first started asking about Coulson’s security vetting bit.ly/puRtdU
— ian katz (@iankatz1000) May 10, 2012
Coulson says he may have had a hand in the logistics of David Cameron’s private flight to visit Rupert Murdoch on the media mogul’s yacht in Santorini in 2008.
I may have been involved in the logistics, I wasn’t heavily involved nor did I go. I didn’t regard it as a key moment. I would have seen it as an opportunity for David Cameron to put himself and his party in the best possible light. We didn’t discuss it afterwards, he just told me it went well.
Jay turns back to the Sun’s endorsement of the Tories.
Jay suggests that Coulson knew it would take time to secure the Sun’s support.
Coulson responds: “I certainly saw it as a long process. During my time working for the Conservatives there were ups and downs to say the least.”
He adds that he did not know the Sun would pronounce its support for the Tories during the Labour party conference.
In his written evidence, Coulson says he discussed the paper’s coverage with Rebekah Brooks and Dominic Mohan in summer 2009. He says he wouldn’t describe those discussions as frequent.
Jay says: “You knew the ultimate decision was going to be made by Mr Murdoch heavily advised by Mrs Brooks.”
Coulson replies: “I would have taken the view that it was going to be a combination of views and obviously Rupert Murdoch was going to play a part of that. The three of them [both Murdochs and Brooks] would have been involved and I suspect Dominic as well.”
Jay suggests that Dominic Mohan, the Sun editor, would “do what he was told” regarding which political party the paper would support.
Coulson says he can’t say that.
Jay says Mohan “isn’t a powerful personality” like Brooks.
Coulson replies: “I’m not here to give a character assessment of Dominic Mohan.”
He says Jay appears to have a “disparaging view of ex-showbiz reporters”. (Mohan, like Coulson, is a former showbiz reporter.)
Coulson maintains that he cannot recall when he knew that the Sun was going to pronounce its support for the Tories.
He says it may have been “in the ether” at the Labour party conference. He adds that it was not the front page, or the timing, that he wanted, but that it was “positive” news for the party.
The 30 September 2009 front page was headed “Labour’s lost it”, but it did not mention Cameron.
Coulson went to a New Year’s Eve party at Rebekah Brooks’s farm in 2008, the inquiry hears.
He also attended the wedding of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks in June 2009.
On 30 September 2009 – the date the Sun headline “Labour’s lost it” came out – he attended a dinner at the Osbornes’ home.
He had coffee with Fred Michel, the News Corp lobbyist, at the City Inn in November 2009. It was the first time he had met Michel.
has written a piece on Robert Jay QC’s elegant language:The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy
There’s never a dull moment at the Leveson inquiry – but if the appetite ever flagged for Andy Coulson’s memories of his “warm and supportive” but not “close” relationship with Rupert Murdoch, there’s always the pellucid (translucently clear) language of lead counsel Robert Jay QC to gladden the hearts of the sincerely logocentric (regarding words and language as a fundamental expression of an external reality, according to the Concise Oxford dictionary).
The courteous but relentless style of the QC has already led him to being hailed as the true star of the inquiry but the medium, not the message, is acquiring its own fan base. “Robert Jay stumbled as he tried to utter the word propinquity. Won’t try it myself on the radio later,” Peter Hunt of the BBC tweeted.
Hunt was already impressed by “bailiwick” (so good Jay has used it twice: “the district or jurisdiction of a bailie or bailiff/one’s sphere of operations or area of interest”).
You can read the full article here.
Coulson says he talked to Fred Michel in his No 10 office. “It could be that he was meeting someone else and popped in … it was a brief conversation as I recall it,” he says.
Coulson does not recall any conversation with Michel about the BSkyB bid.
He says he is not sure whether he knew about the bid in advance of it being publicly announced. He does not recall conversations with Rebekah Brooks about it.
Jay turns to Coulson’s entry into government.
Coulson entered No 10 in May 2010 on a salary of £140,000 a year. He says this was not topped up by private donors.
On the BSkyB bid, Jay asks whether Coulson knew Vince Cable’s attitude towards the attempted takeover?
I don’t believe so. I certainly didn’t talk to him about it. I wasn’t involved in the BSkyB bid save for my communications role.
Jay asks if he spoke to Jeremy Hunt about the BSkyB deal. “I don’t recall any conversations with Mr Hunt about BSkyB,” says Coulson.
Leveson asks: “Was there any conversation with any politician that sought to gain the benefit of your experience of having worked for News International for the purposes of this bid?”
“Not that I remember,” says Coulson.
Jay asks if the News of the World ever plugged Sky programmes.
Coulson says: “When that happened they paid a price for it, literally, they booked promotional space.”
Were they given a favourable rate? “I don’t know,” Coulson says. “I don’t get involved in that.”
Coulson is asked about claims that Rupert Murdoch visited Downing Street through the back door.
“I think he did come in through the back door,” he replies. “That’s how it happened under previous administrations – I suspect it happened automatically.”
Is that the same for everyone or is there a list of back door and front door people, asks Leveson. Coulson says he doesn’t know.
“I’ve got to keep myself entertained, Mr Coulson,” explains Leveson, to laughter.
Coulson offers a wry smile, and says: “Had Paul Dacre asked to come in through the back door, I’m sure that would have happened.”
Coulson denies that he ever briefed about the private life of other politicians.
“I would brief in terms of politics but in terms of people’s private lives, no,” he says. “In my conversations with journalists I wouldn’t hide my political views. I don’t believe I did that.”
Pressed on the point, Coulson says: “Well, define ‘brief’. I thought the question was did I brief against people on a personal basis I don’t believe I did beyond their politics. Did I have strong views about Gordon Brown or Labour politicians, Labour policy, individuals concerned, I think I probably would, in the same way I would seek to portray a positive picture as possible for the Conservatives.”
Coulson says “negative briefing” came to a head with the Damian McBride affair which resulted in very personal stories which, he points out, were published in News International papers as well as others.
Coulson denies he discussed his resignation from No 10 with Rebekah Brooks before it was publicly announced.
“It was a fairly difficult period. I don’t think I told anyone I was resigning until after I had told the prime minister,” he says.
Coulson is asked about Matt Driscoll, the former News of the World sports correspondent who alleged a culture of bullying under Coulson.
Driscoll was awarded £800,000 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. The employment tribunal found he was victim of a “consistent pattern of bullying behaviour”.
Coulson says he wasn’t asked to give evidence at the tribunal, which he describes as “a matter of considerable regret.”
Jay asks if Coulson knew what was going on.
Coulson replies: “I’m not sure I knew about it in advance but it attracted media attention when it was under way. I have no recollection of knowing about it in advance.”
I was working with the Conservatives at that point, I took the view it would only make it worse if I tried to intervene. I didn’t have the view I could impose myself on the hearing and I’m not sure at what point what I consider the damaging points in the judgment were made. Probably the damaging comments came at the conclusion, by then it was too late anyway.
Coulson is asked further about the Driscoll case in 2009. The judgment singled out Coulson for allegedly making “bullying” remarks about the reporter.
“I am not particularly willing to accept their interpretation of it,” Coulson says of the judgment, which he claims misattributed a quote about getting rid of Driscoll to him.
Coulson says he was irritated and his response may have been “intemperate” but does not accept that his comments amounted to bullying.
“Three quarters of News of the World staff would have been on disciplinaries if I had taken a tough line on failing to stand up tips,” says Coulson.
He refuses to accept the assertion he bullied or wanted to sack Driscoll following a story about Arsenal football shirts.
Coulson confirms he disagrees with the employment tribunal’s findings.
Jay has finished his questions and asks if Coulson would like to make any closing remarks.
Coulson says he would like to make a small point on “the theory that there was some kind of deal between News Corp or News International and the Conservative party over BSkyB”.
If there was a deal and there was a conspiracy … why was Vince Cable given the job? It is in the prime minister’s gift to decide who held which brief in his cabinet. So if there was this conspiracy running that David Cameron was going to gift [the BSkyB deal to News Corp] then why would he give it to – and I will choose my words very carefully – a combative member of the cabinet?”
Jay points out that Cable was made business secretary in May 2010; the bid wasn’t announced until June 2010.
Coulson responds: “The conspiracy suggests this was a deal that was done some time before.”
Coulson says he does not disagree with the prime minister that relationships between some in government and the media were “too cosy”.
The prime minister has said it got too cosy and I’m not minded to disagree with him. It’s perfectly clear that relationships with the media have got in the way of the message. What you do about it – I would hate to think that any barriers, more barriers, would be erected between politics, politicians and the press.
He adds: “Personal relationships have got in the way of the message, that is abundantly clear”.
Coulson warns the inquiry not to “erect more barriers” around the political process of communicating with the press.
“You have only got to look at the turnout at last week’s local elections, people are disengaging with politics. If you make it more difficult … that is going to make it an awful lot worse.”
Coulson says one issue that has troubled him about the Leveson inquiry so far is the suggestion that “friendship is always based on some ulterior motive”.
Leveson says that is not fair, adding he has said many times that politicians and journalists are entitled to be friends with people. The key is to be clear between social relationships and any form of business.
Coulson has now completed his evidence.
The inquiry has finished for the day.
A representative of the Cabinet Office has sent us the following statement about Coulson’s security clearance:
We have always made it expressly clear that Andy Coulson saw the information he was cleared to see.
This was set out in a letter by the then cabinet secretary (Gus O’Donnell) to Ivan Lewis MP last September (and reported in the Guardian at the time).
Security vetting is about access to information. SC level allows access to secret papers and occasional access to top secret. DV is required for those who need frequent access to the highest classification of material.
Andy Coulson was cleared to SC level.
Clearances are kept under review and can be upgraded at any time.
Following a well publicised counter terrorism incident at East Midlands airport it was decided that Mr Coulson should undergo DV given the importance of communications in handling a terrorist incident.
This was all cleared by the cabinet secretary at the time.
We are now winding up the live blog for today, but we will be back at 10am tomorrow for evidence from Rebekah Brooks.