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On the 23rd July 2012, Impact spent the day at the Leveson Inquiry. The day started with evidence from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who was questioned by Robert Jay QC. Akers is in charge of the criminal investigations, undertaken by the Metropolitan Police, into the phone hacking scandal.
Akers started off by stating that during Operation Weeting, an investigation into phone hacking, 15 current and former journalists have been interviewed and arrested.
Under Operation Elveden, which investigates inappropriate payments to members of the police from journalists, 41 arrests have been made including 23 current or former journalists, four police and nine current or former public officials.
Akers went on to say that Elveden has uncovered that some public officials may have taken payments, not only from News International, but from Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers. These officials allegedly include one prison officer at a high-security prison who had received payments totally £35,000, and another prison officer at a different high-security prison who had received £14,000 in payments. She added that the police have found articles that they believe are linked to these payments and that the stories in question contain “limited material of genuine public interest”.
Akers told the inquiry that the Met has served notices to both Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers. Trinity Mirror asked for a production order, while Express Newspapers wants to follow voluntary protocol, like that used by News International.
When questioned about The Sun, Akers said that News Corporation had produced a lot of material which displayed evidence of “suspected criminality”.
Under Operation Tuleta, 101 separate allegations of data intrusion have been made. These include phone and computer hacking and improper access to personal records including banking and medical.
Operation Tuleta is looking over 8-12TB of data. Akers explained that one terabyte is equal to a pile of books 3.5 times the height of Everest.
Six arrests have been made under the Computer Misuse Act. Akers said that some material possessed by News International titles appears to have come from stolen mobile phones.
The Met have notified 2,615 people that they believe could have potentially had their phones hacked, with 702 of these “likely to have been victims”. Akers says that there are likely to be more but they have so far been uncontactable.
In her final statements, Akers said that management at News International had been assisting the operation and, when asked by Lord Justice Leveson, she added that this shows a change in their culture and practice.
Next to speak was Neil Garnham QC, who made the closing submissions on behalf of the Metropolitan police. Garnham made the point that the perception and the reality of the relationships between members of the police and the press have been conflated. While there may be grounds for criticizing some senior officers for their perceived relationships with the press, in reality it does not follow that they acted wrongly.
The Met admits that the decisions to close the initial phone hacking scandal and to not reopen it were “taken too quickly”. Garnham went on to say that allegations claiming that the inquiry was dropped due to pressure from News International do not consider a lack of resources or other demands on the time of the police.
While it may be hard for the police to get their relationship with the press right, Garnham added that, overall there is much evidence showing their relations in a positive light.
In the afternoon, Gavin Millar QC gave the closing submissions for the Telegraph Media Group. He started off by stating that the Daily Telegraph is “appalled” at phone hacking, which is far removed from what they see to be journalism in the public interest. They say that is it “non-existent” at the paper, which follows the PCC editors’ code of practice. While Millar indicated the successes of the PCC, he admitted that the Telegraph can see some of its failures and acknowledges that it could be replaced with something better.
He also pointed out that in a large industry like the British press, papers react differently to the same situation. In extreme cases lines can easily be drawn; for example no one would defend hacking Milly Dower’s phone, yet no journalist would say not to publish evidence that a Cabinet Minister was accepting corrupt payments on the grounds that their finances are private. However judgments that occupy the middle ground are judged differently by various newsrooms, who use different criteria such as readers’ interests, how much privacy is owed to celebrities, levels of fact-checking and whether something is in the public interest.
Millar then went on to discuss the future of journalism. While in 1953, 21 million papers were sold daily, the figure now stands at 9 million and is falling. Polls show that many are not willing to pay for news that they receive via apps. Leveson questioned how people could expect high level investigative journalism without paying. Millar answered that we may find that this type of journalism will “shrink to a vanishing point” unless it finds funding.
On the topic of regulation, Millar said that the Telegraph did not want to be subject to regulation that it did not agree with, since it is reaching high standards with the current system. Millar expressed concern on behalf of the paper that if statutory intervention is introduced politicians may end up over regulating. MPs should be apart from the press and held accountable by it, he said.
Leveson said that he would be surprised if he decided to go down a route that replicated an authority like Ofcom.
The last speaker of the day was James Dingemans QC, who gave the closing submissions for the Northern & Shell newspaper group.
He addressed different celebrities’ approaches to their privacy. He said that some are happy with positive coverage, whether it is intrusive or not, however they are then unhappy with negative press, particularly if it is intrusive.
In terms of the group’s ideas about regulation, he said that a regulatory body should not include current editors to avoid animosities and loyalties affecting their decisions. They proposed a voluntary system that was attractive for the right reasons and that encourages publishers to join. Dingemans added that regulations should apply to both print and online media. Lord Justice Leveson said that he had a problem with the idea of some setting themselves outside of jurisdiction and unable to be caught.
Dingemans pointed out that it was remarkable that journalists do not fear politicians, and said that it was better that way around. Lord Justice Leveson questioned whether it is “too much to expect” that neither fear the other.