Phonehacking Trial Day 3

THE livetweeting of today’s proceedings conveyed the drama of events at the Old Bailey as three of the defendants all entered guilty pleas.

You can Guardian coverage here.

Daily Mail here.

The Independent here.

The Daily Mirror here.

Daily Telegraph here.

Hacked Off’s take on it here.

That’s it for now, update later tonight if any more copy catches my eye, feel free to tip me off to anything you think particularly well done. If Times or Sun staff want to lob me a link over their paywall, I’ll be happy to include it here.


Link to coverage by The Drum’s James Doleman here.

Phone Hacking Trial, Day 2

EARLY post, so not all the papers are carrying their coverage yet. I will update later if they file tonight.

Day 2 was slow again and dominated by jury selection it seems, but the Mr Justice Saunders got things under way before the end of the afternoon and it was events outside court, or rather a Private Eye cover that was centre of attention.

Reported in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Drum, and at Hacked Off.

All went for the judge’s extensive warning to the jury not to be swayed by outside coverage. not to go Googling or looking on Twitter or Facebook for items about the trial or its background.

The Attorney General’s office announced in the afternoon it would not be pursuing Private Eye for contempt. No real surprise, it was miles away from being in contempt and the judge’s remarks were a relatively mild admonition to ignore it. If he had been gravely concerned by it, Ian Hislop would have been ordered to court tomorrow to explain himself, which many a judge has done in the past to errant editors.

Still, it livened up Day 2. Prosecution opening tomorrow, which we’re told can be live tweeted.

Update, here’s coverage from The Independent, The Mirror and the Daily Express

It particularly love the line by Mr Justice Saunders warning jurors away from blogs written by politicians and actors on subjects ‘they know very little about.’ Who can he mean?

Phone Hacking Trials

The trials over alleged phone hacking and associated matters are due to get under way next week.

I will carry a daily digest of news, links to the best reports and such commentary as the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and any other restrictions will safely allow.

Do drop by.

If you spot any good coverage I’ve missed, send me a link, or drop me a line on Twitter @DBanksy

Nigel Evans, contempt and clues about alleged victims

WAS Nigel Evans flirting with contempt of court by so publicly protesting his innocence on TV at the weekend?

That was the question I was asked after he had appeared before cameras to deny the allegations of rape; talk of his shock that they had been made and thank his constituents and friends for their support.

We have seen this sort of statement often recently, especially by those caught up in Operation Yewtree and other inquiries stemming from the Jimmy Savile scandal (although it must be pointed out Evans’s case is in no way linked to those wider inquiries.) Celebrity emerges from home after being released on bail to make a statement to camera insisting they are not guilty, that they will be proved so in due course and to thank their family, friends and fans for their support

Could such a statement be a problem legally? Well there is no doubt that contempt of court is a risk now. Evan has been arrested, so proceedings are active for the purposes of the contempt of court act. That means that nothing should be published or broadcast now which could cause substantial risk of serious prejudice to any future proceedings.

Will claiming you are not guilty create such a risk? If it is simply an insistence you are not guilty, then no. Thanks expressed for support are also fine. Remember any jury will be told on the first day of trial that the defendant is presumed innocent.

I do think that Stuart Hall’s recent statement, which went beyond proclaiming his own innocence to ask why those making the allegations had not reported them before, skirted the edges of contempt. And I think Mr Evans was unwise to talk about detail of one of his accusers and his recent contact with him.

I don’t believe it cleared what is quite a high bar for a contempt prosecution, even with the current Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s seeming enthusiasm for prosecution.

However, I do think what he said could be an identifying detail about one of the complainants. They get anonymity for life once they make an allegation of rape and that forbids publication of any detail that would identify them as the victim of a sexual offence.

So if anyone, not necessarily everyone, can work out who the victim is from a detail you have published or broadcast, then you are guilty of an offence, and a sexual offence at that. The detail does not have to be obvious things like the complainant’s name or address, just some fact that enables someone, perhaps someone who knows them, to put two and two together and identify them as the victim.

Victims’ anonymity lasts a lifetime and can only be lifted with their consent, that of a judge, or if they are subsequently charged with an offence in relation to the complaint such as perjury or perverting the course of justice. Any decision to prosecute is made by the Crown Prosecution Service in this instance, not the Attorney General.

 It is likely we will see more statements like that of Mr Evans, but if such accused do no want to add to their list of legal woes, they need to take care what they say

The death of Lucy Meadows

IN the past couple of weeks there has been significant debate over the death of a teacher called Lucy Meadows.

Briefly, Lucy was a primary school teacher, who was transgender, she had previously been Nathan Upton. A letter was sent home to parents last year explaining that in the next term, he would return as Lucy.

This was picked up by local media, and then by national press and a number of articles were run on Lucy.

On March 19 Lucy was found dead. No-one else is being sought in connection with her death. Though there has yet to be a full inquest hearing, the speculation is that Lucy took her own life. Indeed, at the opening of the inquest reference was made to previous attempts Lucy made on her own life. No dates were given for those attempts.

The fact that Lucy’s death followed her exposure in local and national media has led to understandable speculation on the part that exposure may have played in her death. One article in particular, by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail, has attracted particular disapproval. in his column he said, among other things, that not only was Lucy in the wrong body, she was in the wrong job.

There have been calls for his sacking, and a peaceful candlelit vigil outside the Mail’s offices to protest at that piece.

There are two areas on which I feel able to comment. Firstly the speculation about the part press coverage played in Lucy’s death. Secondly, whether journalists have any business knocking on the doors of people like Lucy Meadows.

Some people have been measured in their commentary on the first aspect. While deploring Littlejohn’s column and what they describe as the ‘monstering’ of Ms Meadows, they do not make a direct link between the press behaviour and coverage and her death, until more evidence is heard to establish such a link.

Others have been less circumspect and have made a far more direct causal link between the coverage -the Littlejohn column in particular – and her death.

I think the latter, though I understand their anger, are mistaken.

I have been a journalist for 25 years and have covered many, many inquests. One of the first things you realise when you are sent to cover a day of inquest hearings is how depressingly common suicide is. The other thing you quickly learn as a reporter seeking an answer for your story as to why someone killed themself, is how often it is not explained.

Many of those who take their own lives leave no note, and have not given any indication of an intention to kill themselves. Frequently notes left are equivocal and do not give any clear answers as to why the person too their own life. Almost invariably coroners do not read out notes at the inquest, rather they refer to them and simply say whether they show the deceased had formed an intention to take their own life.

The inquest into Lucy Meadows’ death might give us some answers as to show she died and if she did take her own life, why she may have done that. But it equally might not. Until that inquest it is probably wise to reserve judgement on the part, if any, played by press coverage in her death.

Secondly then, have newspapers and their reports got any business ‘doorknocking’ someone in Lucy Meadows’ position?

Fundamentally, yes.

Firstly, Lucy Meadows has a right to privacy, in what must be an intensely difficult time.

Secondly, as a teacher she holds a position where her actions are going to be scrutinised.

There is a balance to be struck between those two positions and the public interest has to be taken into account.

If a teacher is transgender, that might attract comment from parents, although in Lucy’s case any negative comment seems outweighed by the positive.

But, in my view, it is not wrong to ask the question of parents what they, and their children, think about this. If it is positive, report that. Avoiding the question surely perpetuates the idea that this is something to hide, which it isn’t.

As for Littlejohn’s column. I would like to know, from those who knew her, what Lucy’s thoughts were about it. Was it something she regarded as deeply upsetting, or did she ignore it, indeed, had she even read it? I’m not defending it, but I’m not going to blame her death in it without any evidence whatsoever, which some seem prepared to do.

I would also like to know the extent to which Ms Meadows was ‘monstered’. Was this a pack camped outside the school for days on end, or was it a solitary reporter or agency asking questions at the school gate? I would like to know numbers and duration before I accept that it was a ‘monstering.’

Even those who stop short of blaming Littlejohn for Ms Meadow’s death will say, “We’ll it can’t have helped.” How do they know? They are assigning an effect to the column which is up supposition.

Those calling for Littlejohn to be sacked need to be careful that they do not use a tragic death as a means to attack a paper and writer they don’t like.

I don’t share Littlejohn’s views on transgender people, or pretty much any other minority that features in his columns, but I’m uncomfortable calling for someone to be sacked because they write something I disagree with. Freedom of expression is uncomfortable at times, but it must protect those who express views that we vehemently disagree with, or it’s not a right.

So, for what they are worth, those are my thoughts. If the press coverage did play a part in Ms Meadows’ death then perhaps we as an industry need to look harder at how we cover this issue and those it affects.

The Leveson Inquiry, Paul Dacre and what I should have asked Kelvin Mackenzie

I was down at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press this week.

It is being called the phone hacking inquiry, although it’s clear to all that it’s brief is far wider than just looking at why a few papers hacked into people’s mobile phone voicemail.

I was attending a seminar of those who may have useful information for the inquiry. There were a few invited speakers, and much discussion from the floor, and we were all asked to consider making submissions of evidence to the inquiry to assist it.

There were two big-hitting speakers on the day I was there – in the morning Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre  and in the afternoon, former Sun editor, Kelvin Mackenzie. Both men are Fleet Street legends, though very different in their style and content of what they said.

Mackenzie’s speech had been given to the media beforehand and made the front page of that night’s Evening Standard – you can read the full text here.

It was a barnstorming performance, but how much light it shed on tabloid practice, I’m not so sure. Learning his opinion of Prime Minister David Cameron – pretty low – was fascinating, but it did not move the debate on press ethics anywhere very much.

Less well-headlined was Paul Dacre’s address, which you can read here, in which he made a significant concession to those seeking a tougher regulatory system.

He said that he would be prepared to look at an ombudsman system for the press – perhaps a retired judge supported by two retired editors. The ombudsman, he said, might have the power to investigate wrongdoing and even levy fines.

It was quite a bombshell given that the previous week’s seminar had seen editors queuing up to support the current system of self-regulation. Dacre came in a few days later and proceeded to pull the rug out from under them.

But his speech begged a few questions.

Is the ombudsman a replacement for the Press Complaints Commission, or a supplement to it as a ‘court of last resort’?

Will the ombudsman have statutory force, compelling the industry to pay fines as Ofcom does?

Will there be statutory compulsion of the whole industry to come under the ombudsman’s authority – thus answering the questions many asked last week regarding the Daily Express and Daily Star’s withdrawal from the PCC?

Some attending believed Dacre had thrown the ombudsman line into his speech at the last moment, knowing that it would cause consternation among those listening, but not really being too concerned with the fine detail.

Myself, I’m with those who thought it was something more strategic. Perhaps Dacre has seen which way the wind is blowing and wants to try to shape the more stringent regulatory system that is approaching post-Leveson.

As Lord Justice Leveson said when he summed up: this is just the beginning of the beginning, there is much, much more to come in this inquiry.

As for Kelvin Mackenzie’s contribution, I laughed along with many of the audience, and only afterwards did I consider one of the things he said.

He was asked about The Sun’s influence and whether, after the 1992 general election when the paper ran the headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” – and headline for the ensuing Conservative victory “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

Just a bit of fun, he said, no-one would decide how to vote on the basis of a Sun headline.

The Sun has undoubtedly produced some of the most memorable front pages in recent years – from ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ to ‘Gotcha’.

The French have a saying – l’esprit de l’escalier – literally the wit of the staircase, meaning the things you think you ought to have said at the time, but only think of as you are climbing the stairs to bed. I had a moment of that an hour or so later as we digested the day’s events.

Not every Sun front page has been a ‘bit of fun’ and one in particular, printed on the Wednesday after the Hillsborough disaster, headlined ‘The Truth’ and which blamed fans for the events of the day, was anything but ‘fun’.

In the days when the police, the football authorities and the government should have been held to account for safety in football grounds – that front page took the pressure off them and laid the blame on those who could have done least to avert that catastrophe.

I was working in the North West at the time of Hillsborough. I attended funerals of the dead fans for my paper. I spoke to bereaved families. That front page was, and still is, shameful.

I could, and should, have asked Kelvin Mackenzie whether that was ‘just a bit of fun’ – but I missed my chance.

I’m sorry.