This was the FT’s live blog on the Leveson Inquiry on May 10th, 2012. Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and head of communications at Number 10, was testifying. Written by Kiran Stacey (KS) and Jim Pickard (JP).
4.34pm KS: The Andy Coulson session has now wrapped up. Ben Fenton has written this story for the FT. He writes:
Andy Coulson, the former tabloid editor who became David Cameron’s spokesman, rejected on Thursday the idea that politicians in Downing Street had become too close to the press.
These are the other interesting details to emerge from today’s session:
- Coulson admitted he “may have” seen Top Secret documents and definitely did attend National Security Council meetings, even though he did not have top-level security clearance.
- Coulson had shares worth around £40,000 in News Corp while working for Number 10. This story was broken by the Independent on Sunday, whose editor was summoned to Leveson today to explain how they had got the story.
- David Cameron did not ask Coulson about his knowledge of the phone hacking activites of Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman even after the Guardian revealed the practice was more widespread than originally claimed.
This is Ben Fenton’s conclusion:
Andy Coulson was never going to be asked the toughest questions about his time at Number 10 because they would have conflicted with his status as a man on police bail.
But while he played a dead bat to everything, with a litany of “I don’t believes…I don’t recalls…” there were still some difficult moments in his verbal and written evidence.
We know he saw top secret material without supervision, which he shouldn’t have done, that he held News Corp shares but didn’t imagine there was any possible conflict of interest and that David Cameron did not ask him for further assurances that he knew nothing about the phone hacking offences at his paper even after The Guardian, in July
2009, produced evidence that it was widespread.
REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV
Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.
By Esther Bintliff, Salamander Davoudi and Tim Bradshaw in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.
NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.
16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
- “The News of the World, quite honestly, was an aberration, and it’s my fault”. Rupert said this in the context of defending his other newspapers and their integrity, thus characterising the NOTW as a sort of rogue newspaper – just as he once relied on the “rogue reporter” argument. However, it’s also noticeable that he appeared to take responsibility – “it’s my fault”. He would later say he was “sorry he didn’t close [the NOTW] years before”.
- “I think the senior executives were all informed, and I — were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, and I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to…” This is where Rupert effectively accuses “one or two” people at the News of the World of organising a cover-up of the extent of phonehacking at the newspaper.
- “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back’”. It was as if Rupert momentarily let the veil fall when he made this offhand comment, giving a sense into what his critics might say is ‘the real Rupert’. Robert Jay QC was quick to jump on the remark, saying: “You said it was a common thing in life… and that’s true, that’s human nature, but it’s interesting that you say that’s no part of the implied deal in your relations with politicians over 30 years, Mr Murdoch. Is that right?” Rupert saw the trap and took evasive action: “I don’t ask any politician to scratch my back… That’s a nice twist, but no, I’m not falling for it.”
It was only at the end of a marathon 3½-hour meeting of the culture, media and sport select committee that we got the most damning new revelation about News International’s behaviour over phone hacking.
Tom Crone, the company’s former legal manager, having already faced a barrage of accusatory questions from Tom Watson, finally answered one in the positive.
Yes, he had seen “one thing or two” about the private lives of lawyers acting for people claiming damages from NI after being hacked. And yes, that material had been collated by a freelance journalist being employed by NI itself. Read more
Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. This one comes from Craig Murray, the outspoken former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who asks, “What’s in a name?”
Quite a lot, it would seem, as far as the Metropolitan Police is concerned. Read more
Every time Labour raises the issue of Andy Coulson during a debate on phone hacking, someone from the Tory benches (usually Graham Stuart, for some reason) gets up to ask about his press chief, Tom Baldwin, the former Times journalist.
Baldwin has been attacked by the prominent Tory funder Lord Ashcroft for an investigation he carried out into Ashcroft’s finances, and been accused of illegally accessing his bank details. Read more
Parliament took centre stage today in the phone hacking scandal when Rebekah Brooks answered MPs’ questions about phone hacking. Earlier, Rupert and James Murdoch gave their testimonies.
19.30: Nearly five hours after we began, we have finally finished this afternoon’s testimony from Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs to the culture, media and sport select committee. Here’s what happened:
- All three offered apologies for what happened at the NotW. Rupert Murdoch called it “The most humble day of my life.”
- RM initially struggled under the questioning, failing to hear some of the questions and claiming not to have been in touch with his newspapers very much.
- James Murdoch gave long and complex answers to many of the questions, but in essence, he said he knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was. He defended the company’s payment to Gordon Taylor, an alleged hacking victim, saying it was based on legal advice that it would lose its civil case.
- JM also admitted there had been internal discussions in News International about setting up a “Sun on Sunday”.
- RM admitted to paying the legal expenses of Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and even Glenn Mulcaire at various stages, including for the 2006 hacking trial and the Tommy Sheridan trial.
- Both RM and JM emphasised the failings of their external lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, who claimed there was no evidence of phone hacking happening any more widely than by Clive Goodman.
- Most dramatically, the hearing was interrupted when a protester tried to push a custard pie into RM‘s face. He was repelled by police and Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife.
- Rebekah Brooks said she knew nothing about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked until she read it in the Guardian.
- RB said she went to Number 10 more under Blair and Brown than under Cameron.
- RB refuted the idea that she pushed Andy Coulson into his job as Tory communications director. She said the idea came from George Osborne.
So who won and who lost today?
James Murdoch He was smooth, he was corporate, he didn’t say anything he shouldn’t have. He was also evasive and often nonsensical, but he stuck well to his brief.
Rebekah Brooks Came across well: was softly spoken and humble, while also vigorously denying any knowledge of criminal activity.
Wendi Deng Repelled an attacker, and was praised by Tom Watson for her left hook.
Tom Watson Got the tone spot on. Calm but insistent, with specific and forensic questions. The best of the questioners.
Rupert Murdoch Looked all over the place. Struggled to hear some questions, didn’t seem to understand others. At times, however, he was refreshingly candid, such as when he admitted that Les Hinton might have authorised paying the legal costs of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. That might get him in trouble though.
Harbottle & Lewis The lawyers brought in by News International were named again and again as the organisation that failed to follow up on evidence of widespread hacking. The firm is under a duty of confidentiality however, and cannot respond.
What is Boris up to? When asked about David Cameron’s future this afternoon, he replied:
I’m not here to discuss government appointments. Those questions you must address to government. I don’t think there’s a very clear read across [from Sir Paul Stephenson hiring Neil Wallis to Mr Cameron hiring Andy Coulson]. This is a matter you must address to Number 10 Downing Street. Read more
Sir Paul Stephenson
Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation yesterday was a significant moment in the phone hacking affair: not only because of the fact of his resigning but because of what he said afterwards.
He made two subtle but important criticisms of the prime minister:
1) He said he had resigned in part for having employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, who has since been arrested, but did not have to resign from the NotW for his part in the scandal. He compared this to Andy Coulson, who had been forced to resign, but was also given subsequent employment – by the prime minister. Read more
Hard on the heels of the lists of the prime minister’s meetings with media executives since last year’s election comes a similar list from Nick Clegg.
It shows how close he too was to News International, attending the company’s summer party and meeting Rebekah Brooks and James Harding (the Times’ editor) twice, as well as James Murdoch and Dominic Mohan, the editor of the Sun.
But he is much closer to the Independent, meeting their editor, Simon Kelner, and owner, Evgeny Lebedev, three times each.
Here is the full list: Read more
The lists are out. We now know everyone who has been to Chequers since the election, and separately, every media figure the prime minister has met in that time.
- James Murdoch has stayed at Chequers recently, and Rebekah Brooks stayed twice last year. (Incidentally, so has the Qatari prime minister – the only foreign dignitary to do so.)
- We know that Cameron met Brooks over Christmas socially, but apparently there was another meeting in December – although we are not given details of where or when.
- Rupert Murdoch was the first media figure to talk to Cameron after the election – but we already knew that.
- Six out of Cameron’s first ten media meetings after winning the election were with people News International.
Of interest, but not mentioned in these lists: Andy Coulson stayed at Chequers in March, two months after quitting Number 10.
Here are the full details:
Sitting through a stream of repetitive questions put to the prime minister on Wednesday, ears pricked when Steve Barclay, new intake high flyer and member of the powerful public accounts committee, asked David Cameron whether the rot spread beyond dodgy coppers (my way of putting it, not his) to other public services. He asked:
Will [the police investigation] consider others who provide stories, such as paramedics, accident and emergency doctors and prison governors and who might also be subject to corruption? Read more
It’s taken him a few weeks, but David Cameron is beginning to show signs of rising to the challenge phone hacking has posed to him him and his government.
In remarkably noisy and at time angry exchanges in the Commons during PMQs, the prime minister showed he has now found an answer for most of Labour’s questions. These include:
- The public inquiry. All three parties now agree on this, and Cameron started the ball rolling today, announcing Lord Justice Leveson to head it.
- Rebekah Brooks’ position. Saying he would have accepted her resignation is not the same as calling for her head, but it is as close as Cameron can feasibly get.
- The BSkyB bid. Cameron still insts the legal processes have to be followed, but he now says he would like News Corp to drop the bid, telling them to “get their house in order”. To suggest Jeremy Hunt still has the freedom to accept the bid now seems unfeasible, but at least Cameron is on the side of public opinion.
- Media regulation. He says this should be “independent” rather than Ed Miliband’s preferred “self-regulation”. This coud even put him ahead of the Labour leader in terms of where the public is on the issue.