The Leveson Inquiry Review: Week Three – Charlotte Church, Richard Peppiatt, Paul McMullan, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown

Callum Jones rounds up week 3 of the Leveson Inquiry: 'Strolling in to the Royal Courts of Justice with a Tesco Long-Life carrier bag in one hand and his lunch in the other, it was clear that the Inquiry hadn’t yet heard from anyone quite like the former tabloid hack.'

Charlotte Church Leveson Inquiry

“I was slightly proud that I’d written something that created a riot” declared former News of the World Deputy Features Editor, Paul McMullan at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday.  If you think that quote is bizarre, he hadn’t even got started at that point.  Later on in his session, he made the now-infamous statement “privacy is for paedos” before elaborating to also describe it as “evil”.  The thing is, however peculiar his evidence was, it provided a unique insight into the shady corners of the world of tabloid journalism.  The was precisely what Lord Justice Leveson needed, as the third week of his inquiry into press standards got under way.

Although the week’s proceedings officially started on Monday, the coverage began the day before when political blogger “Guido Fawkes(aka Paul Staines) leaked Alastair Campbell’s witness statement online, three days before it was due to be published.  In response, Staines was called to the stand of the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday.  However, in a stroke of luck for the supposedly-anonymous writer, the day’s proceedings were called off and he didn’t have to make an appearance.  The official line is that his session will be rescheduled to next week, but reports suggest that it has been cancelled all together.

Monday saw Chris Jefferies called to give evidence.  You might not recognise his name now.  You might not even recognise his appearance now.  This is because both were smeared by tabloids earlier this year, when he was accused of murdering Joanna Yeates.  He was forced to start referring to himself as “Chris”, after “Christopher Jefferies” began to turn heads.  He also radically changed his appearance for similar reasons.  Jeffries tactfully described how “the slanting of the reporting (about him) was meant to be as sensational as exploitative”, without any regard for the truth.  The press had decided, without judge or jury, that he was guilty.  What’s more, they didn’t announce it quietly.  On a daily basis, articles described him as “creepy”, even insinuating that he was a paedophile.  He described how, for a period after interviews with police found him entirely innocent, the paparazzi outside his home made him feel like he was “affectively under house arrest”.  He has successfully sued eight British newspapers since, after false accusations of murder turned his life upside-down.  Shockingly, this didn’t get a tenth of the media coverage that the accusations of his guilt received.  Is this right?

Leveson Inquiry

Later on that day, singer Charlotte Church took to the evidence stand.  She described how The Sun ran a month-long countdown to her sixteenth birthday on its website, insinuating they were awaiting the day that she could legally have sex.  She also explained how, in later life, tabloids were spreading rumours regarding her first pregnancy before she had the chance to tell her family.  “Surely it’s any woman’s right to tell her family or her loved ones, when she feels the time’s appropriate, that she’s pregnant?”, Church queried, adding “it was my news to tell, and that opportunity was taken away from me”.  Later, she explained to Lord Justice Leveson how, when she had failed to feed the tabloids with scandal, the News of the World turned on her mum, instead.  They accused a woman of suicide and printed a story about it for millions to read, on the grounds that she was a singer’s mother.  However, the icing on top of this session’s cake was undoubtedly an anecdote Church gave about Rupert Murdoch.  The News Corporation CEO had asked her to sing at his wedding.  He’d offered her two options of payment; the first was simple £100,000 appearance fee, whilst the second was the assurance of complimentary coverage in his publications.  She was advised to opt for the latter.  She was thirteen years old at the time.

The tone of that day’s evidence failed to rise, as Anne Diamond took to the stand.  When she was strife with devastation following the death of her baby boy, tabloid journalists simply would not leave her alone.  She explained how she had asked newspaper editors to stay away from the funeral, but the next day, a long-lens photograph of the service appeared on the front page of The Sun.  Did the paper apologise to her?  Nope- she was subjected to what she describes as “emotional blackmail” when journalists from the paper said if they didn’t back their charity cot death campaign, it would be awful for her career.

Richard Peppiatt Leveson Inquiry

The following day at the Leveson Inquiry saw former-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt provide some humorous perspective to the investigation.  He recited some headlines that have been printed by his former employer over the past twelve months (my personal favourites being “Angelina Jolie to play Susan Boyle in film” and “Bubbles -Michael Jackson’s monkey- to give evidence at Jacko Death Inquiry”).  He described how, when writing reports with similar accuracy as these, he had been encouraged to create false quotes and credit them to “anonymous sources”.  However, the morning session of day nine was brought back down to earth when the journalist who first broke the story of the hacking Millie Dowler’s phone in The Guardian- Nick Davies- laid bare his belief that he did not, by any means “trust this industry to regulate itself”, stating that “it obviously doesn’t work”.

At which point, it was time to hear from Paul McMullan.  Strolling in to the Royal Courts of Justice with a Tesco Long-Life carrier bag in one hand and his lunch in the other, it was clear that the Inquiry hadn’t yet heard from anyone quite like the former tabloid hack.  “The hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone was not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist who was trying to find the girl”, he told Lord Leveson.  He then went on to explain how he enjoyed chasing celebrities in his day, saying “before Diana died, it was such good fun”.  He recited the time that he attempted to hack David Beckham’s phone by ringing it, but the footballer picked up before it cut through to his voicemail.  When asked whether his editors knew that voicemail was being intercepted, his one-word response gave a new lease of life to the inquiry; “yes”“We did all these things for our editors… for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson”, he clarified, describing the pair as “the scum of all journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it”.  The pair have previously denied any knowledge of phone hacking.  Who do you believe?

Paul McMullan Leveson Inquiry

Day 10 was a very different day which saw a very different witness.  Whilst one of the biggest political days of David Cameron’s premiership played out around the country on Wednesday, the Leveson Inquiry heard from a key player from the ministries of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  When former Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell gave his evidence, he did so with experience from both sides of the fence; he’d written, and he’d been written about. He used the pinnacle of his session to label today’s press as “putrid”.  He said that impact had come ahead of standards.  I was particularly interested when he said that “the newspapers have actually become part of the political system now, without any of the accountability that official members of the political process are subject to”.  Is he right?  He pointed out that Gerry and Kate McCann- parents of missing child Madeleine and previous Leveson Inquiry witnesses- thought they were using the media when their daughter first disappeared, when in reality, it was the other way arou

“I was slightly proud that I’d written something that created a riot” declared former News of the World Deputy Features Editor, Paul McMullan at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday.  If you think that quote is bizarre, he hadn’t even got started at that point.  Later on in his session, he made the now-infamous statement “privacy is for paedos” before elaborating to also describe it as “evil”.  The thing is, however peculiar his evidence was, it provided a unique insight into the shady corners of the world of tabloid journalism.  The was precisely what Lord Justice Leveson needed, as the third week of his inquiry into press standards got under way.

Although the week’s proceedings officially started on Monday, the coverage began the day before when political blogger “Guido Fawkes(aka Paul Staines) leaked Alastair Campbell’s witness statement online, three days before it was due to be published.  In response, Staines was called to the stand of the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday.  However, in a stroke of luck for the supposedly-anonymous writer, the day’s proceedings were called off and he didn’t have to make an appearance.  The official line is that his session will be rescheduled to next week, but reports suggest that it has been cancelled all together.

Monday saw Chris Jefferies called to give evidence.  You might not recognise his name now.  You might not even recognise his appearance now.  This is because both were smeared by tabloids earlier this year, when he was accused of murdering Joanna Yeates.  He was forced to start referring to himself as “Chris”, after “Christopher Jefferies” began to turn heads.  He also radically changed his appearance for similar reasons.  Jeffries tactfully described how “the slanting of the reporting (about him) was meant to be as sensational as exploitative”, without any regard for the truth.  The press had decided, without judge or jury, that he was guilty.  What’s more, they didn’t announce it quietly.  On a daily basis, articles described him as “creepy”, even insinuating that he was a paedophile.  He described how, for a period after interviews with police found him entirely innocent, the paparazzi outside his home made him feel like he was “affectively under house arrest”.  He has successfully sued eight British newspapers since, after false accusations of murder turned his life upside-down.  Shockingly, this didn’t get a tenth of the media coverage that the accusations of his guilt received.  Is this right?

Later on that day, singer Charlotte Church took to the evidence stand.  She described how The Sun ran a month-long countdown to her sixteenth birthday on its website, insinuating they were awaiting the day that she could legally have sex.  She also explained how, in later life, tabloids were spreading rumours regarding her first pregnancy before she had the chance to tell her family.  “Surely it’s any woman’s right to tell her family or her loved ones, when she feels the time’s appropriate, that she’s pregnant?”, Church queried, adding “it was my news to tell, and that opportunity was taken away from me”.  Later, she explained to Lord Justice Leveson how, when she had failed to feed the tabloids with scandal, the News of the World turned on her mum, instead.  They accused a woman of suicide and printed a story about it for millions to read, on the grounds that she was a singer’s mother.  However, the icing on top of this session’s cake was undoubtedly an anecdote Church gave about Rupert Murdoch.  The News Corporation CEO had asked her to sing at his wedding.  He’d offered her two options of payment; the first was simple £100,000 appearance fee, whilst the second was the assurance of complimentary coverage in his publications.  She was advised to opt for the latter.  She was thirteen years old at the time.

The tone of that day’s evidence failed to rise, as Anne Diamond took to the stand.  When she was strife with devastation following the death of her baby boy, tabloid journalists simply would not leave her alone.  She explained how she had asked newspaper editors to stay away from the funeral, but the next day, a long-lens photograph of the service appeared on the front page of The Sun.  Did the paper apologise to her?  Nope- she was subjected to what she describes as “emotional blackmail” when journalists from the paper said if they didn’t back their charity cot death campaign, it would be awful for her career.

The following day at the Leveson Inquiry saw former-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt provide some humorous perspective to the investigation.  He recited some headlines that have been printed by his former employer over the past twelve months (my personal favourites being “Angelina Jolie to play Susan Boyle in film” and “Bubbles -Michael Jackson’s monkey- to give evidence at Jacko Death Inquiry”).  He described how, when writing reports with similar accuracy as these, he had been encouraged to create false quotes and credit them to “anonymous sources”.  However, the morning session of day nine was brought back down to earth when the journalist who first broke the story of the hacking Millie Dowler’s phone in The Guardian- Nick Davies- laid bare his belief that he did not, by any means “trust this industry to regulate itself”, stating that “it obviously doesn’t work”.

At which point, it was time to hear from Paul McMullan.  Strolling in to the Royal Courts of Justice with a Tesco Long-Life carrier bag in one hand and his lunch in the other, it was clear that the Inquiry hadn’t yet heard from anyone quite like the former tabloid hack.  “The hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone was not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist who was trying to find the girl”, he told Lord Leveson.  He then went on to explain how he enjoyed chasing celebrities in his day, saying “before Diana died, it was such good fun”.  He recited the time that he attempted to hack David Beckham’s phone by ringing it, but the footballer picked up before it cut through to his voicemail.  When asked whether his editors knew that voicemail was being intercepted, his one-word response gave a new lease of life to the inquiry; “yes”“We did all these things for our editors… for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson”, he clarified, describing the pair as “the scum of all journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it”.  The pair have previously denied any knowledge of phone hacking.  Who do you believe?

Day 10 was a very different day which saw a very different witness.  Whilst one of the biggest political days of David Cameron’s premiership played out around the country on Wednesday, the Leveson Inquiry heard from a key player from the ministries of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.  When former Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell gave his evidence, he did so with experience from both sides of the fence; he’d written, and he’d been written about. He used the pinnacle of his session to label today’s press as “putrid”.  He said that impact had come ahead of standards.  I was particularly interested when he said that “the newspapers have actually become part of the political system now, without any of the accountability that official members of the political process are subject to”.  Is he right?  He pointed out that Gerry and Kate McCann- parents of missing child Madeleine and previous Leveson Inquiry witnesses- thought they were using the media when their daughter first disappeared, when in reality, it was the other way around.  “The only time I was able to obtain an instant and immediate apology from the Daily Mail was when they wrote a story about what effect my father’s death had had on me” Campbell said, before adding that “the reason is what so easy is because my father was still alive at the time”.

This week was no turning point in the journey of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards.  However, things just seem to be getting progressively worse for the media barons and their publications.  They don’t show any signs of changing, though.  I feel obliged to recite the concluding line of a piece I wrote about Jeremy Clarkson this week; it seems like the only genuine scandal is the way scandals are created by this country’s press.

As ever, I’d love to know what you think.

nd.  “The only time I was able to obtain an instant and immediate apology from the Daily Mail was when they wrote a story about what effect my father’s death had had on me” Campbell said, before adding that “the reason is what so easy is because my father was still alive at the time”.

This week was no turning point in the journey of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards.  However, things just seem to be getting progressively worse for the media barons and their publications.  They don’t show any signs of changing, though.  I feel obliged to recite the concluding line of a piece I wrote about Jeremy Clarkson this week; it seems like the only genuine scandal is the way scandals are created by this country’s press.

As ever, I’d love to know what you think.

Callum Jones is a blogger and Student and contributor to the Huffington Post who has a keen interest in Politics and Current Affairs. He tweets@CallumJonesBlog and has his own personal blog http://callumjones.blog.com He Will also be giving PostDesk a unique insight into the Leveson inquiry over the next few weeks.