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Leveson Inquiry: PCC / Sir Christopher Meyer*

The focus of the Leveson Inquiry turns to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Leveson Inquiry: Tim Toulmin - live, 30 January 2012
Leveson Inquiry: Tim Toulmin - live Guardian News Blog

By Josh Halliday, Dugald Baird and Lisa O'Carroll
Monday 30 January 2012

- Extract -

The inquiry is now under way. Tim Toulmin, former director of the PCC, is the first witness of the day.


Leveson inquiry: Tim Toulmin
Leveson inquiry: Tim Toulmin

2.32pm: Toulmin is asked about coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance in 2008.

He says that the PCC were in contact with the McCanns "but the system does require a complaint ... and I don't think there was a complaint about those defamatory articles".

Toulmin says that Sir Christopher Meyer will shed more light on the McCann coverage when he gives evidence tomorrow.


Transcript The Leveson Inquiry

30 January 2012

2   Q.  I've been asked to put this question to you in relation

3       to the McCanns, particularly the period September 2007

4       to January 2008, when there were 38 defamatory articles

5       in the Express and arguably others in other newspapers,

6       and it's said the PCC did nothing during that period.

7           When you were watching what was going on or not

8       going on, did you form a view, even privately, about the

9       desirability to intervene or not to intervene in that

10       particular, if I may say so, egregious case?

11   A.  Well, I think what we've clearly established here is

12       that the PCC is a complaints body.  It needs the

13       engagement of people to complain, and talking generally,

14       the way that we took the system forward was to try and

15       engage those people in the -- with the Commission if

16       there was a problem that we could help with.  And

17       I think certainly the McCanns was a case where we

18       spotted very early that it might obviously be a huge

19       story, that they were vulnerable members of the public

20       and that we would be well-placed to help them if that's

21       what they wanted.

22           Very early on, I think it was my then deputy who is

23       now the director, found a way of reaching them, I think,

24       or something happened probably three days after

25       Madeleine went missing.  We also helped with issues


1       around their -- I think their return to England at some

2       point.  I remember having a conversation with the

3       council about the physical presence of journalists and

4       TV vans and all this stuff around their home.

5       Christopher Meyer was in close contact with them because

6       they'd been -- his wife had been helping them out,

7       I think, in relation to their campaign.

8           So it wasn't as if there was no contact between the

9       two parties but the system does require a complaint and

10       while they used the anti-harassment service, I don't

11       think there was a complaint about those defamatory

12       articles and I think they did speak to the chairman of

13       the PCC about them -- he'll tell you all about it

14       tomorrow -- and they went to court.

15   MR JAY:  Thank you very much, Mr Toulmin.

16   LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  Thank you.

Leveson Inquiry: Sir Christopher Meyer - live, 31 January 2012
Leveson Inquiry: Sir Christopher Meyer - live Guardian News Blog

By Josh Halliday and Dugald Baird
Tuesday 31 January 2012

- Extract -

9.47am: Good morning and welcome to the Leveson inquiry live blog.

The inquiry continues with its turn of senior Press Complaints Commission (PCC) figures, hearing evidence from veteran media executive Lord Grade, former PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer, and the recently-installed PCC chairman, Lord Hunt.

Hunt was appointed new chairman of the PCC in October last year, following the departure of Baroness Buscombe. In only his second outing since taking the role, Hunt is likely to be pressed on his own proposals for a radical shakeup of press regulation.

The inquiry will hear from Meyer, chairman of the PCC between 2003 and 2009 – spanning the period when the first signs of widespread illicit newsgathering methods were uncovered. Meyer is likely to be asked about his meetings with former information commissioner, Richard Thomas, who raised concerns about the use of private investigators by newspapers in 2003.

Sir Christopher Meyer is the first witness of the day. He was chairman of the PCC from 2003 to 2009.

Meyer is being questioned by Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry.


Leveson inquiry: former PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer is giving evidence alongside Lord Hunt and media veteran Lord Grade

12.13pm: Meyer is asked about coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Express Newspapers paid out £550,000 damages after the high court found it had published 100 'seriously defamatory' articles about her parents.

He says he made it "perfectly plain" to Gerry McCann that it was either the legal route or the PCC.

In July 2007, Meyer told McCann and his press handler what the options were if they believed they need to "take action" against a newspaper.

12.15pm: Meyer says he met McCann again in February 2008, by which time the couple had made a firm decision to go to law, and had engaged law firm Carter-Ruck for a libel case.

Asked about what had taken place between July 2007 and January 2008, Meyer says:
"We did a lot. We were in pretty close contact with the press handlers [Clarence Mitchell] of the McCanns. We stood ready to intervene if they wanted it.

You can't be more royalist than the king. You cannot wish to stop something more ardently than the king. But by that time I think they had chosen to go to the law."
Meyer says he he understood that coverage of the McCanns was "not pleasant".
"It was pretty violent … and it was not pleasant to read. I have to say to you – this is so important - we made particular efforts to the McCanns to make ourselves available within 48 hours of Madeleine disappearing."
12.17pm: Meyer says he told Peter Hill, the former editor of the Daily Express, "you have to resign" after the Express Newspapers libel payout to the McCanns.

"I said 'in effect you need to resign'," says Meyer. "He said 'I suppose I have to but I need to consult friends and colleagues.'"

Meyer then said he should resign as soon as possible, adding: "That was the last time I ever talked to him."

12.21pm: Meyer says it is "very unfair" to say that he acted too slowly to condemn the Express's coverage of the McCanns.

The first Meyer heard of the Express Newspapers libel payout was on the radio on the morning it happened, he says.

12.26pm: Meyer says of Peter Hill: "It is inconceivable that he could stay on the commission." He adds that the commission decided Hill should be replaced as soon as possible.

"It took longer for him to be replaced than it should have done," Meyer adds.

Jay suggests the PCC adopted a position of "doing nothing" to protect the McCanns.

Meyer disputes this, saying that the PCC put itself at the McCanns' disposal.

12.28pm: Meyer says it was "screamingly obvious" what had gone wrong in relation to the McCann saga.

The McCanns needed the press for publicity's sake, he says, but it was a "Faustian" pact.

The Portuguese police were "leaking like sieves" and journalists were under pressure to produce fresh stories, Meyer says.

"It doesn't need a big review to see this. It happens from time to time," he adds. "It led to the McCanns being accused of something that is utterly abominable."

12.31pm: "The PCC made it its business from the very beginning to say, 'we are here to help'," Meyer tells the inquiry. He adds that help was taken up "but only in an ancillary way".

He says that if the McCanns did not want intervention, "You must respect complainants' wishes."

12.32pm: Meyer says in February 2008 he agreed with the McCanns that launching libel actions against newspapers, rather than going to the PCC, was the right course of action.

12.34pm: Jay suggests that if the PCC had taken a more proactive stance with the McCanns, it would not have gone so far in the 2010/11 Christopher Jefferies case. Eight newspapers paid damages to Jefferies for libellous allegations made against him following the murder of Joanna Yeates.

Meyer disagrees, saying "don't drag me down that path".

He adds that he was no longer PCC chairman at the time of the Jefferies case, saying he rejects Jay's attempt to draw parallels between the two cases.

Meyer says that the PCC has had success with media scrums and "stories relating to police sources".

12.40pm: Meyer suggests that the newspaper industry would quickly begin to ignore the PCC if its chairman exhorted papers to act responsibly every time a contentious story broke.

Jay suggests that the PCC should stop the press coming up with stories to fit the supposed facts.

Meyer replies:

"No. It is as if you say to the police 'you are useless because you can't stop crime'. Or to bishops 'you still have sin'. These are ridiculous arguments."


Transcript The Leveson Inquiry

31 January 2012

- Extract -

17   Q.  Just one point, which arises from what you told the

18       Select Committee on 24 March 2009.  You see in the

19       left-hand column, you give quite a lengthy answer in

20       relation to the McCann case.

21   A.  Yes.

22   Q.  You say, amongst other things -- and it's repeated in

23       your witness statement:

24           "There's a time for the courts and there's a time

25       for the PCC."


1           Then you say:

2           "The PCC is never going to eliminate the courts, and

3       I sure as hell hope that the judges do not eliminate the

4       PCC."

5           Of course, the judges would never have had power to

6       do that.

7           "We act in a complementary way.  What I said to

8       Gerry McCann when I first saw him was that this is what

9       the PCC can do for you, this is how we can help.  'If

10       you want damages, if it comes to that, we do not do

11       money.  The courts do money, so you're going to have to

12       make a choice.'"

13           To be clear about that, when did you say that to

14       Dr McCann?

15   A.  In July of 2007.

16   Q.  And the circumstances were what?  Was it a meeting?

17   A.  At my house.

18   Q.  Did you make it clear to him that it was, as it were,

19       dichotomous: courts on the one hand, PCC on the other

20       hand, but you can't do both?

21   A.  I made it perfectly plain.  Indeed, I handed over some

22       PCC literature, and we had a fair discussion, I would

23       say, and I left him, in my view, absolutely clear about

24       the different ways that he could proceed.  And indeed,

25       I think shortly after that, briefly, when


1       Ms Justine McGuinness was his press secretary,

2       a complaint was lodged with the PCC against a newspaper

3       but the complaint was not proceeded with.

4   LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  The tense of this answer is accurate,

5       is it?  If you want money, damages, you go to the court,

6       but there is a whole range of other things that "we

7       could have done".  In other words, if they didn't go to

8       the court, we could do things, but if they do go to the

9       court, we can't do things.  Is that the correct sense --

10   A.  Yes, this was done in -- when is this?

11   MR JAY:  March 2009.

12   A.  Yeah, March 2009, so we had already had, in March 2008,

13       the upshot of the libel action against Northern & Shell,

14       and so we knew what had happened.

15   Q.  But I think the question is directed to what you were

16       saying to Dr McCann in July 2007.

17   A.  In July 2007, I was explaining to him and his press

18       handler what the options were should they believe that

19       they needed to take action against a newspaper, which

20       was quite early days then, because it was before the

21       McCanns were declared arguidos by the Portuguese

22       authorities, which changed the tempo and the rhythm of

23       everything.  This was July.

24   Q.  Yes.

25   A.  And she wasn't there.  This was Dr McCann, and he left


1       with Justine McGuinness in a noncommittal way.  He

2       didn't say to me: "Bingo, I'm going to go to the PCC",

3       or: "I'm going to go to law."  He just kept his counsel.

4   Q.  But to be clear, you were making it clear to him it was

5       his choice, that there were two positions he could take

6       which were inconsistent with each other.

7   A.  Yes.

8   Q.  Either go to law or go to the PCC; is that right?

9   A.  That's absolutely right.  And then, if I may say this,

10       I saw him again --

11   Q.  Yes.

12   A.  -- more briefly -- I don't know whether you have a note

13       of this -- in February of 2008, by which time they had

14       taken -- I think I'm right, it must have been then -- by

15       which time I think they'd taken a firm decision to go to

16       law, they were with Carter Ruck, and given the nature of

17       what they said was libel, I said to him at the time: "In

18       the circumstances, I think you're doing the right

19       thing."  And then I said it in public, that, on

20       19 March, when I was interviewed by the PM programme.

21   Q.  Can we just come to that.  Between September 2007

22       and January 2008, there were 38 defamatory articles in

23       the Express newspaper group's publications, weren't

24       there, and there were other articles which were referred

25       to in the witness statement provided to the Inquiry


1       which caused concern to the McCanns.  Did the PCC do

2       anything at all during that period?

3   A.  We did a lot.  We were in pretty close contact with the

4       press handlers of the McCanns.  By that time, it was as

5       gentleman called Clarence Mitchell, who I think may have

6       appeared before you, and we stood ready to intervene if

7       they wanted it.  We come again to the question of the

8       first party.

9           You see, you can't be more royalist than the king on

10       these matters.  You cannot wish to stop something more

11       ardently than the first party.  But by that time,

12       I think they had chosen to go to law.  I can't say

13       exactly, because it's not for me to say, when they first

14       hired Carter Ruck.  So it's not as if we were sitting

15       there --

16   Q.  What are you suggesting by that, "when they first hired

17       Carter Ruck"?

18   A.  I don't know, you see, because I don't know when they

19       took the decision to go to law.  I think -- I'm morally

20       certain it had to be in February when I saw Dr McCann,

21       because it was so near to the judgment, but that's only

22       a supposition on my part and I stand to be corrected on

23       that.

24   Q.  Presumably, though, when you were reading these pieces

25       as they came out -- and it wasn't just in one newspaper


1       group -- you were, at the very least, concerned by the

2       tone and substance of what you were reading, weren't

3       you?

4   A.  Well, it was -- yes, of course I was.  It was pretty

5       violent.  It was being briefed out of the Portuguese

6       police, as far as I could tell, and it was not pleasant

7       to read.  But I have to say to you -- this is so

8       important -- we'd made particular efforts with the

9       McCanns to make ourselves available.  Within 48 hours of

10       Madeleine McCann disappearing, we informed them through

11       the British embassy in Lisbon that we stood ready.  You

12       know all this.  I'm just repeating stuff that you know.

13   Q.  Yes.  We don't need to hear it again.

14   A.  I thought that we made exceptional efforts to say that

15       we can help you, and indeed, when they came back to

16       England, we did.  That was publicly recognised by

17       Clarence Mitchell, in protecting the children from media

18       scrums and so on and so forth.

19           I go back to this again: you can't wish for

20       something more than the first party themselves, and

21       I think Dr McCann has expressed rather well the

22       complexity of the situation in which he found himself.

23       He needed the press, but he didn't need those articles.

24       He had professional handlers and I can't say more than

25       that.


1   LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  He actually went further, because, as

2       Mr Davies says in the Select Committee:

3           "Gerry McCann said his beef with the PCC was that

4       the editor of the paper which had so flagrantly libelled

5       us with the most devastating stories would hold

6       a position on the board of the PCC.  That was his beef."

7           And you responded:

8           "Where the McCanns are concerned, the editor of the

9       Daily Express, after settlement was announced

10       on 19 March, played no further part in the proceedings

11       of the PCC and it was in May that he was replaced by

12       Peter Wright."

13           Was that because he was required to resign or did

14       resign or just lost his place on the board or what was

15       that?

16   A.  Well, I thought that after he'd paid £550,000 damages

17       and had four front page apologies on the Daily and

18       Sunday titles that his position on the Commission was

19       untenable, and I said what I said to the BBC PM

20       programme on 19 March.  It was the day the settlement

21       was announced -- I don't know if you want me to quote

22       myself on the PM programme, I have a text here and I'm

23       sure you have the text there -- and the following day

24       I rang Mr Hill and I said, in effect: "You need to

25       resign."  He said something to this effect: "I suppose


1       I have to, but I want to consult friends and

2       colleagues", and I said, "The sooner this is done, the

3       better, the better for you and the better for the PCC",

4       and he said to me: "I'll call you back", and that was

5       the last conversation I've ever had with him.

6           And it took a while for him to leave the Commission.

7       He was due to go anyway, because he'd been there quite

8       a long time.  Desmond -- Mr Desmond, his proprietor, was

9       not making his contribution to the National Publishers

10       Association, so they were making no contribution to the

11       PCC levy, and then there was the matter of the McCanns.

12       So there were a good three reasons, my Lord, for his

13       leaving the Commission.  But it look longer for him to

14       be replaced than it should have done.

15   MR JAY:  Here was a fellow commissioner, obviously wearing

16       his different hat as newspaper editor -- and I'm asking

17       you to think back to September 2007, to January 2008,

18       a whole series of pieces, which you described as

19       "violent", I think, but others would describe in

20       a different way.  At the least, why not get on the phone

21       to him and say, "Are you sure about this?  Because on

22       the face of it, these articles are outrageously

23       defamatory"?

24   A.  I spoke to him, but not on a phone, at a Commission

25       meeting.  I'm very much aware that I'm on oath here,


1       because I can't remember which Commission meeting it

2       was.  It was an informal conversation before we sat down

3       around the table to do business, and I basically said to

4       him what you have just said to me: "Are you sure you've

5       got this right?"  And my recollection is he said

6       something about Portuguese police sources.

7           I'm saying this rather tentatively because I can't

8       give you a date, I can't give you a Commission meeting

9       and nobody else was present in the conversation.

10   Q.  It might be said that you tear him off a strip on the

11       radio after the libel settlement, £550,000, but it's all

12       a bit late to do that, given that the PCC, through you,

13       did nothing apart from this private word for four

14       months, while all of this was raging.  Is that fair or

15       not?

16   A.  No, that's extremely unfair.  It's extremely unfair.

17       After all, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and he

18       had been found guilty of libelling the McCanns, and the

19       judgment was published on 19 March.  Am I to sit in my

20       office saying nothing?  Am I to go out there and say,

21       "Poor old Peter, he's taken a knock, but onwards and

22       upwards, chaps"?  Of course not.

23           I actually was in bed with flu, and let me say this:

24       the first thing I knew about the judgment was waking up

25       in a kind of stupor at 8 o'clock in the morning and


1       hearing it as the lead item on the Today programme.

2           The PCC, so far as I know and certainly for me

3       personally -- I speak for myself -- had received no

4       warning whatsoever from a fellow commissioner that this

5       was coming.  So I was angry.

6   Q.  The other point that Northern & Shell made -- I want to

7       ask you to comment on it -- is that it's an example both

8       of hypocrisy and of inconsistent treatment, since after

9       all they weren't the only ones who were defaming the

10       McCanns.  So in order to be consistent, you should have

11       torn everybody off a strip.  Would you accept that?

12   A.  No, I wouldn't accept that.  The thing that was

13       different here was that Peter Hill was a longstanding

14       member of the Commission.  I think he'd been on since

15       late 2003, maybe early 2004.  He knew his

16       responsibilities very well and he was the first to pay

17       damages to the McCanns and to publish -- it wasn't him

18       personally; you had different editors, but the group's

19       newspapers, national titles, were publishing

20       front-page apologies.

21           This was without precedent.  I know of no such case

22       where such a powerful -- what's the word? -- punishment

23       has been exacted from editors for publishing stories

24       that are wrong.  In those circumstances, it is

25       inconceivable, in my view -- it was inconceivable, in my


1       view, that he could stay on the Commission.

2           May I say that when we then had a Commission

3       meeting -- and may I remind, you with seven editors on

4       the Commission -- we came to a conclusion very rapidly

5       that he had to be replaced as fast as possible, and the

6       Commission sent that message that very afternoon to the

7       Press Standards Board of Finance to get the National

8       Publishers Association to propose a replacement.

9           I think what worried a number of editors was that

10       this would set a precedent, meaning that if you ever

11       lost a libel action, you couldn't stay on the

12       Commission, to which the answer is: it's a matter of

13       scale, it's a matter of degree, and it wasn't

14       necessarily a precedent for all time for all editors who

15       fall foul of the libel law.

16   Q.  Of course, the PCC's inaction in relation to the McCanns

17       was duplicated in relation to Mr Robert Murat as well,

18       wasn't it?

19   A.  What do you mean by "inaction"?

20   Q.  You adopted the same position, which was one of doing

21       nothing.

22   A.  It was absolutely not one of doing nothing.  I don't

23       know how many times I have to repeat this.  We put

24       ourselves at the disposal of the McCanns.  We offered

25       them our services.  We say this is what we can do.  We


1       start this within 48 hours of Madeleine being kidnapped.

2       We carry on doing this all the way through.  We protect

3       their children and the family from being harassed by

4       media scrums when they come back to the United Kingdom.

5       I speak twice to Dr McCann, something I never did with

6       anybody else, but that's --

7   Q.  I think you're just repeating, Sir Christopher, what

8       you've told us already.

9   A.  I am repeating, because it doesn't seem to be sinking

10       in, Mr Jay.  That's why.

11   Q.  Did the PCC carry out an inquiry after all of this to

12       see whether there were clear and systematic failings by

13       the press in their handling of the whole McCann story,

14       by which I'm including not just the McCanns but

15       Mr Robert Murat and the eight friends of the McCanns who

16       also secured substantial libel damages?

17   A.  No, that wasn't necessary, because it had become wholly

18       clear from the court proceedings exactly what had

19       happened, that they had in fact, under pressure, maybe

20       commercial pressure, taken as read information that was

21       being provided in Praia de Luz, which hadn't been

22       properly checked.  It was clear as a bell.

23   Q.  Because paragraph 539 of the DCMS committee's report

24       says precisely that, that in cases where there have been

25       clear and systematic failings by the press, the PCC


1       should not use court proceedings as a reason not to

2       launch its own inquiry.  If ever there were a case which

3       cried out for such an inquiry, it was this case, wasn't

4       it?

5   A.  No, I think it was not a case which called for an

6       inquiry.  If ever there was a case which was obvious in

7       the way in which newspapers had got it wrong, it was the

8       McCanns' case.  I have to say -- and you may think this

9       is feeble excuse -- I never read the recommendations of

10       that report because I had already left the PCC a year

11       previously.

12   Q.  That's true.

13   A.  So you're actually telling me something of which I was

14       unaware.  But it was screamingly obvious what had gone

15       wrong.  I could go through it again, but you don't like

16       me repeating these things.

17   Q.  I'm not sure.  What had gone wrong?  Not from the point

18       of view of what the PCC did or did not do, but from the

19       point of view of the culture, practice and ethics of the

20       press, what had gone wrong in relation to the McCann

21       saga if I can so describe it?

22   A.  I think there were a number of component parts that

23       created a kind of toxic brew.  The poor McCanns --

24       I cannot think of a worse position to find yourself in.

25       If it had happened to me, I don't know what I would have


1       done.  They needed the press for publicity's sake, and

2       by God, I would have done exactly the same thing.

3       I really would.  But in those circumstances, it was

4       a Faustian bargain and you could see why.  Where the

5       press have become obsessed -- not only the press in

6       Britain, it was almost a global thing -- how do you keep

7       the story going?  And then the Portuguese police were

8       leaking like sieves.  There were all kinds of rumours.

9       You could see journalists under pressure out there in

10       Praia de Luz, being pressed by their news desks to

11       provide fresh copy, and so they start taking risks which

12       they shouldn't have taken.

13           It doesn't need a big inquiry or a systematic review

14       to see this.  It is something that happens from time to

15       time, and in this case, it led to the McCanns being

16       accused of something which is utterly abominable.

17   Q.  It was golden opportunity, though, even if you think the

18       that the answers were so obvious, for the PCC to have

19       reviewed the situation, to have considered the lessons

20       learnt and to have passed a clear message to the

21       industry as a whole as to what the problems were to

22       avoid the chance of future replication, which

23       possibility you didn't consider, did you?

24   A.  No, we did not.  We do not take that opportunity for the

25       reasons that I've just stated.  Maybe we should have


1       done, but I have to rest on the record.

2   Q.  One other point that the committee made, the DCMS

3       committee, paragraph 552 --

4   A.  Which one was this?

5   Q.  The February 2010 report.

6   A.  Which I haven't really looked at, yes.

7   Q.  "If there are grounds to believe that serial breaches of

8       the code are occurring or are likely to cower [this is

9       in the context of the McCann case], the PCC must not

10       wait for a complaint before taking action.  That action

11       may involve making contact with those involved and

12       issuing a public warning or initiating an inquiry."

13           So I suppose you disagree with that?

14   A.  It sounds good, and in principle it's absolutely right,

15       but if Dr and Mrs McCann don't want it, you can't do it.

16       It's as simple as that, Mr Jay.

17   Q.  Logically, there's nothing to prevent you from doing it.

18       You're just saying the PCC, as a matter of policy, won't

19       do it.  That's what it boils down to.

20   A.  No, it's a matter -- you must respect the complainant's,

21       the first party's wishes.  You may disagree with me.

22       That was the position we took.  But nonetheless, we made

23       it our business -- I am going to repeat this now for the

24       third time -- from the very beginning to say, "We're

25       here to help", and that offer was taken up but only in


1       a subsidiary way.

2   Q.  Well, the committee made other recommendations,

3       including more strongly, this time, a recommendation for

4       the ability to impose a financial sanction, and

5       I suppose your answer to that would be the same as the

6       answer you've given previously?

7   A.  Absolutely.  I don't believe in money, if you see what

8       I mean.  I don't think it is the answer.

9   Q.  I just raise one final point in relation to the McCanns.

10       Can I ask you to look at file B7 under tab 2.

11   A.  B7?

12   Q.  Yes.  It's page 35734.  It's a very small point, so

13       maybe I can just read out.

14   A.  4 -- 2 -- 1 -- yeah, do.

15   Q.  It's a meeting of the PCC which took place on 11 March

16       2009.  At page 35734, you said:

17           "The chairman wished to put on record his denial of

18       a claim made by Gerry McCann that Sir Christopher had

19       advised him to sue Express newspaper titles rather than

20       use the PCC."

21   A.  Yeah.

22   Q.  Do you stand by that?

23   A.  Yes, I -- I did not advise him to do that when I saw him

24       in July.  When I saw him in February of the next year,

25       he had already told me that they were going to law.  Is


1       that --

2   Q.  It's splitting hairs a bit, Sir Christopher, because it

3       might be said that what Dr McCann was saying was that it

4       was a choice, really: either you sue for defamation,

5       which they did follow, or you use the PCC.

6           Here you're putting on record your denial of that

7       claim that you advised Dr McCann to sue Express rather

8       than to use the PCC.

9   A.  Well, it's not splitting hairs, is it?  They are two

10       completely different statements.  When I saw him

11       in July, I said, "These are the choices."  When I saw

12       him in February of the next year, he'd taken the

13       decision.  So what I'm denying -- it fits perfectly

14       squarely.

15   Q.  In February, therefore, is this the position -- because

16       you told us earlier: you effectively agreed with him

17       that it was the right thing to do?

18   A.  Yes, and I repeated that in public in my interview on

19       the PM programme on 19 March.  So it's not splitting

20       hairs.

21   Q.  It may be the answer is it's a misunderstanding between

22       the two of you as to precisely what was said and

23       precisely what was --

24   A.  Yeah, I think that is right, actually.  Yes, I would

25       agree with that.


1   Q.  In terms of failing to set in train an investigation

2       into the lessons learnt from the McCann episode --

3   A.  Failing?

4   Q.  Failing, I would suggest, is what happened but it's for

5       others to --

6   LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  Or deciding not to set in train.

7   Q.  Deciding not to set in train.

8   A.  My Lord, I prefer your version.

9   LORD JUSTICE LEVESON:  Yes, well, I'm trying to move on.

10   MR JAY:  Of course, we see after your time, arguably at

11       least, another manifestation of what happens in

12       a frenzied situation with the Jefferies case.  You would

13       agree with that, would you?

14   A.  It looked like it, yeah.

15   Q.  But had the PCC adopted a more proactive position in

16       relation to the McCanns, it is possible -- one can't put

17       it higher than that -- that the press might have acted

18       with more restraint in the Jefferies case.  Would you

19       agree?

20   A.  No.  I wouldn't agree.

21   Q.  Is that because the press will just do what they like

22       anyway, or --

23   A.  No, Mr Jay, you're not going to lead me down that path.

24   Q.  Okay.

25   A.  Let me explain that one of the successes, if you will


1       entertain the notion of success in relation to the

2       PCC --

3   Q.  Yes.

4   A.  -- which seems difficult at the moment.

5   Q.  Okay?

6   A.  One of the successes of the PCC was in containing media

7       scrums.  Now, if you don't believe me, you can go and

8       ask Lady Newlove, who is sitting in the Lords now, widow

9       of Garry Newlove, who was beaten to death by yobs.  She

10       precisely wished to avoid media scrums and we succeeded

11       in doing that and I think her appreciation is a matter

12       of record.

13           I don't know what happened in the Jefferies case.

14       I was long gone from the PCC, but what I would refute

15       absolutely is your -- I'm looking for the right

16       adjective -- I'll just say "connection" between the

17       McCanns and Jefferies because of a --

18   Q.  I think what you really mean is my tendentious and

19       unfair attempts to link the two in any way?  That's what

20       you really want to say, isn't it?

21   A.  You have stolen the words from my mouth, Mr Jay.

22   Q.  It does cut both ways, though, doesn't it, because the

23       PCC adopting a more prominent position, cajoling the

24       press better to behave might have had a causal impact on

25       what happened in December 2010/January 2011, mightn't


1       it?

2   A.  I respectfully decline to answer questions on

3       a situation where I have no control and no knowledge

4       over and of the circumstances.  All I'm saying to you is

5       that if you look at the record over the years, you will

6       see that one area where the PCC has shown remarkable

7       success, including with the McCanns when they returned

8       to England, is in dealing with scrums and stories based,

9       according to Mr Jefferies, on police sources.  That's

10       all I can say about the case.  I just don't know any

11       more.

12   Q.  But a different analysis of the position -- I'm just

13       putting this forward as a possibility -- is perhaps

14       a common theme between the McCann case and the Jefferies

15       case is that the press fails to analyse evidence

16       objectively and clearly and tends to come up with a line

17       which it either believes is probably true or believes

18       chimes in some way with the beliefs and prejudices of

19       its readers, and it's that tendency which needs to be

20       resisted -- it's a tendency which we all need to

21       resist -- and requires firm leadership and direction

22       from a regulator to eschew.  Do you see that as

23       a possible analysis?

24   A.  I -- I'm just trying to work out in practice the meaning

25       of what you have just said.  We have -- maybe it's


1       actually too difficult to answer.  In -- you cannot

2       generalise for the whole of the British press in that

3       way.  Some do their job of reporting well, some do it

4       poorly.

5   Q.  I wasn't intending to.

6   A.  No, well, you sounded like that.  That's my only point.

7       If what you're saying is that every time there's a big

8       story like that, the chairman of the Press Complaints

9       Commission must go out on the media or issue a press

10       release invoking -- exhorting the press to report this

11       responsible, I can tell you straight off, after three

12       months of this, it would have no traction whatsoever.

13           This is not the thing to do.  This is not the thing

14       to do.  The fact of the matter -- this is what -- this

15       is what people so fail to understand.  It's as if you

16       would say to the police: "You're a useless organisation

17       because you can't stop crime", or you would say to the

18       bishops: "We still have sin after all these years.

19       You'd better give up and go."

20           It's ridiculous.  It's a ridiculous set of

21       arguments.  As long as there are human beings involved,

22       there will be fallibility, and the Press Complaints

23       Commission doesn't always get it right and it needs

24       strengthening, but it is a service to the public, and

25       a vast increase in the number of people who use it over


1       the last few years pays testament to a confidence which

2       you seem, frankly, to ignore.

3   Q.  At no stage am I expressing a personal view.  I am

4       testing propositions.  Because the nature of the

5       exercise involves an attempt to be precise, sometimes it

6       might appear that I am going too far, but I make it

7       absolutely clear, I'm not expressing a view,

8       Sir Christopher.

9   A.  You will forgive me, my Lord -- I hope you'll forgive me

10       if I do push back from time to time rather than sitting

11       here like a coconut.

12   Q.  I don't think anybody would fear that that is what's

13       happening.

14           Can we turn on to a different topic, which is the

15       ICO interaction --

16   A.  Yes.



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Leveson inquiry: former PCC chairman defends record, 31 January 2012
Leveson inquiry: former PCC chairman defends record The Guardian

Sir Christopher Meyer denies Press Complaints Commission acted as a newspaper industry 'poodle'

Lisa O'Carroll
Tuesday 31 January 2012 15.56 GMT

Sir Christopher Meyer, former chairman of the PCC, at the Leveson inquiry.

Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission when phone-hacking and other controversial newspaper practices being scrutinised by Lord Justice Leveson were taking place, has defended his record during a three-hour grilling marked by flashes of defiance and quips about his success.

Meyer, a former UK ambassador to the US, denied the PCC had acted as a newspaper industry "poodle" during his reign between 2003 and 2009, or that he had been beholden to "overweening editors" such as the Daily Mail's Paul Dacre.

He flatly rejected virtually every suggestion that the PCC had failed to use its powers to investigate dubious and in some cases illegal newspaper practices, such as the defamatory coverage and invasion of privacy suffered by the parents of Madeleine McCann or phone hacking at the News of the World.

Several times Meyer remonstrated with counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, accusing him of putting words into his mouth and taking pot shots at him like a "coconut" in a shy.

"Everything is painted as if we are an inert, inactive organisation, sitting their slackly, mouths hanging open," he said.

Meyer was responding when it was put to him that he did not act on evidence brought to him by the information commissioner in 2003 from Operation Motorman, which suggested that a private investigator was supplying illegally obtained information to newspapers.

Richard Thomas, the then information commissioner, had gone to the PCC with evidence of hundreds of instances in which newspapers were allegedly buying confidential information such as DVLA records from a private detective, who subsequently pleaded guilty of illegally trading in private data.

Meyer said Jay was trying to say that when "Richard Thomas turns up with a dramatic story ... we still don't leap into action". He added: "On the contrary we were extremely worried."

He described a handwritten note of a meeting with Thomas held at the PCC's offices as indecipherable, "like interpreting the Rosetta stone", and said that the information commissioner refused to give him the names of newspapers involved or the journalists.

"Whenever I saw him, I said the same thing, 'where is the beef Mr Thomas, give me the names, give me the newspapers', just [saying they are] using inquiry agents isn't good enough," added Meyer.

He also refused to agree with Jay's repeated suggestions that the PCC had failed to protect Gerry and Kate McCann from press intrusion and libel.

Meyer said he felt very sorry for the "poor McCanns", adding they had been subjected to "pretty violent" press reporting. But he said the PCC made "exceptional efforts" to help them and had protected "their children and family from being harassed by media scrums when they came back to the UK".

This is in contrast to evidence given to the inquiry by the McCanns last year, when they complained of a constant press presence outside their house and harassment by photographers who would jump out of hedges to get a snap of Kate McCann looking startled.

Meyer said he was angry that he found out Richard Desmond's Express Newspapers was about to pay out £550,000 in a settlement to the McCanns over defamatory coverage.

He revealed that he called the then editor of the Daily Express, Peter Hill, and told him he had to resign from the PCC because of the coverage of the McCanns.

Meyer was equally robust on phone hacking. He said the PCC's "decision not to interview" the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was "the right one to take".

He said it was "improbable" that Coulson, who quit after the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking offences in 2007, would have been able to give the PCC more information than his successor Colin Myler.

On police corruption, he said the PCC was right not to implement a recommendation by a parliamentary committee to make a ban on payments to police by journalists explicit through a new clause in its code of practice. He said he disagreed with the committee "because there was already a draconian sanction in law".

Jay put it to him that the PCC had colluded with the press, to which Meyer responded: "I think when you mention the word collusion, even to dismiss it has the whiff of poodle or lapdog."

He said the claim that newspaper editors dictated what the PCC did was equally preposterous.

Meyer added that the editors who sit on the commission were a "completely disunited group" although he admitted there were "a few out there" that sit like the "Bulgarian politburo".

However, he admitted that the balance was wrong between industry and lay people on the other two arms of the self-regulatory system, because newspapers "monopolised" Pressbof, the body that manages the PCC's finances, and the code of practice committee.

On Max Mosley, he said had the former Formula One boss gone to the PCC over the News of the World story, he would have told his director to phone the paper to ask them if they were sure there was a public interest defence. This may have stopped the paper from publishing the story, he maintained.

On the future of press regulation Meyer said he was opposed to any form of statutory reform because this would be the "slippery slope" for interference by future governments.

In his written statement he said liberty and self regulation were "inextricably linked" and "any infringement of self regulation would not just erode the freedom of the press. Far more importantly it would curtail the freedom of the citizen".

Leveson Inquiry: PCC chief says appetite for fresh start, 31 January 2012
Leveson Inquiry: PCC chief says appetite for fresh start BBC News

The first phase of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is looking at media "culture, practices and ethics"

31 January 2012 Last updated at 19:40

Any parliamentary move to regulate newspapers would "open a Pandora's box" which could stifle freedom of speech, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission says.

Lord Hunt told the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics that he had seen state regulation "go very badly wrong".

He had consulted on proposals, and felt "there is a willingness to accept a fresh start and a new body".

His predecessor, Sir Christopher Meyer, also said he supported self-regulation.

Lord Hunt, who has been in his job since October, said he wanted to see the "participation of the whole industry in its own regulation".

He said: "There are very strong views in Parliament that there must be stronger limits on the power of the press and this would therefore, in my mind, open a Pandora's box."

Inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson asked him: "Do you think that Parliament might seek to use any form of legislation, however it was cast, as a way of controlling the press?"

He replied: "Yes, and they have told me so, many of them, in both houses."

He said part of the self-regulation was that newspapers should ensure internal compliance and complaints mechanisms should operate properly - "the admiral on the bridge should know what is happening in the engine room".

He said a new regulator should have two arms: one to deal with complaints and mediation, and the other for auditing standards and compliance.

He said he had spoken to "the whole range of publications".

"I sense there is a willingness to accept a fresh start and a new body."

His proposals include a five-year rolling contract for the publishers to sign up to.

Sir Christopher earlier told the Leveson Inquiry that legislation could be taken advantage of if the state became "less conscious of our freedoms".

Anti-terror legislation was an example of how the state could act in an authoritarian way, he said.

In his evidence to the inquiry into press standards and practices, Sir Christopher said that the current system of self-regulation in the UK was basically "as good as you're going to get".

He was chairman of the PCC when the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World (NoW) first broke in August 2006.

He said that he was concerned that the phone-hacking scandal could lead to the introduction of regulation that would be more oppressive than it needed to be.

"Once you allow the state into this area, whatever the best intentions may have been, you are by definition standing on the top of a slippery slope.

"Twenty, 25 years later, things change, politics change, it is quite possible a less permissive and liberal state, less conscious of our freedoms, might try to take advantage of that legislation to do things that would be offensive to the principle of freedom of expression."

Sir Christopher said he was a strong believer in the freedom of the press and its self-regulation and that he believed "very firmly" that the PCC was a regulator.

In March 2008, the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann won a libel settlement and apology from Express Newspapers for suggesting they were responsible for their daughter's death.

He said the McCanns had needed the press for publicity's sake, when their daughter disappeared in Portugal in 2007, but had been forced to strike a "Faustian bargain".

Sir Christopher said Portuguese police had been "leaking like sieves" and journalists under pressure to keep the story running had started taking risks.

"It is something that happens from time to time, and in this case it led to the McCanns being accused of something which is utterly abominable."

Sir Christopher said that the PCC had to be close to the industry it regulated and that he tried to take every national editor out to lunch once a year. But he denied being a "lap dog".

"If you think that I was sitting in their pocket not daring to do things that they disliked, then think again."

Lord Grade, chairman of the BBC between 2004 and 2006, was appointed to the PCC in May 2011, and said in his first few months he was "really surprised" by the extent of intervention by the PCC before publication "to stop some of the worst excesses".

He said he objected to statutory regulation because it would raise the prospect of judicial review, and the complaints process would be slower.

The Leveson Inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2011 amid new revelations of phone hacking at the now-defunct newspaper.

The first phase is examining the practices and ethics of the press.

A second phase of the inquiry, after a police investigation into phone hacking at the NoW is complete, will focus on unlawful conduct by the press and the police's initial hacking investigation.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Twitter comment, 01 February 2012
Sir Christopher Meyer: Twitter comment Twitter

Sir Christopher Meyer: Twitter comment, 01 February 2012

Christopher Meyer

Interesting how my appearance at Leveson has got all the anti-McCann loonies frothing.

1 Feb via Twitter or BlackBerry® [10:28 PM]

With thanks to Nigel at McCann Files


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