Journalist Joan Smith gives her personal account of why she's giving
evidence at the Leveson inquiry, set up to look at the ethics and
practices of the press in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
In all my years as a journalist, I've never attended a public inquiry,
and I certainly didn't expect to be called as a witness, writes Joan
Smith (pictured right).
But as the Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the
press opens, I'll be at the Royal Courts of Justice to find out how it
operates - and to get ready for my own appearance in the witness box in
a week's time.
Lord Leveson's inquiry was set up as a result of the phone-hacking
scandal currently engulfing News International. I've already been down
to Court 73 to have a look at the wood-panelled room where I'm going to
give evidence. And there are 20 more witnesses who are going to tell the
inquiry exactly how it feels to be targeted by the popular press.
Some of the "core participants"
are well-known names, from the film star Hugh Grant to the parents of
the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. Gerry McCann will give evidence
about the media frenzy following the disappearance of his daughter
Madeleine, while Chris Jefferies is going to talk about the ordeal he
went through after he was arrested in connection with the murder of
I'm not a celebrity or a victim of crime. I started my career in
national newspapers at the Sunday Times and I've written columns for The
Times, the Independent titles, the Guardian and the Evening Standard.
I've also campaigned for freedom of expression, advising the Foreign
Office on how to encourage press freedom in countries like Syria and
China. So how do I find myself on a list of alleged victims of press
intrusion alongside Sheryl Gascoigne, JK Rowling and Sienna Miller?
In April this year, I received an email from a detective working for
Operation Weeting, the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone
hacking at the News of the World. He invited me to a meeting to view
notes compiled by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who worked for
the paper until he went to prison in 2007 for hacking phones belonging
to members of the royal household.
At the meeting, I was shown photocopied pages in which Mulcaire recorded
my personal details and those of my then partner, who was a government
minister. They included my home and mobile telephone numbers and a list
of the papers I was writing for in 2004.
One of them was The Times. I could hardly believe my eyes. Was it really
the case that the News of the World was paying a private detective to
spy on me when I was writing a high-profile column and features for
another News International paper? So it seemed, and the whole thing was
made much worse by the fact that the surveillance began so soon after a
tragedy. Only two months earlier, my partner had lost his eldest
daughter when she died in a sky-diving accident in Australia.
Not long before our details began to appear in Mulcaire's notes, I wrote
a column for The Times about press intrusion into private life. I was
worried, I said, by "the almost-unchallenged assumption that no one has
a right to privacy any more, regardless of what they are going through".
Little did I know that my own privacy was about to be invaded by a
newspaper owned by the very same proprietor. I hope Lord Leveson's
inquiry will look at the buccaneering newsroom culture that allowed such
extraordinary things to happen.
Joan Smith is a novelist, columnist and campaigner for human rights.
More information can be found on her website, politicalblonde.com or you
can follow her on Twitter @polblonde.