The evidence given to the Commons select committee yesterday by
Daily Express editor
extraordinary. He made persistent references to the uniqueness of the
story as an excuse for his paper's
tawdry and defamatory coverage.
He blamed the Portuguese police for leaking untrue stories, which he was
happy to publish, he said, because he believed them to be true "at the
Sadly, MPs did not ask him why his reporters had failed to obtain a
second source for any of those far-fetched and malicious stories
obtained through anonymous leaks.
Nor did the committee push Hill hard enough on ethics. Indeed, I don't
think I heard that term mentioned at all. Instead, he admitted only to
having made "mistakes".
Well, anyone can make a mistake, of course. But to make the same mistake
38 times in the coverage of one story seems, to put it mildly, somewhat
But what concerns me are the "mistakes" Hill made while giving his
He was asked how his paper's circulation had fared during his period as
editor. The figures were "not dissimilar" to when he took over, he said.
"They're about the same ... they're pretty good at the moment."
Hill became Express editor on 12 December 2003. The previous month sales
stood at 950,373. The latest ABC figures, for March, show sales now down
to 725,841. That's a loss of 224,532 copies, a fall of 23.6%. Not
dissimilar? Pretty good?
Hill told the committee that, following "a complaint" from the
solicitors acting for
and Kate McCann,
that he decided off his own bat to write a front page apology.
The letter from Carter-Ruck setting out the evidence against the Express
on which the McCanns would base an action for libel demanded a front
page apology. There was no question of the family accepting any less
Hill said that he advocated settling the McCanns' complaint and paying
compensation in order to avoid putting the family through the ordeal of
a libel action. He said: "My advice prevailed that we should settle this
The initial response from Express Newspapers to Carter-Ruck was to offer
the McCanns an interview in OK! magazine. It was only after Express
Newspapers had taken legal advice that it was decided to negotiate a
settlement of damages and costs, a high court apology and a front page
Asked to comment on
assertion that the
Express titles were "the worst offenders" in publishing false and
libellous stories, Hill denied that his paper merited the description.
Only 38 of the headlines that formed the legal complaint related to the
The reason that the McCanns' lawyers specifically chose to threaten
legal action against the Express titles was that they were by far the
worst offenders, and the Daily Express formed a significant part of the
overall schedule of articles (with others from the
Sunday Express and
Perhaps Hill has forgotten the run of outrageous headlines and stories
making wild allegations against the McCanns. (I refuse to repeat them
here but I have a file of some of the worst.)
Committee chairman John
Whittingdale asked Hill about the "massive reduction" in
Daily Express staff under his editorship. Hill conceded that there had
been "a small reduction" - as has happened at most newspapers - but
added: "I wouldn't call it massive."
"Massive" is, of course, a relative term. It is also complicated by the
merging of tasks at the Daily and Sunday Express. But Hill inherited a
staff of more than 250. The total stood at 215 in November last year, as
I reported at the time. Since then, 36 subeditors have departed.
Hill said that in his 10-and-a-half years as editor there had been "few
complaints against me" and "no major law suits."
Quite apart from the libel payouts by the three Express titles of
£550,000 to the McCanns, to
Robert Murat and to
the "tapas seven",
the Daily Express has also paid damages in at least two other instances,
as I reported in February this year.
There was a payment of £45,000 to
Inayat Bunglawala of
the Muslim Council of Great Britain in December for an article linking
him to death threats made against Prince Harry.
The previous February, the paper also paid sports agent
substantial libel damages over a claim that he had been involved in a
transfer fraud. I guess those mistakes must have slipped Hill's mind.
As for Press Complaints Commission complaints, Hill must also
have forgotten the "unique" ruling against him in June 2007 for
publishing an apology to a complainant in breach of the requirement that
"a significant inaccuracy ... must be corrected promptly and with due
prominence". This earned the paper an unprecedented rebuke for "an
unfortunate example of bad practice."
On reflection, when musing over the evidence provided by Hill, it might
well strike members of the media, culture and sport select committee
that he has a penchant for making mistakes.
Finally, there was one statement by Hill that casts a shadow over
members of the PCC. They might care to comment on whether it amounts to
a seventh "mistake". If it is not, it certainly reflects badly on them.
Hill was a PCC commissioner at the time his paper was forced to
apologise to the McCanns, and was asked by an MP why he had not
resigned. He said he did consider resigning but "a strong majority" of
people he spoke to within the industry (or possibly the PCC itself: it
wasn't clear from his evidence) told him he should not do so. Only one
thought he should go.
Is that so, I wonder? I seem to recall a well-placed person at the PCC
giving me a very different version of events. Whatever the case, the PCC
should have required him to resign. And the select committee should, of
course, be informed of the truth