Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1600-1619)


21 JULY 2009

  Q1600  Janet Anderson: So you would generally be aware of all the payments that were made. Can you describe circumstances in which you might not be aware?

  Mr Kuttner: In which I might not be aware? If I dealt with them personally I would be aware of them.

  Q1601  Janet Anderson: But in what kind of situation would you not deal with them personally?

  Mr Kuttner: Only if for example I was away and my deputy dealt with them.

  Q1602  Janet Anderson: So otherwise everything would pass across your desk?

  Mr Kuttner: Much of it would pass across my desk, yes.

  Q1603  Janet Anderson: Mr Coulson, I think you said in your opening statement that you would never condone or tolerate subterfuge unless it was in the public interest. Do you believe that phone hacking is ever in the public interest?

  Mr Coulson: No, I do not and I do not, as I said, have any recollection of there being any instances, public interest or otherwise, where it was used. I would also add this: the Clive Goodman case it is blatantly clear from the stories that were published that there would not be a hope of a public interest defence. This was, as I think Mr Keen pointed out earlier, largely tittle-tattle so the idea that there could be a public interest defence applied to those activities is nonsense.

  Q1604  Janet Anderson: So you state categorically that you had no knowledge of these activities when you were at the News of the World but you have a very long and distinguished career spanning 20 years as reporter for The Sun, and you worked for Piers Morgan on the Bizarre show-business column and then the Daily Mail and then back to Deputy Editor of the News of the World. Are you telling us in the whole of that time you never, ever had a suspicion of any kind of illegal activities such as phone hacking, such as hacking into people's voicemails and so on?

  Mr Coulson: There have been rumours about that kind of activity, I suppose, and media commentators have written about it. It has been in the ether of the newspaper world for some time but, no, I have never had any involvement in it at all.

  Q1605  Janet Anderson: There was of course the instance of The Sunday Times, I believe, planting a trainee reporter in the Cabinet Office to steal Government documents, so that kind of thing does go on.

  Mr Coulson: Talk to John Witherow, with respect.

  Q1606  Janet Anderson: But in your experience you have never been involved with anything like that?

  Mr Coulson: No.

  Q1607  Mr Farrelly: Mr Coulson, in the story that appeared in the Guardian you issued the following statement: "I took full responsibility at the time for what happened on my watch but without my knowledge and resigned." That is a very big catch-all. What were you denying knowledge of when you made that comment to the Guardian?

  Mr Coulson: I was denying knowledge of what was being largely alleged in the Guardian. Can I hazard a guess as to what might lie behind your question, why did I not give a more fulsome reaction to it in the way that perhaps I have with my statement this morning?

  Q1608  Mr Farrelly: No, that is not behind it but if you want to—

  Mr Coulson: Fine, then I will not bother.

  Q1609  Mr Farrelly: If you want to expand, please do.

  Mr Coulson: I was merely going to point out that this was not exactly a high point of my career. I do not particularly enjoy talking about it, I do not particularly enjoy seeing stories in the newspapers about it, although I think I have probably lost that battle, and so I have not talked much about it since I left the News of the World, largely for those reasons.

  Q1610  Mr Farrelly: Can you just remind me when did you become Deputy Editor of the News of the World?

  Mr Coulson: In 2000.

  Q1611  Mr Farrelly: Let us just go to Operation Motorman then and payments to Stephen Whittamore. Were you aware of any relationship between the News of the World and Stephen Whittamore?

  Mr Coulson: This is a long time ago so I am not going to pretend that I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of what went on at the time but I will do my best. The Motorman inquiry, as you know, was industry wide. The reaction to it, I think, was industry wide. As for the involvement of individual News of the World journalists, I knew very little about that. I knew only what was published. I cannot remember the exact date but in 2006 I think I am correct in saying the What price privacy now? report, or possibly it was the second report, detailed a number of reporters. It also published a league table and I think the News of the World was fifth in that league table and The Observer, from memory, was ninth.

  Q1612  Mr Farrelly: We know this.

  Mr Coulson: Forgive me for repeating it.

  Q1613  Mr Farrelly: Just for a moment, had you come across that name Stephen Whittamore before?

  Mr Coulson: My recollection of our reaction to Motorman was to tighten procedures internally and was to look at the PCC Code more forensically. I think I am right in saying that the code changed as a result of the Motorman inquiry and we reacted accordingly. As I said in my opening statement, we worked hard, I have to now accept perhaps not hard enough, to ensure that our reporters knew what the PCC Code was and what it meant and what it meant in terms of their day to day job.

  Q1614  Mr Farrelly: Had you heard the name Stephen Whittamore before the story?

  Mr Coulson: No.

  Q1615  Mr Farrelly: You had never heard it?

  Mr Coulson: No.

  Q1616  Mr Farrelly: If while you were Deputy Editor, Editor or a senior journalist on the News of the World had anyone used an enquiry agent such as Stephen Whittamore would you have insisted before the fact that their use of such an enquiry agent, if it involved anything potentially illegal would be accompanied by a public interest defence?

  Mr Coulson: I think every reporter knew that they had to work within the PCC Code. The PCC Code is very clear about the public interest defence. On that basis I felt that it was covered.

  Q1617  Mr Farrelly: So you would not have specifically insisted?

  Mr Coulson: No.

  Q1618  Mr Farrelly: Or specifically known whether anybody had access—

  Mr Coulson: I do not recall ever doing so. I do not recall any conversations specifically about Whittamore. I really do not think that I knew the name until it came out in the proceedings.

  Q1619  Mr Farrelly: It is just that your denial was very broad and anything that may have gone on that was illegal, which is why I am asking. Mr Kuttner, we had a third set of documents from the the Guardian. Have you seen this?

  Mr Kuttner: I do not believe I have, sir.

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