Leveson Inquiry: Andy Coulson evidence - as it happened
The Leveson Inquiry into press standards today heard from David Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson and Lord Rothermere, chairman of the Daily Mail and General Trust.
Political editor Eddie Barnes (@eddiebarnes23):
4.20pm: Andy Coulson declares elsewhere in his witness statement: “I am not a bully. Tabloid journalists work in a highly competitive environment. There is pressure to deliver stories.”
There isn’t an awful lot of revelation going on here.
Lord Leveson at one point lightens the mood on how media moguls like Rupert Murdoch were ushered into Downing Street. “Is there a list of back door people and front door people?” he asks. He then adds: “I’ve got to keep myself entertained somehow.”
3.20pm: Andy Coulson’s witness statement is now up on the Leveson Inquiry website. It contains some interesting lines. On Cameron, Coulson declares: “He is a hard-working and inspirational boss, leader and a thoroughly decent, moral man.”
He also reveals a fascinating conversation at The Guardian. “There was even a time when The Guardian suggested to me that their support was possible. At a drinks reception in David Cameron’s office a Guardian executive told me not to ’write off’ the idea of a Guardian endorsement.”
Mr Coulson - who is showing a nice line in deadpan understatement, goes on: “I chose not to count on it.”
3.15pm: Mr Coulson is carefully explaining that (a) his appointment was not a guarantee of support from News International titles, (b) that there were other newspapers he also wanted to focus on winning over and that (c) TV was as, if not more, important to Team Cameron anyway.
He mentions the work that went into building relations with the Mail and Telegraph. And then adds: “I think the party had very good relationships with the Guardian”.
Come on, says Mr Jay, surely your personal connections in the Sun and the NOTW were useful? “They wouldn’t hurt,” he says. “But I didn’t express or take the view that they would guarantee any sort of support.”
Nor did Mr Cameron raise it with him. “I’m not sure that David Cameron ever said to me have we got the NOTW in the bag Andy?”
2.59pm: Mr Coulson says the subject of Clive Goodman’s hacking came up in a conversation with David Cameron when he was about to take on the job at the Conservative Party. He says he repeated the same thing to him that he’d said publicly - he knew nothing about phone hacking under his editorship.
Coulson’s evidence is full of “I’m sure it would have happened...” and “I think that would have happened...” It ensures he isn’t trapped into then having to expand on particular incidents.
2.50pm: Mr Coulson gives a strong defence against claims he went easy on George Osborne when the then Shadow Chancellor faced a story concerning him, drugs and a former prostitute. He reads out the headline: “Top Tory, coke and the hooker”. That “cannot be described as career enhancing” for Mr Osborne, says Mr Coulson, deadpan.
He goes on to note that the story “got a reasonable amount of coverage in The Guardian”. Not just the tabs who are interested in this kind of stuff, in other words. He denies he would have “buried the story” about Mr Osborne if the Sunday Mirror hadn’t also made it their front page lead.
Alex Massie on Twitter: “[Robert] Jay appears to be insinuating there is something dark or improper about newspapers having *opinions*. All very odd. Bonkers, even.”
2.28pm: First interesting anecdote ... Andy Coulson reveals how he met Gordon Brown before he became Prime Minister. According to Mr Coulson, Mr Brown told him that Rupert Murdoch had told him that he (Mr Coulson) was to be appointed the next editor of the Sun, once Rebekah Brooks was pushed to a job upstairs.
Mr Couslon says he didn’t believe it. “I came away believing this was an attempt by Mr Brown to impress on me his closeness to Mr Murdoch,” he says. That sounds sad but true.
2.10pm: Andy Coulson is off. He acknowledges it is “fair to say” his own political views are Conservative - presumably a relief to Tories, given the fact he was their Communications Director in Number 10. However, he then says that he also decided, as News of the World editor, to back Tony Blair in the 2005 General Election. The paper is there, he says, to “reflect....more follow than lead” the mood of the readership.
Mr Coulson says Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News of the World, would call on a Saturday night - the final hours before the paper went to press - but not every week. “We did talk about sports pages. We discussed politics generally. He would give me his views on whatever was in the news at the time.”
12.44am: Robert Jay has questioned whether Rupert Murdoch had “selective amnesia” over a meeting he had with Margaret Thatcher in 1981. This relates to Mr Murdoch’s evidence last week when he said he could not recall details of those discussions. Mr Jay has said that the issue is “capable of bearing on Mr Murdoch’s integrity”.
A bit of needle there. Mr Jay’s ‘selective amnesia’ comes after Westminster’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee said Mr Murdoch had been guilty of “wilful blindness”. Amounts to much the same thing.
Lord Leveson has also re-emphasised that he does not intend to be judge and jury on whether Jeremy Hunt has broken the ministerial code, saying that’s not his remit. Anyone looking for “fireworks”, he added, should go and watch fictional courtroom dramas.
11.36am: The session with Lord Rothermere closes with some ruminations about the nature of the media business. “You have to be an outsider,” the Viscount says, with regard to the Establishment. “That doesn’t meant you can’t develop friendly relations with people. You have to have a degree of aloofness and professionalism. It means it is very hard to make friends and keep them but that is my duty.”
He goes on to defend the way the press works. “Most journalists on the whole are good people and want to find the truth. If I thought that a journalist was printing lies, knowing they were lies, I would expect him to be fired.”
And he warns against a statutory regulation, saying editors of newspapers should be the ones who know they’re in charge. “If you take authority and responsibility away from the people who should have it, if you try to create a body which has a box ticking mentality, you devolve responsibility and authority and that’s a dangerous place to go.”
The “best guard” against abuse is “plurality” he adds.
11.11am: Lord Rothermere reflects on his trade. “If we have a free press there will always be a danger that people will abuse that power....but certainly I try and not do that. I am mindful of the power than I have and our newspaper has.”
He is asked about his papers’ coverage of the Madelaine McCann case. “I don’t believe our newspapers set out to upset the McCanns. They were reporting on briefings (from the Portugese police) they had which they believed to be true and when they realised they had made a mistake they rectified it.”
10.55am: Lord Rothermere, the proprietor of DGMT, the publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, is up this morning at the Leveson Inquiry. He is very much the warm-up act, however, with former News of the World editor and No 10 Director of Communications Andy Coulson up later this afternoon.
So far, Rothermere has expanded on his relationship with politicians. He says he texted both Nick Clegg and David Cameron after the public election debates two years to congratulate them on their performance. He also reveals he used to tease Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, about his friendship with Gordon Brown. “Personally, I like Gordon very much,” he says.
Lord Rothermere has also discussed a visit to Chequers to see David Cameron, but he insists he did not raise business issues like the BSkyB takeover while there.
Meetings with George Osborne and Michael Gove focussed on the economy and education. He says: “We feel it is very important that the quality of education and literacy in this country improves. We have an affinity on that.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 19 C
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Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
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