Leveson Inquiry: Journalist talks of culture of bullying

Live from Westminster Hall

The journalist who broke the News of the World hacking story says a "culture of bullying" on Fleet Street meant that he had to keep his sources anonymous.

Guardian writer Nick Davies told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that the fear was real and extended to more than just concerns about losing work.

"You've got to make these people safe and the first step almost all the time is a guarantee of anonymity," he said.

Ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan is currently giving evidence.

Mr McMullan was deputy features editor at the News of the World between 1994 and 2001 and has spoken about the use of phone hacking on the paper.

'A fluke'

Mr Davies wrote an article in July 2009 revealing claims of widespread phone hacking at News Group News­papers, publisher of the News of the World.

Mr Davies told the inquiry he thought "a fluke" had led to his interest in phone hacking.

He said reporters started talking to him about illegal methods while he was researching for a book published in 2008, Flat Earth News. His chapter referring to the media's "dark arts" was subsequently questioned during a BBC Radio 4 interview and he was contacted by someone with information.

Nick Davies referred to it as a puzzle. For Lord Justice Leveson it's a headache. How does he regulate newspapers in the future in a way which satisfies the press and the public?

The Guardian journalist who brought the true nature of phone hacking at the News of the World to our attention, now believes that the current system has had its day. He doesn't trust the industry he's passionate about to regulate itself.

One part of that industry was the focus of Richard Peppiatt's testimony. The former Daily Star reporter talked about cock 'n' bull stories which were made up; the inhumane treatment of ordinary people; and a desire by tabloids to push the boundaries as far as they could.

His former employers appear keen to portray him as someone with a grudge because he was passed over for promotion. For his part, reflecting on his past, Richard Peppiatt said more than once: "I am ashamed."

Mr Davies said it took him 18 months to gather enough information to publish an article on phone hacking.

He explained why he had to protect his sources.

"There is a culture of bullying in some Fleet Street news organisations," he said. "The fear is real."

Mr Davies said a "loose assembly" of 15 to 25 former News of the World journalists had spoken to him on condition of anonymity as well as around six investigators, and a number of alleged victims.

On the defence of public interest, Mr Davies said it was "incredibly difficult" to know where the boundary lines were.

"Very often it isn't clear and personally I would like it if somebody set up by statute a public interest advisory body," he said.

Mr Davies said he had received information about a former cabinet minister's phone being hacked that he had decided not to use as he judged it was a breach of privacy.

But he said the Guardian had decided to publish allegations that the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler had been hacked despite the potential impact on her family.

"What we were disclosing was so important that we needed to find some way of getting it into the public domain. On the other hand the family had been through hell, I really was worried about digging it up."

Guardian journalist Nick Davies: "I do not trust this industry to regulate itself"

Mr Davies said in the end the Guardian had given the Dowler family prior warning the article was going to be published. He told the inquiry he was sorry to hear Milly's mother Sally had been upset by the article.

Mr Davies said he could not tell the inquiry who had been responsible for deleting messages on Milly's phone but that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had facilitated the hacking. Mr Mulcaire denies having deleted any messages.

"He does not actually, on the whole, do the listening to the messages himself. Most of that is done by the journalists themselves," Mr Davies said.

"Mulcaire's job was to enable them to do that where there's some problem, because he's a brilliant blagger. So he could gather information, data from the mobile phone company."

'Toe the line'

Mr Davies said he had initially been in favour of self-regulation of the media but that he had changed his mind.

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Nick Davies at #leveson : journalism doesn't begin with checking facts, it's about selective decisions on what to cover”

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"I don't think this is an industry that is interested in or capable of self-regulation," he said. "It obviously doesn't work, we're kidding ourselves if we think it would - it hasn't."

The inquiry earlier heard from ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt.

In his evidence, Mr Peppiatt said he had worked for the paper on a casual full-time basis for about two years. He said it was a right-wing tabloid and reporters were encouraged to find statistics that fitted its ideological perspective.

He also said a story he had written about model and actress Kelly Brook was "totally made up". He said a news editor had offered £150 for an article for page three and "I came up with that".

Mr Peppiatt resigned from the paper in March, saying he had expressed disquiet about what he said was its anti-Muslim slant.

At the time, the Daily Star denied it had any negativity towards Islam. It said Mr Peppiatt had been "unhappy after he was passed over for several staff positions" and had been warned about making up quotes.

At the Leveson Inquiry hearing, Mr Peppiatt denied his former employer's explanation for his resignation.

"I probably have been warned about making up quotes - but probably not good enough ones."

Ex-Daily Star journalist Richard Peppiatt: "Certainly there was a [feeling] ... you can't libel the dead"

He said he wished he had come forward earlier but had seen the newspaper respond to another colleague who had expressed discomfort around a year before by giving her lots of anti-Muslim articles to write.

"That's the atmosphere - you toe the line or you get punished," he said. "Your job is simply to write the story how they want it written."

Mr Peppiatt said he received threats after he resigned such as "you're a marked man until you die" and that circumstantial evidence suggested his voicemail and work email had been accessed. The inquiry heard legal proceedings relating to the matter were under way.

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is looking at the "culture, practices and ethics of the media" and whether the self-regulation of the press works.

Prime Minister David Cameron established the inquiry in July 2011 after it was revealed that Milly Dowler's voicemail had been hacked while she was missing.

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