'Coulson didn't know about phone tapping'

News International chairman Les Hinton has claimed that former News of the World editor Andy Coulson had no knowledge of the Royal phone tapping activities which cost him his job.

He told the Commons cross-party media committee on Tuesday: “I believe absolutely Andy did not have knowledge of what went on.”

Hinton said the way editors responded to the media scrum outside the home of Kate Middleton in the days before her 25th birthday in January showed selfregulation was working.

Within 24 hours of News International making clear they would not publish any photographs, the media scrum had disappeared, he said.

Eugene Duffy, group managing editor of Mirror Group Newspapers, told MPs that within the group’s titles a “zero tolerance”

policy was being applied to any breach of the Data Protection Act.

Paul Horrocks, editor of the Manchester Evening News and President of the Society of Editors, said: “One bad apple doesn’t make a barrel of rotten apples. I don’t believe there is widespread bad practice.”

But the National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Self-regulation is failing journalists and the public distrust of journalists shows that is the case.”

He called for the PCC to be empowered to fine newspapers for breaching the code and for a conscience clause to be inserted to allow journalists to refuse to undertake assignments which breached the code.

Dear said the NUJ had received complaints from journalists that they were under pressure to break the union’s code of ethics.

The committee also learned that Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and the Press Complaints Commission have clashed over claims by Thomas, following the prosecution of a private inquiry agent, that 305 journalists had improperly obtained more than 3,000 separate pieces of personal data.

PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer complained that Thomas had not shared any evidence with the PCC and there was no indication whether the journalists’ behaviour had been illegal, or whether, if it had been, it would have qualified for a public interest exemption.

Thomas is seeking an amendment to the Code of Practice which would read: “It is unacceptable, without their consent, to obtain information about any individual’s private life by payment to a third party or by impersonation or subterfuge.

“It is unacceptable to pay any intermediary for such information which was, or must have been, obtained by such means.”

The new rule would not apply if a journalist could show he was acting in the public interest.

However, in evidence, the PCC said there was a problem in doing anything that would blur the responsibilities of the Information Commissioner and the PCC.

The PCC said there was a further difficulty because the Information Commissioner was pressing for penalties of two years for breaking the Act, which would include journalists.

Giving evidence, Thomas told the committee he had met Meyer to discuss the trade in illegally obtained information.

But he said: “I was a little disappointed there was no strident denunciation of the activity by the PCC.”

Meyer said he was in the middle of a PCC inquiry into the Clive Goodman affair and would bring forward recommendations in the spring to ensure nothing like it happened again.

Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, said that at no time in his 50 years in Fleet Street had he seen anyone asking a journalist to breach the PCC editors’ code.

Rejecting the idea of inserting a conscience clause in the code, Meyer said: “We are not going to interpose ourselves as a PCC in employment matters and an employment tribunal.”

Labour MP Rosemary McKenna claimed journalists continued to use methods that were dubious and accused them of “trawling through dustbins”.

Duffy told her: “We don’t go through people’s bins.”

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