Former News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton told the Leveson Inquiry today there was a ‘distorted picture’of journalists living a “champagne lifestyle”.
Panton, 37, was arrested last December and released on bail until late April on suspicion of making illegal payments to police officers.
The Inquiry had previously looked into claims senior Met officers put pressure on Panton not to publish unfavourable articles on individual officers within the force – including an email from one news editor to Panton saying: ‘Think [former assistant commissioner] John Yates could be crucial here. Have you spoken to him? Really need an excl splash line so time to call in all those bottles of champagne…”
In a statement to the Inquiry today, Panton said: ‘I read this email as many I received at work that contained an element of banter with a serious note of expectation that they were relying on me for a big story.
‘I have found it rather bizarre that there seems to be such interest in what champagne I did or did not drink. I enjoy champagne but do not drink it often.”
Panton was asked about drinking champagne with police officials including claims she shared a bottle with Andy Hayman on 1 February 2007 at the Oriel Restaurant.
In her evidence she was unable to recall the meeting with Hayman but noted during this period she was pregnant or else breastfeeding and so was unable to drink alcohol.
She said: ‘I believe that a distorted picture has been presented of how journalists carry out their business. We do not live a champagne lifestyle and the reality of the day to day grind of journalism is far from glamorous.
‘Other crime journalists and I work hard in a fast moving business covering often horrendous crimes, to help bring the culprits to justice and break stories that are of public interest.”
‘Off the record communications are vital’
Panton said it was essential for a crime reporter to build a relationship of trust with the police in order to accurately report on crime stories, and had professional and social interactions with many senior press officers from the Met and other forces.
She admitted that former Met police assistant commissioner John Yates attended her wedding along with other officers, but also pointed out that Yates also attended former Daily Mirror crime editor Jeff Edwards’ wedding.
Panton also had lunch with officials including Andy Hayman, John Yates and Dick Fedorcio on a few occasions but stressed they were professional relationships and that they did not socialise outside of work.
She gave several examples where she believed a good relationship between the press and police was in the public interest, including off the record briefings.
She said: ‘Off the record communications are vital in my view and allow a journalist to see the bigger picture and understand why it is important that some information does not appear in the public domain.
‘The more that newspapers are left in the dark the more the reporters are encouraged to rely on less reliable informants, for example, eyewitness accounts that can often be flawed.”
Panton did concede, however, that clearer guidelines on contact between journalists and police officers were needed.
‘Reporters and police officers who become friends should be allowed to socialise as long as they do not cross professional boundaries,” she said. “I believe more open dialogue is needed between press and police, along with better media training for the police.”
Panton, who has two young children, was promoted from crime correspondent to crime editor in October 2005 and worked at the paper until it was closed in July at the height of the hacking scandal.