Former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell said he had ‘zero expectations of fair treatment by the press’ in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today.
Jowell claimed that stories appeared in the News of the World that ‘only could have been derived from phone-hacking”, before adding: “In 2006 it went much broader than just News International because I kept reading stories and could not understand where they had come from, not just in News International papers but in a range of other newspapers. It was as if my closest friends had simply rung up the journalists and said ‘this is what she’s thinking, this is what is going on’ – and I couldn’t understand how it had happenedâ€¦
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“…Stuff appeared in the Daily Mail, in the Evening Standard, in the Sunday Times.”
But later she told the Evening Standard: “I was asked a more general question about other newspapers and I said that at the time of this period of intense media interest, I was aware that newspapers including the Evening Standard, had written stories which displayed a level of great personal knowledge which surprised me and alarmed me. I did not suggest that these stories had been procured through hacking my phone.”
The former culture secretary was told by the Met Police that her phone had been hacked 28 or 29 times in May 2006 at the time of her split from husband David Mills, but she claimed that the hacking was “much more extensive than that”.
She insisted, however, that it was carried out in relation to an ‘obsessive interest’in her ‘troubled family circumstances’at the time and not in order to further the ‘commercial motives’of News International or News Corp.
When the Met’s Keith Surtees gave evidence to the inquiry earlier this year he suggested Jowell was unwilling to assist in the prosecution of ex-NoW royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
Jowell today said she was ‘deeply shocked’by Surtees’ evidence ‘because it was untrue”. She suggested his memory was ‘faulty’and was adamant she would have provided a witness statement at the time if asked by the Met.
She also said she did not suspect hacking was widespread at the NoW after being told she was a victim, and thought the conviction of Mulcaire and Goodman and brought the matter to a close.
Neither did she suspect that other members of the cabinet had been hacked.
Jowell stopped short of agreeing with Tony Blair’s assessment that the press behaved like ‘feral beasts”, but claimed to have ‘zero expectations of fair treatment by the press”, a statement described as ‘very disturbing’by Lord Justice Leveson.
“The invasion of my privacy was total during that period,” she added.
In December Jewell accepted £200,000 in damages from NoW publisher News Group Newspapers including £100,000 to a charity of her choice.
Tony Blair said there was no deal with Murdoch
Elsewhere in her evidence, Jowell said she had sought an assurance from Tony Blair he had made no deal with Rupert Murdoch on media regulation when she was appointed culture secretary.
Jowell said the then prime minister promised her there was “no prior agreement” with the media mogul on his government’s reforms to cross-media ownership rules.
She told the inquiry that Blair’s instincts to deregulate were even stronger than hers, but insisted that that was not driven by “any particular media company”.
Jowell said she spoke to the prime minister within days of her appointment as culture secretary in June 2001.
“I asked him whether any deal had been done with Rupert Murdoch on the reform of cross media ownership,” she said.
“He gave me an absolute assurance, which I completely accepted, that there had been no prior agreement.
“So I had no constraint on the conclusion I might reach.”
Jowell said she had urged Blair not to see the interested parties so that her decision-making would not be undermined by direct lobbying of Number 10.
“I wanted to make sure that the meetings I had, the proposals I developed, were not being undermined by representations being made directly to Number 10, and the Prime Minister understood the risks of that,” she said.
She said that she “invited lobbying” on the reforms by a wide range of media companies and other interested parties, and said she had more than 150 meetings.
“I don’t think there was more lobbying from News International than other media groups,” she said.
The inquiry heard that Jowell had a number of meetings with News International chief Les Hinton over the following year, but insisted there was no “negotiation” with the company over possible media reforms.
“It wasn’t a negotiation. They came to see me to tell me what their view was, as did scores of other media interests,” she said.
On Blair’s stance on the reforms, the former culture secretary said: “His instincts were probably not motivated by any particular media company. His instincts were more deregulatory than mine.”
Asked whether there was any discussion about how the deregulation might affect Labour’s relationship with Murdoch, she said: “No. There was no discussion of that.”
Discussing Blair’s view on deregulation, Jowell told the inquiry: “He pushed me further than I might have gone myself in exploring deregulatory options, but that was a constructive part of the process.”
Asked if Blair’s opinion affected her decision on deregulation, she said: “Of course it did – he’s the prime minister.
“When you’re secretary of state and you’re developing policy and the prime minister has a slightly different point of view than the one you’re advancing, you take that seriously.”
Murdoch had wanted the obstacle preventing his company owning ITV or Channel 5 – the fact that News International owned more than 20 per cent of the national newspaper market – to be removed, the hearing was told.
Jowell said: “I was concerned to ensure that if we lifted the 20 per cent restriction and opened up the possibility of a new owner, who already had substantial newspaper interests, in Channel 5 that we could not get to the point … where supposing it had been Rupert Murdoch, and I want to make it absolutely clear neither he nor Les Hinton or anyone representing the News International view on this had expressed a precise interest in Channel 5, they were interested in getting rid of all the cross-ownership rules.
“But the safeguards I wanted to ensure was that if Channel 5 exploded on the back of new investment from being a tiny and rather marginal terrestrial company, Ofcom would be in a position to ensure they took a nominated news provider and they would be in a position to exercise the content control that ITV, for instance, was accountable for or accounted to.”
She admitted it was an “intensely politically sensitive issue” and that the media would see any decision as “anti-Murdoch or pro-Murdoch”.