The People editor Lloyd Embley told the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon that he was not aware of phone-hacking ever taking place at the Sunday tabloid.
Former reporter David Brown claimed in a draft witness statement intended for an employment tribunal in 2007 that hacking was rife at the paper, listing targets including Ulrika Jonsson, Noel Edmonds, Jessie Wallace and David Beckham.
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But Embley told the inquiry today that he had followed up the allegations after they first emerged in October 2011 and found them to be “incorrect and unsubstantiated”.
“I do not believe any hacking went on,’he said. ‘I’m not aware of any hacking, I have never asked anybody to hack a telephone, I have never seen anyone hack a telephone, I have never heard anyone ask to hack a phone.
‘I was reassured that it wasn’t happening.”
The newspaper’s publisher, Trinity Mirror, has previously dismissed Brown – who received a £20,000 settlement – as an ‘aggrieved employee who had been dismissed”.
Embley was also quizzed on a story that appeared in the paper on 6 November alleging that Welsh singer Charlotte Church had drunkenly proposed to her boyfriend while singing karaoke at a pub in Cardiff.
Last week Church began legal action against the paper seeking libel damages of up to £100,000 over the allegations.
In her High Court writ the singer claimed she was not at the pub that night, but was instead with her boyfriend Jonathan Powell at another location giving a live concert
Embley admitted that the story came from a single source. It came from a reliable freelance journalist – a former chief reporter at the Daily Mirror – who had an ‘extremely good reputation”, said Embley, who was appointed as acting editor of the People in November 2007 and promoted to editor in May 2008.
After putting calls in to Church’s management but failing to get a response, he took the decision to go ahead with the story anyway. It was, he told the inquiry, the ‘incorrect decision”.
He also confirmed that the apology printed in the People the day before Church appeared at the Leveson Inquiry on 28 November had not been agreed with her legal representatives.
He went on to reference part of Church’s evidence to the inquiry when she claimed to have waived a £100,000 fee to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding when she was 13 years-old in return for positive coverage from his newspapers.
Embley noted she was now suing his newspaper for the same amount, suggesting it was “presumably the £100,000 she didn’t get from Mr Murdoch’s birthday party singing”.
He later said that single-source stories were ‘quite common’at the paper but that the majority are double sourced.