Wallace: Jefferies coverage is 'black mark on my record'

Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace has described his paper’s coverage of Chris Jefferies following his arrest on suspicion of murdering Bristol architect Joanna Yates as a ‘black mark’on his editing record.

Wallace used his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry this morning to express his ‘sincere regret’to Jefferies and his friends and family.

“We obviously caused him and his nearest and dearest great distress which I regret, personally, greatly and I regard it as a black mark on my editing record,’he told the inquiry.

One Daily Mirror front page carried the headline “Jo Suspect is Peeping Tom” beneath a photograph of Jefferies, and another front-page headline read “Was Killer Waiting In Jo’s Flat?”, with sub-headings below reading “Police seize bedding for tests” and “Landlord held until Tuesday”.

When he gave evidence to the inquiry last year the retired teacher said he would never recover from the ordeal of being vilified in the press after he was questioned by police investigating the murder of Yeates.

In July 2011 eight newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, paid substantial libel damages to Jefferies, while the Mirror was also fined £50,000 and The Sun fined £18,000 for contempt of court over three articles published on 31 December and 1 January.

Wallace said he was ‘not proud of what we did to Mr Jefferies at all”, and told the inquiry that ‘if there are ways we can ensure we don’t do that again, I’m all for that”.

“Mr Jefferies’ name will be imprinted on my brain forever more,’he added. ‘It will change the way I deal with stories like this in future.”

In a written statement Wallace said the stories came from a number of sources including the police, public records, internet searches, friends, acquaintances, former tenants and ex-pupils of Jefferies.

He particularly stressed the importance of off-the-record police briefings in which Avon & Somerset police appeared confident that ‘Mr Jefferies was their man”.

‘I believe our coverage of this news story should be viewed against that background,’he said.

Wallace formed the view that the articles did not breach the Contempt of Court Act and insisted that judgment was formed ‘honestly and in good faith”.

At one point during his two-hour evidence session, counsel to the inquiry David Barr referred to a Press Gazette report on the Mirror’s 2002 scoop on Sven Goran Eriksson’s affair with Ulrika Jonsson.

It came after the Mirror was accused of using phone-hacking to obtain the award-winning story, amid claims by the Labour MP Chris Bryant last July that the News of the World was ‘not the only magician practising the dark arts’on Fleet Street.

However, the Lib Dem MP who first made the claims in Parliament, Adrian Sanders, was later unable to offer any evidence supporting his claims about the Sven-Ulrika story.

When quizzed about the story today, Wallace said he could not recall the ‘exact nature’of the story. “It could have come from anywhere really,’he said; ‘I can’t recall exactly who put the story forward.”

Asked whether the story could have been the result of phone hacking Wallace replied: “It’s possible, yes.”

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