Lord Justice Leveson announced a Hearings respite for this week, earmarked for taking stock, reading and reflection. The respite did not even last the weekend. Without fanfare, on Friday evening, the Leveson web site quietly published his new Ruling on Operation Motorman.
Brian Leveson's appetite for Sunday breakfast was doubtless blunted by the Mail on Sunday front page - blaring his alleged displeasure with Michael Gove as expressed in a phone call to the Cabinet Secretary. Brian Cathcart has pinpointed this as the start of 'Operation Megaphone', a blast of shrill trumpets from sections of the press, sounding their battle cry against the Leveson Inquiry in the hope that the walls will come tumbling down.
These two weekend stories are not unconnected as it is the Mail on Sunday (and Daily Mail) which arguably have most to fear from the Motorman files. And it is Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief, who has throughout resented Leveson's Inquiry the most.
When Dacre was first called to give evidence, in the week scheduled for Editors, he was apparently not available. As Robert Jay reported, ..."some people may be wondering why Mr Paul Dacre is not on the list for today. The answer is he's not available for the rest of this month, and indeed for today, but we have lined him up, as it were, for 6 February". Dacre duly appeared that day to give his evidence (more below) but - because of the spat over Hugh Grant and the 'mendacious smear' allegation - he was required by Leveson to return for a second appearance.
Mr Caplan QC (Counsel for Associated Newspapers) first argued against Dacre having to appear again, and then seemed less than confident that Dacre would even comply. The exchanges are interesting:
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: We, of course, as you know, fitted in to Mr Dacre's timetable.... We WILL find some short period of time for this to be the subject of further evidence and we shall do that this week. And there it is.Dacre's main evidence on 6th Feb could be characterised as resentful and defensive. He was questioned by Robert Jay and attempted several times to cross-question him back. He gave the distinct impression that he regarded being questioned by the Inquiry as inconvenient and a gross impertinence. This was most marked when questioned about Daily Mail journalists topping the table of taskings given to Steve Whittamore (p9)
MR CAPLAN: Sir, I obviously will have to make enquiries of --
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Yes.
MR CAPLAN: I have no idea of Mr Dacre's whereabouts.
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Mr Caplan, I'm very sorry. I know
that Mr Dacre is busy. We have worked very hard to fit ourselves around his commitments. I cannot believe that in the next three days it is not possible to find a few minutes. We shall fit ourselves around him to such extent as we can but I beg you not to ask me to go further.
JAY: May I move on to Operation Motorman...You say this: "Until the Information Commissioner's 2006 reports, I was not personally aware of the extent that our journalists were using search agencies." By using the term "extent", were you intending to accept there that you were aware that the Daily Mail was at least using these search agencies?This exchange above is particularly interesting as it pinpoints an identifiable story leading to an identifiable Mail on Sunday journalist being questioned by the Met - one of seven journalists interviewed by Operation Glade but not prosecuted. Each of the seven protested they were unaware of Whittamore's illegal methods:
JAY: But you weren't aware of the scale of the problem --
DACRE: The numbers. The numbers I wasn't aware of.
JAY: The Inquiry received evidence from Mr Peter Wright, the Mail on Sunday editor, and he said that he was aware of Operation Motorman at the beginning of 2004, in view of the Bob Crow story, which of course was published in the Mail on Sunday....Were you aware of Operation Motorman as a result of that particular issue?
DACRE: I suppose I must have been, yes. I don't recall it exactly, but I must have been aware.
JAY: Yes, because the -- I think the journalist involved was interviewed and it was going to be part of Operation Glade, if not Operation Motorman. Operation Glade was the Metropolitan Police operation...
DACRE: This was a Mail on Sunday journalist?
JAY: Yes, it was. So you were aware of it from that route, as it were.
DACRE: ...They said they were only getting phone numbers and addresses and they didn't seem to think they were behaving illegally.Robert Jay was pressing the point that no conceivable 'failure of corporate governance' was countenanced, and no individual disciplinary investigations mounted. Whilst some Motorman-implicated journalists moved on, others stayed, thrived - perhaps even rewarded by career progression. The identifiable Bob Crow story might serve as a case in point. From Crow's witness statement, there is this:
JAY: But you accept that you didn't carry out an investigation in 2006 or earlier to ascertain the facts, don't you?
DACRE: Because, as I say, we didn't know then what we now know.
JAY: But what was set out in the Information Commissioner's second report was quite clear, wasn't it, in relation to the Daily Mail: 958 transactions --
On the 2nd February 2003 there appeared an article in the Mail on Sunday written by Christopher Leake which showed a photograph of me going to work on the back of a scooter owned by my Personal Assistant.Crow was puzzled how Christopher Leake could have identified his movements and the scooter driver until "it was subsequently revealed to me as a result of a Court case involing a Mr. S. Whittamore and others around police corruption." Crow believes the Mail on Sunday identified the scooter driver through DVLA or Police National Computer data abuses via Whittamore, and that his whereabouts were obtained by phone hacking. Clearly, Paul Dacre has reason to be rattled at Leveson's new Ruling which may allow more of the Motorman files into the public domain; those of journalists still in employment - as Christopher Leake was, until just two weeks ago.
Lord Justice Leveson did make reference to Dacre specifically in his Motorman Ruling, on the question of whether or not Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday retained (and possibly still used) information illegally obtained by Whittamore. He reminded:
Although on 9 March, I raised with Mr Caplan the question addressed to Mr Paul Dacre concerning storage of information to which he undertook to provide an answer (see 6 February pm page 60, line 12), he overlooked his failure to do so and has not responded to a subsequent reminder (leading to the delay in ruling on this submission): suffice to say, this evidence continues to remain outstandingAs rebukes go, this seems polite and understated. Yet the timing of the Mail on Sunday 'Gove v Leveson' story demonstrates that Dacre has shifted from defensive to attack mode, intending to deter any more inconvenient and impertinent enquiries. Dacre has raised the megaphone for the press and, as Brian Cathcart puts it:
...cover your ears as you may, from now on you will not be able to block out the howling fury of an industry that never accepted anything was wrong with the way it operated, and which will now vent its sense of injustice at maximum volume... We do not have to let them swamp us with their self-serving noise.You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org