|Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace at the Leveson Inquiry|
For evidence of this, we need look no further than the Daily Mirror.
In his written statement supplied to the Leveson Inquiry, its editor Richard Wallace freely admits paying public officials for stories.
More specifically, prison and hospital staff.
Cross examined on the matter by counsel, he double confirms this.
It was a bold and honest admission.
And yet at no time has he or his reporters suffered the indignity of an early morning knock on the door from a cavalcade of police.
Thankfully, their floorboards haven't been ripped up. No one with a seriously ill wife has suffered the painful sight of seeing her ordered out of bed so police could search beneath her mattress.
Their reputations haven't been ruined. They are not facing jail like their colleagues on the Sun.
And nor should they be.
Why is it that Rebekah Brooks' select committee mention that police had been paid in the past is being played on a loop? And yet the Mirror group's bold admission that they have paid public officials, on oath and in writing, should be ignored? Both are illegal under the terms of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.
Is it because the agenda being set by policicians and the media is to demonise News International?
Are the police choosing to ignore this admission and focus only on News International because it won't find Trinity Mirror as accommodating and as willing to betray their own staff? If this is the case, then News International has only itself to blame.
Or would a full assault on the rest of Fleet St, or at least the Mirror titles, have the unpalatable air of a Stalinist purge of the press and all its treasured freedoms?
In both cases, the demonisation of News International is the convenient solution. And that is what appears to be happening.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating any Mirror journalists should have their collars felt.
On Newsnight last Monday, I said the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act is far too heavy a sledgehammer to crack this nut.
Some of our industry's finest professionals are facing three years in jail for carrying out what police will discover was an industry wide practice.
They are not widening their investigation to other titles because they realise it would grow like topsy, involve hundreds more officers and require years to complete. It would be mission impossible.
Even faced with Wallace's public confession, Operation Elvedon continues to take the easy route and turn a blind eye to offences carried out by other newspapers. But justice must be seen to be fair and even handed.
The easy route is the one so shamefully opened by the obsequious Management and Standards Committee at News International. Not because the MSC thinks it is the right thing to do. But to offer mitigation to the FBI as it investigates offences by News Corp in the US under the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act.
So to prevent the corruption infecting News Corp assets in the US, the MSC is busily heaping the corpses of its most loyal servants onto a funeral pyre.
And the police are naturally happy to accept their staff's heads on a plate. Who can blame them?
But there is a danger that Elvedon will begin not only to look heavy handed but also extremely unbalanced in its focus.
Millions of pounds are being spent on exclusively investigating News International. Vital police resources are being channelled away from solving crime which the public would much prefer police to focus their energies on.
There is an alternative.
There could be a temporary amnesty offered to all newspaper staff providing information to the police about breaches of the Prevention of Corruption Act. This amnesty, if temporary, would encourage those who have breached it, to step forward and grasp the opportunity before it runs out.
The police could hand over this evidence to the Leveson Inquiry who would then have the most complete picture available to it about the most controversial practices on Fleet Street.
Providing editors are as frank and honest as Richard Wallace and newspapers give the necessary guarantees to their staff that their jobs will not be jeopardised, I suspect there would be a genuine opening of the Pandora's box.
And the information fed into the Leveson Inquiry would form a valuable impetus for industry reform rather than a tool to demonise and ruin a handful of journalists for doing their editor's bidding.
Richard Wallace's statement and cross-examination.
In his witness statement signed on August 5, 2011 and submitted to the inquiry, Wallace states in paragraph 68:
"To the best of my knowledge, I have never made, authorised or been privy to any payments
to members of the police or those with access to the police, or received payments in kind
from them for stories or information. I am not aware of the Daily Mirror having done so.
This applies also to employees of mobile phone companies and those with access to the
police and mobile phone companies. However, on occasion we have paid public sector
employees (connected with the health and prison services) for information about prisoners
or prison conditions, or conditions in health facilities. There is no set protocol and decisions are made on the merits of each story. I would not be involved directly in the nuts
and bolts of those payments. I only become involved to the extent that my authorisation is
Questioned by David Barr, counsel to the inquiry on January 16, Wallace goes on to admit his newspaper has paid workers from the prison and health services.
Q You move then in your witness statement to deal with the payment of external sources and you say that you're not aware of any payments to the police, but on occasion you have paid public sector employees connected with the health and prison services for information about prisoners or prison conditions. There is, in the bundle, an article about the crossbow cannibal --
Q. -- as your newspaper styled him, Stephen Griffiths, being urged to make a death bed confession. There is a lot of detail in that story which appears to have come from within the prison hospital unit.
Q. Is that an example in which you paid to obtain information from the prison service or from prison service health workers?
A. I don't recall if we paid for any information that contributed to that story.
Q. If that's not a particular example, can we take it from your witness statement that on occasions people working for the prison service have been paid for information?
Q. Is this confidential information?
A. Yes, probably.
Q. Do you think that that raises the same ethical issues as paying police officers for information or not?
A. No, because by and large I believe there is a public interest in -- if somebody is -- from the hospital is saying, "We have patients lying in the corridor, there's general chaos and here's some pictures, but I'd like some money for that", then you know, I'm quite happy with that because I think there's a strong public interest.
Q. So from a Data Protection Act point of view, you think the answer is that it's in the public interest?
(It is interesting that Mr Barr questions Wallace on the legality of this from, 'a Data Protection Act point of view'. Had he done so from a, 'Prevention of Corruption Act point of view', it would have been far more relevant as there is no public interest defence allowable.)
* This article has now been followed by the Press Gazette here:
And Guido Fawkes here:
(For the avoidance of doubt, I am not calling upon the police to investigate my colleagues on the Mirror. I am suggesting that News International is being demonised for political motives and suggesting an amnesty as the most practical way forward for those being investigated by Operation Elvedon.).