|Former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks|
THE TIP that led to the London Evening Standard splashing on the Rebekah Brooks police horse story did not come from the core participants at the Leveson Inquiry.
This assurance comes from two very senior sources at the paper, who were content to admit they had been sitting on the story for months wondering what to do with it.
One told me: “We have known about this for months. But we couldn’t really find a justification for running it.
“But with the Leveson Inquiry focusing on the relationship between the press and the police, it seemed like a useful peg to hang it on.
“The Leveson Inquiry is jumping to conclusions here in assuming it came from the core participants. They have failed to realise there are a multiplicity of sources for a story like this.
“They really don’t get how journalism works.”Yesterday, Lord Justice Leveson said: "I am concerned to hear that over the last two days requests have been made to the Metropolitan Police for confirmation of details which suggest that there has been prior disclosure of the statements of some of the witnesses who are due to give evidence to this inquiry.
"I am disturbed about it, not only because leaks would constitute a breach of the confidentiality agreement that everybody has signed, but also because it runs the risk of disrupting the way in which this inquiry can proceed.
"I don't intend to seek to make inquiries as to these particular leaks. But if this continues I shall review the way in which I provide pre-warning to core participants of statements of witnesses."
He did not name the subject of the leaks but it is widely understood to be the horse story.
Another Evening Standard source told me: “It was a legitimate story legitimately obtained. And not for the first time, the Leveson Inquiry is jumping to conclusions and pointing the finger of blame at people.
“This is the ‘chilling effect’ the Leveson Inquiry is having on the freedom of speech that the education secretary Michael Gove is referring to I’m afraid.”
The author of the story, the excellent Tom Harper, will forgive me if I say the story was a diary story at best, albeit one from the top drawer.
Under normal news conditions, it wouldn’t merit much interest.
But with the Leveson Inquiry focusing on the relationship between the press and the police, the Standard naturally felt justified in lobbing it into the debate with a Kelvin-like flourish.
It’s not their fault that the anti-Murdoch brigade and the anti-police brigade have seized upon it to see conspiracy beneath every table.
I suspect both brigades are recruited from exactly the same pool of foot soldiers.
The brigade I belong to fully expects his CEO to be clever enough to realise she is heading an organisation that is fundamentally in the information game.
And that being close to policemen, politicians and showbusiness stars is part of the job description.
I was Rebekah's News Editor for two years and I never once witnessed any hint of corruption. Just an extraordinary ability to make friends in important places.
It was an ability which was the envy of every editor in Fleet Street.
Journalists who carp about it now would have given their eye teeth at the time to have been in her position. You all told me so. Let's not forget that gentlemen and ladies of the press.
My brigade also expects his police chiefs to recognise that an open dialogue between themselves and the press is part of the process of 'policing by consent'.
The founder of the police force, Sir Robert Peel, said: “The police are the public and the public are the police.”
It’s time we stopped putting obstacles in the way of open and free interaction between the two.
By pretending the loan of an ageing horse to a CEO (at her own expense) or the sharing of a bottle of champagne with a newspaper crime editor is somehow indicative of corruption is dangerous nonsense.
It will give us a weaker press. And an unaccountable police force.