Friday, 2 March 2012

Horsegate. The Background

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.


  1. Anonymous2 March 2012 20:48

    Boring and irrelevant.
    Horsegate illustrates how close the PM, NI & the MPS are.
    No-one wants to restrict the freedom of the REAL press, just restrict the freedom of NI scumbags to break the law

    1. Neville Thurlbeck2 March 2012 21:28

      Thankyou for your comment. It would carry more weight if you had the courage to put a verifiable name to your thoughts. Otherwise it seems like you are calling people names while hiding behind a wall in case they find out who you are and kick you in the pants! I've published it nontheless.

    2. Reply
  2. Anonymous2 March 2012 21:56

    Hi Neville, I really think that "Horsegate" has provided some lighter relief from the sometimes heavy and detailed stories coming from the hacking scandal. The story has legs because people like a good horse pun, & I can tell you now we may be blinkered but we won't be muzzled! :)

  3. Guido Fawkes2 March 2012 22:04

    You should do this professionally...

    1. Neville Thurlbeck4 March 2012 10:20

      A few people have suggested putting adverts on the site. Still unsure about it. It may earn me just enough to keep me in embalming fluid for a year, so it's tempting.

    2. Reply
  4. David2 March 2012 22:16

    Thank goodness for some common sense on the links between journalists and the police which are healthy and natural in a free society. Journalists and police can each explore areas the other may not and together they can be even more potent in the uncovering of wrongdoing. Picking up the tab for lunch or drinkies is an entirely reasonable thing for a journalist to do. Brown envelopes are not however.

    1. Simon3 March 2012 16:25

      There's no such thing as a free lunch, or free drinkies. If there is a public interest in communicating with a journalist then do so, but pay your own way and reclaim it in expenses from your own organisation. If you allow the journalist to pay then it is inevitable that large numbers of the public will fear that you have been corrupted, and the onus will be on you to disprove this.

    2. Reply
  5. Pentangelis2 March 2012 22:50

    So she was lent a clapped out Met Nag, fed clothed and shoe-ed it, then sent it back.
    I really wish I could get excited . . . .

  6. angry and despondent3 March 2012 01:18

    This is a non-story being bigged up by the anti-Murdoch, anti-press and anti-government brigades. The fostering of retired police horses is a common and legitimate practice in all British police forces, not just the Met. What the hell is wrong with an ex-racehorse trainer and his wife (who just happens to be an executive at News International)fostering a horse that is judged to be too old for police operations? They have the facilities to look after the animal and pay for its upkeep and vet's bills. I see no corruption here, despite what that old fool Leveson, the BBC/Guardian/Independent Axis and Tom Watson want to insinuate.

    What will the next "revelation" be? "Rebekkah Brookes allowed to use the female toilet facilities at Scotland Yard - proof of the close relationship between the police and the press!"

    The only proof I can see is of a witch hunt by sections of the establishment.

    1. Rob Jones4 March 2012 10:06

      This post perfectly catches the real dynamics of the situation. The vested interests of the anti-NI platoon (not brigade), the lefty BBC-Guardian and those thuggish Labour MPs and Peers whose comments are illiberal, opportunistic, aggrandising and frequent are being given far too much oxygen.

    2. Reply
  7. LesAbbey3 March 2012 03:24

    Neville in your role as apologist for NI how do you justify the payoffs in the tens of thousands of pounds to civil servants that we are just now hearing about?

    1. Neville Thurlbeck3 March 2012 08:21

      I don't. And nor are these allegations proven. If you read the other postings on my blog, you will see that I have been extremely critical of NI.

    2. Reply
  8. dizzy3 March 2012 06:44

    Well said Neville, just a shame that it will fall on so many deaf ears due to the carping going on. See the ever shrieking Liberal Conspiracy for reference where they plotted a map of where certain politicians, CEOs and celebrities live in Oxfordshire and then implied that because they were all within 10 miles of each other this meant they were having cosy weekend retreats where they conspire criminally together.

    I've not been blogging for the last six months because work is now more important, but I've been watching this unfold from a far and it all becomes slightly ridiculous. I wouldn't be surprised if soon there will be calls for regulations on personal friendships by some, after all, if for example a crime editor at a national newspaper happens to be friendly outside of their professional role with some policeman it must mean there's corruption going on right?

    For the past 15 years there have been concerns by the chattering classes that we're sleepwalking into a police surveillance state, now many of those very same people are advocating us sleepwalking into a Pravda-state instead. What joy!

  9. Anonymous3 March 2012 07:24

    Neville is being disingenuous. He is correct to dismiss 'horsegate' as being 'somehow indicative of corruption'. But I am sure he recognises that it harms Brooks, the Yard and Cameron because it adds a vivid brushstroke to the picture in many people's minds of a too-cosy relationship between them. In particular, the likelihood that Cameron rode the nag fleshes out - or, more precisely, horsefleshes out - the Chipping Norton Set narrative, which is highly damaging to the PM. This is what makes it not just a good diary story but a good front-page story.
    PS: The only reason I'm 'Anonymous' is that I can't log in any other way.

  10. baronniesereinedecaux3 March 2012 10:10

    Let's talk about the real victims in this saga: the readers. The Murdoch press is not alone in having utterly betrayed them by maintaining privileged, corrupt and covert relationships with people in power. Horsegate is not trivial. It is yet another symptom of the metastasized cancer in the British media.

  11. Anonymous3 March 2012 10:55

    I am amazed at such profligacy. In such straitened times, the horse should have been sold to the Continent for eating, and the hooves would make handy and valuable House of Commons Gift Shop Limited Edition Inkwells.

  12. A Bloke Of A Certain Age3 March 2012 11:57

    I was trying to think of a witty headline around the words Horse, stable, bolted and door but think I 'll leave that to the journos

  13. Hugh Tarpaulin3 March 2012 12:25

    The founder of the police force, Sir Robert Peel, said: “The police are the public and the public are the police.”

    Yes Neville, but the public is not the same thing as newspaper reporters, editors and executives. Nor do these groups of people represent the public in any way.

    And although nothing is proven, it is clear that - as LesAbbey points out - NI were systematically bribing civil servants for information.

  14. Ceorlic3 March 2012 12:40

    Frankly this story is overblown. Retired police horses need somewhere to live and Brookes is married to an ex horse trainer. It's not surprising that they were chosen over other people, they'd clearly offer a better stable than someone with a horse box next to the A1.

    Meanwhile we're also somehow meant to be outraged than senior politicians strike up friendships with the CEO's of media organisations and other companies. What are we meant to do, put restraining orders on them all and electronically tag them?

    1. Simon3 March 2012 16:18

      We're not supposed to be outraged by the striking up of friendships, but we are when these friendships become avenues for mutual back-scratching between the individuals concerned, or between the organisations in which they hold important positions.

    2. Reply
  15. Anonymous4 March 2012 12:27

    The agenda behind Leveson has now also revealed itself in Australia.

  16. Miranda4 March 2012 13:05

    Whether by accident or design, this story's timing amounted to a classic piece of PR damage-limitation.

    Far from injuring NI, it effectively sidelined at least two vastly more serious allegations simultaneously arising from the Leveson Inquiry - that the Sun employed a network of corrupt officials (Sue Akers) and that the NoW attempted to subvert the Daniel Morgan murder investigation (Jacqui Hames).

    Your blog, Neville, and several of the responses to it illustrate the point perfectly. Thanks to Horsegate, we can now be invited to see just how "trivial" and "unrealistic" the whole Leveson shebang is: if such a meal is made over Brooks's saintly adoption of an ailing horse, how seriously can we take ANY of the evidence being presented..?

    But either you are being highly disingenuous or have entirely lost your critical faculties by spending too many years in the Murdoch camp. For all your protestations of having acknowledged NI wrongdoings, you consistently underplay them - and grasping at this particular anonymously-provided PR straw is feeble in the extreme.

    It's not Leveson who doesn't understand the way the media works, but naive and/or arrogant journalists. It's you - not Leveson - who are making "big news" about a squib while bombshells explode all round.

    Oh how Rupert Murdoch must be rubbing his hands...

    1. Neville Thurlbeck4 March 2012 13:55

      Sometimes I'm critical of News International, especially the MSC. Sometimes I'm supportive. I keep an open mind and judge each situation on its own merits and not through the mist of prejudice. Thanks for reading and for offering your comments.

    2. Reply
  17. Anonymous5 March 2012 09:53

    I think the blog has got off to a good start. Though I am far from persuaded by some of your arguments, I recognise that you are seeking to make an honest, nuanced contribution to the debate. And it seems you already have a nucleus of followers with the same idea. So please keep the blog going.

  18. Nick Booth7 March 2012 16:53

    What was odd about the revelations about the horse riders (AKA BandyLegsGait) was that Bernard Hogan Howe quickly reacted to it with his own spin.

    Quizzed about it for Nick Ferrari's LBC breakfast show, theChief Commission countered with a story that the horse came back in an acceptable state. Later, this claim was rebuked.

    Looks like that media training is paying off. Even if he's useless at catching criminals, I bet he's great at sound bites

  19. Colin16 March 2012 08:29

    The problem is that there is no evidence to support the story that ...

    " ...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 ...."

    The issue for those of us who care about the truth is ...

    The Evening Standard journalists may well be telling the truth. They may also not be telling the truth. I as a reader have no way of knowing. The convenience of "never revealing sources" could be a wonderful device to obscure the origins of this story, or it could be a valid justification.


    While some (? many) journalists are being exposed for many of the terrible stories that emerge from Leveson, why should the public believe that this story is true.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, the PERCEPTION held by many sections of the public is that many stories are made up, many stories are exaggerated, many stories are presented in a one sided way etc.

    The problem for journalists is to try and correct that pereption. As a group, it appears they show little acceptance that the problem even exists, never mind that it needs correcting

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