Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tom Watson - The Confidential Meetings

MUCH has been made of Tom Watson repeating our private conversation in his new book 'Dial M for Murdoch'.
I can't say I'm anything more than surprised and disappointed. No real depth of feeling about the matter, although others may have a different reaction.
Here's what took place.
The information I relayed to Tom Watson was done so in the run up to submitting my written report to the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport last year.
One would normally assume as I was using his offices to do this, I would automatically be accorded a degree of confidentiality.
We agreed verbally that this was the case in October, when he came to my home.

And we agreed it before we met in his Commons office some weeks later.
Mr Watson was extremely keen to talk about how he had been placed under surveillance and asked whether I knew anything about it.
I told him I didn’t but mentioned, en passant, there had been a plan to put the whole committee under surveillance but it had been aborted in 2009.
On February 10, I received an email from Mr Watson, in which he said:
This reminds me: on the matter of the surveillance of committee members. Are you in a position to provide a written submission? I recall you telling me that the editor authorised the operation. As we begin to draft our conclusions it would be helpful to have this information confirmed.”
I was reluctant to do this and in fact never did so.
My reply the same day is tellingly marked, “covert surveillance - private and confidential” in the subject bar to reinforce my position on this matter.
My answer was: “Hi Tom,
“I'll see what I can do.
“When do you need it by and what exactly do you require? And by what means do you want it transmitted to you/the committee?

“Regards,

“Neville”

Three days later, to reinforce the confidentiality of the matter, I sent him a further email, again marked, covert surveillance - private and confidential”.

The contents further reinforced our confidential position, for in it I say:
Tom,
 “Get back to me (on) this when you can please.

“All in confidence.

“Neville”

On February 23, I close the matter with the observation that I believe I have covered all I need to in my submission to the committee.

On April 7, I received an email from Mr Watson asking seven questions about my role with the National Criminal Intelligence Service and probing deeper into my past affiliations.

My reply the same day indicates I was beginning to suspect Mr Watson was using his parliamentary role as a subterfuge for gleaning information for his book. I said:

“Morning Tom,
“Thanks for your inquiry. Please let me know where the answers are going to and I'll get back to you.

“Best,

“Nev T”

His reply, the same day, made me suspect his agenda had less to do with committee business and more to do with beefing up his book.

Hi Neville,

“The honest answer is, I don't know but certainly not for the committee
report (unless you would like that). I guess I'm just curious about
you - you're such an enigmatic figure.

“I happen to think that serving your country in this way is a good
thing.”

He then imparts some information on a confidential basis – and which will remain so.

I’m not remotely angry with Tom Watson, I simply want to set the record straight. If anything, I’m just irritated that he can’t seem to hold a confidence when he is meant to be probing serious wrong doing.

And very much for the record, I would like to re-state that I had been told that the decision to carry out the covert surveillance on MPs was taken above the head of Colin Myler, the editor.

It was News International, not the News of the World, which ordered us to dig into the private lives of the MPs on the committee which was investigating us. Many News International executives were in the loop, in 'Deepcarpetland' as the News International zone where these things emanated from was euphemistically called.

Although I am not naming those individuals, I will however reveal that Rebekah Brooks’ name never came into the frame. She is on bail and deserves to be eliminated from this messy chapter and I’m happy to be able to do so.

Also for the record, every one of my colleagues had grave reservations about carrying out the surveillance.

What if we were caught? And caught en masse? How could we explain that? What was the purpose? Why were we doing it? What was the justification?

It wasn’t journalism. It was corporate espionage.

But this was typical of the outside edicts which came into us from News International executives when the News of the World was under fire or batting on a sticky wicket. There is a book on this alone.

I personally put the brakes on this one. I kept kicking it into the long grass, in the infuriating way that reporters do when they think they know better than their superiors.

I'm not against watching people. That's what all journalists do.

But this was ridiculed by all involved in the newsroom.

Others followed. Nothing was done.

Then suddenly, the order came in a rushed, panicky statement. “Has anyone done anything on this yet? No? Good, don’t. We’ll let you know if the picture changes.”

We heard nothing more. Someone very senior in Deepcarpetland had evidently got wind of the plan and blown a fuse.

Hayley Barlow, my press spokeswoman, put out my statement on Thursday.

It said: “I am surprised and disappointed that Mr Watson has chosen to make public one of our private conversations which took place in the run up to me providing the CMS Committee with my statement. At no time did he inform me of his intention to do so.

“For clarification, I made it clear to him that I had no evidence to support the belief that the request originated from the editor’s office.

“In fact, it was implied that the surveillance plan originated from outside of the newspaper and elsewhere in News International.

“I have no desire or intention of revealing the identity of any of the personnel instructing or being instructed to carry out the surveillance.

“All the staff were extremely reluctant to carry out the surveillance. Though from a point of view of logistics and ethics, they unanimously introduced a large degree of procrastination until executives suddenly called a halt to the plan about ten days later."


As I write this, I am still finding it hard to be cross with Tom Watson.

That's because we both had agendas the day we met.

I have to be frank and admit the reason why I met up with him was to show him evidence that the Gordon Taylor hacking matter - upon which he had been fierce in condemning me and for which I had lost my job - was not my work at all.

He was generous enough to offer several very sincere apologies before he left my home and has since moved his guns away from me.

I offered my hand and my understanding that he had reached those conclusions in the absence of any public defence from my employers, who chose to cover up instead.

Tom Watson had two agendas that day. For Parliament and for his book.

And he chose to break the code of confidentiality that exists between journalist and politician. His book and the committee's report next month will be a testament as to whether this was justified.

I hope it's a good and accurate read.

It covers the most momentous and cataclysmic events in the history of British journalism and it’s important that it gets it right.

In the coming days, I will be picking it apart and dissecting it for a national publication.

I’ll let you know if it does.















5 comments:

  1. great stuff. Just about to start reading it myself.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not a penny of mine is going in Watson's pocket. I'll wait for your version.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very measured, Neville, but you really can't trust anyone these days and, as you point out, Watson had his own agenda.

    MPs are a much maligned bunch but I've found the ones I've met - on all sides - pretty decent. Serious about what they're doing and hard workers.

    I've always felt that Watson is of average intelligence but rather immature. I remember him throwing all his rattles out of his pram several years ago over a very trivial incident and sulking for some time afterwards. His questioning of the Murdochs wouldn't have passed muster at a sixth form debating society at a second rate comprehensive.

    Looking forward to your analysis of his book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Whilst not defending Watson for what he has done here, I can hardly feel sympathy for someone who did it consistantly did it along with other disgraceful acts in the name of "free press".

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm puzzled. Are you refusing to PUBLISH the names of those who ordered the surveillance - or are you making a point-blank refusal to "dob them in" to the police?

    If the latter, I find it very hard to understand why...

    ReplyDelete