Highlights of former Daily Star reporter's evidence to Leveson Inquiry
Richard Peppiatt was a reporter at the Daily Star for over two years. He also worked for six months at a news agency called Ferrari’s before his spell at the Daily Star, freelanced for the Mail on Sunday as a reporter for nearly five months, as well as for a variety of other tabloid titles.
When giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today and on his written evidence, Peppiatt expressed his views on the PCC, spoke of his experience as a tabloid reporter and apologised for not having left his position on the Daily Star earlier.
On the Press Complaints Commission:
“The PCC Code was not something that I ever heard referenced in relation to how a story should be handled, although certain limitations such as not trespassing in hospitals were implicitly acknowledged. I have admitted that some stories I wrote at the Daily Star were wholly inaccurate, often written under pressure from superiors to distort the facts at hand. For me to have referenced the PCC Code to protest against this I would have been laughed out the door. That was the level of esteem the PCC held in the newsroom, both before and after Richard Desmond withdrew.
“Tabloid editors often talk of the “shame” they feel at a PCC adjudication, but – and I won’t pull any punches here – they’re lying. They couldn’t care less what the PCC thinks, or about having to occasionally print a three paragraph correction. The transaction between newspaper and reader has already occurred, and the effect of that story is rarely diminished by a retraction months later. Getting the occasional slap on the wrist was just a cost of doing business.”
On the source of the majority of Daily Star stories:
“The majority of stories appearing in the Daily Star are sourced from the news wires or plagiarised from other newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, which is such a heavy influence that for the most part it dictated the Daily Star’s news agenda.
“In addition to the major news agencies such as Reuters, PA and Associated Press there are dozens of local agencies dotted around the country supplying content to the national press. Some of this content is lifted from local newspapers, or sourced from agency reporters’ own contacts. Other stories still are concocted from PR content. Often national newspapers will also hire agency reporters to cover a story for them on their patch.”
On stories he was asked to write:
“Another way stories appear in the Daily Star (and they are not alone) are when they are simply made up, or based on such scant, dubious evidence as to essentially be untrue. I list in my resignation letter (attached) a number of stories that I wrote via this method, in the full knowledge, and on occasion request, of superiors. Most, but not all, of the fabricated stories featured the Daily Star’s most referenced celebrities – Katie Price, Peter Andre, Kerry Katona etc. These people’s careers are symbiotically linked to tabloid column inches, and therefore they were very unlikely to sue over false stories. Their management are begrudgingly aware that their coverage in the tabloid press is likely to see-saw, sometimes they’d
receive weeks of good press, sometimes weeks of bad. Without that, readers quickly become bored.
“For a period of about six months I believe Katie Price appeared on the front cover of the Daily Star nearly every day. This was not because her life is that much of a rollercoaster, but because reporters were put under immense pressure to think up new ’lines’ about her personal life on a daily basis. Often this involved collusion with Katie Price’s PR team (who, aware the Daily Star would write about her anyway, had a vested interest in helping out in return for a positive spin). Failing this, a story was often concocted off the back of flimsy evidence e.g Katie Price appearing in public without her wedding ring meant her ’marriage was over’, even if there was no
other evidence to back that statement up. To circumvent this issue unattributed source quotes make up much of the story, verifying the angle taken. Although unnamed sources are a valuable journalistic tool to protect sources, often in my experience of tabloids they are simply made up by the reporter to increase the word count and add a veneer of legitimacy to something that is speculation, at best.”
On Daily Star’s ethics:
“Particularly distasteful are their [Daily Star’s] front page claims of “miracle cures” for cancer/Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s, which upon closer analysis are simply initial trials on mice, with many years of research ahead before they can even be considered medically sound.”
“To cite another example of this pragmatic approach to truth, at the beginning of October 2009 the TV star Matt Lucas’ ex husband, Kevin McGee committed suicide. That day the news desk got a call from a member of the public who claimed to know McGee and the reasons behind the death. This call was passed to me and I noted down what he said, and informed the news desk, who were very keen to run the story. I tried arranging to meet the source, but he said he was unavailable for the next few days. I made the news desk aware of unease of taking this man’s (quite sensational claims) at face value without at least feeling him out in person, especially considering his preoccupation seemed to be mainly with how much money we’d pay him. However, the decision was taken by the news editor/editor to run the story on the front page regardless. The next morning a letter arrived from Matt Lucas’ solicitors threatening legal action. That same morning the source also called back, claiming he was in touch with Matt Lucas and had some more information to sell. Again he was unavailable to meet, and again, the news desk decided to run his story. To this day, I’ve never met the man in question, and have no idea if he had insider info, or was just a fantasist.”
On Daily Star’s reaction to his resignation:
“After resigning from the Daily Star I suffered a campaign of harassment and threats to my person, which likely included my phone being hacked. Within hours of the Guardian informing the Daily Star that they were preparing to publish my resignation letter, the threatening phone calls, text messages and emails began. They ranged from “We’re doing a kiss and tell on you” and “Change your voicemail message” to “You’re a marked man until the day you die” and “RD will get ya” (a reference, I’m certain, to Richard Desmond). The harassment became so persistent that I sent my girlfriend to go stay with a friend, and called in the police.
“When this step was publicised in the Guardian, the harassment stopped, but not before the details of a voicemail message left by a friend was emailed to me, and the message itself apparently deleted. I see no way that the information could have been known unless my voicemail had been accessed. The police have now traced the source of this harassment and given him a warning. He is a person linked to the tabloid world but that I have never met, and who would therefore not have the in depth personal information he possesses without seeming collusion from the
Daily Star/Outside Organisation. I am currently pursuing a civil claim against
the individual to force him to reveal who ordered his behaviour toward me.”
On stories driven by ideology [oral evidence]:
“The Daily Star is a right-wing tabloid, so they have an ideological perspective on certain issues,say immigration or national security or policing. And so whatever a story may be, you must try and adhere to that ideological perspective. Say there is a government report out giving statistics. Well, you know, any statistics which don’t fit within that framework you ignore or sort of decontextualise and pick maybe the one statistic which does. If there’s something that comes out saying crime has gone down, you then go look for the statistic which says knife crime has gone up 20 per cent but the rest of crime — well, we’ll just focus on knife crime. Because there is an overwhelming negativity and it runs throughout the tabloid press. You know, a story is simply not a story unless it’s knocking someone, or knocking an organisation or knocking an ethnic group, whatever it may be.”
On going after singer Susan Boyle at the Daily Star’s request [oral evidence]:
“I suppose it is of interest because it’s sort of — it’s been interesting for me and very difficult, I’d say, as well, over the last week, hearing celebrities and sort of members of the public come up and talk about their privacy being invaded, being harassed. You know, to hear it from that perspective, you know — there is very much — I think you caricature people and you make them not so much human beings as just your target on a story, and certainly it hammers home — I think it’s a very hard-nosed reporter on Fleet Street who can’t recognise that sometimes the treatment is not humane, and I think that Susan Boyle is a good example of probably when I overstepped the mark with harassment.
“I was sent up to — she was on X Factor and she was finding the pressure, you know, quite overwhelming. think she has some sort of learning difficulties as well, and she was certainly not prepared for the sort of huge media interest surrounding her and she was finding it very difficult, was at times acting in a slightly bizarre manner, and often this was with provocation from reporters and photographers. She was lashing out. She
was saying things. X Factor decided to put her into hiding in Scotland to try and cool things down a bit, and the press were told to stay away, just leave her be. But this was a bit like a red rag to a bull for the Daily Star, and I was sent up to Scotland to try and find her, and was told to go and buy a kilt and a ring and some roses and try and propose to her.
“So I spent the next week pursuing her around Scotland.”
Q. Did it culminate in a mock proposal?
Q. Did that cause her — what was her reaction, in a nutshell?
“‘Piss off.’ Excuse my language, but that was exactly what she said. But I mean, yeah, it was certainly not very sensitively done, let’s just say that, because a lot was made of –
LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I’m not sure the word “sensitive” fits into that story at all.
“No, and certainly because this woman was unmarried, she was — you know, she was allegedly a virgin, a big play of was made of this aspect of her life. It certainly wasn’t very sensitively done. Yet again, I can only apologise for my part in that.”
On hacking of his phone [oral evidence]:
Q. Can I deal with the issue of phone hacking. Are you suggesting that there is evidence that Northern & Shell, who are, of course, responsible for the Express and the Star, have hacked into phones, in particular your phone?
“Not directly, no. No. Obviously I know the person who did it. They are not, as far as I know, on the payroll of Northern & Shell. As I said, there are civil proceedings so I don’t want to say too much, other than they got this information about me from someone, and it seems very, very likely that it was from Northern & Shell. On top of that, this person I’ve never met. He has no personal, as far as I can imagine, gripe with me, but I look where is the motive to try and convince me to shut up and I know exactly where the motive is and has been. You know, it’s not just been that. There’s been generally, for the last nine months, an attempt to blacken me in some way or another, either at — you know, often behind the scenes, you know, rumours about myself that have been sort of fed into the sort of rumour mill of Fleet Street, much of it untrue.
“Occasionally a little bit of it true, but 99 per cent is just rubbish and it’s an attempt to make sure that if you’re going — I think it’s an attempt to discourage others from speaking out. “We will make sure you don’t work again. We’ll make it as hard as possible for you to work again if you cross us.”