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Highlights: former NoW hack Paul McMullan’s evidence to Leveson Inquiry

Paul McMullan was deputy features editor at the News of the World between 1994 and 2001. He began his career in regional newspapers before working for a number news agencies and tabloids including the Sun, Today and Sunday Sport. After seven years at the News of the World, McMullan moved to the Sunday Express as investigations editor, before spending three years at the National Enquirer. He is now in semi-retirement as a journalist, working part time as a publican.

When giving his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry (29 Nov), McMullan expressed his views on phone hacking, privacy and defining the public interest, as well as talking in detail about his experiences at the News of the World.

The main points of McMullan’s evidence are listed below. For a full transcript of his oral evidence click here.

On privacy:

“In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good. The only people I think need privacy are people who do bad things. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is particularly good for paedophiles, and if you keep that in mind, privacy is for paedos, fundamental, no one else needs it, privacy is evil. It brings out the worst qualities in people. It brings out hypocrisy. It allows them to do bad things. And no, once the British public wise up to the true perils of privacy, which, you know, one spin-off for example, if there is a privacy law, your secrets are going to be much more valuable than they were before.”

On the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages:

“Now, it’s clear that Glenn Mulcaire appears to have furnished the information to allow the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and it is my — it’s very difficult for me to say that actually, because I know how corrupt the police can be and how actually, it’s run by a bunch of Inspector Clouseaus, that the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone was not a bad thing for a journalist, a well-meaning journalist who is only trying to help find the girl to do.”

“Our intentions were honourable. We were doing our best to find the little girl, and the police are utterly incompetent and should be ashamed that the man who killed her was allowed to carry on, and there are other mothers now without their children because of the police’s incompetence, and I felt the same emotions at losing a child that I imagine Mrs Dowler must have felt, and you must put that aside and say, actually, the press and a free press and a press that strays into a grey area is a good thing for the country and a good thing for democracy and that’s all.”

On politics and their relationship with the press:

“And so that’s why we get to a point where David Cameron wants to become Prime Minister and he ends up with Murdoch lite, James, and Rebekah Brooks. And so for the 21 years, you have a culture of illegality of phone hacking and fiddling your expenses, if you like, that’s gone on under Rebekah Brooks, and so what we have is a future Prime Minister cosying up and being moulded by, you know, the arch-criminal, Rebekah Brooks, the criminal-in-chief.”

On the public interest:

“I mean, circulation defines what is the public interest. I see no distinction between what the public is interested in the public interest. Surely they’re clever enough to make a decision whether or not they want to put their hand in their pocket and bring out a pound and buy it. I don’t see it’s the job — our job or anybody else to force the public to be able to choose that you must read this, you can’t read that.”

“What is of interest to the public is what they put their hand in their pocket and buy.”

On pressures working for a weekly newspaper:

“I mean you can get a front page on Sunday, but by next Tuesday you have to have three fresh ideas and that’s fine for a few months, but week after week after week, there becomes a real pressure to build up a list of contacts, from, you know, police officers to PIs to basically anyone who can give you a story and you lean on those fixers to help you keep your job.”

On his editors:

“My first editor, Piers Morgan, very much set the trend. He was: “I want that story at all costs.” Pretty much: “I don’t care what you have to do to get that story.” He wanted to be number one. He was driven to sell over 5 million copies a week, which is a lot, you know. Guardian sells 230,000. That’s nothing in comparison.”

“We did all these things for our editors, for Rebekah Brooks and for Andy Coulson, and — I mean, you only have to read Andy Coulson’s column in Bizarre, where it would just be written, you know, that pop star A is leaving messages on pop star B’s phone at 2 am in the morning, saying,
“I love you. Shall we meet up for a drink?” I mean, it was that blatant and obvious. I don’t think anyone realised that anyone was committing a crime at the start, so my assertion has always been that Andy Coulson brought that practice wholesale with him when he was appointed deputy editor…”

“They should have been the heroes of journalism but actually, they’re not. Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, they’re the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it. If you look at what I’ve said, I’ve never said anything bad about anyone who worked with me or any one of my colleagues. Most of my colleagues were with me by saying, “How dare these people just throw us to the wolves and run off scot-free”, as they did for about a year.”

On voicemail interception at the NoW:

“By the rank-and-file journalist? Yeah, not – not uncommon. These journalists swapped numbers with each other. You know, you might swap — I think I swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother for David Beckham, I think, for example.”

On victims of the press:

“The ordinary people who buy the product are – set themselves up for, in a sense, being the victim also. There really is no massive difference between an ordinary man or woman, a celebrity or a — you know, someone who rules over us, because it all sells the product. It is clear that this is what the British public want to read. There is a taste for it. There is a market for it.”

On the impact of press coverage:

“I felt slightly proud that I’d written something that created a riot and got a paediatrician beaten up, or whatever was the case, due to the “paedo” aspect of what our readers latched onto. But in another way, the public was absolutely outraged that for the last 20 years you could have a child rapist living next to a family of four, perving over the fence at their children and never knowing, and sometimes even letting them babysit and the abuse would carry on.”

“I suppose I’m being a bit frivolous, but in a sense, how do you judge what you do in your career? You like to have an impact and that was one story that certainly had an impact. I mean, you yourself wouldn’t like to spend your career in a back room, never having, you know, created or achieved anything, and that was the achievement was not having a paediatrician beaten up, clearly, but it was writing a story of such an impact that there were riots because the public were so furious about the way the law was and it needed to be changed.”

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