Piers Morgan admitted to police that the combination of celebrity and crime “sends most of the usual rules out of the window”, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard today.
Justifying the Daily Mirror’s treatment of the arrest of TV presenter Matthew Kelly in January 2003, Mr Morgan, the paper’s then editor, told a detective: “These stories are hideously difficult for both you guys and for us. Fame and crime sends most of the usual rules out of the window.”
Morgan, who resigned from the Mirror the following year over faked pictures of British soldiers abusing prisoners, wrote to Surrey Police after the force complained about a critical editorial about the arrest of Mr Kelly over historic sex abuse claims. Surrey Police carried out the arrest at a Birmingham theatre earlier than they would have liked because of intense media interest in the case. Mr Kelly strenuously denied the allegations and was never charged.
At the second module of the Leveson inquiry into the relationship between the press and the police, Jerry Kirkby, Assistant Chief Constable of Surrey Police, agreed with Mr Morgan’s suggestion that the involvement of a celebrity in a criminal matter could lead journalists to abandon some of their usual rules.
He told the inquiry: “It can do. I don’t think it does in all cases. I certainly wouldn’t wish to tar all journalists and media with one brush.”
Separately, a senior officer from Avon and Somerset police rejected suggestions that officers leaked information to the media about the landlord of a tenant went missing just before Christmas 2010. Christopher Jefferies, a retired teacher who had no involvement in the disappearance of he Bristol architect student Joanna Yeates, later won damages from several national newspapers for defamatory reporting of his arrest.
Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones, the detective who led the murder inquiry, also defended the decision to keep Mr Jefferies on police bail for six weeks after Miss Yeates’s killer, Vincent Tabak, was charged. He said Mr Jefferies could only be formally eliminated as a suspect once forensic tests were completed on a pair of blood-stained trainers found under a kitchen unit in his home.
At the Leveson Inquiry last month, Mr Jefferies said he suspected that police told reporters about the contents of a second witness statement he given them about Miss Yeates’ disappearance.