NOTW had 'unique' way of forcing staff out

 

The News of the World was "unique" in how it forced staff to leave the company, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard today.

Steve Turner, general secretary of the British Association of Journalists, said disciplinary issues at the newspaper were often "phoney", but employees accepted that the best course of action was to seek a pay-out for leaving.

"The unique thing at the News of the World was that they were usually phoney things and the individual quickly got the message that they wanted him out.

"That was the point, and they would then say to their head of department 'Well, you know, I don't want to hang around where I'm not wanted, what's the chance we may be able to do something?'."

He said he would assist journalists prior to disciplinary hearings, but believed it would be used against them if he attended the meetings alongside them.

"I'm ashamed to be telling you this because we're supposed to be living in a democratic and free country but we're not," he said.

Mr Turner advised former News of the World sports reporter Matt Driscoll, who gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday.

He made a successful employment tribunal claim for disability discrimination after he was sacked by the News of the World.

Mr Turner said that in the last three or four years he had been consulted by "between 15 and 20" union members over bullying at tabloid newspapers.

He said bullying was often caused by "an overbearing head of department who is demanding too much work".

It was not uncommon for the "unrealistic terrorising of people" to lead to nervous breakdowns, he added.

He spoke about a journalist who was told "Just leave, you're finished" during a time when proper redundancy procedures were due to take place, and another who was victimised after complaining that a regular feature about women doing extraordinary things was fabricated.

Solicitor Julian Pike, of Farrer and Co, was recalled to provide details of when News International learned that actress Sienna Miller was bringing an action against the company over the hacking of her phone.

Mr Pike supplied emails to the inquiry which notified him that Miller was going to make a claim.

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, said an attendance note dated May 13 2010 included no reference to an alleged relationship between lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris.

The inquiry has heard that the News of the World commissioned private detective Derek Webb to follow the pair to investigate whether they were having an affair amid concerns they were leaking confidential information they had gained from acting for phone-hacking claimants.

The inquiry also heard from Sharon Marshall, former TV editor of the defunct tabloid, who said she left the newspaper in 2004 after she was asked to chase a story which she knew to be untrue.

"It was a celebrity who was pregnant at the time and I was told that her partner was cheating on her, a photo had been given to us or somebody had come forward for a kiss and tell story," she said.

"I understood the photo was two years old."

She said she had been asked to put the story to the celebrity but instead she handed in her resignation.

"In my resignation, which I put on his (the editor's) desk, I said I was leaving because I had been asked to breach the PCC code and a moral code and I refused to do it."

Ms Marshall, who is now a resident soap expert on ITV1's This Morning, was also grilled about the contents of her book Tabloid Girl.

The novel, which has the catch line "A True Story", is a "dramatised timeline" of events based on anecdotal stories she had heard from other journalists, Ms Marshall told the inquiry.

"It is based on a true story," she said.

"It is a dramatisation of my time in the industry and legends from the industry.

"I intended it to be a story about a good story.

"I was writing a comedy, not writing a legal document.

"I should have said 'based on a true story'. This is a dramatisation - a heightened reality of an industry."

Counsel for the inquiry David Barr asked her about various sections detailed in the book including a character called Robohack, who romanced the best friend of a famous person to get a story out of her.

Ms Marshall told him she had created a "heinous character who was supposed to repel the reader" based on stories she had heard about in the pub.

She was also asked about journalists' expense claims, some of which she refers to in her book as "highly creative" fraud.

"It is just a shaggy dog tale, an entertaining read," she said.

"I was just following the tale that somebody had claimed £500 for a camel burial fee. It is a heightened reality. It is intended to be a good yarn."

She said that a reporter, who has since died, did claim for mileage when he could not actually drive.

Mr Barr also questioned her on a phase in her book about phone hacking, where she claimed that everyone working on a tabloid newspaper knew how to intercept voicemail messages.

But Ms Marshall said that by the time the book was written, the information had already been in the public domain.

PA

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