Newspapers try to skirt ban on payments to criminals

Terry Kirby
Saturday 14 December 2002 01:00

Newspapers and broadcasters have been bombarding Peter Foster and Carole Caplin with offers of payments for interviews, despite the potential for breaches of the industry's code of conduct.

Outright payment to Mr Foster, a convicted fraudster, would breach the Press Complaints Commission code, which forbids payments to convicted criminals and their families and friends, unless there is a clear public interest defence. Although Ms Caplin has no criminal record, she is clearly a friend of Mr Foster.

MacLaurin Media, the public relations agency that represents Ms Caplin, said that despite receiving numerous media approaches for interviews with Ms Caplin and Mr Foster, it had advised them against selling their stories.

It is understood many of the approaches were made with the offers of money "in the air" and an implication that ways of payment could be found, through book deals or via third parties. The company said: "Our advice, both verbally and in writing, has been based on the fact that it would be unfair to all parties to betray for money anything which could be regarded as confidential or personal, as well as being in breach of the codes of practice under which newspapers and TV companies operate."

According to the transcripts of telephone conversations with his mother, published in The Sun yesterday, Mr Foster suggests he has been in negotiations with The Sunday Times, but adds: "Basically it's not their policy to pay a criminal ... They will donate money to a charity, they don't want to be paying me."

The Sunday Times denied negotiating with Mr Foster. The paper said: "There have been no negotiations concerning payment and no sums ever discussed. In the course of the conversation with a middleman, a reporter said the paper might consider making a donation to charity in exchange for an interview." MacLaurin said the Sunday Times offer had been rejected, as had an approach from Tonight With Trevor MacDonald, which did not involve money.

The transcripts throw doubt on claims that the Daily Mail had paid Foster up to £100,000 for e-mails that confirmed he had helped Cherie Blair with the purchase of two flats.

The Mail has consistently portrayed Mr Foster as a fraudster and would have difficulty in justifying payment.

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