Friday, November 12, 2010
Bob Bird, Cross-examination Pt 1
Friday morning in court number four continued with Tommy Sheridan leaving his seat in the dock to cross-examine Bob Bird, Scottish editor of the News of the World (NotW) Mr Sheridan began by asking Mr Bird if his newspaper "always told the truth" The witness replied that it "did it's best. Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he had ever met Rupert Murdoch (the chairman of News International) The witness replied they had met "half a dozen times" but had never discussed this case with Mr Murdoch or any of his family. Mr Sheridan then asked what Mr Bird's salary was, to which the witness responded "six figures' Mr Sheridan then asked exactly how much he earned and at that point Mr Prentice for the crown objected to the question as irrelevant , an objection that Lord Bracadale upheld.
After a discussion about the management structure of the NotW, where Mr Bid confirmed that he reported to the paper's national editor. Mr Sheridan asked how many reporters the paper had employed on the "Sheridan story" Mr Bird replied that "half a dozen" of his 19 staff had worked on the story, but "not all at the same time" he did however agree that the newspaper had "put lots of resources" into the story. Mr Bird also confirmed that his "boss" until 2007 had been Andrew Coulson. Mr Sheridan then put it to the witness that News International was a "multi-billion corporation" that would have lots of "media and editing equipment" Mr Bird agreed.
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he was a member of the "Society of Editors" to which Mr Bird responded that he personally was not. The witness was then asked if he had ever been to adjudication with the Press Complaints commission. Mr Bird said that recently the newspaper had run a story about a "7 year old in Aberdeen who was a bit of a tearaway" and that the PCC had upheld the father of the boy's complaints, and admitted "we occasionally get things wrong." Mr Sheridan then asked the witness if he was under pressure to increase the paper's market share which Mr Bird denied saying he was only under pressure to produce a "good newspaper that sells" the witness also denied that this account of watching the "McNeilage video" in his boxer shorts was "Sexed up" like the stories in his newspaper and insisted he had only been concerned to correct a "grave miscarriage of justice" (the civil trail verdict)
Mr Sheridan then produced excerpts from the Newspaper editors code of practice and asked Mr Bird if he complied with them. Mr Bird replied that the Notw "do our best to." Mr Sheridan highlighted the section on "clandestine devices and subterfuge" and asked if the NotW followed that section of the code and again Mr Bird said we "do our best to."
Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he had given a copy of the disputed tape to the police, to which the witness said no, it was being gathered as evidence for the NotW's appeal in the libel case. Mr Bird added that after the tape had been used in a story in September 2006 the police had contacted the paper and explained that it was not given to the police initially due to the "confidentiality agreement with George" [McNeilage]
Mr Sheridan then moved on to the issue of payments to witnesses in the case and asked if Mr Bird had disclosed all of the witnesses that had been paid or offered payments. Mr Bird responded "yes, we have now" Mr Sheridan then queried the word "now" in the answer and Mr Bird explained that in the libel trial he had stated that Katrine Trolle had not been offered any money by the newspaper but had found out after his testimony that she had. Mr Bird added that this was a "genuine mistake" and denied Mr Sheridan's assertion that this amounted to "perjury" Mr Sheridan then asked the witness if the police had ever cautioned him, the witness said they had not, but denied a suggestion that the NotW considered itself "immune from prosecution."
Mr Sheridan then if there were any other witnesses in the case had been given or offered payment by the NotW. Mr Bird told the court that Anvar Khan had been given £2000 for the original story, Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird if this meant Ms Khan had "lied" in her evidence to the court when she had denied receiving any payment for her story. Mr Bird replied that she "could be mistaken" an answer Mr Sheridan described as "another honest mistake."
Mr Sheridan then asked if Andrew McFarlane had been offered money, to which Mr Bird replied "possibly" and that Gary Clarke was "probably" also offered a payment. When asked if any of the staff in Cupids had been offered payments Mr Bird replied he "couldn't put his hand on heart" and deny it adding that it was the policy of the News of the World to "buy people's stories" and he only heard about it when "someone said yes" to one of his journalists. Mr Sheridan then pointed out that the Editors code of conduct forbids payments to witnesses in "active legal proceedings" to which Mr Bird responded that he did not regard the case as "active" when the payments were made, adding that he knew there was an investigation but not a active case.
Mr Sheridan then turned to a meeting held between Mr Bird, Kenneth Lang ( a legal advisor to the NoTW) and a Detective chief inspector Barrie at Fettes police station in Edinburgh in the week after the initial 1st October 2006 story on the tape. Mr Bird was asked if the police had asked him not to run any more stories about the tape as there was an ongoing police investigation connected to it. Mr Bird replied that he did "not recall" Mr Sheridan asked if Mr Bird was claiming the police had called him in "to say hello" and asked if the police had told him that promoting the tape further would be 'contrary to the interests of justice" as it could prejudice any future trial. Mr Bird again answered that he did not recall but added that in his belief publicising the tape was in the "public interest" as it "exposed you" and "people who voted for you had a right to know" Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird about a police statement he had made in which he had said the jury in the libel case where "not a normal jury" the witness stated he did "not recall" saying that.
Mr Sheridan then returned to the subject of the meeting at Fettes police station and put it to Mr Bird that a senior police officer asking him not to run further stories would be a "memorable thing to say" The witness again said he did "not recall" that being said. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that he was only interested in "causing maximum damage regardless of the police" and that he had "no interest in justice" and only wanted a "good story for the paper" Mr Bird replied that "we were after justice too" to which Mr Sheridan replied that "if your bosses had the slightest integrity you should have got your jotters" Mr Bird responded "that is only your opinion.
Mr Sheridan then produced a copy of the NotW from October 1st 2006 and had a page displayed on the court's video screens where readers were invited to "hear him confess" by phoning a premium rate telephone number at 50p per minute. Mr Sheridan put it to the witness that the NotW Scotland had an audience of around 1 million people and asked how much money the line had generated. Mr Bird said he had no idea.
Mr Sheridan ended the pre-lunch session of court by asking if the NotW had employed any private investigators in his case. Mr Bird replied that they had once, to try and track down Duncan Rowan before the 2006 libel trial. The witness added that the investigator had failed to find Mr Rowan.
With that the court rose with Mr Sheridan due to continue his cross-examination after lunch. A report on that session will follow later this evening.
Posted by James Doleman at 8:03 PM