The Sun’s picture editor today expressed regret over the newspaper’s coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance.
John Edwards, who has been picture editor at the tabloid since 2000, told the Leveson Inquiry that the paper’s coverage in Portugal had been ‘spot on’but added: “We may not have been so good when it came back to Leicestershire, no.”
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Edwards suggested that in similar situations in future the press pack should be limited to one photographer and one TV crew to supply images to all news outlets.
He told the inquiry that he was the father of a seven-year-old daughter at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance and that he felt ‘tremendous sympathy’for the parents.
‘Looking back on it now I don’t think it was right that Mrs McCann had to drive through that crowd of photographers and TV cameras,” he said.
He added: ‘If my wife was in that I wouldn’t be happy, no.”
Asked by counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC whether that assessment had been made at the time, he replied: ‘Probably not, no.”
Edwards, who joined the paper as assistant picture editor in 1992, also defended using photos of Tinlan Hong, the mother of the child of actor and anti-phone-hacking campaigner Hugh Grant.
She was granted an injunction in November after claiming she had been ‘hounded’by photographers camped outside her home following the birth.
Edwards said that the pictures of Hong were taken in the street without her baby present, and that when the PCC later issued an anti-harassment order the newspaper’s photographer left the scene.
Smart: No knowledge of phone-hacking
The Sun’s showbiz editor Gordon Smart told the inquiry that he had no knowledge of phone-hacking taking place at either The Sun or the News of the World.
He was also questioned about claims made to the inquiry last year by film director Chris Atkins, who planted fake celebrity stories in tabloid newspapers for his 2009 documentary Starsuckers.
“We called them up, we gave them fantastical lies, and they wrote them down and put them in their newspapers the next day without anyone calling up and asking anyone whether or not it might be true,” Atkins told the inquiry.
He claimed The Sun ran two such false celebrity stories: one about Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding being a fan of the physicist Stephen Hawking and another involving film director Guy Ritchie injuring himself while juggling cutlery in a restaurant.
Smart said he knew both the celebrities well. He called Harding’s PR, who told him they had no problem with the story and that it ‘sounds like her”.
He also said he knew that Ritchie had recently been ‘drunk and misbehaving’in a restaurant, adding that the story could be true.
Lord Justice Leveson told Smart that it would be ‘quite remarkable’and ‘bizarre’if the stories Atkins had made up happened to be true.
“It is bizarre – it’s the name of the column,” replied Smart.
Smart told the inquiry that there was a constant pressure to bring in exclusive stories and that staff at The Sun often liken working at paper to being a centre forward for Manchester United.
‘If you don’t score you’ll get the hairdryer treatment or get dropped,’he said.
Internet is the ‘elephant in the room’
The paper’s royal editor Duncan Larcombe also gave evidence to the inquiry this morning, and he also denied having any knowledge of phone-hacking at The Sun.
He described the internet as the ‘elephant in the room’because it was where photographs rejected by the mainstream press ended up being published.
Larcombe said that every member of the public was now a ‘potential paparazzi’photographer and that pictures of Prince Harry in a pub or club, for example, could be published on the internet within a second.
He said the prince potentially had no privacy at all unless ‘hiding inside one of his castles”.
It was rare for the paper to published a story that Clarence House was unhappy with said Larcombe, who claimed his paper had a ‘very good relationship’with their PR team, citing numerous occasions on which the paper had pulled stories or refused to run photographs after consulting them.
Larcombe, who has been at The Sun for ten years, also distanced himself from comments made by the paper’s former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who said he would often ‘lob’stories into the paper without checking them.
Larcombe claimed that if he did the same he would be ‘lucky to have a job even in Tescos”.
“It just doesn’t work like that on Royal stories and frankly it doesn’t work like that on Fleet Street any more,” he said.