As with many stories, there was a strong element of luck involved. There had been rumours for years, but our political editor Tim Donovan first learned the truth last summer, after Ken Livingstone attended an event with his children.
It took a fair deal of research to establish names, and then – by internet and borough register – to pin down the details. Over several months, a pretty full picture emerged, but we knew this was a story where getting the details right would be crucial.
Always problematic though was working out how – or indeed whether – we would ever broadcast the information. Ken Livingstone may have his critics, but even they would have to concede that he has been consistent in refusing to discuss his private life.
At the beginning of the year it wasn’t obvious at all that we would run the story. But as the weeks went by, things changed and new factors came into play.
Firstly, the controversy over his race adviser Lee Jasper raised
serious questions about issues of probity at City Hall. As the election campaign gathered pace, Ken Livingstone began to state publicly that he expected it to become ‘personal”, and that he knew tabloid newspapers and his political opponents were looking at his private life. He also started to talk about issues of morality, citing ‘bad parenting’and the absence of moral codes as a major cause of youth crime.
People close to Livingstone had made it absolutely clear that he would never depart from his formulation of silence on issues touching on his private life. We knew a formal request for an interview would be rebuffed. But we made a decision that we should ‘confront’him with it on the record, and see what response we received.
During a TV interview after a campaign event in south-west London, Tim asked him straight. He neither confirmed nor denied he had three older children, but surprised us with the openness with which he responded.
What followed was several minutes of him explaining why he couldn’t comment, including the gem that he didn’t think Londoners were bothered by the actions of consenting adults ‘as long as it doesn’t involve children, animals or vegetables”. Revealing stuff, which turned even the facts themselves into something which was much more gripping.
Many newspapers reported that Livingstone must have ‘connived’in this – that his interview had to have been pre-emptive, but on this issue, that is not his style.
Journalists have since indicated that they knew some of the details, and were close to publication. This may at least partly explain why some senior figures in the Labour party had in recent weeks been anxious to find out from Livingstone any pertinent details about his personal life. They feared they might have an impact on the campaign. But Livingstone did not tell them either. It was privacy, not secrecy, Livingstone has said.
In the end, for us, it was a combination of luck and choosing the right moment. And getting the facts right.