The Leveson Inquiry into
the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press
Matthew Baggott fut le Chef Constable du Leicestershire Constabulory entre 2002 et 2009
Témoignage de Matthew Baggott - 20.01.2011
As a result of this strategy, apart from one press conference, which was requested by the Portuguese authorities, Leicestershire Constabulary made no comment to the media in relation to the investigation and strict information security was applied to ensure that the rights of all parties and the interests of the Portuguese Police were protected. However, Leicestershire Constabulary did respond to media enquiries over our role in the investigation in confirming details that were subject of public record. This included the number of officers in various roles and the financial cost of our involvement. Due to the unprecedented media interest in the UK, a co-ordination group was set up on behalf of law enforcement agencies and government departments to co-ordinate the media interaction and ensure that a consistent stance was taken. This co-ordinating group was chaired by the Head of Corporate Communications from Leicestershire Constabulary. That group has continued to meet as required since 2007.
Throughout the enquiry there was intense local, national and international media interest and speculation over every element of the investigation. Leicestershire Constabulary received 53 FOI requests, one of which was repeated on 15 occasions, many of which came from the media. As a direct result of this and the impact that it was having on the investigation Leicestershire Constabulary developed a Freedom of Information Publication Strategy. This provided clarity about what information would be published, and at what time and to minimise the number of requests made. The fact that we developed this publication strategy became a national news story in itself.
The intense media interest meant that thousands of sightings were generated world-wide many of which were reported to Leicestershire Constabulary – each needing operational time to properly address. The Portuguese authorities informed us that this was directing attention away from their core lines of enquiries. Due to the vast quantity of local, national and international media that descended on the village of Rothley, Leicestershire, where the McCann family live, a large policing operation had to take place to ensure that villagers were able to go about their daily business. We did have complaints from local residents about the media’s behaviour. Whenever any event took place in Leicestershire relating to the investigation this again attracted huge interest to the extent that specific policing arrangements had to be made with the local airport, hotels and venues for the meetings to ensure there was no intrusion from the media.
Due to the thirst for information from the media, every individual working in Leicestershire supporting the Portuguese investigation signed a confidentiality agreement. Messages were also disseminated to all staff to make them aware that even private conversations with friends could be reported on in the media.
During the investigation the media quoted, who they claimed to be, unnamed Leicestershire police sources. These comments reported by the media bore little resemblance to the facts. However, Leicestershire Constabulary did conduct an enquiry to establish if any police employee could be identified as leaking information to the media. No such person was identified. Although I am no longer Chief Constable of Leicestershire Constabulary, I am informed that almost five years on there is still speculation within some news media about Madeleine’s disappearance and that a number of groundless assertions continue to be made about the enquiry and the actions taken by Leicestershire Constabulary, UK Law Enforcement and the Police Judiciaria.
(lecture de la première lettre envoyé aux rédactions, le 17.09.2007)
Matthew Baggott : (Nods head).
LJL : And it later of course transpired the results didn't prove that at all. He was saying the Leicestershire police knew perfectly well that the results didn't demonstrate that and therefore, really, this was an ideal opportunity off the record, unattributably, to say, "Don't go there. This rumour, this leak, if it is a leak, simply is not right." Now, it's a unique situation which will probably never happen again, and I'm very conscious that it won't necessarily help me in resolving the issues I have to resolve, I recognise that, but given that you're here, I have been concerned that the Leicestershire police haven't had the chance to answer that.
MB : Thank you.
LJL : If you can, I'd be interested. If you say, "I think I should but I'd like to go back and think about it first", I'm very comfortable for you to do whatever you think is best.
MB : Thank you, sir, for the opportunity to answer that. I do acknowledge, as you say, the uniqueness of that very difficult and sensitive and ongoing inquiry, and in relation to some of the difficulties faced by the press in dealing with a foreign jurisdiction. But as a chief constable at the time, there were a number of I think very serious considerations. One for me, and the Gold Group who were running the investigation, which was a UK effort, was very much a respect for the primacy of the Portuguese investigation. We were not in the lead in relation to their investigative strategy. We were merely dealing with enquiries at the request of the Portuguese and managing the very real issues of the local dimension of media handling, so we were not in control of the detail or the facts or where that was going. I think the second issue was there was an issue, if I recall, of Portuguese law. Their own judicial secrecy laws. I think it would have been utterly wrong to have somehow in an off the record way have breached what was a very clear legal requirement upon the Portuguese themselves.There were two issues for me which really focused around the integrity of their investigation and maintained the integrity of our response. There was also an issue for us of maintaining a very positive relationship with the Portuguese authorities themselves. I think this was an unprecedented inquiry in relation to Portugal. The media interest, their own reaction to that. And having a very positive relationship of confidence with the Portuguese authorities I think was a precursor to eventually and hopefully one day successfully resolving what happened to that poor child. So the relationship of trust and confidence would have been undermined if we had gone off the record in some way or tried to put the record straight, contrary to the way in which the Portuguese law was configured and their own leadership of that. We wanted to focus the media away from the speculation and the unfairness of that and into the search for Madeleine. So there was a number of complex things running at the same time, but even with the benefit of hindsight, sir, I'm still convinced we did the right thing and I think integrity and confidence, particularly with the Portuguese, featured very highly in our decision-making at that time.
LJL : All right. I wanted to give you --
MB : Thank you, sir.
LJL : -- now I'd made the link, the chance to deal with it.
MB : Thank you.
Ms Boon : Mr Baggott I would like to take you back to what you say in your statement about the McCann investigation but just before I do, if I can ask you about the question of leaks. You say in your statement that you take unauthorised disclosures of information very seriously.
(pp. 72-75 sur l'Irlande du Nord, le sujet principal)
MsB : I said that I would return to the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Mr Baggott. You deal with this at question 50 of your statement. That's at page 55407. There are two paragraphs I believe you've already covered, setting out that it was a Portuguese-led inquiry.
MB : Yes.
MsB : And a decision was made at an early stage that you would comply, or the police in this country would comply with the requirements of Portuguese law, including the Judicial Secrecy Act.
MB : Yes.
MsB : Over the page on 55408, internal numbering 24, third paragraph down: "Due to the vast quantity of local, national and international media that descended on the village of Rothley, Leicestershire, where the McCann family live, a large policing operation had to take place to ensure that villagers were able to go about their daily business. We did have complaints from local residents about the media's behaviour." I wanted to ask you what those complaints entailed, what they were about?
MB : I think there was a variety of complaint around disruption to daily life, which was caused by a large international media descending for the long term and the disruption that caused to people's business. Secondly, if I recall, the intrusiveness of asking residents about their thoughts and what had happened, and a degree of speculation. So it was not only a physical presence and the requirement of having to preserve people's quality of life, but on the other hand the media in going and asking questions.
MsB : You wrote a letter to editors that's at tab 10 of our bundle, 55383. Amongst who was this circulated, this letter?
MB : If I recall, this went to all the prominent editors. I can provide, I'm sure, a written record of who it went to, if you should so choose.
LJL : Don't we need to go to the next one first, because it's chronologically first in time?
MsB : It is, sir, that's quite right. The first one is page 55384, tab 11.
MB : Thank you.
MsB : "Since the beginning of May 2007 my force, Leicestershire Constabulary, has had the responsibility for co-ordinating the UK law enforcement response to Madeleine McCann's disappearance. As the Chief Constable I have become increasingly concerned regarding the continued speculation and rumour surrounding this investigation, hence this exceptional request of you. "I would be most grateful if you could ensure restraint in reporting on the case while the Portuguese authorities complete their inquiries and conclude their judicial processes. Over recent weeks I have been surprised at the reporting of some alleged facts that, as far as I am aware, bear little relation to the evidence. I am deeply concerned at the implications that this may have for all involved. "Recent reports have quoted anonymous Leicestershire police sources. I am confident that the very few officers who know the detail of the inquiry have not and will not divulge confidential detail to the media, nor do they brief others who have provided specialist assistance or who have a legitimate interest in the inquiry. "I know you will appreciate that the implications of Portuguese judicial secrecy mean that we are not in a position to release information, brief the press on the investigation's progress, or confirm or deny any specifics relating to the case. "At the heart of this inquiry is an innocent little girl who went missing on 3 May. Our focus remains on doing everything in our power to assist the judicial police and the Portuguese authorities to find out what has happened to Madeleine." I won't read out the letter on 8 October, but that's a repeat of that request, is it?
MB : Yes.
MsB : What response, if any, or reaction did you get to those letters?
MB : If I recall, there was one complaint made to the Press Complaints Commission, which resulted in a noting of the file, but the speculation did continue in spite of the first letter, and then I felt obliged to write the second letter, again appealing to the better nature of the media and to understand the complexity of this situation. So I think the fact that I wrote two letters is indicative of itself of the concerns of the UK effort to try and find Madeleine.
LJL : Ms Boon's question was what reaction did you get to these letters?
MsB : Yes.
MB : Not hugely positive, because the speculation continued.
LJL : And you say you filed a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. Would Leicestershire have that, both the complaint and their response?
MB : I think we could provide it, sir. I shall make inquiries if that's what you wish.
LJL : I would like to see how the Press Complaints Commission dealt in writing with the complaint you made, if that's not inconvenient.
MB : Certainly, sir.
LJL : Thank you.
MsB : I have been asked by a core participant to ask you whether you felt that you had the necessary tools to prevent or at least object to the misreporting in the press about Madeleine's disappearance and Leicestershire police's involvement.
MB : I think there could have been a greater voice or a greater authority to explain the boundaries of what that press reporting should have been. The difficulty I think there is with this is it involves a European dimension as well as a national one, in which case -- but I think there could be some stronger guidelines and consequences. That said, without going into the detail, I am aware that there were civil proceedings taken in the following months, which by themselves exercised a degree of constraint and control over the reporting.
LJL : Yes. The problem is: is that good enough? Because it may be that the Drs McCann can recover damages, but to such extent as damage has been done, the damage has been done.
MB :: I think in this particular case, sir, the speculation, if it had been a UK court, may well have 023undermined the fairness of subsequent proceedings against whoever was charged with that offence, and secondly, it certainly hindered the inquiries to find and trace Madeleine simply because of the reaction that came from the media speculation.
MsB : I've also been asked by a core participant to ask you about the confidentiality agreement that you asked officers to sign. Do you feel that the signing of the confidentiality agreement added anything, because of course the people who were working for the investigation were already bound by a duty of confidence?
MB : The confidentiality agreement, just to give context, was something that was put together by the Gold Group who were running the inquiry as part of the UK effort, not by myself as chief constable.
MsB : That's a way of focusing the officers' mind on the confidentiality --
MB : I think that's right.
MsB : the particular sensitivity, their particular obligation. The obligation applies always, but to remind them in that instance how important it is?
MB : It certainly is going the extra mile and I think it was a good thing to do.
LJL : It's not just how important it is, because it always is, but it also applies notwithstanding this is not a UK investigation.
MB : Yes.
MsB : Yes. Would there be any lessons learned from your experience dealing with that investigation that you would wish to share with the inquiry or have you covered everything that you wanted to say about it?
MB : I think the inquiry is ongoing. I think probably the lesson to be learnt is probably a greater understanding of the complexity and consequences of speculation and loose reporting of facts. And I think that's a serious issue for the press to consider, because in the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) I have an obligation under the Human Rights Act across the whole course of the human rights. I don't think some of this speculation was either necessary, it clearly wasn't on the boundaries of legality in relation to the subsequent proceedings. It certainly wasn't practical and it certainly wasn't proportionate. I think sometimes there is a useful human rights template to apply to how the press use information. In this particular case, I think a greater understanding of consequence would have been appropriate.
MsB : Looking to the future now, Mr Baggott, first of all, do you have any suggestions for how we preserve the good, the full, frank and effective communication between the police and the media but at the same time maintaining a sufficient degree of oversight, avoiding the use of the world control, but oversight to ensure that relationships are appropriate?
MB : I think there is some very good practice which has been developed across the UK. I think the issue now is one of consistency to make sure that the same standards apply everywhere. I think there are some very good reports in relation to the HMIC already produced and Elizabeth Filkin's work, which provide some very good templates for us to reconsider our current policy, our national consistency, against that. I think the balance has to be between giving local colleagues the ability to storytell with the right ethical guidance and support, which is entirely appropriate in relation to confidence building, whilst making sure that the very real issues of the inappropriate misuse of information, whether that's for personal gain or simply through gossip, still remains under tight control. I think our relationships with the media probably need to be reasserted in terms of what the man or woman in the street would think, and that for me is about professionalism and contact for a purpose, and maybe we need to readjust that. The personal side I spoke about opening statement, I think it should be amicable and it should be very friendly, but it should always be professional and for a purpose.
MsB : Ms Young, in your statement you place an emphasis on the need for the application of professional judgment and you would have concerns about any rigidity that prevented the exercise of judgment in that way. Is there anything else that you would like to add or any suggestions you might have on this?