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The BBC's Nick Higham
"PCC chairman says the case shows self-regulation by newspapers is working"
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Sunday, 5 December, 1999, 00:54 GMT
Press warned over witness payments
Gary Glitter Glitter: Trial raised important issues for the media

The Press Complaints Commission has laid down new ground rules to curb the excesses of cheque-book journalism.

All this could have been avoided if the newspaper had made it clear no payment would be made in the event of a conviction
Press Complaints Commission
It says payments to witnesses in criminal cases - which depend on the defendant being convicted - can never be justified.

The warning from the Press Complaints Commission follows the controversy surrounding prosecution of the rock star Gary Glitter for the alleged assault of a 14-year-old girl.

Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, was acquitted of assaulting the girl, but it emerged during the trial that she had signed a contract with The News of the World to tell her story.

In remarks to the jury, the trial judge was highly critical of the arrangement between the newspaper and the alleged victim, now identified as mother-of-three Alison Brown.

He said the deal, from which she stood to make 25,000, on top of 10,000 she had already been paid, was "greatly to be deprecated".

Glitter was jailed for four months on the day of the acquittal, after admitting a separate offence of downloading pornographic images of young children on to his computer.

Instructions have been given at the News of the World to ensure that there is no ambiguity in future contracts
News of the World
The Press Complaints Commission investigated the case following a complaint from a member of the public.

Clause 16 (Payment for Articles) of its Code of Practice requires that journalists must take every possible step to ensure that no financial dealings influence the evidence that a witness may give.

The PCC said that although the paper had published stories about the relationship between the Ms Brown and Gary Glitter, in both 1987 and 1993, the police did not pursue the allegations.

A further contract between the paper and Ms Brown offered her payment of a further 25,000 for detailed account of the relationship if Glitter was convicted on the child pornography charges.

But the contract was entered into in November 1997 before Glitter had been charged with any potential offence relating to her, and when she was neither a witness nor a potential witness in criminal proceedings.

The PCC concluded that it was "not an unreasonable supposition for the newspaper to reach that, given Miss Brown's testimony had been so long in the public domain without any action by the police, it was unlikely that she would ever become central to a criminal trial involving Gadd."

The Commission found that the newspaper followed its code in that:

  • At the time the contract was signed Ms Brown was neither a witness nor potential witness and there were no current criminal proceedings.
  • There was a substantial public interest defence in that the stories were detecting and exposing crime.
  • The code's terms on transparency of payments were fully complied with.
  • There was no evidence that the contract prompted Ms Brown to change her story.

    However the commission did say that after Glitter was charged with assaulting Ms Brown, the terms of the contract might have been taken to mean that she would be paid in relation to a conviction in respect of the charges involving herself.

    "This ambiguity clearly played an important part in the trial, the judge's summing up and the verdict," the commission said.

    Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham: 'Self-regulation is working'
    It might have been wise, it said, to have included a clause in the contract which made clear that in the event that she did become a witness, the contract would no longer be binding.

    "All this could have been avoided if the newspaper had made it clear to Miss Brown that no payment would be made in the event of a conviction in relation to any charges involving herself.

    "In the view of the Commission, the failure to do this caused the Code to be breached since the contract could be construed to provide a conditional payment in the event of a conviction relating to Miss Brown."

    The Commission warned that any contracts in the future must ensure in an explicit manner that no money is payable dependent on the outcome of a criminal trial.

    Self-regulation 'working'

    In a comment piece responding to the adjudication the newspaper said:"Instructions have been given at the News of the World to ensure that there is no ambiguity in future contracts."

    In an article in the newspaper, the PCC chairman Lord Wakeham said he believed that self-regulation was working and there was no need for legislation banning all payments to witnesses.

    He also warned: "Banning payment to witnesses before and during a trial might make them more likely to exaggerate - not less so.

    "Unless there is a total ban on all payments for witnesses' stories (extended to books and TV interviews as well) and it is without time limit - which would be almost impossible to implement - witnesses could be even more prone to embellish their stories to get a better price after a trial ends."

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    See also:
    25 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
    Witness payments face ban
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Press on trial after Glitter case
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    All that Glitters isn't gold
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Glitter restricted by sex offenders list
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Netting the pornographers
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Glitter cleared of sex charges
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Cash for court 'confessions'
    12 Nov 99 |  UK
    Glitter jailed over child porn
    13 Nov 99 |  UK
    Anger at Glitter sentence

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