The following are the conclusions by the Press Council from the book "Press Conduct In The Sutcliffe Case", a report by the Press Council (1983), in regards to the chequebook journalism which took place, both payments to persons who could reasonably be expected to be witnesses in criminal proceedings, and offers or payments to relatives and associates of the suspect. (NOTE: The "Brief Summary" sections in Chapter 16 are a paraphrased version of the report to give the salient points from the publication. The two adjudications in Chapter 17 are an edited and condensed version of the original text of the report.)
Chapter 15: GENERAL CONCLUSIONS
Chapter 17: MRS HILL'S COMPLAINTS
(NOTE: Source (used by permission): The Press Council, "Press Conduct In The Sutcliffe
Payments To Witnesses
15.1 The first paragraph of the Declaration of Principle refers "to any person known or reasonably expected to be a witness in criminal proceedings already begun." In the course of the present inquiry it has become necessary to consider the second category referred to--a person "reasonably expected to be" a witness in criminal proceedings.
15.2 The Press Council is concerned lest it should become a practice for newspapers when charged with a breach of the Declaration to defend themselves by saying that they could not reasonably expect this or that person to be a witness and that it was only because the proceedings took an unexpected turn that the particular individual became a witness. The Council is not likely to look sympathetically at such a plea. If there is one thing that experienced newspaper editors can safely predict about criminal proceedings it is that they frequently take a course different from that contemplated before they began. Thus in a case where the police hold signed confessions from an accused person it is an event of everyday occurrence for the accused to repudiate the confessions and to say that he was forced to sign them. The prosecution may then have to give strict proof of its case and the defence will want to call all its witnesses, including (for example) witnesses to support an alibi. Again, in the case of a serious crime like murder it may appear in the early stages that there is bound to be a plea of guilty. But at the trial the defence of diminished responsibility may be raised, thereby rendering relevant and admissible the evidence of a broad spectrum of witnesses.
15.3 The earlier in the criminal proceedings the question is asked "Will this person be a witness?" the more unreliable the answer is likely to be. In this inquiry it has emerged that certain editors were purporting to decide in the course of the week following the first charging of Mr Sutcliffe that particular people would not be called as witnesses. At that stage no counsel had been retained on Mr Sutcliffe's behalf and the precise handling of the case at the trial could not have been decided. The Council intends to adopt the approach that reasonable expectation (in the context of a person "reasonably expected to be a witness") must be judged objectively and from the standpoint of an experienced newspaper editor doing his best to assess the variety of ways in which the case may develop when it comes to trial.
15.4 The Council believes that, approached in this way, the provision in its Declaration of Principle about payments to witnesses or potential witnesses is strong and embracing enough not to need amendments or extension.
15.5 There has been more widespread public criticism of the press for offering payments to relatives or associates of a criminal--stigmatised as "blood money"--in this case than in any previous case. The Press Council shares the abhorrence and distaste there is for press conduct which enables those connected with a criminal to profit from that connection.
15.6 It has considered whether the incidence of such offers and the abhorrence and distaste there is for them justify the suggestion that chequebook journalism or some forms of it should be banned by law. The Press Council does not favour further statutory restrictions on the press. It believes a legal prohibition of payments to people for their stories is neither wholly desirable nor likely to prove practicable. The Council is satisfied, however, that unless the press itself regulates its conduct, calls for such legislation are likely to continue and eventually to prevail. Indeed, unless newspapers demonstrate more effectively than several have done in this case, their support for the spirit of the Council's Declaration of Principle, the Council itself would find it difficult to argue against statutory restriction of the payments they make for stories or information.
15.7 The Declaration of Principle barred payments for articles to persons engaged in crime. It did not extend to bar payments to people related to or associated with those engaged in crime.
15.8 The Press Council has now come to the conclusion that such payments are wrong. It believes that a large body of public opinion shares that view, however common such payments may have been.
15.9 While the Council recognises that conceivably in an exceptional case, publication of stories or pictures from associates of a criminal could be justified by some over-riding consideration of public interest (which is not the same as merely being "of interest to the public"), and an editor might be able to demonstrate that the disclosure would have been impossible without payment, generally there is no such justification.
15.10 In future the Council proposes to judge cases on these lines: Just as it is wrong that the evildoer should benefit from his crime so it is wrong that persons associated with the criminal should derive financial benefit from trading on that association. What gives value to such stories and pictures is the link with criminal activity. In effect the stories and pictures are sold on the back of crime. Associates include family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Newspapers should not pay them, either directly or indirectly through agents, for such material and should not be party to publishing it if there is reason to believe payment has been made for it. The practice is particularly abhorrent where the crime is one of violence and payment involves callous disregard for the feelings of victims and their families.
Chapter 16: PAYMENTS AND PROPOSALS
16.1 The Council considered the conduct of several specific newspapers and a magazine in making payments or offers to people concerned in the case or to their relatives or associates. It judged that conduct on the basis of the principles set out in Chapter 15.
The Sun (Brief Summary)
Mr Ronald Barker gave evidence at the trial that he had received £700 from the Sun for photographs of Mr Sutcliffe's wedding and had given the Sun his diary for 1977. Mr Henry Douglas, legal manager of News Group Newspaper, said that Mr Barker was not prepared to let them see the material unless a small payment was made. When it was realised that the diary could be relevant to the trial, the Sun handled it over to the police. The diary was not used by the Sun until after the trial, and then only marginally.
16.6 The payment by The Sun to Mr Barker for his photographs and diaries was a breach of the Council's existing Declaration of Principle being a payment to someone who could reasonably have been expected to be a witness, and deserved censure. A redeeming feature in this case is that when The Sun procured the diary and saw its relevance to the case, the editor immediately made it available to the police. That was a proper step to take.
Daily Star (Brief Summary)
The paper's legal manager, Mr lan Pollard, confirming it had paid Miss Reivers £4,000, and in deciding to offer a payment, had learned from official sources, the police, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, that Mr Sutcliffe would plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, it would be acceptable to the prosecution, and there would be no trial on whether he would be responsible for the deaths, or that Miss Reivers would be a witness. Miss Reivers signed the contract on 19 January 1981 and was paid £1,000 on signing and a further £3,000 when the trial concluded. Provisions of the contract required her not to grant interviews to any other newspaper, periodical, or through radio or television until 28 days after the end of the trial. Sir Thomas Hetherington QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, in reply to when information about the nature of and acceptability of Mr Sutcliffe's plea was discussed with newspapers, stated that the possibility that Mr Sutcliffe might plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was discussed on 14 April 1981. His press officer, in answer to questions from a number of newspapers, proffered that it might be acceptable to the prosecution. Nothing more specific was said, and the press officer would not have been in any position to make any comment until, at the earliest, late March, or early April.
16.17 The Press Council believes it should have been obvious to any journalist that Miss Reivers, who was in the car with Mr Sutcliffe when he was detained, could reasonably be expected to be a witness if any trial of the facts took place.
16.18 It certainly was not possible to rule out such a trial at the time when the Daily Star entered into its contract with Miss Reivers in mid-January, well before Mr Sutcliffe's committal for trial from the magistrates' court. Sir Thomas Hetherington, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has told the Council it was only at a much later stage in mid-April, fifteen days before Mr Sutcliffe's appearance at the Old Bailey that the Director of Public Prosecutions' press officer told newspapers, including the Daily Star, that a plea of guilty to manslaughter "might be acceptable to the prosecution." It was not until late March at the earliest that the prosecution itself was in a position to decide whether such a plea would be acceptable to it.
16.19 The Daily Star should not have made a contract to pay Miss Reivers for her story. It is no answer to a breach of the Declaration forbidding payment to a potential witness for a newspaper to say that it did not expect her to be a "material" or "important" witness.
16.20 The Press Council censures the Daily Star for breaking the Declaration of Principle.
Sunday Mirror (Brief Summary)
The Sunday Mirror did not make any payments to any witnesses in the case. The editor, Mr Robert Edwards, did say that they did pay £60 to Peter Sutcliffe's brother Michael who spent many hours with Sunday Mirror reporters on background material. The payment was for his time, and he was not quoted in the paper's story. A total of £1,170 was paid to 12 individuals, and only in two cases did they exceed £100, and represented little more than payment for their time and effort in talking to reporters. The larger sums, £500 and £250, were paid to people whose stories gave valuable insights into Mr Sutcliffe's personality and character. The paper was interested in interviewing Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe, and two of the Sunday Mirror reporters, Mr Reynolds and Mr Hendry, kept in frequent contact with her solicitor, but at no time was any offer of money made for her story, and no approach was made to her directly. An interview with Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe was published by the Sunday Mirror on 3 May 1981, and no money whatsoever was offered or paid to her.
16.34 The Press Council accepts the account given to it by the editor of the Sunday Mirror. The newspaper neither paid nor offered any money to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe or to anyone likely to have been called as a witness at the trial. Its conduct had been consistent with the Declaration of Principle and other decisions of the Press Council throughout, and the Council makes no criticism of it.
Daily Express (Brief Summary)
The editor of the Daily Express, then Mr Firth, stated that no payments were made to any member of the Sutcliffe family. When Mr Macgill, Mrs Sutcliffe solicitor announced he would receive offers for her story, Mr Firth stated the paper had put in a written request, but no money was offered. The Daily Express did make the following payments: £40 to the divorced wife of Sutcliffe's best friend (Melissa Birdsall) who had been told by her former husband that Sutcliffe was the Ripper, £600 to Robin Holland, who was at one time married to one of Sutcliffe's sisters, for his help on background and aid in tracing, £100 to David Bottomley, the man who taught Sutcliffe to drive a lorry, and £200 to the mother of a former grave-digging colleague of Sutcliffe, for the grave-digging picture. The Press Council were able to obtain notes and letters from members of the Daily Express staff. One from John Alley (Daily Express) and Sara White (Daily Mail) on 6 January 1981 offered £50,000 for an exclusive interview with Mrs Sonia Sutcliffe and her parents Mr and Mrs Szurma. An undated handwritten note from Allen Rees offered £80,000 for her exclusive story. Dated 6 January 1981 was a letter to Mr Bohdan Szurma from Mr M. J. Steemson, deputy news editor of the Daily Express saying Alan Rees offer did not represent their final offer. Two days later on 8 January he wrote again enclosing a letter dictated to him by his editor, Mr Firth.
16.45 On 5 January 1981 when the offer of £80,000 was made to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe on behalf of the Daily Express she was, in the Press Council's view, clearly a potential witness and the making of an offer to her was a breach of the Declaration of Principle. In future such an offer would also be barred by the Council as one to a relative or associate of a man accused of crime.
16.46 The Press Council cannot accept the then editor's statement that it has never been the policy of the Daily Express to pay money to the relations of criminals. It finds that statement impossible to reconcile with the correspondence which has been revealed.
16.47 Nor can it accept the then editor's explanation for the misleading answers he wrote to the Press Council earlier, that he had forgotten that during the 48 hours after the story broke the Daily Express was considering offering money for the family's story. It finds such a lapse of memory astonishing.
16.48 Although the bids made by the reporters in handwritten notes may have been made initially without the editor's knowledge as he has said, the second of them, of £80,000 was inferentially increased by the deputy news editor's letter, and the editor's own letter of 8 January 1981 clearly contemplated payment.
16.49 The Press Council censures the Daily Express for its breach of the Declaration of Principle and deplores the attempt it made to mislead the Council.
Daily Mirror (Brief Summary)
The Daily Mirror did not pay any money to any member of the Sutcliffe family, or to anyone who could conceivably become a witness. Money was paid to freelance journalists for pictures and stories, three payments--of £20, £30 and £50--were made to the members of the public for picture research help. After Sutcliffe's arrest, the Daily Mirror considered buying the story of Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe until Friday, 9 January, when offers of any kind were withdrawn on instruction from the editor. The Daily Mirror also were interested in buying the story of George Oldfield, until he decided he did not want to sell his story.
16.57 The Daily Mirror has been frank in the replies it made to the Press Council from the start of the inquiry.
16.58 The Daily Mirror was right to withdraw at an early stage its interest in making an offer to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe whom the Council regards as having been a potential witness.
16.59 The payments made by the Daily Mirror are not the subject of criticism.
News of the World (Brief Summary)
The News of the World, on 7 June 1981, had a front page exclusive interview with Mrs Sonia Sutcliffe and stated that it had not paid any money to her. Mr Henry Douglas, the legal manager of News Group Newspapers, on behalf of the editor, stated that the paper had decided not to approach possible witnesses, but when it appeared Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe would not be a witness, it made approaches for her story. Two letters, both dated 7 January 1981, were from Mr Kenneth Donlan, then the editor of the News of the World. The first letter stated that after conversations between Mr Macgill and the paper's chief crime reporter, Mr Charles Sandell, and another reporter, Mr Keith Beabey, the editor was confirming the News of the World's interest in Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe's, her parents' and her husband's stories and was prepared to pay a substantial fee for the exclusive rights. The second letter announced that the News of the World wished to withdraw from negotiations for her story and stated "if there is any change in our policy I shall contact you again but this is most unlikely." Another letter, dated 7 April 1981, from Miss Rosalie Shann, introduced herself as a freelance journalist writing on behalf of the News of the World and stated there obviously would be a considerable amount of money involved, that would be sorted out by the editor and Mr Macgill or Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe. A further letter, dated 27 April 1981, by the assistant editor, Mr Kuttner, to Mr Macgill, reiterated the News of the World's interest in a contract for exclusive publication of Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe's story and mentioned a fee of not less than £110,000.
Findings--News of the World
16.75 The curious alternating pattern of the News of the World's expressions of interest and disinterest in buying Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe's story appears to the Press Council to have been related to the expectation at different times of whether she was likely to be called as a witness.
16.76 In the beginning, the News of the World expressed interest through Mr Donlan's first letter. But it quickly withdrew that interest later the same day. In the Council's view the withdrawal was probably prompted by the reflection that Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe could be expected to be a witness at her husband's trial.
16.77 Later, after mid-April, it became apparent that there was unlikely to be a trial of the facts in view of the information given to newspapers by the Director of Public Prosecutions' department. In that event, Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe would probably not be called as a witness; the News of the World's interest in buying her story revived; and it made the offer of 27 April 1981.
16.78 Soon afterwards, on the judge's refusal to accept her husband's pleas of not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter, Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe became a potential witness again. The News of the World's interest in her story was not pursued.
16.79 The newspaper did not, therefore, act in breach of the Declaration which bans payments to potential witnesses and is not to be criticised by the Council on that account.
16.80 In future, however, approaches of the kind it made to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe will be judged against the Council's view that payments should not be offered by newspapers to the relatives or associates of persons accused of crime.
16.81 The Press Council regrets the lack of candour shown towards it by the News of the World in this inquiry, leaving it to discover the full nature and extent of the approaches which that newspaper made to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe. The News of the World knew that those approaches were highly relevant to the Press Council's inquiry and ought to have disclosed them.
16.82 The Council has considered the News of the World's view that the correspondence it had with Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe and her solicitor should remain confidential. If the Press Council is to discharge its duty to investigate press conduct and maintain press standards it must not only have access to such material but be able to make such use of it as the Council finds necessary.
The Observer (Brief Summary)
The Observer made no payments for information to any member of the Sutcliffe family, or to any non-journalist. At one stage there was discussion with Mr Piers Paul Read about the prospect of a book about the case, and an approach was made to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe inviting her to co-operate and share in the proceeds on 15 April 1981 when there seemed no likelihood that she would be called as a witness. The offer was immediately withdrawn when the possibility arose that she might be called. The project has since been abandoned.
16.89 The Observer was candid with the Press Council from the start of its inquiry. It did not make an approach to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe until there were firm indications that there would be no trial of the facts and that she would not therefore be a witness. As soon as it became apparent later that there would be a trial before a jury after all and that Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe might be a witness, The Observer promptly withdrew its offer and cancelled the project.
16.90 The Press Council has no criticism to make of the conduct of The Observer. Different considerations would arise in similar circumstances in the future, however, in view of the Council's view now that payments should not be made or offered to the relatives or associates of persons accused of crime.
Yorkshire Post (Brief Summary)
The editor of the Yorkshire Post, Mr John Edwards, stated that the Yorkshire Post did not make any payments to the Sutcliffe family, or to friends, for information they based their stories on. However, two letters from Mr John Webb of the Yorkshire Post to Mr Macgill were subsequently obtained by the Press Council. The first letter dated 13 January 1981 included the statement that if Mrs Sutcliffe waited six months before she signed a press contract it would "leave her open to a long and persistent period of harassment from papers less responsible than the Yorkshire Post." The second letter, undated and handwritten, stated "that after the trial is ended, the value of anything she might have to say to the press will be dramatically reduced. If she was thinking along the lines of giving the proceeds either to charity or the victims' relatives--as the Yorkshire Post would rather have it--then the merit of speaking now rather than later is obvious. The price of the story--obviously difficult to determine exactly--would be £1m on the day the trial ended to perhaps only £100,000 in a few months."
16.96 The Press Council's original letter of inquiry to the Yorkshire Post in May 1981 called for a candid answer. It did not get one. Instead the editor's reply while strictly true was incomplete and was an attempt to mislead the Council.
16.97 The Yorkshire Post should not have made the offer it did implicitly in its letter of 13 January 1981 at a time when Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe could reasonably have been expected to be called as a witness. The Press Council condemns it for doing so. It is possible that the second, more specific but undated, offer was also made at a stage when Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe could have been expected to be a witness.
16.98 Any such offers in future would also be condemned by the Council as offers to the relatives or associates of persons accused of crime.
Daily Mail (Brief Summary)
(See Mrs Hill's complaint against the Daily Mail, reported below in Chapter 17.) The following incident was considered separately from Mrs Hill's complaint. Information from Mr John Brownlow, chief constable of South Yorkshire, was given to the council about an incident that took place before the press conference given by Miss Reivers and Miss Hall at Sheffield police headquarters on Monday 5 January 1981. The divisional chief superintendent was asked by a Daily Mail reporter to tell Miss Reivers that her boyfriend had been approached and there would be £5,000 if he (the reporter) got her story first. The superintendent refused. Later, before the press conference, the superintendent was asked by Daily mail reporter Will Price to pass a note to Miss Reivers, believed to have again make an offer of £5,000 and asked her not to talk to the rest of the press. As it was the two women's press conference, the superintendent took the view that the note should be delivered, but when Miss Reivers was told, she declined and the note torn up. The managing editor said he could not dispute the facts, but that the actions of the reporter were unknown any executive on the paper, and that matters could not have gone further without approval, which would not have been given.
16.103 The Press Council condemns as a breach of the Declaration of Principle the approach to buy the story of a woman who clearly could reasonably be expected to be a witness.
Woman's Own (Brief Summary)
On 6 January 1981, Woman's Own sent three identical telegrams to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe, at different addresses where she might be found, offering a fee and suggesting the formalisation of a contract for her story. At the time Woman's Own thought that the story might be right for a women's weekly, but later decided that it was not right for it or its readers, due to the shock, horror, and sheer sordidness coming from the trial. The story was not pursued.
16.108 The overtures made by Woman 's Own to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe were not followed up. In future such approaches would be prohibited by the Council's bar on offers or payments to relatives and associates.
The Star, Sheffield (Brief Summary)
The Star, Sheffield, published a world-exclusive 2,500-word article based on interviews with Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe at the end of the trial. No payment whatsoever was made for the interviews. The editor of the Star, Mr David Flynn, told the council of some of the difficulties encountered in covering the story. They found that many of those involved in any way closely with Mr Sutcliffe, that they wished to interview, had received payment or offers, or were expecting payments or they would not talk to them. One gravedigger colleague of Mr Sutcliffe refused to say anything, he had been paid money by another newspaper. Because of the Star's policy of not paying money in exchange for information, they were rather left out of the race. One of Mr Sutcliffe's brothers told them that most members of the family had been "bought up", and when visited, were not prepared to talk. While the exclusive article was being prepared, bribes were offered by other journalists to members of Mr Flynn's staff. Mr Ian Macgill was made an oral offer of £10,000 and a job if he would turn over his article. He had at least two other offers of around £5,000 in exchange for information. Another reporter for the Star was offered £5,000 to reveal Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe's secret address during the trial. 'I am proud that my staff remained loyal to their newspaper and upheld the traditions of honest journalism in an exemplary manner,' Mr Flynn added.
Findings--The Star, Sheffield
16.118 The Star, Sheffield, did not break the Declaration of Principle and the Press Council makes no criticism of its conduct.
17.1 The parents of the last murder victim, Jacqueline Hill, launched their own campaign against the conduct of newspapers. Mrs Doreen Hill, of Ormesby, Middlesbrough, whose husband Jack died during their campaign, pressed to a conclusion two of the four complaints she made to the Council.
17.2 Each of her complaints against the two newspapers, the Sunday People and the Daily Mail, had two prongs. One was that they rewarded, either financially or otherwise, people who might reasonably be expected to be witnesses in the murder trial.
17.3 The second was the allegation of "blood money". Her solicitors; Appleby, Hope & Matthews, of Normanby. Middlesbrough, accused the newspapers of making or offering payments or other pecuniary benefits either directly or indirectly to associates, relatives or persons connected with the murderer.
17.4 The Council, in its Declaration of Principle, has condemned such payments it made to witnesses. The other complaint broke new ground.
17.5 The complaints were investigated separately from the Council's general inquiry, although the editor of the Sunday People, Mr Geoffrey Pinnington, contended that this was undesirable on procedural grounds.
17.6 Mrs Hill argued her case against the Sunday People before a complaints committee hearing. Because the editor of the Daily Mail, Sir David English, declined to appear in her presence there was no oral hearing of the complaint against his newspaper.
Adjudication on Sunday People Complaint
(NOTE: The following is an edited version of the adjudication.)
Mr Trevor Birdsall was an old friend of Mr Sutcliffe. The story he had to tell was of being with him on visits to red light districts on nights when women were attacked, and of telling the police of his suspicions of Mr Sutcliffe later, first in an anonymous letter and then directly when he visited the police.
In the Press Council's view it was likely that if there were to be a contested trial at all, either about the facts or about Mr Sutcliffe's state of mind, Mr Birdsall would be called as a witness at it by one side or the other. When the Sunday People first made its arrangements with Mr Birdsall and Mrs Conroy the possibility of a contested trial could not be ruled out even though it was known from the police that Mr Sutcliffe had confessed to the crimes.
Although a document dated 9 January 1981 records their receipt of £500 "in part payment for the full exclusive story of Mr Trevor Birdsall and Mrs Gloria Conroy", no written contract was entered into with Mr Birdsall for his exclusive story. From 10 January 1981 (that is six days after the news of Mr Sutcliffe's arrest), Mr Birdsall began to receive a sum of £80 a week from the Sunday People. These weekly payments continued until 25 April 1981. The editor has assured the Council that these payments were ex gratia and that Mr Birdsall was told that they were "not to be regarded as payments for his story". The editor has not however explained to the Council how Mr Birdsall was told to regard them.
On 17 January 1981 a contract was entered into with Mrs Conroy for her exclusive story for publication in the Sunday People. The payment provisions in this contract were so structured that while Mrs Conroy received immediately £200 for the grant of the exclusive rights, her entitlement to receive the balance of £1,800 was expressly made conditional upon the publication of her account in the newspaper. The nature of the publication which it was hoped to achieve is made clear by clauses (9) and (10) of the contract. Mrs Conroy was to get a further £200 after the criminal proceedings were concluded if, by using "her best endeavours" and "all lawful means", she succeeded in "prevailing upon" her friend Mr Birdsall to grant the Sunday People an exclusive interview so as to enable the newspaper to publish her account "in conjunction with" Mr Birdsall's "exclusive account of his own relationship with" Mr Sutcliffe.
In the opinion of the Council the object of these arrangements viewed as a whole was to put Mr Birdsall on the Sunday People's payroll from shortly after the arrest until the conclusion of the forthcoming trial and to procure, through the instrumentality of Mrs Conroy and the financial rewards held out, that at the end of the case Mr Birdsall's account of his relationship with Mr Sutcliffe would be exclusively available to the Sunday People. The fact that Mr Birdsall was the Sunday People's "man" is further evidenced by the facts (i) that when the police wanted to contact him they did so through the newspaper (ii) that the newspaper brought him to London for the trial and (iii) that he was put up at a London hotel at the newspaper's expense.
It is quite clear from what the editor has told the Council that the Sunday People thought it prudent while the criminal proceedings were pending not to enter into a direct contract with Mr Birdsall for his exclusive story. They decided that in all the circumstances it would "be better to err on the side of caution" despite the fact that they were as they say "absolutely certain" that Mr Birdsall could not be regarded as a potential witness within the meaning of the Council's Declaration of Principle. The Council has already recorded its view that the Sunday People was wrong on the question of whether Mr Birdsall was a potential witness.
The newspaper was also wrong if it thought that the ex gratia weekly payments to Mr Birdsall and the devise of the contract with Mrs Conroy could avoid a breach of the Declaration of Principle.
In the Council's view the Sunday People by these arrangements violated both the letter and the spirit of the Declaration.
Accordingly, Mrs Hill's complaint in so far as it alleges that the Sunday People made payments or offered payments to people reasonably expected to be witnesses in the Sutcliffe case is upheld, and the conduct of the Sunday People is condemned.
The other complaint against the Sunday People is of making payments and other pecuniary benefits directly or indirectly to or for associates or relatives of or persons connected with the man charged with murdering Mrs Hill's daughter.
This complaint relates to the payments to Mr Birdsall and Mrs Conroy discussed above but also to a payment of £100 to Mr Ronald Barker, and in particular to the payment of £12,500 made under a contract for her exclusive story to Miss Theresa Douglas, a woman friend of Mr Sutcliffe in Scotland.
It is made clear in the report of the Press Council's general inquiry into press conduct in the Sutcliffe case that during the inquiry major public concern has been expressed to the Council and elsewhere about payments made or offered by newspapers to people related to or associated with those convicted of crime. The two cases here fall squarely into that category. Miss Douglas's story only had any value because of her association with the man accused of murder; Mr Barker's association with him was the only factor which gave value to the pictures for which Mr Barker posed.
What gives value to such stories and pictures is the link with criminal activity. In effect the stories and pictures are sold on the back of crime. Associates include family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Newspapers should not pay them, either directly or indirectly through agents, for such material and should not be party to publishing it if there is reason to believe payment has been made for it.
The practice is particularly abhorrent where the crime is one of violence and payment involves callous disregard for the feelings of victims and their families.
Adjudication on Daily Mail Complaint
(NOTE: The following is an edited version of the adjudication.)
In its answer to Mrs Hill's complaint to the Council the Daily Mail submitted extracts from its own newspaper for 7 May 1981 but no other documents whatsoever. It did not produce a draft model contract which it had sent to Mrs Sonia Szurma-Sutcliffe nor negotiating letters it had written to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe and her husband's solicitors. These came to light as an indirect result of the Council's own inquiries elsewhere. It failed to supply until pressed by the Council more than once a copy of its contract with Mr John Sutcliffe. All these documents should have been supplied to the Council when the Daily Mail entered its original defence to the complaint.
There was a persistent refusal by the editor of the Daily Mail to attend an oral inquiry and answer the complaints committee's questions in the presence of the complainant. He was ready and said he sought the right, to attend a private hearing with the committee. Sir David English explained that he believed the emotions engaged in the case made it undesirable for Mrs Hill and himself to appear together. This was an argument the Press Council could not accept. It told Sir David English that it had already conducted a satisfactory oral inquiry of another complaint which was attended by Mrs Hill as the complainant and a national newspaper editor as the respondent.
What the Press Council had to consider initially was the propriety of the Daily Mail accommodating Mr John Sutcliffe, father of the accused man, and his three daughters at a hotel for nearly two days early in January 1981 and, while they were there, arranging to pay Mr Sutcliffe senior and his daughters £5,000 between them for the right exclusively to use their family photograph albums.
There is a point at which accommodating people and entertaining them to meals on a lavish scale would be in breach of the spirit of the Press Council's Declaration of Principle forbidding payment of witnesses or likely witnesses. Short of that, however, a newspaper may in good faith arrange short-term accommodation for people it is interviewing or with whom it is having discussions without falling foul of the Declaration's ban on payments. This, in the Press Council's view, was such a case and had the matter rested there (and had there been no ensuing financial arrangement) there was nothing wrong in the newspaper arranging accommodation for Mr Sutcliffe and his daughters at this hotel at that time.
However, while they were there the arrangement was made to pay Mr Sutcliffe senior £5,000 to be shared with his daughters.
Despite the advice which the Daily Mail took about the likelihood of a contested trial and or potential witnesses at it, the Press Council believes that the father of a man accused of such a series of murders could reasonably have been expected to have been called as a witness at his son's trial, and that the newspaper could not at such an early stage in the case reasonably exclude the possibility that there would be a contested trial.
The Press Council finds, therefore, that the Daily Mail was in breach of its Declaration in entering into the contract to pay £5,000 to Mr John Sutcliffe, who at that stage could reasonably be expected to be a witness and a complaint against it on that count is upheld.
In the Press Council's view Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe, too could, like her husband's father, reasonably be regarded as a potential witness at her husband's trial but this possibility was not the subject of a complaint. The Press Council has considered the contact between Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe and the Daily Mail under the second heading of complaint, the making or offering of payment to a relative of someone accused of crime.
The only payment actually contracted to be made by the Daily Mail which is embraced by the complaint about benefiting the relatives or associates of the accused is that of the £5,000 to Mr John Sutcliffe for himself and his daughters for their photograph albums. The editor has asked "Can one really put this into the category of families of a criminal making a profit out of murder?" answering his own question "I truly do not think so". The Press Council does think so, and believes the practice should in future be condemned.
Comparatively early in the Council's inquiries, however, Sir David told it that he decided instinctively on 8 or 9 January 1981, that is to say within days of Mr Sutcliffe's arrest, that the Daily Mail should not pay any money to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe because Daily Mail readers would be deeply offended if it did so.
When the Daily Mail's editor decided that no payment should be made to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe the newspaper concealed the decision from her for over three months and continued for over three months in contact with her in the hope of obtaining an interview without payment.
Eventually it did secure a short interview without payment of any kind.
The Press Council's knowledge of this aspect of the Daily Mail's conduct might have rested there but for that newspaper's being unable to find a dated copy of a particular letter it wrote to Mr Sutcliffe's solicitor, Mr K. M. P. Macgill which the Press Council asked to see. The Council therefore asked Mr Macgill for his copy of the letter. As well as supplying it he produced other letters and notes from newspapers offering or suggesting payments to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe for her story. These included offers and proposals to pay Mrs Sutcliffe made by the Daily Mail on 6 January 1981, the day after the story broke, and others it made after the date on which its editor has said he decided no money should pass.
The editor has told the Council the paper entered into a "ritual of negotiations" to try to get background information, to find out and "spoil" what its rivals were doing and to make its rivals pay more should they intend to buy. The Daily Mail intended, as the editor put it, "to work towards a confidence-building situation where we might get an interview with Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe without paying any money to her or preferably at all".
Against the proposition that the decision not to buy her story was made early in January is the long series of approaches and proposals made to Mrs Sutcliffe or her advisers after that date.
Mr Tytler discussed with her husband's solicitors at a very early stage the possibility of her story selling for "a medium five figure sum" or "a high five figure sum"--which the Press Council takes to mean something of the order of £40,000 to £90,000. Later he wrote to the solicitors that "the initial figure mentioned need not be a stumbling block" a reference to a very large offer supposedly made by a magazine which Mr Tytler said "sounds like a six-figure sum".
The picture that genuine bids were being made by the Daily Mail is coloured by its suggestion on 9 January 1981 that a substantial part of any fee it paid her would have to go to benefit the families of Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe's husband's victims, referred to as "the other families who have suffered". It has been difficult for the Press Council to determine whether some of the incidents in the story it has been told were merely ploys intended to convey to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe the false impression that she might be paid for her story or were, at the time, genuine proposals to pay her. As late as April 1981 the newspaper suggested that although it could not itself pay money to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe for her story it might arrange to be the channel through which money could flow to her from overseas newspapers to whom it could syndicate her story. The charade, if it was a charade, became so elaborate and convoluted that this suggestion was put to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe by an executive of the newspaper who then telephoned and told his editor of it, and then on the editor's instructions withdrew it from Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe the same day. It is hard to understand the purpose of this move and countermove if, indeed, the executive concerned had known since the previous January of his editor's decision that no money was to be paid to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe, The editor's firm rejection of the suggestion was only likely to detract from the "confidence-building situation' which he was trying to create.
The Council has been given assurances by four editorial executives of the Daily Mail that they knew of the editor's decision that the paper would not pay any money to Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe at an early stage in January. The Council has concluded it should accept those assurances. The effect is that it concludes also that a group of senior editorial executives including the editor not only set out to deceive Mrs Szurma-Sutcliffe but their conduct had the effect of artificially creating and sustaining a chequebook journalism market in her story.
In the Press Council's view the explanation offered by the newspaper amounts to a confession that the Daily Mail was guilty of gross misconduct.
Chapter 17: MRS HILL'S COMPLAINTS
(NOTE: Source (used by permission): The Press Council, "Press Conduct In The Sutcliffe Case" )