Rebekah Brooks arrives for the first day of the trial at the Old Bailey. Photo: Getty
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Why and how Peter Jukes live-tweeted the entire phonehacking trial

450,000 words, over 2.5m keystrokes, 12,000 followers and about seven months of coverage later, first-time trial live-tweeter Peter Jukes can finally give his fingers a rest.

Every morning for the past seven months, TV drama screenwriter, author, and freelance journalist Peter Jukes has been waking up at 8am, checking his iPad and keyboard are charged, walking 15 minutes from his flat to the Old Bailey, logging on to Twitter, and live-tweeting everything he’s allowed to report from the phonehacking trial.

Before starting, the writer, who has contributed to the Daily Beast, Independent and New Statesman as well as writing copiously for BBC television and radio, only stops for a coffee at Starbucks and a nod to the defendants – including Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, and Andy Coulson – outside the door of the court. He then plunges into the minefield of reporting restrictions and risks of contempt of court while relaying the country’s most high-profile court case to the world.

Now, after around seven months, the jury’s finally out on the trial. I caught up with Jukes towards the end of his coverage – the day his keyboard had to be replaced it was so knackered – to find out exactly how, and why, he decided to report the trial this way.

 

Holding court

As the afternoon sun blasts the obstinate grey brick and colonnades of the Old Bailey, I wait outside for Jukes to appear at the end of another day in court. But before my interviewee arrives, a gaggle of figures come into view at the entrance, through which passersby can usually only catch a glimpse of an airport-style security system.

Two of the trial’s seven defendants, Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, emerge from the building. One lurking cameraman bounces into action. They quickly leave in a cab, but not before the smattering of pedestrians wandering outside has caught sight of the former News of the World and Sun editor who has since featured so heavily on newspaper front pages, before ending up in court to answer charges of conspiracy to phone-hack, commit misconduct in public office and pervert the course of justice.

Jukes explains how so many months covering the phone-hacking trial have meant he is on first-name terms with the defendants. He wished Rebekah Brooks a happy birthday last month, she often says “hi” to him, former Downing Street communications director and ex-editor of News of the World Andy Coulson holds the door open for him, and he’s been lent an umbrella by Cheryl Carter, Brooks’s former assistant. He’s also on chatting terms with fellow journalists, lawyers and police from being such a regular presence at the courtroom, although he’s at pains to assure me that there is “nothing indiscreet” about their familiarity.

“You all rub together. . . It’s not like a family, but it’s people you spend seven months with. You get quite fond of them. You say ‘hi’ every day,” he relates, over a coffee in Starbucks, a two-minute stride from the courtroom that has become his world.

Yet Jukes points out that “getting up every morning and going to the Old Bailey – it’s not a nice environment. It’s kind of grim.

“I call it the Palace of Tears, because people are not in a very happy circumstance when they turn up there. Every day somebody's crying, a relative, a defendant looking fearful, a witness looking fearful. It's not a happy place.”

Jukes has written nearly half a million words, and his last count on his keyboard was 2.5m keystrokes. A database expert has been voluntarily amassing his tweets each night, and indexing them. He shows me his brand new keyboard; his battered old one didn’t quite survive the whole trial.

Have there been any physical implications for Jukes after all this tapping away?

“Slightly, slightly tired fingers when I stop tweeting, but I think playing guitar helps,” Jukes replies. “When I get home, I play guitar and it just relaxes them. People give me all kinds of advice – flick your fingers. In the early days they were a bit stiff, but no physical side-effects. The stress of it means probably my wine consumption went up, and I hate getting up early in the morning, which I've had to do, so that's been the main physical toll.”

Excessive exposure to the trial has meant Jukes has dreamt about it, though. He recalls a dream he had the night before we meet: “I know a bit about dreaming and psychotherapy. I had a whole slow-wave sleep dream about Langdale QC's defence of Andy Coulson, God knows why.”

Screenwriter and author Peter Jukes has live-tweeted the entire phone-hacking trial. Photo: YouTube screengrab

Live-tweeting a living

It’s not possible for Jukes to discuss much of the case’s content until the verdicts conclude the trial, for danger of being in contempt of court. But he can tell me his experience of covering it using such an unorthodox method.

Jukes describes his rather niche calling as “a complete accident”. He initially wanted to cover the opening of the trial potentially for additional material for his book, The Fall of the House of Murdoch(2012).

There were only 12 places available in the actual courtroom to the press – what Jukes calls “gold tickets” – and around 40 available to watch the trial from an annex. Jukes secured the last ticket to the latter. His initial series of tweets proved very popular.

“I had no idea you could live-tweet it. I had no idea I'd get all these followers... I only got in by the skin of my teeth because Nick Davies [Guardian special correspondent] told me you needed a ticket. So I applied and got the last ticket into the annex. None of this had been planned. I had no idea I'd be doing this for seven months.

“It was not clear that you'd be able to live-tweet any evidence. . . I thought I'd be able to do the opening and set bits of evidence, I had no idea he [Justice Saunders] would allow live-tweeting the whole trial. It's quite unusual. It's not a civil case. . . When he suddenly said we could live-tweet the whole trial, I thought, ‘Fuck!’”

So Jukes wrote a blog saying he’d missed a mortgage payment for the first time in his life, and couldn’t afford to cover the trial off his own back. He began a crowd-funding campaign via the site indiegogo and received about £20,000 in total.

He hasn’t made a profit, but the money has sustained Jukes’ coverage of the whole trial, though he admits “my living costs are too high, but that’s my problem!”

This April, his incessant tweeting won him the accolade of “Best UK reporter on social media”  from Press Gazette.

Jukes wants the collection of his tweets to be used as “a kind of book of evidence, so it’s timeline-able, the evidence, from the internal dates. . . It’s not just about breaking news, it’s an actual record, creating an open-sourced database, at some point.”

He is also going to release a tell-all book following the verdicts. It has the provisional title The Inside Story of the Hacking Trial and will include everything Jukes wasn’t allowed to report during the trial, his opinions and, “my story: a newbie, a minefield!” he laughs.

 

Contending with contempt

Jukes’ self-styled “newbie” status did cause some more traditional journalists to be sceptical about how long he could cover the trial without being in contempt of court, or breaking the specific reporting restrictions.

He’s made a few typos and occasionally had to delete a tweet along the way, but has managed to navigate the legal minefield of tweeting a trial remarkably well for someone with no court reporting experience.

“It's kind of routine, tweets got mentioned [in court] every morning for the first six months, the defence would say ‘my lord, there's been a tweet’, and you'd think ‘oh, God, who is it?’ It would put the fear of God in everybody.

“But from the Sun to the Times to the Guardian to the BBC to Reuters, I'm treading on their territory, taking away their work, but journalists, regardless of who they work for, have been lovely to me, very helpful.”

Having his tweets followed by the Attorney General, the police, politicians, the defendants themselves, and most national news desks must be an incredible pressure.

Jukes nods. “With power comes responsibility and you have to be really careful. The defendants are reading it; you don't want to misrepresent their case. I don't want to annoy them, antagonise the lawyers, but you just want to report the case.”

I ask him what the hairiest moment was for him (which he’s allowed to report). He recalls breaking the news of Brooks and Coulson’s affair, one of the trial’s most explosive stories:

“My fingers trembled when I was the first to tweet out the affair. I mean, crass, tabloid reasons, but [it was] quite germane to the case in terms of allegations of conspiracy. And I beat Nick Davies by 16 seconds. We all knew it was coming up but not when. That was the most exciting moment.”

And which tweet has caused the most excitement among his followers?

Jukes pauses. There have been a lot of tweets.

“One that went viral was just a little bit of evidence, a receipt from the News of the World to Glenn Mulcaire [private investigator]: ‘Milly Dowler – paid in full’. It's quite upsetting, actually. Suddenly moments like that you realise, there's this machine that is paying out money. I've never thought that emotional before, this is the first time ever, but that went viral. . . I noticed Alan Rusbridger [Guardian editor] retweeted that. . . It is chilling.”

 

Citizen journalism

Jukes puts his success as a live-tweeter in this context down to his independence. He has been described as a “citizen journalist” and even a “media pioneer”.

“The fact that I'm only letting down myself, only I’d get done for contempt, no news organisation, no newspaper editor, no brand, would be affected by my errors, gives me a freedom and speed of movement, which other journalists – who are brilliant live-tweeters – [may not have], obviously because in their heads [they’re asking], ‘Am I letting down the BBC?’, for example.”

The irony of his covering a trial involving an established newspaper giant, the Murdoch press, using such “new media” methods isn’t lost on him. He speaks out against old media bureaucracies, championing his decidedly leaner model.

“I've had 25 years of experience of various forms of the media, and my big step was to write about monopoly control of drama at the BBC, in 2009, and how it was ruining the quality. So I wasn't a Murdoch-basher. . .

“I was interested in a kind of open market, free markets in culture. So when the Murdoch thing came out, this was another example like the BBC. . . There must be a better way than these huge, crumbling, old, industrial hierarchies, which are well-intentioned but there are so many layers between the decisions made and the ground that there must be a better way, and I think that's part of the story of what went wrong at the News of the World – it was an industrial machine.”

Another criticism Jukes makes of the mainstream press is the prevalence of opinion amid news reporting. “Unlike the American system, we're very comment-driven in our press journalism. We've mixed it up. The editorialising. To be a court reporter, where that's completely forbidden, is very, very good for the soul.”

Yet Jukes, who is incredibly animated throughout our interview – perhaps with the jury’s verdict now finally in sight – is clearly itching to reveal his opinions and observations. The gossip and drama of a trial that has seen celebrity appearances and exposed an affair between two of its high-powered defendants will be worth watching for a while yet – whether it’s on the front pages or your Twitter feed. But in the meantime, as the jurors put their heads together, Jukes finally has the opportunity to rest his fingers.
 

Pre-order “The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial” by Peter Jukes now at www.hackingtrial.com

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.