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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Europe’s last Blairite: Can Manuel Valls win the French presidency?

He first made a name for himself protesting against halal supermarkets. Now, he could be the man to take down François Hollande.

The election of François Hollande as the president of France in 2012 coincided with the high-water mark of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. That year, Labour posted its best local election results in 17 years, gaining 823 councillors and winning control of 32 councils in a performance that has not yet been surpassed or equalled.

Gazing across the Channel, the Milibandites were given hope. Hollande showed that a wonkish career politician could triumph over a charismatic centre-right incumbent.

The UK’s shattered Blairites looked to a different star rising in French politics: Manuel Valls. At the time of Hollande’s victory, Valls was the mayor of Évry, a small suburb of Paris, where he made a name for himself by campaigning against halal supermarkets.

His father, Xavier, was a Spanish painter and his mother, Luisangela, was Swiss-Italian. They met and married in Paris, and Valls was born in Barcelona while the couple were on holiday.

In 2009 Valls urged the Parti Socialiste (PS) to drop the adjective “socialist” from its name, and he ran for the presidential nomination two years later on what he described as a Blairiste platform. This included scrapping the 35-hour working week, which hardly applies outside of big business and the public sector but carries symbolic weight for the French left. Valls’s programme found few supporters and he came fifth in a field of six, with just 6 per cent of the vote.

Yet this was enough to earn him the post of interior minister under Hollande. While Valls’s boss quickly fell from favour – within six months Hollande’s approval ratings had dropped to 36 per cent, thanks to a budget that combined tax rises with deep spending cuts – his own popularity soared.

He may have run as an heir to Blair but his popularity in France benefited from a series of remarks that were closer in tone to Ukip’s Nigel Farage. When he said that most Romany gypsies should be sent “back to the borders”, he was condemned by both his activists and Amnesty International. Yet it also boosted his approval ratings.

One of the facets of French politics that reliably confuse outsiders is how anti-Islamic sentiment is common across the left-right divide. Direct comparisons with the ideological terrain of Westminster politics are often unhelpful. For instance, Valls supported the attempt to ban the burkini, saying in August, “Marianne [the French symbol] has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”

By the spring of 2014, he was still frequently topping the charts – at least in terms of personal appeal. A survey for French Elle found that 20 per cent of women would like to have “a torrid affair” with the lantern-jawed minister, something that pleased his second wife, Anne Gravoin, who pronounced herself “delighted” with the poll. (She married Valls in 2010. He also has four children by his first wife, Nathalie Soulié.)

Yet it was a chilly time for the French left, which was sharply repudiated in municipal elections, losing 155 towns. Hollande sacked his incumbent prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and appointed Valls in his place. He hoped, perhaps, that some of Valls’s popularity would rub off on to him.

And perhaps Valls, a student of “Third Way” politics, hoped that he could emulate the success of Bill Clinton, who turned sharply to the right following Democratic losses in the US 1994 midterm elections and won a great victory in 1996. Under Valls’s premiership, Hollande’s administration swung right, implementing tough policies on law and order and pursuing supply-side reforms in an attempt to revive the French economy. Neither the economic recovery, nor the great victory, emerged.

With the date of the next presidential election set for 2017, Hollande was in trouble. His approval ratings were terrible and he faced a challenge from his former minister Arnaud Montebourg, who resigned from the government over its rightward turn in 2014.

Then, on 27 November, Prime Minister Valls suggested in an interview that he would challenge the incumbent president in the PS primary. After this, Hollande knew that his chances of victory were almost non-existent.

On 1 December, Hollande became the first incumbent French president ever to announce that he would not run for a second term, leaving Valls free to announce his bid. He duly stood down as prime minister on 5 December.

Under the French system, unless a single candidate can secure more than half of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, the top two candidates face a run-off. The current polls rate Marine Le Pen of the Front National as the favourite to win the first round, but she is expected to lose the second.

Few expect a PS candidate to make the run-off. So Hollande’s decision to drop out of his party’s primary turns that contest into an internal struggle for dominance rather than a choice of potential leader for France. The deeper question is: who will rebuild the party from the wreckage?

So although Valls has the highest international profile of the left’s candidates, no one should rule out a repeat of his crushing defeat in 2011.

He once hoped to strike a Blairite bargain with the left: victory in exchange for heresy. Because of the wasting effect of his years in Hollande’s government, however, he now offers only heresy. It would not be a surprise if the Socialists preferred the purity of Arnaud Montebourg. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump