Module two of the Leveson Inquiry continued this week with regional police forces, police press officers and crime reporters from across the country giving evidence. There were three days of evidence. Former criminal investigator Dave Harrison started the week with surprising evidence, claiming the News of the World had jeopardised the 2006 investigation into a series of murders in Ipswich.
The Monday morning hearing began with last minute addition to the witness list. Dave Harrison, who was part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency team working on the 2006 Ipswich murders investigation said he was told a surveillance team had been deployed by the News of the World to find out who the SOCA team where and where they were based. Five women were murdered by Steven Wright, a local man, between October and December 2006. Due to the size of the investigation other officers, including Harrison, were drafted in to assist Suffolk Police. He told the inquiry:
“We identified them because they were sat in the positions that we would sit in if we were doing the same job… If they knew nothing about surveillance, they wouldn’t have got anywhere near us.”
The former investigator said the News of the World team could have seriously hampered the investigation, as murder suspects often return to the scene of the crime to remove evidence, or commit further offences. He said a suspect being aware they were being followed, either by police or the press, would not behave in this way, damaging the chance of a successful prosecution.
Surveillance would also have been weakened as the SOCA team tried to avoid being followed by the press team. Harrison said a similar team from the Sunday Mirror had picked up the first suspect of the murders, who was later cleared, and debriefed him in cars before taking him to be interviewed. He told the inquiry they had also used “anti-surveillance capabilities” to elude the investigators.
John Twomey, crime reporter at the Daily Express and chair of the Crime Reporters Association, said the Filkin report, into relationships between the police and the press, could affect the level of contact between the media and police forces. He told the inquiry:
“The initial reaction would be to pull back, to err on the side of caution… That would have a kind of freezing effect. Officers would be less likely to talk to you. They would give out less information to you. Some officers may just cease contact with you completely.”
He said the report, commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, was condescending to women after it suggested some female journalists engaged in “flirting” with police officers to get information. He said off-the-record briefings could be vital to the success of police investigations. He said the New Cross double murder, where two French students were brutally murdered in 2008, was aided after a senior press officer released post-mortem information, and one of the perpetrators had come forward as a result of the publicity.
When asked about information passed to reporters, Twomey said he would carefully reflect on the nature of the story before “rushing into print”. He added: “You would never go ahead with any story that would possibly jeopardise apprehending a criminal… or a prosecution.” Twomey said he met Dick Fedorcio, head of press at the Met, once or twice a year, either with CRA members or one-to-one. He told Lord Justice Leveson: “I always found him very proper and very professional, and very loyal to the organisation and those in command.”
He said meals with officers would incur a spend of £60 to £80 a head, and pointed out officers often wanted to relax over lunch away from Scotland Yard “It doesn’t mean to say they are knocking back £400 bottles of champagne; [it’s] over a couple of glasses of wine and a decent meal, there’s a tradition there and I think they would expect it. They don’t want to be in Scotland Yard when they could be out in a comfortable place with people they know and they can trust.”
The reporter said he had been shocked to hear evidence from former criminal investigator David Harrison. He added:
“If that did happen, that’s quite shocking, I’m dismayed if it’s the case… It’s quite unbelievable really that a newspaper should go to those lengths.”
The second witness statement of John Twomey can be found here.
James Murray, associate editor for News at the Sunday Express, told the inquiry he had accepted a lift home in a Scotland Yard car after socialising with police officers. He and a colleague had been celebrating over a meal and drinks after a successful prosecution by Met officers. He said:
“If anyone’s suggesting ‘oh right, you’ve gone out for this meal with the police, you’ve had a loads of drink, da da da, the next step, you’re dropping brown envelopes all over the place’, it’s just so far removed from the truth, really. it doesn’t happen like that. The officer would be, firstly, mortally offended that it would be even suggested… and it would actually ruin the relationship because the relationship you’re trying to build up is one of trust and so he doesn’t want to receive a silly request.”
He told the inquiry the Guardian’s reporting of the Milly Dowler phone hacking allegations had damaged police relationships with the press, saying all trust had been “blown out of the water”.
He said the News of the World was a “lone wolf” in carrying out the activities described by Dave Harrison. He added:
“I don’t think journalists should play the role of detective. Playing an amateur detective can get you into all sorts of trouble and that’s not what we’re about.”
On socialising with police officers, he told the inquiry that he often obtains the best information “over a cup of tea, when everyone is very sober”.
The final witness of the afternoon hearing was Jerry Lawton, reporter at the Daily Star. He said he had experienced nothing more than “tea and sandwiches” in terms of hospitality from the police. He added: “The officers I have dealt with, even if the thought of some inappropriate [offer]… you would blow your contact and risk arrest. I can say that pretty firmly.”
Lawton criticised Leicestershire Police over their handling of the Madeleine McCann case, saying because police refused to brief journalists off-the-record, inaccurate information leaked by the Portuguese police had gone unchallenged. Claims that DNA tests proved Madeleine’s body had been in the boot of her parent’s car, hired weeks after she went missing, were later found to be false. He added:
“I don’t understand why Leicestershire police on this occasion, even if it was unreportable, did not brief, ‘This was not right, the leak was wrong’.”
The witness statement of Scott Hesketh was taken as read by the inquiry.
The Tuesday morning hearing began with evidence from current Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, who called the relationship between the press and police “distorted”. He said he had concerns over close social relationships between officers and journalists, and said the frequency of meetings described in evidence to the inquiry had been surprising. He said: “A drink, so what? For me it’s the pattern. One drink, one coffee, one meal – I’m not sure if that’s going to damage integrity but I think sustained contact can.” He later added: “When alcohol comes in, there are less inhibitions. There is a reason why alcohol is an important factor… it’s probably best avoided.”
He went on to tell the inquiry lunches following monthly Crime Reporters Association briefings no longer take place, and said he would rather “set the bar too high” when it came to regulating contact between the force and sections of the media. He added: “It’s been a difficult line to draw, given we do to maintain professional relationship but neither do we want to be too close.”
Hogan-Howe said challenges from journalists were beneficial to the police and should be welcomed, but the recording of meetings should be encouraged to improve transparency. He said he broadly accepted the findings of the Filkin report and it “encouraged people to think in a different way about something that had become a problem”.
The commissioner was asked about leaks from the Police National Computer and Operation Motorman, an investigation into the procurement of private information by private investigator Steve Whittamore for journalists, saying the police had taken steps to investigate leaks. He told the inquiry:
“It is hard to imagine that so many people in the police are leaking this information; they must be leaking it to someone; not sure what proportion of their leaks are related to domestic issues, or links to payment for some inappropriate intention.”
He went on to reveal 53,000 Met police have now been given permission to access the internet at work. Until recently, officers had to prove they had a justifiable business reason for accessing the web.
The inquiry also heard from Justin Penrose, crime reporter at the Sunday Mirror, who described a “state of paralysis” between journalists and police officers. He said he almost “laughed out loud” at evidence given by former criminal investigator Dave Harrison, who yesterday told the inquiry the Sunday Mirror had used anti-surveillance techniques to elude police when picking up Tom Stephens, a suspect in the Ipswich murders case, to be interviewed.
Stephens, who was later cleared, was interviewed by journalist Michael Duffy in 2006. Harrison claimed Stephens had been driven to a hotel. Penrose said he had been tracked down through the electoral role and interviewed in a car park, a point enforced by Trinity Mirror’s lawyer, Desmond Browne QC.
Penrose told the inquiry he had given former assistant commissioner John Yates his mobile number, and had met him and Andy Hayman for lunch on two occasions. He also referred to a recorded lunch with the Met’s head of press, Dick Fedorcio.
Daily Mirror reporter Tom Pettifor said informal contact with police officers had become “difficult” and said he feared forcing officers to record all contact with journalists would “freeze up information flow more than it already is at the moment”. He said:
“If the official information parameter broadens so much that we have all this information out there, then it will very much reduce the need for these unofficial channels of communication.”
Tim Gordon, editor of the South Wales Echo, said the average reporter on his paper spends 71p a week taking individuals out. He said:
“I have no issue with a journalist taking someone out for a drink or lunch, it’s just we don’t do it very often.”
The South Wales Echo is owned by Trinity Mirror, which has a policy stating every expenses claim must been signed off by a senior editor. Gordon said his crime reporter was told Gwent police were “tightening up” as a result of the Leveson Inquiry and the Filkin report, examining police relationships. The editor said it has become increasingly difficult to get information from the police, especially over weekends when the force press office is closed. He added: “It is really important that the information flow [from police to the press] is fast.”
During the afternoon hearing, the inquiry heard from Adrian Faber, editor of the Birmingham Express and Star, who said his reporters do not spend “much more” than the figure given by Gordon, and most meetings with police take place in the office. He said a “drink or a coffee or a sandwich” was perfectly acceptable, but anything further would blur the boundaries of propriety. Faber told Lord Justice Leveson he fear the restriction of information from the police, and thought asking officers to record all contact with journalists would have a negative effect.
He said his paper, with a staff of 100 journalists, was able to cover the courts and council meetings in the area, but the impact of the internet meant an increasing pressure on his newsroom. He added: “The problem all newspapers face is having to resource websites and at the same time attempt to make money.”
The inquiry also heard from Chief Constable Chris Sims of West Midlands Police, and the force’s head of press Chief Inspector Sally Seeley. Sims, who worked at the Met for 15 years as a junior officer, said he had been surprised by evidence heard at the inquiry and had never been offered hospitality of that kind from local newspapers, including the Birmingham Express and Star. He added: “I genuinely think they don’t happen beyond that particular era and location.”
Sims said officers from the force often used social media to keep the public informed, but these accounts are monitored by the press office. He warned against recording all contact between police and the press. He said: “We shouldn’t equate integrity with recording processes. Recording has very limited impact on personal behaviour.”
Seeley told the inquiry she is the only police officer in the press office, and five of the 30 staff had trained in journalism. Lord Justice Leveson noted policy of having a serving officer as head of press at the force as helpful in limiting “cosy” relationships with journalists.
The witness statement of Abigail Alford was taken as read by the inquiry.
The Wednesday morning hearing began with evidence from Times crime reporter Sean O’Neill, who said the Met has become “closed and defensive” as a result of the Leveson Inquiry, which had resulted in a chilling effect on press contact with the police and a clampdown on media relations by the force. He told the inquiry:
“I do fear that the ability to build a trustworthy relationship with someone is going to be seriously inhibited if you can’t have a coffee or a pint or a bite to eat with them. I do think that is a concern, and I think it’s quite important for senior crime journalists to be able to meet with senior police officers and talk openly and freely without necessarily a watchdog or a press officer sitting on your shoulder recording every word or listening in on every word.”
In his written statement O’Neill said there is “virtually no social contact with officers” in the current climate. He said he would usually buy officers coffee, pints of beer, lunches and evening meals, often in the company of other crime reporters. Hospitality records showed a number of dinners with former assistant commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates, and force’s head of press Dick Fedorcio. He said:
“The last time I met an officer we met a very, very long way from Scotland Yard because he was so nervous abut meeting me and that anyone would see him, and he’s a perfectly honourable, experienced police officer.”
O’Neill called the Filkin report, examining police relationships, patronising and “ultimately dangerous for the future accountability of the police”. He said the report had created a “climate of fear” preventing officers from speaking freely to the press, and said it was insulting to female crime reporters. He added:
“[The report implies] they are just a bunch of women in short skirts out flirting with people.”
The crime editor defended the Times’s hiring of Hayman as a commentator, saying he recommended him to editor James Harding. Hayman was paid £10,000 a year for his column. He said: “Frankly I now wish I’d let the Daily Telegraph sign him up. It would have been better for him, and for us.”
Chief Constable Stephen House said Strathclyde Police has investigated 45 suspected leaks to the press in the past five years and officers are “bound to be” accepting money for information. He told the inquiry:
“I have no doubt that there are specific individuals in my organisation who are in receipt of money from various people. I’m not suggesting its individual newspaper but various people…that is inevitable. Bound to be happening.”
He said most of the leaks concerned the arrest or questioning of celebrities. He added:
“That’s effectively where the money would be, so yes, it’s the newspapers – the reporters and photographers – being on the doorstep of the police office as a celebrity is released and that shouldn’t happen. Most of them are unsubstantiated. That does mean to say there weren’t actually leaks, but it means that we can’t prove them.”
He later said: “People talk within the organisation. Celebrities are by nature known, so word of mouth will quickly get around that so-and-so is in custody and it will go almost viral in that way.”
House said the force had suffered from leaks on tactical information relating to police investigations, especially homicide cases, meaning certain material cannot be used in court cases. The chief constable said he did not think in general officers had an “untapped desire” to speak to the media, but said local press had more direct access to community inspectors to discuss “low level stories”. He told the inquiry all national press contact comes through the corporate communications department, whereas local journalists are able to speak to officers directly. He said:
“There are situations where officers will say things – I’d be delighted for individual officers of very junior rank to be talking to the media about specific cases that they’re involved with… it’s when it becomes more around the closing of a police office and you then get a situation where the local media want to talk to a sergeant or a constable about, ‘what do you think about this’ …. I don’t meet individual media for stories without someone from the media department present recording it. That’s a policy I’ve adopted through learning harsh lessons when I was in the Met.”
House said he meets with incoming editors over coffee to introduce himself and discuss the force’s media “set-up”. He said contact with journalists was useful as long as it is in the public good and not serving private interests.
Rob Shorthouse, director of communications for Strathclyde Police, denied any leaks had come from his department. He told the inquiry: “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest at all that we have an issues with leaks coming from the media office.”
He said non-attributable conversations with journalists are not encouraged, and all on or off-the-record contact with the media is logged by the department. Shorthouse said his staff are dedicated to making sure there is a quick turnaround on information provided to journalists, but said the internet had made this more difficult in recent years. He added:
“The change in the nature of the media at the moment is huge… It’s going to make that need to be more immediate and over away from the traditional roles that journalists have played.”
The editor of the Herald, Jonathan Russell, appeared before the inquiry for the second time, having given evidence during module one. He said the paper had a “generally healthy relationship” with the Strathclyde force but admitted journalists would always want more information from the police. He added:
“It had to be a mutually beneficial relationship… we provide a very important service to the police in terms of looking for witnesses and helping in solving crimes. It isn’t perfect, we don’t always get what we would want – I’m fairly sure they don’t always get the coverage they would want – but I think generally it works pretty well for both sides.”
Russell told Lord Justice Leveson the Herald’s relationship with Strathclyde was a “good template” for proper interaction between police and press.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Inquiry heard from the chief constable of South Wales Police, Peter Vaughan and Assistant Director of Communications Caroline Llewellyn, Vaughan told the inquiry he regretted allowing officers to be filmed for the BBC One programme ‘Traffic Cops’, saying the televised behaviour of some officers was not representative of the force. He told the inquiry: “Some of those instances aren’t the organisation that I want to reflect as being representative of the South Wales Police.”
Vaughan said frequent repeats of the programmes, filmed some years ago, was damaging to the force’s reputation, and is used as an example when training new officers in standards. He added:
“It’s shaped the way we engage with the media….It’s very important that we’re help to account for our activities and its important that the public sees that policing isn’t just knocking down peoples doors, discovering cannabis plants and dealing with violent people.”
Catherine Llewellyn said the media were generally cooperative when asked not to publish certain material that could affect investigations and prosecutions. She gave the example of a journalist obtaining a restricted internal document from the force. She said:
“We advised them that it would cause untold damage, not just to the investigation but it would also upset the family [of a suspect], and asked them not to publish it. They didn’t publish it and they have never published that information.”
Vaughan told the inquiry the force had investigated three suspected leaks to the press in the past five years. One of these, where the address of a police officer was revealed turned out to have come from open proceedings in court. He told the inquiry leaks were often the result of “misplaced loyalty” by members of staff. He added:
“One of the examples we had in our anti-corruption unit, one of the examples we followed through, was a member of our staff providing information to a private detective who was a previous colleague of that individual. There is misguided loyalty; on occasions there will be money exchanging hands for that sort of information. “
He said that the South Wales Police had a generally positive relationship with the press.
“I think throughout [our] guidelines there’s an encouragement there to our officers to speak [to journalists], but obviously within guidelines and when it’s appropriate….Often journalists will be trying to deal with very busy police officer, and a press officer intervening may actually speed up the information.”
Next week the inquiry will hear from Colin Adwent (Crime Reporter, East Anglia Daily Times), Chief Constable Simon Ash (Suffolk Constabulary), Anne Campbell (Head of Corporate Communications, Norfolk and Suffolk Police), Nick Griffiths (Carlisle News and Star), Terry Hunt (East Anglian Daily Times), Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey (MPS, former Chief Constable Cumbria Constabulary), Anne Pickles (Carlisle News and Star), Gillian Shearer (Head of
Marketing and Communications, Cumbria Constabulary), Barbara Brewis (Media and Marketing Durham Constabulary), Amanda Hirst (Head of Corporate Communications Avon and Somerset Police), DCI Philip Jones (Avon and Somerset Constabulary), Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby (Surrey Police), Chief Constable Colin Port (Avon and Somerset Constabulary), Chief Constable Jonathan Stoddart (Durham Constabulary), Chief Constable Matthew Baggott (PSNI), Joanne Bird (Head of Media and Marketing BTP), Oliver Cattermole
(Director of Communications ACPO), Jane Furniss (CEO, IPCC), Sir Hugh Orde
(President of ACPO), Chief Constable Andrew Trotter (BTP), Liz Young (Head of Corporate Communications (PSNI), Catherine Crawford (Chief Executive of the
Metropolitan Police Authority), Chief Constable Mike Cunningham (Staffordshire Police), Ian Fegan (Head of Corporate Communication Staffordshire Police), Kit Malthouse (Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime), Julie Norgrove (Director of Audit Risk and Assurance Metropolitan Police Authority) and Ben Priestley (Unison).