Blunders not corruption led to bungled police response

Report finds no reason to question Met’s integrity, but casts doubt on competence
  • @martin_hickman

The senior Scotland Yard officer John Yates misled the public when refusing to open a new investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, the inquiry found.

Lord Justice Leveson decided that the Metropolitan Police was right to limit its original inquiry in 2006 because of a surge in terrorism following the 7/7 bombings on the London transport system the previous year. But he said Mr Yates should not have dismissed the need for a new inquiry in 2009 amid accusations of widespread wrongdoing at News International’s headquarters at Wapping.

In 2009 a story in The Guardian suggested hundreds of people could have been the victim of hacking by the NOTW. Then, Mr Yates, an Assistant Commissioner, dismissed any need for a new investigation after a review lasting just a few hours. He maintained there was no evidence of widespread wrongdoing at Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper. Lord Justice Leveson said: “The error of judgement in deciding on immediate and prompt dismissal of the allegations by press announcement that afternoon should have been apparent at the time.”

By 2009, Mr Yates had been a long-standing friend of the NOTW’s deputy editor, Neil Wallis, which, the Leveson Inquiry said, meant that “he would have been better advised to arrange for a different officer to conduct” the review. Among Mr Yates’s “inaccurate” public statements was the assertion that hacking had only been used against “a far smaller number of individuals” [rather than hundreds] and that there was insufficient evidence of hacking “in the vast majority of cases”.

The Leveson Report said: “Given the discoveries Operation Caryatid [the original hacking inquiry] had made, these statements were wholly inaccurate.” The inquiry said: “Mr Yates ought to have known it was not safe to state that there was nothing to warrant any reconsideration of the investigation.”

Overall, the report said Scotland Yard had mishandled the accusations against the NOTW because of “a defensive mindset” and combination of blunders. However, it said there was no evidence of corruption among senior ranks at Scotland Yard and said a fear of the NOTW was not responsible for the inadequacy of its investigations.

The report acknowledged there was “a concern” that senior police officers had become too close to News International’s executives. However, it concluded: “I am satisfied that I have seen no basis at any stage [to question] the integrity of the police, or that of the senior officers concerned. What is, however, clear is that a series of poor decisions, poorly executed, came together to contribute to the perception that I have recognised.”

Clean hands: Recommendations

*Chief police officers should keep public record of meetings with media.

*Forces should consider banning officers taking jobs in the media for 12 months after leaving the police.

*Police should not name or identify those arrested, except in exceptional circumstances.

*They should not term briefings “off the record”, which can be misunderstood, but, instead, “non-reportable” or “embargoed”.

*HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, rather than a force’s own professional standards department, should investigate whistleblowers’ allegations against senior officers.