Leveson Inquiry: 'Climate of fear' created by media report

 

An official report criticising relations between Scotland Yard and the media reads like an "East German Ministry of Information manual", a senior crime correspondent told the Leveson Inquiry today.

Sean O'Neill, crime editor of The Times, said Elizabeth Filkin's recent review of the Metropolitan Police's interactions with journalists has created a "climate of fear".

He told the press standards inquiry: "I found this document patronising and ultimately dangerous for future accountability of the police.

"It has already created a climate of fear in which police officers - who may want to pass on information that is in the public but not the corporate interest - are afraid to talk to the press.

"Despite its repeated talk of openness and transparency, the key passages in the Filkin report refer to a clampdown on 'unauthorised contact' between police and the press."

Ms Filkin's recommendations, published in January, advised officers to avoid "flirting" and accepting alcohol from journalists.

Mr O'Neill quoted a passage from her report calling on the Met to "create an environment where the improper disclosure of information is condemned and deterred".

He said this read "as if it comes from an East German Ministry of Information manual rather than guidance for public servants in 21st century Britain".

The crime reporter also told the inquiry that The Times did not make former Met assistant commissioner Andy Hayman a columnist as a "favour".

Questions have been raised about the paper's hiring of Mr Hayman, who oversaw Scotland Yard's 2006-07 investigation into phone hacking at fellow News International title the News of the World.

But Mr O'Neill denied there was anything improper about this - and revealed that he only approached Mr Hayman after failing to persuade his predecessor Peter Clarke to write for The Times.

He said he was "instrumental" in suggesting that his paper should take on Mr Hayman, who was being pursued by the Daily Telegraph as a possible columnist at the time.

He added: "Frankly now I wish I had let the Daily Telegraph sign him up. It would have been better for him and for us."

Mr O'Neill expressed concerns about new restrictions on journalists and police officers sharing meals and drinks.

He said: "I do fear that the ability to build a trustworthy relationship with someone is going to be seriously inhibited if you cannot have a coffee or a pint or a bite to eat with them.

"I do think that's a concern, and I think it's quite important for senior crime journalists to be able to meet senior police officers and talk openly and freely without necessarily a watchdog or press officer sitting on your shoulder recording every word or listening in on every word."

South Wales Police chief constable Peter Vaughan told the inquiry he regretted his force taking part in the BBC TV show Traffic Cops a few years ago.

"We have had experience of engaging with some programmes where we probably wished we didn't and hadn't engaged with them," he said.

"It's a hugely popular show, but it keeps being re-shown on different satellite channels, and perhaps some of the behaviour that you see in that isn't the behaviour that we want reflected into the wider community."

The inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, was adjourned until Monday.

PA

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