The extent of the contact between the press and Scotland Yard was “neither normal nor entirely healthy” when the new Metropolitan Police commissioner took over last year, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, who followed Sir Paul Stephenson into the UK’s top police job in 2011, said the phone hacking scandal and its aftermath had left the Met in an ”unstable state”, needing to change its behaviour and its relationship with the media.
In his first public evaluation of what Mr Hogan-Howe called the “furore caused by the phone hacking affair”, the commissioner told the judicial review of the culture and practices of the press that he had been “surprised” by the frequency and extent of Met officers’ contacts with reporters.
His written statement to the inquiry said the “boundaries between the MPS and the media need to be reconsidered and reset.”
In pointed criticism of the regime he inherited, Mr Hogan-Howe’s statement said that since July of last year all members of the Met’s management board were now required to keep a record of all contact they have with the media, and a new auditing process had been put in place that replaces the previous policy where there was no monitoring or recording of meetings with the press.
Regarded as the Home Secretary, Theresa May’s first choice to lead the Met, and widely admired for his direct, back-to-basics view of policing, the former chief constable of Merseyside Police told Lord Justice Leveson that although the bar he had set may have been high, he would await the inquiry’s conclusion before accepting that “a more austere” regime was affecting the flow of information between his force and Fleet Street.
Although the commissioner said that it was normal for police and journalists to meet and share a coffee or a meal, he warned that alcohol taken during these meetings was inappropriate. “The question is around their social interactions and if complicated by alcohol, it seems to me that there is a risk that in fact their judgement is clouded and the relationship develops in a different way.”
Mr Hogan-Howe revealed to the inquiry that he had launched a clampdown on “inappropriate relationships” and police leaks to the media. His written statement stated “I will not tolerate secret conversations between police officers, of whatever rank, and representatives of the media.”
Following Mr Hogan-Howe’s testimony, the Sunday Mirror crime reporter, Justin Penrose, told the inquiry how the clampdown had affected his ability to work. “We are being treated almost like criminals to a certain extent.”
The inquiry learned from the commissioner that nine separate investigations into police officers leaking material to the media had carried out since September last year. Five of the leak probes concerned material given to national newspapers.
The Met’s department for professional standards, according to the commissioner, instigated an investigation after being handed intelligence from within Scotland Yard or other enforcement agencies.
His written statement revealed that over the past five years, the DPS had carried out 38 investigations involving 41 allegations of “inappropriate relationships with the media”.
Almost a third of the investigations successfully identified the officer or Met staff member who was the source of the leak. The statement added : “I am informed that 16 police officers and police staff have been prosecuted for misusing police information over the past decade. 11 were found guilty. 29 officers and staff have been dismissed or asked to resign.”
However the commissioner told the inquiry that he would never argue for every leak to be investigated, saying : “I think you’d drive yourself barmy if you did that.”Reuse content