Met officer's evidence at Leveson Inquiry 'may prejudice future trials'

Attorney General to look at Sue Akers' testimony about a 'culture of illegal payments' at The Sun
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The head of Scotland Yard's investigation into illegal newsgathering may have endangered the chances of convicting journalists, police or other public officials when she gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, it emerged last night.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, is to look into whether allegations aired by the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Sue Akers, could prejudice any future trials. Ms Akers offered testimony to the Leveson Inquiry into media standards and ethics 10 days ago when she claimed that reporters at The Sun newspaper had groomed a "network of corrupted officials" to offer leaks about celebrities and high-profile cases by using a "culture of illegal payments".

She detailed that one public official had received a sum of £80,000 from the newspaper, with some individuals being held on retainers to regularly provide information and others using relatives to receive the money.

This has now led to a complaint to the Attorney General's office which he and his team of lawyers are obliged to investigate.

A spokeswoman for Mr Grieve confirmed last night: "Evidence given during the Leveson Inquiry has been drawn to the attention of the Attorney General's office. The Attorney General will consider the concerns raised."

Evidence given to the inquiry is subject to parliamentary privilege, meaning witnesses are able to give statements safe in the knowledge that they cannot be sued or held in contempt of court for what they say. But while this protects her personally, it does not prevent her comments nevertheless potentially causing problems for future trials.

To date, 11 journalists who are current or former employees of The Sun have been arrested on suspicion of bribing public officials.

Concerns were raised when the inquiry was established that it could pose the risk of unfairly influencing the course of future trials. With that in mind, Lord Justice Leveson stated in his opening remarks in July 2011 that he was conscious of this danger and was determined to avoid it.

However, former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks told the House of Commons culture committee in December that allegations aired about her at the hearings were "bound to prejudice" the police investigation into phone hacking.

The Metropolitan Police declined to comment last night.

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A private-detective agency that worked for the News of the World was gathering intelligence about the private lives of senior Metropolitan Police officers before the phone-hacking scandal broke, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard yesterday.

Robert Jay, QC, counsel for the inquiry, questioned the former Scotland Yard commissioner, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, and suggested that Southern Investigations was monitoring senior officers in 2004. Lord Stevens said he had not been aware of the agency's operations.

Later in the hearing, the Surrey chief constable Lynne Owens, a former assistant commisisoner at the Met, said the press had felt it "strange" that she refused to meet them for lunch. Ms Owens, who was responsible for security for the Royal Wedding and Barack Obama's visit to London added that she found it "abhorrent" that police officers could leak information about celebrities.