Dirty tricks and leaks at the heart of Scotland Yard
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Monday 16 April 2012
Scotland Yard today faces claims of a secret campaign from inside the highest ranks of the force to oust the former Commissioner Ian Blair – a civil war that pitted senior colleagues against one another and undermined its leadership during one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.
The extraordinary allegations are contained in a suppressed police-intelligence report which outlines allegations that a senior Met manager set out to cripple his own Commissioner. It will lead to renewed scrutiny of the entangled relationship between the Metropolitan Police and Rupert Murdoch's News International.
Lord Blair, whose tenure as Britain's top police officer between 2005 and 2008 was dogged by a long-running newspaper campaign questioning his competence, has demanded to know why he was kept in the dark about the existence of the report. He saw the internal intelligence document – written in 2006 by an officer serving on the Yard's original phone-hacking inquiry – for the first time only earlier this year.
Lord Blair has now submitted the file to the Yard's Operation Weeting – the ongoing investigation into the hacking scandal – with a series of searching questions about why he was not told about it when he was in office and what action was taken to investigate the leaks.
The Independent can reveal that the report contains incendiary claims that the Met's eight-strong management board was "compromised" – effectively no longer secure – with intelligence details from a reopened murder investigation being passed out of the Yard along with material reflecting a civil war inside the Met's upper echelons about the way it was being run. The Met last night confirmed the existence of the intelligence report. Written by a detective inside the Met's original phone-hacking inquiry, it states that a member of the management board – comprising the Yard's most senior personnel – was briefing against Lord Blair's performance and informing outsiders about key Met cases.
The report also claims that Lord Stevens, Lord Blair's predecessor, had a close relationship with a senior executive from the News of the World who is named in the report.
Following his retirement in February 2005, Lord Stevens was signed up to write a column for the NOTW which was ghost-written by the paper's former deputy editor Neil Wallis. The Times and the NOTW also serialised his biography. Police watchdogs last week heavily criticised senior Yard officers for the hiring of Mr Wallis as a PR adviser in 2009, saying the force had exhibited "poor judgement" in employing the tabloid executive.
The management board of the Met has recently been the subject of examination by the Leveson Inquiry. Among its key figures was Dick Fedorcio, the head of the Yard's directorate of public affairs who resigned from his post last month when it became clear he would face gross-misconduct charges over the decision to employ Mr Wallis in 2009.
Mr Fedorcio last night denied that he had played any part in the leaking of information, saying: "I have no knowledge of this." And Mr Fedorcio recently told Lord Justice Leveson, "I don't believe I have ever briefed against Lord Blair."
The former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick told the Leveson Inquiry that negative briefing against Lord Blair had intensified in the run-up to his being chosen as Lord Stevens' successor. Mr Paddick revealed there had been media speculation as to how Mr Fedorcio could continue in his role as the Met's media boss when "he had briefed so heavily against Lord Blair before his appointment as Commissioner".
The Met last night said that the report did exist but was not being investigated by Operation Weeting. In a statement, the Yard said: "The intelligence report dates from several years ago. It did not identify an individual as the source of information allegedly being disclosed from the MPS management board and it did not warrant further action at that time. This remains the case and it is not being investigated by Operation Weeting."
Intelligence reports are a key part of police investigations, providing the building blocks for evidence in criminal inquiries as well as providing officers with vital background on individuals of interest to police. Their use is tightly controlled and each report is graded according to the reliability of its source and contents as well as who can have access to it.
The document provided to Lord Blair – which is likely to have been classified as highly sensitive and restricted to a small number of officers – also focuses on links between Lord Stevens and a senior NOTW executive, and describes a close relationship between the two. The report suggests the two became close when Lord Stevens was the Yard's Deputy Commissioner between 1998 and 2000.
The document was drawn up at the time that the Yard had undertaken a fresh investigation into the south London murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan, whose 1987 killing remains one of the Met's most troubling unsolved cases.
The commissionership of Lord Blair was one of the most turbulent in the history of the Yard, coinciding with the 7/7 bombings and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by armed police in Stockwell, south London.
Lord Blair recently told the Leveson Inquiry that he believed the way he was consistently criticised as Commissioner – for being too liberal and too close to the Labour government and their policing policies – resulted from "political forces and the press" combining to deliver "a monstering" that lasted throughout his entire term of office. He told the inquiry: "I can think of no equivalent long-term treatment of a public servant in this manner."
He also told Lord Justice Leveson that when he was Commissioner the number of leaks to the media increased and, though he had never suspected senior colleagues of passing information to journalists for money, he believed there was "a desire to advance their own views in the public mind or to improve their own profile".
The Oxford-educated officer was pilloried by a number of newspapers, in particular by News International titles. In an editorial published in June 2006, the NOTW called for Lord Blair's resignation after the Stockwell shooting, saying he had "lost the dressing room" and the "top tier at the Yard are in despair". It added: "We share Lord Stevens' view that police cannot engage in politically correct pussyfooting when lives are at risk."
Late in his commissionership, Lord Blair was told that both his official and private mobile telephone numbers had been found in the notebook of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Operation Weeting told Lord Blair last year that it believed these numbers had been obtained by Mulcaire in 2006 – the same year when intelligence was being gathered about the Yard's internecine strife. Lord Blair said he had yet to be shown evidence that his telephone had been hacked.
The relationship between Lord Stevens and Mr Wallis was detailed by the former tabloid executive during his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry earlier this month. Mr Wallis, who disclosed that he had advised Lord Stevens to present himself as a "thief taker" in his successful application to become head of the Met, said the former Commissioner had conducted a successful relationship with the media that contrasted with the "cerebral" Lord Blair, who, he said, had not been interested in the views of the tabloid press.
When Lord Stevens began his column for the NOTW, entitled "The Chief", Lord Blair made clear his displeasure. The column continued until October 2007. Mr Wallis said: "On a number of occasions [Lord Blair] was heard to comment on the fact that he could not understand how a column could be headlined 'The Chief' when it was factually incorrect as he himself was now the Metropolitan Police chief." Lord Stevens did not respond to a request to comment on the allegations in the intelligence report.
Lord Blair said he had no comment to make on the matter.
The Labour MP Chris Bryant, who helped to expose the phone-hacking scandal, said: "These are extraordinary revelations. As every new strand of this story appears it seems ever clearer that the Murdoch newspaper empire behaved like a state within a state." News International declined to comment.
Lord Blair: technocrat or pioneer?
When Ian Blair moved into the Commissioner's suite on the eighth floor of New Scotland Yard on 1 January 2005, the differences between the Oxford-educated policeman and his predecessor soon became clear.
To the public and indeed much of his force, John Stevens had succeeded in building up a reputation as a man of action with a common touch. His nickname, "Swifty", was a reference to his impressive arrest rate as a detective and he was regularly called the "coppers' cop".
By contrast, Lord Blair was perceived to be a distant technocrat obsessed with political correctness, who was eager to side with the then-Labour government. In reality, he was a pioneer in areas such as increasing ethnic minorities in the Met – but it was easy for his critics to contrast him with Lord Stevens and label him as "New Labour's cop".
Events did little to reduce the perception that Lord Blair's Yard was prone to avoidable – and horrific – mishaps. The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and the revelation of the failures that led to the tragedy in July 2005 dented morale in the force and led to accusations that the man at the top was a divisive figure.
Ironically for a man panned as politically correct, he was accused in 2008 by the Met's highest-ranking Asian officer, Tarique Ghaffur, of racism and discrimination. This was strongly denied, but Mr Ghaffur left the force with a £300,000 out-of-court settlement.
Lord Blair resigned in October 2008 after London mayor Boris Johnson made it clear the Yard needed "new leadership". He was made a life peer in May 2010.
The Metropolitan Police: a force divided
Lord Blair, formerly Deputy Commissioner to Lord Stevens, becomes head of the Metropolitan Police. He is criticised for being too close to the Labour government. Lord Stevens later writes a column for the News of the World.
The Yard begins investigating a complaint from Buckingham Palace that details about the private life of Prince William are appearing in the NOTW. Officers establish royal aides' voicemail messages are being listened to by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and the paper's royal editor, Clive Goodman.
A detective sergeant on the hacking investigation, later criticised for its failure to tackle the full extent of the scandal, writes an internal report stating that the Yard's management board is "compromised" and material damaging to the reputation of the force and its leader is being leaked.
The Crown Prosecution Service says it will not press charges against Kate Moss for alleged cocaine use after an investigation ordered by Lord Blair. It was later alleged the inquiry foundered because of an internal Met campaign to erode the Commissioner's authority.
Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman are jailed for phone hacking.
Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur accuses Lord Blair of discrimination and threatens to take the Yard to an employment tribunal.
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