Police chief fights for job as tape furore escalates

Lord Goldsmith and the Independent Police Complaints Commission( IPCC) accepted his apology and ministers issued fresh declarations of support. But the Government's patience with the Commissioner, who has been embroiled in a series of damaging controversies in his 13 months in the job, is wearing thin.

Lord Goldsmith has made no secret of his fury over the intrusion and Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister, described Sir Ian's behaviour as "very baffling".

The Home Office gave Sir Ian - who admits taping a total of six different calls - its support and praised him as a reformer, but it is deeply dismayed by the latest furore. He was forced yo issue an apology in January after suggesting that the media coverage of the Soham killings in 2002 had been overplayed.

Police sources conceded it was another damaging mistake for the Commissioner to have made the tapes, but they believe his job is safe if he can retain the backing of Tony Blair and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary.

One senior Scotland Yard officer said: "It's the drip-drip effect of all these stories. It doesn't give a very good impression of him or the Met."

Sir Ian, who returns to his desk today from a skiing holiday, was ordered by the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) to produce a detailed account of who he had secretly taped.

Sir Ian told the MPA that he had recorded three calls to IPCC members, two on 22 July, the day that police officers shot dead the Brazilian electrician John Charles de Menezes after mistaking him for a suicide bomber. The IPCC is investigating whether Sir Ian gave misleading statements over the death.

The call to Lord Goldsmith taped by the Commissioner took place in September. Immediately afterwards, he rang a member of his family which was also "accidentally recorded".

The sixth taped call, in January, was to a journalist.

After two hours of talks with the MPA, Sir Ian's deputy insisted he had the full confidence of his force's management board.

Paul Stephenson, the Deputy Commissioner, said: "It is quite clear to everybody that the Commissioner does regret the unfortunate recording."

Len Duvall, the authority's chairman, said: " I have made it clear to the Commissioner it is wholly unacceptable for private telephone conversations to be recorded without the knowledge and consent of both parties involved. The Commissioner accepts this."

Charles Clarke said Sir Ian had his full confidence and the matter was closed.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, suggested he was being undermined by officers within Scotland Yard hostile to his modernising agenda.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the taping controversy did not merit Sir Ian's resignation. But he added that if the IPCC inquiry into the killing of Mr Menezes "does not exonerate him completely of misleading the public, then it is difficult to see how his position can remain tenable".

David Winnick, a Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "Sir Ian should learn the lesson and bear in mind that one or two more errors - putting his foot in it - could cost him his job."

The recorded conversations

By Nigel Morris

* 22 JULY: Nick Hardwick, chairman of the IPCC.

The call took place hours after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. They are understood to have clashed over whether there should be an independent investigation into the killing. Mr Hardwick is now heading the inquiry.

* 22 JULY: Roy Clarke, former director of investigations at the IPCC.

A former Scotland Yard detective, he was considering if there was a case for an inquiry into the shooting and, if so, what form it should take. He is now director of criminal investigations at HM Customs and Excise.

* 19 AUGUST: John Wadham, deputy chairman of the IPCC.

As Mr Hardwick was on holiday, Sir Ian is believed to have contacted him to inquire over the progress of the investigation. Mr Wadham, a solicitor, was previously director of Liberty, the civil liberties organisation.

* 8 SEPTEMBER: Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General.

Ironically the taped conversation was about the admissibility of intercept telephone evidence in court cases, an issue being investigated by the Government. The country's most senior law officer and the Metropolitan Police would be expected to speak regularly.

* 8 SEPTEMBER: An unnamed family member.

Immediately after putting the phone down on the Attorney General, he rang a "member of his family". The recording device did not disconnect, and this conversation was also taped.

* 26 JANUARY: Ian Katz, journalist, The Guardian

Sir Ian had given Katz a series of interviews during the previous year. Because of time pressures, the final interview "took place over the telephone and was therefore also recorded, as is normal practice for interviews with journalists".