Police warned on press 'flirting'

  • @iburrell

Metropolitan Police officers have been warned against “late night carousing” and alcohol-fuelled “flirting” with journalists in an official inquiry report which castigates senior Scotland Yard figures for their cosy relationships with the media.

Officers have been told they must in future record in their notebooks details of conversations with journalists and inform Scotland Yard of friends or relatives who are employed in the media.

Elizabeth Filkin, the former parliamentary commissioner for standards, said the “improper disclosure of information” from Scotland yard was “damaging to the public, the Metropolitan Police service and to the policing of London”. Releasing her report today she said: I did identify a number of serious problems, some in my view very serious.”

Ms Filkin was asked to investigate the subject after the phone-hacking scandal revealed the intimacy of Scotland Yard and News International. “There was speculation that cosy relationships involving excessive hospitality, between some senior police officers and News of the World journalists, undermined the willingness of the police to pursue possible criminal offences,” said Ms Filkin.

Her report – based on interviews with police of different ranks, Metropolitan Police staff and media workers - contained scathing criticism of the Yard’s higher echelons. “It was said by some police officers and staff that there appeared to be one rule for senior contact with the media and another for the rest of the organisation.”

Nick Hardwick, former chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was quoted saying: “I think that there was a set of very unhealthy relationships in the senior team at the Met. Some weren’t just briefing against us (the IPCC) but they were briefing against each other.”

Ms Filkin was told that media hospitality had become a problem. “Many of those who spoke to me said that a culture had developed, at some senior levels in the organisation, which made it normal, and in some cases expected, that contact with the media would be close,” she said. “Hospitality which is now widely considered inappropriate was accepted.”

Responding to the report today, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe agreed to greater openness in relations with the media and said: “Meetings will no longer be enhanced by hospitality and alcohol.”

Ms Filkin uncovered a culture of leaking information, which was both authorised and unauthorised. Some officers tipped off the media for reasons including “vanity, ‘buzz’, flirtation, a sense of power and control and professional advantage”. But the Scotland Yard press office was also seen as “impartial”. One officer alleged to Ms Filkin that a story about a tragic death had been leaked by the press office ahead of the victim’s family being informed because the Yard was trying to “prevent the publication of damaging information” about a member of the Metropolitan police management board.

The report called on Scotland Yard to improve public trust by being more transparent in its dealings with the media. Briefings should be given on the record to minimise attribution to “police sources” and in the “tea and coffee territory” of a police station or incident room.

It offered police officers a warning guide to “ten tactics” used by the media, including “yet another bottle of wine at lunch”, and “flirting…designed to get you to drop your defences and say far more than you intended”. As a final piece of advice to the force which has seen its reputation tarnished by its failures investigating phone-hacking, the report warned: “It may help to assume you are being recorded when you talk to journalists.”

Ms Filkin also recommended that Scotland Yard be less reliant on the national print media. She quoted former Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned in July over his links to the former News of the World editor Neil Wallis. “The [Metropolitan Police] should bother a little less about parts of the written media,” said Sir Paul. “And invest heavily in both internal communications and its ability to communicate directly with people via new social media opportunities.”