The Met's chief of spin faces difficult questions

 

As the man responsible for promoting the public image of the Metropolitan Police, the slew of negative headlines in the last 48 hours will not have been comfortable for Dick Fedorcio. But after 14 years of working behind the scenes as Scotland Yard's chief spin doctor, he now finds himself in the limelight with some difficult questions to answer.

Mr Fedorcio, who will appear before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee today to answer questions about his role in the Yard's handling of the phone-hacking inquiry and its relations with News International, played a central part in the hiring of the former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis as a public-relations consultant between October 2009 and September 2010.

As the Met's director of public affairs, Mr Fedorcio approved the decision to award two six-month contracts to Mr Wallis's company Chamy Media, despite knowing that the former NOTW executive would have been a key figure at the defunct Sunday paper at the height of a period when it is claimed that large-scale voicemail eavesdropping was going on.

The Independent has obtained a document that shows Mr Fedorcio's department also agreed in principle a third six-month contract on 1 September 2010 – the same day that The New York Times published an article outlining new allegations that there was widespread knowledge of phone hacking at the NOTW.

The document shows that Mr Wallis, who maintained close links with his former employers at News International while he was employed at the Yard, it is claimed, was then offered the contract only for the former tabloid executive to turn it down six days later.

Avuncular and assured, Mr Fedorcio is a familiar figure to Fleet Street journalists who deal with the Yard on a daily basis over its bread-and-butter business of fighting crime. It is in this role as the liaison man between newspapers and senior officers, including the four Metropolitan Police Commissioners he has now worked for, that the PR man attended seven meals with NOTW executives, including Mr Wallis, during the time that the paper was under investigation or the subject of continuing allegations.

One of those meals took place in April 2006 when Mr Fedorcio and the former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, who was in charge of the first hacking inquiry, met Mr Wallis for dinner at the Soho House private members' club. The Yard yesterday insisted it was "standard, professional practice" for the Yard's head of media to accompany senior officers to meetings with journalists. But critics insist the rules should have been different for encounters with the NOTW. Chris Bryant, an MP who was targeted by the paper, said: "A judge sitting in a court case on the newspaper would not be dining with its editors and I don't see why members of Scotland Yard should have done either."

Mr Fedorcio has been valued as a safe pair of hands in a crisis. He helped to steer Sir Paul Condon through the crisis created by the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

But like Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates, both of whom have now resigned over the phone-hacking scandal, Mr Fedorcio is facing claims that he did not fully appreciate the damage being caused to the Yard by the saga.

Mr Fedorcio said last night that he was unable to comment on the row over Mr Wallis's employment because of his appearance before MPs. The Yard has said that Mr Wallis had no input into operational decisions about the phone-hacking investigation.

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