BBC used 'deceit' says Home Office

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The Independent Online

The head of the Home Office wrote to the BBC's chairman, Gavyn Davies, to protest at the undercover "deceit" used in last week's documentary on racism in the police, it emerged last night.

John Gieve, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, wrote to Mr Davies on 12 September protesting about the methods used by the undercover reporter Mark Daly in "The Secret Policeman".

The revelation that the letter had been written led to further suggestionsthat the Government was attempting to bully the BBC ­ a criticism levelled in the David Kelly affair. Mr Gieve accused the BBC of using "a degree of deceit that might be necessary in dealing with a totalitarian regime".

He accused Mr Daly of "misleading" his police manager and other recruits. Mr Daly used a hidden camera to secretly film police recruits making racist remarks at Bruche police training centre in Cheshire.

Greater Manchester police is expected to drop charges against Mr Daly, who was arrested in August for allegedly earning a police salary with deception, falsifying his job application and damaging police property ­ after cutting a hole for his secret camera in his stab-proof vest.

Six police officers resigned after the Panorama documentary that showed one, as a trainee, dressing in a mock Ku Klux Klan mask and claiming he would murder Asians if he could. Two other officers remain suspended pending an investigation into the programme's revelations.

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed the letter from Mr Gieve but said the Government now believed the deception used by the BBC was justified. "This letter was ... before the programme was broadcast and before we knew what was in the programme," the spokeswoman said.

But she said the Home Office "absolutely refuted" reports the letter was an attempt to get the programme pulled. "Having seen the programme ... we recognise the serious issues it raised and we have acted with the relevant police forces," she said. "The Home Secretary has said that the revelations justified the way in which it came to light.

The Observer newspaper quoted a BBC source claiming that the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, Mike Todd, had warned the BBC earlier this month that there was a danger of a "Hutton-style" inquiry should the programme go to air. The source also claimed that Mr Todd suggested police forces wouldwithdraw co-operation from the BBC's Crimewatch programme.

The BBC is to hand over hours of unbroadcast footage to the Greater Manchester police that implicates other serving officers who were not named or shown in the documentary. The Independent on Sunday has learntthose who were named face charges of misconduct in public office ­ a rarely used charge that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

A Crown Prosecution Service official said: "We've brought these charges against police before." The investigation being conducted by the Police Complaints Authority and the officers' three home forces, Greater Manchester, North Wales and Cheshire, could also lead to hundreds of cases involving the officers being reviewed.

Other possible charges include conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Two officers have admitted they targeted and charged black and Asian people for motoring offences, while allowing white offenders to go free and several admitted to being active racists.

One of the centre's instructors, filmed making dismissive remarks to a room of trainees about an Asian recruit, was also removed from duties at Bruche.

Separate to the documentary, a Cheshire police officer was suspended yesterday afternoon after he was accused of using racist language. A police spokeswoman said the officer was "suspended pending the outcome of an internal disciplinary inquiry".