Met press chief reveals 'incestuous' Murdoch ties

Dick Fedorcio tells Leveson Inquiry he let NOTW journalist file story on his computer

James Cusick
Wednesday 14 March 2012 01:00 GMT
Metropolitan Police's head of communications, Dick Fedorcio
Metropolitan Police's head of communications, Dick Fedorcio (Susannah Ireland)

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Louise Thomas

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The "incestuous" relationship between Scotland Yard and Rupert Murdoch's tabloid newspapers was laid bare at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.

In deeply embarrassing testimony from the Metropolitan Police's communications chief, Dick Fedorcio, it was revealed that work experience placements were arranged at News International for the teenage son of the former Met commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, with Mr Fedorcio's son also given a valued placement at The Sun.

The inquiry heard that the former NOTW crime reporter, Lucy Panton filed a story from Mr Fedorcio's Scotland Yard office using his personal computer, and that the loan of a police horse to the former NI chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, may have been a well-timed "favour being called in".

A tendering process overseen by Mr Fedorcio which handed the former NOTW deputy editor, Neil Wallis, a lucrative consultancy contract with the Met's press office was also called into question. Mr Fedorcio, who has headed the Met's communications team since 1997, is suspended while an investigation into the hiring of Mr Wallis is carried out. He dismissed a description by the inquiry's leading counsel, Robert Jay QC, that the force's relationship with News International was "incestuous".

During questioning, the Met's communications head revealed that between 2003 and 2008, the now-closed NOTW dominated the scheduled meetings he arranged. During 2003 – when phone hacking was already an established practice inside the NOTW – Mr Fedorcio said The Sun and the NOTW were the only newspapers he visited twice.

He told the inquiry that in December of that year, Andy Coulson, then the Sunday tabloid's editor, sent the public affairs department at the Yard a Christmas hamper. Within weeks of the arrests in 2006 of the NOTW's royal correspondent Clive Goodman, and the tabloid's private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire – both of whom were later jailed over illegal phone hacking – lunches and dinners continued to be arranged by the Met with NOTW executives.

One-to-one meetings between the NOTW and Scotland Yard also continued within weeks of the decision by the Met not to investigate if hacking went beyond Mulcaire and Goodman.

Mr Fedorcio told the inquiry he had never discussed phone hacking with NOTW executives and could not recall having conversations with News International executives about the arrests of Goodman and Mulcaire.

He said it had been an "error of judgment" to allow Ms Panton to use his computer and his private email address to file a story to the NOTW in 2010. The crime reporter sent an "insider's account" of prison life relating to the former Met commander Ali Dizaei. Mr Fedorcio said he was simply helping a friend.

On the "horsegate" affair, Mr Fedorcio insisted the loan of the retired police horse to Ms Brooks in 2007 could have resulted in positive media coverage.

Neil Wallis, was hired by Mr Fedorcio in late 2009, shortly after The Guardian reported that phone hacking at the tabloid had left a trail of victims.

Claiming he needed someone with police and media experience, the inquiry heard how Mr Fedorcio had tried to parachute Mr Wallis into the job. However, the personnel department at the Met insisted on a competitive tendering process.

Two leading PR firms were asked to bid by Mr Fedorcio. They were Bell Pottinger and Hanover. Mr Wallis's Chamy Media company was hired after his bid came in 50 per cent below his rivals.

Lord Justice Leveson said to Mr Fedorcio: "The point is, this was set up to get a result" in Mr Wallis's favour. This was denied.

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