News: Leveson Inquiry, Week 13 – Police, Fedorcio, crime reporters and Brett – Natalie Peck

18 03 2012

Last week was Week 13 of evidence at Leveson Inquiry. The Chairman heard from several crime reporters and more senior figures from the Metropolitan Police force, including head of press Dick Fedorcio (pictured), who has been heavily referenced in the evidence of others over the past two weeks. The last witness of the week was former “Times” in house lawyer, Alastair Brett.

The Monday morning hearing began with Lord Justice Leveson noting a request from the Hacked Off campaign for the Operation Motorman database to be published. The chairman said David Sherborne, barrister for the core participant victims, was welcome to formally submit the request if he thought it would highlight the culture and practice of the press rather than “who did what to whom”. In his opening remarks,  Leveson LJ told the inquiry his mind “remains open to all options” following an announcement by Lord Hunt that the Press Complaints Commission is to be shut down and reincarnated before the inquiry has finished. He added:

“I am grateful to him and Lord Black for keeping the inquiry team informed but it is important that… should not be taken as an endorsement or agreement.”

He also expressed concern over the leaking of witness statements to the press, before they have been made publicly available on the inquiry website, and said he will require core participants to sign a declaration of confidentiality.

The inquiry then heard from Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police, who added to evidence given by other senior officers last week. She said the leaking of information to the press from police officers was not an “endemic problem”. She said: “I genuinely do not believe this is a culture or anything other than isolated individuals.”

The assistant commissioner was questioned over former assistant commissioner John Yates’ handling of the review into the 2006 Met phone hacking investigation, and his relationship with Neil Wallis, then deputy editor of the News of the World. She told the inquiry:

“If I had been asked to do this piece of work and I knew somebody as well as it now appears [Yates knew Wallis]… do I have any conflict and if you do think you have any conflict you have to discuss that with the boss, and that’s what I would have done…I was completely and totally unaware of that relationship at the time. I had never heard of Mr Wallis until early 2011.”

Leveson LJ called the outcome of the conflict “disastrous” and said it had been suggested Yates had dismissed the case as a result of his friendship with Wallis. Dick revealed she could have taken charge of the review, but felt Yates had the relevant experience to deal with it. She said a 2009 Guardian article, which contained fresh allegations about hacking at the News of the World and prompted the review, was something the Met “couldn’t ignore and definitely needed to have a look at”. After a single day, Yates publicly announced that further investigation was not necessary.

Dick was also questioned over the Met’s relationship with the now-defunct Metropolitan Police Authority, and said she had laid down clear boundaries with Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London and then chairman of the organisation. She claimed Malthouse had told her not to put too many resources into the phone hacking investigation, and said she had reminded him of her operational independence. She described “finger-pointing” between the Met and the MPA after sensitive information on police investigations was leaked to the press on several occasions, after it was made available to the MPA.

Asked about her contact with the media, Dick said she would talk to journalists in the street and occasionally during social events but would not release information except through the Met press office. She admitted there was a perception that some police officers were too close to the media.

During the afternoon hearing the inquiry heard from Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, who said former Home Secretary Alan Johnson rejected plans for a full investigation into phone hacking. He said he discussed the case with Johnson and senior official in 2009 but there was little enthusiasm for carrying it forward. He told the inquiry:

“A discussion ensued with a minister and the Home Secretary at the time but there was not appetite for HMIC being involved. It never got off the ground, sadly…I said, looking at [the Guardian article], I thought the revelations merited some sort of independent review. I thought if the allegations if true in any degree would raise substantial public confidence issues.”

At the time, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, headed by O’Connor, was investigating allegations that Conservative minister Damian Green was being leaked confidential Home Office documents by a junior civil servant. O’Connor was asked about an HMIC review of police relationships, published last year. He said interactions between police officers and journalists should be regulated by without stifling contact, which would “defy reality”. He said:

“Those in regulation we didn’t manage to stop this… I take the view there needs to be a significant revision in the way it works, but not to shrink the relationship but to get it on the right footing… It’s much more creating the framework where everybody can understand the appropriate moral compass…We have to think about ways of not freezing down the public interest… It’s a public interest safety valve process.”

O’Connor said a survey of police hospitality showed most officers acted with common sense when it came to dealing with the media, and said officers were usually offered “tea and sandwiches” by journalists, rather than the “fashionable alternatives” received by some senior officers appearing before the inquiry. The review found 298 examples of inappropriate hospitality. Roger Baker, from HMIC, first provided this updated figure to the inquiry last week.

The Tuesday morning hearing began with Sara Cheesley, senior information officer at the Met. She said she had been “surprised” by the contract between Chamy Media, a company run by Neil Wallis, and the Met and only became aware of it in last year. She said Yates told her that he knew Wallis, but was told the pair met a couple of times a year. When asked by Leveson LJ whether she believed socialising with journalists was necessary for senior officers, Cheesley said she could not say either way, and later refused to answer the question.

Giving evidence into the afternoon hearing was Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s director of communications, who said a News of the World journalist filed a crime story from a computer at Scotland Yard. He said he had allowed Lucy Panton, crime reporter at the News of the World, to file a story on disgraced police commander Ali Dizaei from his office computer. His written statement said:

“She was being chased by telephone and/or text by her office to file this story, which they were expecting from her. To help her, and as she was under pressure, I offered to let her type the story, which she did from notes that she arrived with, in an e-mail on the standalone computer in my office. She accepted and wrote the story and sent it. I was present in the office throughout this time, and therefore got advance sight of a story about an MPS officer.”

Fedorcio said the computer was not connected to the MPS computer system and Panton would not have had access to police files or documents, but admitted it may have been an error in judgment to allow her to use the computer and his email address. The inquiry was shown the email from Panton to the news desk containing her copy, which had been forwarded from Fedorcio’s email account. The journalist asked the news team, including Ian Edmondson, to delete Fedorcio’s details from the email chain as it “would not be helpful 2 him for people 2 know I was using his office” [sic].

The statement also revealed the Directorate of Public Affairs was sent a Christmas hamper by then News of the World editor Andy Coulson in 2003, as a “thank you” for the efforts of the team in dealing with the paper. When questioned on this by Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, Fedorcio said he often dealt with requests from the paper on a Saturday afternoon, including an article on the alleged Victoria Beckham kidnap plot, which had been shrouded in secrecy by journalists to keep it away from competitors.

Fedorcio contradicted evidence given by former commissioner Lord Stevens earlier this month on the surveillance of DCS David Cook and his wife, former police officer Jacqui Hames by the News of the World in 2002, which Stevens said he had not been informed of. Hames told the inquiry she believed the scrutiny was due to her husband’s involvement in an inquiry into the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan. In his statement Fedorcio claims he informed Stevens that a meeting had been arranged between Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, Commander Andy Baker and Cook to explain why the couple had been put under surveillance by the paper. The inquiry has been told Wade said journalists suspected Cook and Hames to be having an affair, a fact disputed by Hames as the couple had been married for several years. Fedorcio said he could not remember the exact details of the meeting, but Wade may have alleged Cook was having an affair with someone else. Fedorcio said Cook and Baker told Wade one of her journalists was being paid by Southern Investigations, Morgan’s company, for consultancy work. He added: “[She was] non-plussed…I did not see a big reaction one way or another.”

Fedorcio’s written statement referred to the relationship John Yates and Neil Wallis, deputy editor of News of the World. Fedorcio said he was aware the two had a professional relationship but “did not understand them to have significant contact outside of work”. In his evidence to the inquiry Yates repeatedly referred to Wallis as a close personal friend. Ferdorcio was questioned over his own relationship with Wallis, after appointing his company, Chamy Media, to work with the press office. Wallis offered assistant to Fedorcio after his deputy took an extended leave of absence due to illness. He told the inquiry he had to put forward three applicants for the position, and chose candidates from the Bell Pottinger and Hannover public relations companies.Jay QC suggested the other two candidates had been chosen because Fedorcio wanted Wallis in the postion, and knew the other companies would charge more, which Fedorcio denied. Leveson LJ added:

“There are obviously other people who are perhaps more comparable to Chamy Media than Bell Pottinger… Let’s be blunt about it. This is set up to get a result.”

Fedorcio admitted he may not have taken on Wallis’s firm if he had been aware of the extent of his friendship with Yates. He was also questioned over the lending of a Metropolitan Police horse to Rebekeh Brooks, after it was pointed out his son carried out work experience at the Sun while he was arranging the lending process.

During the Wednesday morning hearing, Guardian crime reporter Sandra Laville said she feared closing down unofficial contact between police and the media would drive information “underground”. She said a mutually beneficial relationship is in the public interest and has “lasted for a long time because it actually works”. She added:

“I think there’s been an overreaction within the Metropolitan Police already, yes. Absolutely. It affects everything I do at the moment.”

She said a senior officer she had known for years recently refused to discuss a case with her without permission from the press office. Although he was happy to disclose information, the office disallowed it. She said:

“I think we already have laws and guidelines in place and I think they should be reiterated. You have to trust police officers, police officers who are investigating serious crimes… you can regulate as much as you like, unless you can trust them I don’t think it’s going to work. I wouldn’t encourage more rules.”

Paul Peachey, currently of the Independent, said it would be obvious to other staff members if he was “regularly wined and dined” by police officers, but said he did occasionally have modest meals with officers.

Leveson LJ asked if “expense account dining” meant either party would expect to get something out of  a meeting. Peachey said the Independent had a £30 per head limit on hospitality and meals were infrequent, and most press dealings with police were “above board”. He added:

“Provided that media organisations and police forces remain vigilant I believe that situation will continue, especially given the recent, renewed scrutiny of the relationships.”

Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas, of the Sunday Times, told the inquiry he had not accepted or offered any hospitality from the Met, but said he would not have an issue meeting an officer for coffee if working on a story. He said he had not experienced a chill in police relations but admitted press officers tended to give limited information. He added:

“By the nature of what press officers do… they give quite limited information. It’s come through another person. You’re not actually speaking directly – its second hand by its nature.”

In the afternoon hearing, president of the Crime Reporters Association, Jeff Edwards, described being asked to pay police officers for information when working for the News of the World between 1981 and 1985.

He told the inquiry how his news editor suggested he spent company money on contacts. He said:

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, what are you suggesting?’ He said ‘You know, you need to put some inducements out there…About three or four weeks later clearly my performance was still not satisfactory; he took me to one side… and said, ‘You should essentially be bribing more police officers’… A couple of weeks later I was removed from post and replaced…It was 30 years ago, I can’t talk about how things proceeded after that but I thought it was indicative of the culture in that particular organisation at the time… there was an element in there that had a tendency towards questionable, unethical behaviour.”

Edwards went on to work for the Daily Mirror, where he was crime editor until 2008. He said the paper had a very high ethical standard.

He said he met Dick Fedorcio, director of public affairs for the Met, several times but only one on a one-to-one basis. He admitted he though Fedorcio concentrated on papers he thought were more influential but called him a “very professional man”. He added:

“Some organisations, I think News International, possibly Associated Newspapers, he was more keen to engage with than others.”

Edwards responded to evidence given by former police officer Jacqui Hames, who told the inquiry the journalist had been allowed to accompany a robbery raid at Heathrow airport in 2004. He denied being offered the access as a favour, and said he had spent months working with officers on Operation Grafton. After a failed raid in 2003, Edwards, who was working at the Mirror, was allowed to join officers on a renewed effort in 2004, and took a photographer who pictured the arrested men. He said: “I don’t think I got that because of a special favour – it was an endeavour on my behalf that met with success.”

He advocated a common sense approach to police and press relationships based on “ethicality, good judgment and integrity”. He added: “It’s about deft adjustments, delicate adjustments rather than some kind of scorched earth policy, a carpet bombing of the whole system.”

The witness statement of  Mark Hughes, Daily Telegraph, was taken as read by the inquiry.

The Thursday morning hearing began with an unexpected appearance from DCI Clive Driscoll, who said the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence could have been jeopardised by Daily Mail reporting. Driscoll, a senior investigation officer on Operation Fishpool, a 2006 review of the investigation, said leaks reported by the Mail had a negative impact on the progress of the case. He told the inquiry the source of the leaks was never discovered and “everyone became a suspect”. He said in a written statement:

“Many of the leaked stories were published by the Daily Mail and my recollection is that Stephen Wright was usually the author. I do not believe that Mr Wright would have deliberately done anything to undermine the investigation. I found it odd that the Daily Mail were publishing many of the leaks, as they had always campaigned for the suspects to be prosecuted and had been supportive of the family’s fight for justice. I cannot explain why this was the case, but felt that the newspaper was being used.”

Driscoll told the inquiry: “It had a negative effect on the investigation, it had a negative effect on my team… I don’t know who leaked this, so therefore everyone becomes a suspect.”

He praised the paper for pursuing the story, but said an article published shortly after a meeting between officers, the Lawrence family and their lawyers in 2007 had undermined the police relationship with the murdered teenager’s family. He added:

“This newspaper article was particularly damaging as it undermined our relationship with the family. Every time a story leaked to the press I had to repair relations. It also risked the integrity of the investigation and trust of other witnesses. The upset that was caused was evidence. Really it reinforced their belief that it was corruption that played a part in her having to wait 18 years in order to get partial justice.”

Driscoll said a senior member of the Met was suspected of briefing and making allegations outside of the official line, but did not confirm the name or that the individual had been the source of the leaks. The individual is currently under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Operation Elveden, the Met investigation into alleged payments to police by members of the press. He said the Mail had agreed not to publish certain articles relating to the investigation after contact from the police, and thanked them, saying “if they had it would have had a serious consequence on the investigation we were planning”.

The inquiry also heard from the Sun’s crime editor Mike Sullivan, who was questioned over his relationship with senior Met figures, including John Yates and Dick Fedorcio. He said he had a “reasonably close working relationship” with Fedorcio that had developed over several years. Jay QC said records showed the pair had met five times between 2004 and 2008. Sullivan said the meetings were to keep him in the loop of police information. He said:

“Over a period of time you get to know someone well and therefore you would normally expect to perhaps have more contact with that person, not just Dick but with plenty of others, rather than someone arriving [like if] another newspaper has appointed a crime reporter…I would regard myself as part of a group of long-serving crime reporters, who would have been in a circle of trusted journalists for Mr Fedorcio to talk to.”

Sullivan says he has met former senior Met police officers John Yates and Andy Hayman on social occasions, but had not been close to any other assistant commissioner. He said evidence heard by the inquiry from former assistant commissioner Bob Quick was wrong. Quick said he had seen Sullivan, Sun crime reporter Lucy Panton and Stephen Wright of the Mail having drinks with Sir Paul Stephenson and Yates, and implied it was indicative of a general culture between some senior officers and journalists. Sullivan referred to it as a one-off occasion. He further contradicted Quick, saying he was not aware of the Sun ever having used Southern Investigations, the company run by murder victim Daniel Morgan and Jonathan Rees, as alleged by the former officer in his written statement.

He told the inquiry he had been informed by a reliable source that the Met monitored stories written by journalists and graded them on how favourable they were to the force. Neil Garnham QC, representing the Met, question Sullivan over his allegations. Sullivan told Jay QC:

“I was reliably informed three to four, perhaps five, years ago that there was such a system… I was told that that system existed and I quite believe it.”

Stephen Wright, associate news editor of the Daily Mail, said he felt CRA briefings had been used by senior officers to “control the flow of information”. He described asking Lord Condon an uncomfortable question at a briefing in 1999 and being reprimanded by a press officer afterwards. He said he received information senior officers but did not speak to anyone below inspector rank. He said:

“I am a journalist and we want to gather information. What we hear and whether we use it is an entirely different matter…“We are soon out of work if we rely on press releases for our stories.”

Wright told the inquiry he had a good relationship with the family of Stephen Lawrence, and said the Mail would not have published a story about the investigation if the police objected or thought it would jeopardise the investigation. He said his 2007 article on a meeting between the family and police officers, mentioned by DCI Clive Driscoll, had come from a source but not from anyone on the investigation team. He went on to tell the inquiry:

“I am concerned in the current climate… I have current colleagues in the CRA who have been receiving intimidating phone calls from a certain department in the Met Police Service about who sources are.”

Wright also said he is happy to meet police officers “for coffee, breakfast or a drink”, and said there had been an overemphasis on hospitality arrangements between police officers and press, although the “closeness and intensity” of some relationships was a concern.

In the afternoon hearing, Alastair Brett, formerly in-house lawyer at Times Newspapers Limited, told the inquiry how information that Times reporter Patrick Foster had illegally hacked into the email account of DC Richard Horton, author of the “NightJack” blog, was not disclosed during legal action in 2009. Horton tried to injunct the paper to prevent them revealing his identity. The Times failed to disclose that the information had been obtained by hacking, as Foster “stood up” his story with information from the public domain after discovering Horton’s identity. Brett said he had acted in the belief the blogger would not take the matter to court.

Brett told the inquiry he did not believe the court had been misled over the unmasking of Horton, which he said had been obtained “entirely legitimately”. Leveson LJ, visibly angered, replied:

“No he hadn’t, with great respect. [Foster] couldn’t put out of his mind that which he already knew.”

Foster approached Brett with the story in 2009 and admitted hacking into the officer’s email account to establish his identity. Foster had previously hacked email accounts at Oxford University while a student in 2004. The lawyer admitted an email to barrister Jonathan Barnes, referring to Foster’s past hacking at Oxford but not the Horton incident, was “oblique to an extent which is embarrassing”.

When asked by Horton’s lawyers whether his email account had been unlawfully accessed, Brett told Foster not to engage with the question. He said he told the reporter: “You have done this legitimately now – because you have done this legitimately now we don’t have to engage on that subject.”

Leveson LJ pressed Brett over the misleading nature of the information provided to the High Court. Brett eventually conceded it was “not entirely accurate”.  Brett told the inquiry: “Perhaps I was making a wrong decision but I was compartmentalising things. I put the earlier email hacking into a compartment.” Brett said he told the journalist he had acted in a highly unethical and considered reporting the matter to managing editor David Chappell. He added:

“I was told it was a one-off occasion… and I thought ‘I’ve got to tell him you cannot behave like this at a proper newspaper’.”

Evidence from Peter Tickner, formerly of the MPS and the MPA, was postponed until a later date.

Next week the inquiry will hear from Dave Harrison (retired criminal investigator), Jeremy Lawton (Daily Star), James Murray (Sunday Express), John Twomey (Daily Express and Chair of the Crime Reporters Association), Adrian Faber (Birmingham Express and Star), Tim Gordon (South Wales Echo), Commissioner Bernard HoganHowe (MPS), Justin Penrose (Sunday Mirror), Tom Pettifor (Daily Mirror), Chief Inspector Sally Seeley (Head of Press and PR, West Midlands Police), Chief Constable Chris Sims (West Midlands Police), Chief Constable Stephen House (Strathclyde Police), Catherine Llewellyn (Press Officer, South Wales Police), Sean O’Neil (Times), Jonathan Russell (The Herald Scotland), Rob Shorthouse (Director of Communications, Strathclyde Police) and Chief Constable Peter Vaughan (South Wales Police). Statements from Scott Hesketh (Daily Star Sunday), Abby Alford (South Wales Echo) and Mark Thompson are to be taken as read.

Natalie Peck, is the web reporter for Hacked Off and a PhD researcher examining privacy law and public figures. She is @nataliepeck on Twitter.

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2 responses

19 03 2012
Law and Media Round Up – 19 March 2012 « Inforrm's Blog

[...] was the thirteenth week of evidence at the Leveson Inquiry. As Natalie Peck reported for Inforrm here, the Inquiry heard from former Times in-house lawyer, Alastair Brett, crime reporters and senior [...]

3 08 2012
Inforrm Summer Break « Inforrm's Blog

[...] (Weeks 1 and 2, Weeks 3 and 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, Week 15, Week 16, Week 17, Week 18, Week 19, Week 20, Week 21, Week 22, Week 23, Weeks 24 [...]

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