The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MS SANDRA ELIZABETH LAVILLE (affirmed).

  • Please give your full name.

  • Sandra Elizabeth Laville.

  • You've provided the Inquiry with a witness statement dated 8 February of this year. You've signed a statement of truth in the standard form; that's right, isn't it?

  • Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • I'd just like to begin by setting out your career history. You say at paragraph 5 of your statement that you've been a journalist for 23 years and you have wide experience of covering both home and foreign news.

  • You started your career on local papers in Northampton and then Plymouth before moving to London?

  • You worked for the Evening Standard for four years and you then joined the Daily Telegraph, where you covered major home and foreign news stories for six years; is that right?

  • Your work there included covering some of the major conflicts of that period, investigative reporting, feature writing and working as a senior reporter on the home news team?

  • You also worked on the news desk from time to time. You then moved to the Guardian seven years ago, where you worked as a senior news correspondent and, latterly, as the crime correspondent?

  • And that's the position you now hold?

  • You explain that most Guardian News and Media Limited journalists are expected to write for both the Guardian and the Observer, so you give evidence today you say on behalf of the Observer as well; is that right?

  • You say throughout your career you've had experience of dealing with police officers, one way or another?

  • In your witness statement, would it be a fair description of your evidence to say that there are the following key themes, if I set them out? The first key theme is that, as a journalist, you're the people's eyes and ears, that your job is to hold powerful organs of the state, like the MPS, to account and ensure that they do not abuse their powers?

  • That's the first. The second is that the official Met police outlets of information are of value to you but of limited value, for a variety of reasons which we'll explore, and they don't always give you the full picture, all of the information that you need to do your job?

  • The next theme is that for that reason you rely on informal contacts with police officers?

  • And that there's nothing inherently wrong with this informal contact, you say; it can operate lawfully and in the public interest?

  • And finally you'd be extremely concerned if anything were done that had the effect of suppressing that informal contact?

  • I would like to take you through those themes, but before I do, I'd like you just to highlight as you see it the historical context to the culture of relations between the media on the one hand and the Metropolitan Police Service on the other. In your witness statement you described something of a pendulum swing. Where do you say the pendulum is swinging to and from?

  • The pendulum tends to swing from openness and back to a clampdown on the flow of information to pressure upon individual officers to stop them talking freely, and then back to openness again when there's a reaction against that. And then if there's another -- the Commissioner comes in or there's an incident that the police perceive as coming from too much openness, if you like, the pendulum swings back again, and predominantly there's the polarity of the kind of position of prohibition, of stopping people talking, making the information come from the official channels only, and then there's the position of openness, where officers of inspector rank and above currently are allowed to speak freely to the press without getting authority from above.

  • You refer to Lord Condon's tenure as Commissioner. What was the position then, from your perception?

  • From my experience at the time, you could not talk to a police officer without a press officer present, and even if you met that officer outside court, they would want to talk to you, but they would say, "I can't do it, Sandra, you have to call the press office". The press office would then arrive the next day, or possibly the next week, and stand on the shoulder of that officer and control what he was saying, in my perception.

  • When did things change?

  • Well, then Lord Stevens' policy of Met-wide communication came in, and that changed the policy to what I perceived as more openness, and that's kind of where we stand at the moment, but obviously there's a huge consideration being taken now as to where to go from there.

  • And you say in your statement that since Lord Stevens became Commissioner, the MPS has encouraged informal contact?

  • Informal relationship-building between officers of the rank of inspector and above and members of the media?

  • Yes, there are obviously lines. We should know the boundaries. There's the law and there's ethical considerations and the police officers should know the boundaries and the journalists should know the boundaries, and you operate within those boundaries.

  • The question, therefore, is where are the boundaries? Doubtless we're going to come to that.

  • We are.

    Dealing first of all then with the official channels of information, in your own words, what are the limitations on or problems with relying exclusively on official communications from the Metropolitan Police Service?

  • Well, official communications tend to be on issues that the Metropolitan Police wants publicised. They tend to be quite narrow. They don't add colour and texture that comes from talking to an individual officer. They don't address, as I refer to in my statement, issues potentially where the Metropolitan Police is not going to be perceived in a good light. You know, the official channels of the Metropolitan Police did not inform me or others of Kirk Reid, the serial rapist, the trial going on in an outside court in London, in which they had failed several times to intercept him. We found that out through informal contacts.

    So one can take the official information and the official contacts and what they say on the one hand, but you always have to probe deeper and talk to others to find out the truth, I suppose.

  • In the case of Kirk Reid, that was a trial that was taking place in a public court?

  • It was a trial in a public court, but there are hundreds of public courts, you know. There's only one of me, and there's only one of my other colleagues, and news agencies don't cover all the courts. You rely on your informal contacts with police officers to alert you to things happening in courts that you might know about or investigations that are going on which are interesting, so you need a pointer, and I got a pointer from informal contact.

  • But there always used to be reporters in court.

  • There are reporters in some courts; there are not reporters in all courts by any means at all any more, no.

  • So what you're saying is because reporters can't afford to cover courts now for commercial reasons --

  • -- they have to rely on somebody else to tell them where the dirt is?

  • Well, I don't think it's necessarily that. I think the reporters do not cover all courts across the country, and police officers who are aware of cases coming up will let you know of cases of interest. And police officers who might have been concerned that this case wasn't being highlighted and should be highlighted brought it to people's attention.

  • You say in your statement that senior management are concerned about protecting the force's corporate image, which can lead to them being secretive and defensive. Is that your evidence?

  • So is defensive an adjective that you say can be fairly applied to the MPS when responding to media enquiries? Is that what you're saying?

  • They tend to be defensive, yes.

  • How does this manifest in practice?

  • Well, they give you limited answers to the questions. They don't expand. They rely on you to continue probing, and to continue probing you need to know what you're asking for. In order to know what you're asking for, you need to have had a conversation with someone, to have an open dialogue with an officer who can help you ask the right questions, I suppose.

  • In fact, you do give a balanced picture in your witness statement, don't you, because you give two examples of what you would describe as quite excellent official briefings from the MPS, and one was the briefing in relation to the sentencing of Robert Napper for the murder of Rachel Nickell. What was it in particular about that briefing that impressed you?

  • Firstly, it was run by senior officers and officers on the investigation. They knew what they were talking about. They were allowed to talk freely. They gave information about past mistakes, which had never been -- never seen the light of day before. They were honest, they were open, they didn't lie. And it just made for an accurate picture of the unsolved murder, what had gone wrong and what had gone right, because the team who finally solved it did an excellent job.

  • You say it was an example of the Met at its best.

  • Willing to admit mistakes, make amends and go on to solve the crime many years later.

    You also give another example in your statement of the briefings over the riots last summer. Again, what was it about those briefings that were positive?

  • Well, it was obviously a fast-moving situation. Journalists were under a lot of pressure to get information and get it fast and write stories quickly, and the Met briefings were -- they provided facts and figures quickly. They gave us an insight into the difficulty of what they were facing, the kind of knife-edge decisions they were making, and they were honest, most importantly.

  • Do you have a comment generally on the speed with which you can obtain information through official channels?

  • Generally it tends to be too slow. I mean, we all work in a digital age nowadays. You have to get things on the web, on the Internet fast, you have to respond very quickly.

    Another example I give during the riots is wanting to portray the human face of what police officers were going through at the time, which hadn't been covered. I wasn't able to do that through the official channels of the Metropolitan Police, I had to use informal contacts, I had to go out and make approaches to officers myself, and that resulted in an article which -- one of the only articles actually at the time that showed what these police officers were going through.

  • Who were you contacting to get information about the human side of the riots from the police perspective?

  • Sorry, before, which official channels did you try?

  • The Scotland Yard Press Bureau.

  • And what sort of response were you getting when you posed the question?

  • The response was, "Yes, we understand, we want to do it, we're very busy, we can't do it today, we probably can't do it tomorrow, we're really busy, I understand". That was the response. I mean, they were trying, but they were very busy.

  • I mean, all those answers are probably entirely valid.

  • Of course, what you did then was go to other officers, who presumably took the time to speak to you in their own time?

  • No, I did it in a couple of hours in an afternoon. I mean, I had to file a story that day for that evening's web. So I made approaches through social media sites, I then spoke to officers on the phone, if they agreed. I contacted the Police Review magazine to see if they had any officers. You know, I made every effort to find officers through other means.

  • I've been asked by one of the core participants to ask you whether you consider that the limitations that you've described, or the difficulties you've described, can be corrected by the MPS or whether it's more a symptom of the institution itself and it's not going to get any better?

  • I think if you're saying -- can you repeat the question?

  • I have been asked to ask you whether the limitations you've described, the speed, the fact that the MPS is seeking, as you say, to protect its corporate reputation, can this be corrected? Can this be improved do you think?

  • Well, it can be corrected and improved, in my opinion, if you allow police officers who are adults and experienced people to talk freely to the press and understand the legal boundaries that they should walk between, and I think 70 press officers in an enormous organisation are never going to be able to give out information quickly and correctly and in enough detail to cope with the huge demands from journalists.

  • So for you it's not about necessarily improving the corporate message, it's just allowing officers to speak freely to the media themselves, trusting them to do that?

  • Yes, empowering them, trusting them to do that and understanding that for years we've had a mutually beneficial relationship, journalists and police officers, and that relationship is in the public interest because it talks to openness and it talks to transparency. And it's lasted for a long time because it actually works.

  • It's not been without its own difficulties, as we've been hearing in the last few weeks.

  • Of course it's not been without its own difficulties, but I think you're talking about a minority in an organisation of 52,000 people, and a minority of journalists in a trade where most people are honourable, most people do their job correctly and understand the law, both on the police side and on the journalist side.

  • I understand that, but unfortunately the way human systems operate in this country is that we have to legislate -- I don't mean legislate. We have to make decisions based upon failing safely. You have to fail safely. In other words, you have to be in a position to protect what is important against those who may not observe the rules, because failure to observe the rules might be beneficial to one side of the story, damage everybody else, but itself be damaging.

  • I understand that, but don't you also have to legislate or regulate or encourage best practice and empower and train and teach people, reiterate the legal boundaries and not overreact to something that is -- we're talking about a minority of people, and we're talking --

  • Do you think that we're overreacting?

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

  • That's different. The fact that your work has been affected at the moment doesn't mean to say there's been an overreaction. It may be that new lines have to be created, it may be that's right, but do you think that what has emerged is really being blown up into something it isn't and is not serious? Or do you think that it is serious and therefore does need to be addressed?

  • I'm not saying it's been blown up into something that's more serious than it is, it is serious, but I'm saying the reaction of the police and the way they are responding to that I perceive as an overreaction because what they're doing and what is already happening is that open lines of communication, which have been there for many years, are being closed down.

  • Some of your colleagues might say exactly the same has happened in relation to the way in which the press report stories generally, but maybe I'm taking you outside what you've come to talk about.

  • I think you mean that the press are being more careful?

  • Yes, and in some ways that's not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

  • That's not always how it's been portrayed by the press.

  • Well, I'm a responsible journalist. I think it's a good thing if people think about what they're doing a little more carefully and examine the facts and have a personal integrity about the fact that the people they're writing about are human beings and you affect their life with everything you write, and I think that's a good thing if they're reflecting more on that.

  • It so happens that so do I, but here the boot is on the other foot, isn't it, because what you're saying is that greater care is now undermining the work that you do. That's what you're effectively saying.

  • But I think there's a difference between a corporation, an organisation from the top reacting to something in the way they're reacting, and after all these decisions are being made at the very top, and the officers who haven't done anything wrong, the middle-ranking officers, are the ones who are being affected by it.

    So in order to tackle a scandal, if you like, what they seem to be doing is handing more power to senior officers to control the flow of information, and actually you could argue that you should open it up and allow officers to speak freely, because in that way you could highlight future scandals, you could allow your officers -- empower them to highlight future scandals. It's happened in the past, it happened under Robert Mark.

    So I perceive it as an overreaction, I do. If you stop -- it's already happening. I have relationships with officers that the press office are trying to stop me talking to now, for no -- no decisions have been made, but this is happening already.

  • Can you describe those circumstances? You were trying to speak to somebody informally and you were stopped by a press officer, is that --

  • An officer of quite senior rank who I've known for many years, I asked him to talk to me about a subject that he knew very well, he'd been the senior investigating officer, both cases had concluded, he was quite happy to talk to me but he said I had to ask a press officer. I asked a press officer in an email and on the phone and she refused me access to the officer.

  • Did you then go back to the officer to ask --

  • I went back to the officer. He said, "Sorry, that's the way it is now."

  • That's not what would have happened before, you're saying?

  • Before I move on to explore in more detail your informal contacts and the benefits that you say you derive from them, I just want to explore what you say at paragraph 36 on page 09442. That's about the head of public affairs. Sorry, I don't think it is paragraph 36.

  • It may or may not be the one --

  • It's all to do with favouritism.

  • Ah, that is the right one. I did have the right reference. 09442.

  • It's page 15 if you don't have the MOD number in the bottom right-hand corner. Paragraph 36.

  • Yes, I think I'm there.

  • "I think if the head of public affairs is the gatekeeper to senior officers -- for example -- and acts in the same way to all crime journalists that is one thing, but if that head of public affairs is seen to favour certain news organisations, or certain journalists, then that is unhealthy and raises questions about why that is taking place."

    I've been asked by a core participant to ask you whether you're saying there that Mr Fedorcio is in your view someone who favoured certain news organisations or journalists in a way that was unhealthy?

  • I think there was something of an inner circle that was created, but to my perception that was more about the length of time certain individuals had been covering crime and they had built relationships over many years; in fact, you know, seven or eight years, and they knew each other very well.

    But, yes, there was certainly at times a perception that you would have a briefing and then maybe another briefing with a smaller group of people would go on, but, you know, then you negotiate that and you make sure you get in the smaller briefing. I mean, that's what journalists do. It's our job to go to the source of the information and find it out, and I don't -- it never struck me as anything dodgy, it just struck me as these people were good at their jobs and, you know, they'd managed to make a very good contact over many years.

  • So there would be a formal briefing and you say then others would go on. So some journalists would go to a different room with those who had been giving the briefing and continue the conversation?

  • No, I think sometimes you might go to a pub afterwards, and sometimes you might see a few journalists with the press -- with Fedorcio afterwards, but that wasn't -- you know, and then when I negotiated, I would be there as well. I mean, it wasn't anything -- I didn't perceive it as anything wrong. I perceived it as these people had known each other for a very long time and it was my job to get that access as well.

  • Were there any journalists or titles that were notably not in the circle?

  • No, I don't think so. You know, I've worked for the Standard, the Telegraph and the Guardian, and I managed to get myself in the circle, if there was one, if I perceived there to be one. It's about how you operate, really. I didn't see it as being any particular newspaper.

  • What you're saying is that this is unhealthy.

  • I think it's unhealthy --

  • That's your word, not mine.

  • Well, I think it's unhealthy. I didn't actually say that this was -- what I'm describing now was unhealthy. I'm saying that if there was a perception that the head of press was feeding stories to one particular organisation, I don't know whether that was happening, that is unhealthy. Sorry, to be clear on that.

  • So you're not saying that it's your evidence that there was a favouring of certain news organisations in terms of access or provision of information?

  • Not that I was aware of, no. Not clearly, no.

  • So moving on then to the informal contacts, we should be clear, first of all, what you mean when you say "informal contact". Is this informal but authorised, informal in the sense of being secret, in the sense that the police officer you're speaking to wouldn't want their line manager to know? What do you mean when you say "informal contact"?

  • Well, informal contact, as I perceive it, is there was a broadbrush authorisation for officers, as I've said, of inspector rank and above to be able to talk to journalists, so informal contacts would be after work, in a pub, in a cafe, in a restaurant, that kind of informal.

  • So not necessarily something they'd want to hide from their line manager, if their line manager asked them, "What were you doing last night?"

  • Why must it always be in a pub, a cafe or a restaurant? Why does it have to be linked with food and drink?

  • Because it's part of human relationships. I think if an officer has worked all day and takes time out from his family to come and meet me, I see nothing wrong with buying him a drink or having a meal with him. As long as it's reasonable, as long as common sense is applied, I see it as part of normal human relationships, and journalists do it with every profession. They do it with doctors, they do it with trade union leaders, they do it with lawyers, they do it with pharmaceutical companies. You know, scientific reporters do it with scientists.

  • On page 09431, that's page 4 if you don't have the MOD reference, the second substantive paragraph on that page, you describe "informal dialogue with police officers" as "vital" and going to the heart of your role in a democracy. These are quite strong words. Why is such informal contact so important, do you say? I appreciate you've touched on this to some degree already, but is there anything you want to add to why it's so important?

  • Because the police force is a very powerful organisation in this country. They need to be held to account. You can't hold them to account by taking information from the official channels only. They have the power to lock people up for a long time. We've had miscarriages of justice. You know, we have to -- journalists have to be able to hold the police to account, and you can't do that by using official sources only.

  • What sort of ranks are you talking about of people that you have contact with? Is there any particular level of seniority within the Met?

  • Well, probably mostly inspector and above, detective superintendent, you know, that kind of rank.

  • You've explained why you like to have or why you see it necessary to your role to have informal contact with police officers. Why do you consider they wish to maintain that contact with you?

  • Because often police officers feel that their work isn't coming across through the official channels. They are also interested in talking to journalists who are interested in crime and policing. They want to add colour and texture to an investigation that they might have been involved in. You know, for example, Trident. It's not -- Trident the unit that now covers gangs and used to cover gun crime in the black community, that wasn't something the media wrote about, and I've written stories about the work that Trident does through my informal contacts with Trident officers. And I would never have been able to write those stories through official channels, and those stories, many of them, show the police up in a very good light. So that's why officers like to talk to journalists.

  • You set out some noble reasons for speaking to you, but in your experience, have you had cause to doubt the legitimacy of the motives of your contacts or to doubt the accuracy of the information they are providing you? First of all, their motives, have you had reason to doubt their motives?

  • Well, I think it depends on the contact, and obviously you have to have a sort of thought process in your head: if someone's telling you something, why are they telling you this? So there's always that going on, and you would have to have those caveats, if you used that information. You would try and check the information in another way, if you were suspicious of it, but yes, I mean even with my best contacts I sometimes think, "Why you are telling me this?"

  • And what about the accuracy of the information? Do you sometimes doubt that you're being told the truth by your informal contacts?

  • Far less than by the official contacts.

  • Have you known or sensed in your contact, informal contact, that a police officer or member of police staff is trying to put pressure on you to dilute a story or not to publish facts or to pursue an agenda of their own? Do you ever feel you're being manipulated?

  • I think you're constantly aware that you mustn't be manipulated and that you shouldn't take everything that they say without question. I have been asked not to run a story because it potentially might cut across a criminal investigation. If I have found something out myself that I then speak to an officer I know about and he says, "Look, there's an ongoing criminal inquiry here; if you write this, it's going to jeopardise it", I would listen to that officer, obviously.

  • That's of course one thing, an officer saying, "Don't publish this information because it might jeopardise a future trial". What about, "Don't run that story, don't include that information, because it puts me in a bad light or it puts the MPS in a bad light", have you had that sort of conversation?

  • I haven't openly recently, no, I don't think so, and I would be very suspicious of that and I probably wouldn't -- I would disregard it.

  • You appear to be quite confident in your statement that maintaining these lines of communication doesn't necessarily involve breaking the law or officers committing disciplinary offences. How can you be so confident about that?

  • I think there's criminality and then there's a journalist going out about their legitimate activities. I think I know the law and the police should know the law, and those boundaries shouldn't be crossed. And if they are crossed, each party should know that they've crossed them and should -- you know, they shouldn't cross them, and if somebody crosses them with me, I will say to them, "Should you be telling them that? You know, I can't use that."

  • But are the boundaries always clear about where information can lawfully be provided and where it can't?

  • I think the boundaries are quite clear, yes.

  • And how do you know that the officer you're speaking to understands where the line is drawn?

  • Well, if an officer -- it's never happened to me, but if an officer meets me and says, "Look, here's this victim, here's her telephone number and address", I would be horrified. It's never happened, and I would be absolutely questioning that officer as to why they were doing that.

  • But do organisational formal checks on contact not help in ensuring that an officer doesn't cross those boundaries? Doesn't there need to be some input from above?

  • I think there is input from above. I think they -- you know, if you're talking about a senior investigating officer talking to a journalist, I mean he would know what he can and can't say. I'm not sure -- I mean, it's all very well to tell an officer to write everything down, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to write down the bits that they don't want their bosses to find out about, does it? It doesn't actually provide the checks and balances that you're suggesting.

  • Well, one way it might is that if somebody can see that a particular journalist seems to be meeting a particular police officer three times a week every week, that might give rise to some concern, mightn't it?

  • So might that not be a way of monitoring the position? I entirely agree that one can stultify and remove or create a barrier which might be damaging, and if one required a tick-box type culture to be put into place, that may be retrogressive. I can understand that point. But doesn't there have to be some mechanism for check, if only to ensure that everybody understands that there has to be some -- it isn't a free-for-all, and if so, what could that be?

  • Yes I think it's not unconditional, the contact, and I'm not sure. I mean, part of me thinks that what you need to do is empower police officers and trust them and instill them with examples from above, you know, with examples of integrity and what they should and shouldn't do as part of that, and ethical training about what they should and shouldn't say and, you know, reiterating the law.

  • There's all that, I entirely agree. Of course --

  • I'm not sure that -- that kind of supervision that you're talking about, if an officer wants to break the boundaries, if an officer wants to break the law, he's not going to write it in his notebook.

  • Of course he isn't, of course he isn't, but if then he hasn't, as it were, recorded a contact, without talking about what he discussed, necessarily, if he hasn't recorded a contact and that's caught, then that raises some questions, doesn't it?

  • So there's the check. By all means maintain the line above the rank of inspector, but if you are speaking to a reporter, that ought to be auditable.

  • In a diary or whatever.

  • Whatever. So that there is a mechanism of control, and if you don't write it down, well, then that raises concern.

  • I wouldn't have a problem with that myself at all, no. I think that's a good idea.

  • One can conceive of circumstances where a relationship can form where a journalist, for instance, might suppress a story that puts an individual or the organisation in a negative light in exchange for a promise of further information in the future or a better exclusive in the future. Is that something that you are aware of happening, that you've witnessed?

  • You're going to have to repeat that, sorry.

  • The sort of quid pro quo, the I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, that a journalist, on a police officer's request, doesn't publish a particular article in exchange for the officer promising in the future to give an exclusive, give further information. Is that sort of inappropriate relationship --

  • The only time in my experience that's happened has been totally legitimate in that I have come across something which has cut across an inquiry and I've been told that, "Can you wait until the end of the inquiry and then you'll be briefed on the investigation, you can run your story", so that's my only experience of that kind of conversation.

  • Moving on to the question of hospitality and entertainment, to what extent do you agree with Lord Condon's view that hospitality can be part of a grooming process that leads to unethical or criminal behaviour?

  • Well, I don't agree with it. I don't perceive -- I think that's a very strong thing to say. I think, as I've said, there's criminality and then there's legitimate journalistic activity, and socialising to a reasonable extent, using common sense, with police officers is not a grooming process. These people are grown-ups. Some of them make life and death decisions about -- they deal with organised crime, they investigate rape. You know, the idea that me buying them a couple of beers or a meal is grooming them in any way is faintly ludicrous, to be honest. I don't agree with that.

  • What about a higher level of hospitality, dinners in expensive restaurants with champagne, that sort of level, as opposed to a meal after work?

  • Again there's the law, there's the Bribery Act. I think if it's not reasonable, if you're repeatedly taking an officer to the Savoy and throwing in a lap dancing club repeatedly, obviously that's not reasonable or common sense and it potentially is illegal, so there's your criminality.

  • So what levels of hospitality do you offer or provide to your contacts?

  • Reasonable levels, and we have a policy at the Guardian where everything I claim has to be supervised.

  • So what is reasonable?

  • I think there's a guideline -- we don't do hospitality -- there's a guideline at the Guardian that it should be no more than £40 to £45 for two people having a meal, but I mean sometimes it goes above that. Obviously we live in London. But, you know, reasonable amount.

  • And the level of hospitality that you feel comfortable accepting from the police, where would you draw that line?

  • I wouldn't be comfortable about being taken to lavish restaurants and wined and dined, no, I wouldn't.

  • Why wouldn't you? That might seem like an obvious question, but why wouldn't you?

  • Because I think you would be wondering what are they trying to get out of this, why are they taking me here? Why couldn't we have just had a reasonable meal somewhere? Why is this happening?

  • Paragraph 31 of your statement starts at 09440, page 13. In fact it's 09441 that I want to take you to, over the page. Do you have that?

  • You say:

    "In addition, it is always important to remember that you as a journalist have your agenda -- of seeking out information -- to call the police to account, and they have their agenda. I am always aware that as a specialist you might be in danger of getting too close, or going native, as some put it. I have a constant checks and balances going on in my head when dealing with the police, in order to try and avoid this."

    There are a few questions that arise out of that paragraph. What first of all are the dangers that you're referring to?

  • Well, I think if you're a specialist and you spend your time talking to police officers, you start to see things from their perspective and their perspective only, and that's dangerous and you need to check yourself and think, well, they're telling me they're arresting all these people after the riots and maybe I need to flip the coin over and go and speak to the people who have been arrested. You can't take the information from one source only.

  • That's what you mean by "going native"?

  • Have you ever felt that you've got too close in the way you've highlighted there as a risk?

  • I think I've sometimes examined things through the prism of knowing what the police are thinking, and I have checked myself and thought, "You know, you need to think about it from the other side", yes, I do, but I've never put anything into print that I would be embarrassed about in that way, it's a process that goes on.

  • It's not about getting too close to individuals on a friendship level, you're talking about getting too close in the terms of unconsciously becoming biased towards the police, is that what you're --

  • The checks and balances in your head, is there anything you want to add to what's going through your mind to make sure that you remain independent -- you preserve your independent approach to the information?

  • I think it's just that, that you have to question what you're being told all the time.

  • Moving on to the culture of relations between the media and forces other than the Metropolitan Police Service, in your own words, how do these compare with the MPS?

  • They tend to take their lead from the Metropolitan Police. There are notable examples. I've mentioned Devon and Cornwall do a very good media operation, but they tend to look to the Metropolitan Police so they follow their lead.

  • Are there variations within the regional forces, within the other forces, or can you say that there's a culture on the one hand of the MPS and on the other hand the other police forces?

  • No, I think they follow the MPS, most of them.

  • Are you surprised to read that actually there are different policies across the country?

  • Yes. I mean obviously I don't -- you know, I don't every day deal with every single police force in the country.

  • No, but you may have read it in these reports.

  • Yes, yes, yes. Some forces seem to be more helpful than others, but I'm not aware of all their individual policies, no.

  • Page 09437, paragraph 17 of your statement. You describe the way Suffolk police handled the media during the murders of the prostitutes in Ipswich as a "very powerful and deeply impressive media operation". What was it about that operation that made it such a success in your view?

  • They had hundreds of journalists from the national press and international press on their doorstep, they had a crime unfolding in front of their eyes, but they managed to hold briefings, release details that they were able to release, keep us informed of the investigation so that we could keep our beast back on the news desk fed, if you like. There was incredible pressure from the news desks and a demand for stories, and they also acted as human beings. This was an incredibly powerful, upsetting thing that was happening, and police officers are human beings and they showed that to us in a way, so you know it was just honest and it was impressive in that way.

  • Yes. The use of the phrase "police source", I've been asked to explore this with you. Do you ever use the phrase "police source"?

  • And when you do, who or what organisations fall under that umbrella? Who are you encapsulating potentially?

  • Anybody linked to policing, I would say.

  • So how do you define that, anybody linked to policing?

  • Police authority, IPCC, you know, a police officer. Broadly anybody linked to policing.

  • And what about, say, a family member of a police officer or member of police staff?

  • What about a family member of a police officer or member of police staff?

  • A family member I would describe in a different way. A member of police staff, depends what they did, to be honest.

  • Sorry, it was more I was asking you whether you would describe a family member of a member of police civilian staff as a police source.

  • So the police authority, IPCC, the police itself, although not necessarily a member of police staff?

  • No, it wouldn't necessarily be a police officer, so to speak.

  • What about a government source, from government?

  • Only if they were linked to policing would I call them a police source. I wouldn't say police source for somebody that wasn't linked to policing. I think that's misleading.

  • I suppose it's how you define "linked to policing" that is of interest to the core participant who asked me to ask the question, and also perhaps of general interest to the Inquiry. Can you say where you would draw the line, because "linked to policing" could be quite broadly defined.

  • It is quite broad. It's necessarily broad because you don't want to identify the source, but my policy is not to mislead, so I would try and keep it quite tight.

  • Can you comment on whether other journalists adopt the same approach as you?

  • I can't comment on that.

  • The question of involvement in police operations or ride-alongs, as some might call them --

  • Just before you go on to that, on the same topic of other police authorities and your recent evidence, what should be the priority, in your view, of "feeding the beast" in the context of a major inquiry? In other words, lots of things to do in a major inquiry. How important is it to deal with media demand, in your view? Where should it rank?

  • It does depend on the inquiry, because some inquiries absolutely require publicity as they're hunting suspects, so it depends on the individual inquiry. I think the police understand that in a major investigation, there is a lot of public concern. In a child abduction, for example, there's a lot of fear created, so they need to provide as accurate as possible information. I don't -- you know, that was my phrase, "feeding the beast". It's my beast, not their beast.

  • No, I understand that, and you just identified two reasons why it might be in the interests of the police to help you, because they want help to get witnesses or to hunt a suspect or to deal with fear. Those are very, very good police-orientated reasons. But because I was very conscious that feeding the beast was your beast, I was actually asking a slightly different question, which is: how significant is it, do you think, for the police to have to pay attention to your needs? Not their needs, your needs?

  • I don't think -- you know, if I am making demands on them that they don't want to satisfy, they're perfectly entitled to say, "We're not giving you that information at this stage", and they do say that, "We can't go there at this time", they say that, and they say that during major investigations and they said that in Suffolk, and we understood them and we trusted them because they were being honest, and therefore we listened.

  • And the next question, before we pass on to the new topic that Ms Boon wants to deal with, is you said in your statement that some forces, and you mentioned one of them being Merseyside, are very helpful, and I wanted to pick you up on Merseyside because there a link between the present Commissioner and Merseyside, namely he was the Chief Constable of Merseyside.

  • Yes. I didn't intend to make that link, but --

  • I wanted to know what Merseyside were doing well that you could pick up. Here is an opportunity for you to provide some publicity for a view that Mr Hogan-Howe might want to listen to.

  • Well I don't deal with the Commissioner level all the time. If I phone Merseyside press office and I ask to speak to a police officer, they generally try and accommodate, they don't obstruct. Nine times out of ten, they've been able to provide me with that officer or an officer that can talk to the issue I want. They don't make me talk to the press officer only and they are just generally helpful in that way.

  • So the topic of media involvement in police operations. You say you've been asked in the past to get involved in operations and write a piece. If you want to become involved, if you want to shadow officers during an operation, who do you ask, who do you approach in the first instance?

  • Depends on the operation. You'd probably go to a specialist press office within the Met, if it's specialist crime or serious crime or ...

  • And if it's not serious crime?

  • You'd go to the Press Bureau, or if you knew an officer who was running an operation, you might ask him first, and then he would probably go to the press office and liaise with them.

  • Can you give examples of operations to which you have been given access?

  • I haven't actually done it for a long time because I don't think I get much out of it, to be honest, so I can't actually give you examples.

  • Why don't you feel you get much out of it?

  • Because it's all about the official lines of the Metropolitan Police showing themselves, whatever they want to show, whether it's being tough post the riots or being tough on drug gangs or being tough, currently, on street gangs. I'm not sure you'd get much out of it beyond a picture of someone being arrested, a door being broken down or ...

  • Why is that not of interest to you if the police want to show that they're reacting robustly to a particular problem?

  • It is of interest, but it's only of interest if I flesh it out with other information. You know, there's currently at the moment going on an anti-gang operation in the Metropolitan Police. We don't seem to be able to get access to that at the moment. All we seem to get at the moment is being bombarded with facts and figures and information, which is pretty meaningless without context and colour and texture and more of an insight, and I don't think you really get that from just going along, riding along like that.

  • The operations that you have witnessed, although you say some time ago, what conditions were imposed on you or limitations were imposed on you by the force concerned?

  • From memory, and I haven't done it for a while, it's very tightly controlled. You're absolutely controlled about what you can and can't photograph and where you can stand and what you can say, I suppose.

  • That's in the interests of the privacy of the people --

  • Privacy, legal proceedings, yes, exactly.

  • And protecting your safety potentially as well, if they've --

  • I'm not -- I don't know, that's never happened, that's never kind of been an area that's happened to me.

  • What do you have in mind when you're attending those operations in terms of making sure that you don't cross the privacy boundaries?

  • Well, you're not allowed to across the privacy -- you're not given that kind of access, in my mind, in my experience, and obviously if we did, if a picture was taken of somebody being arrested, I think editorially we would decide to black out the face. I think that's happened in the past.

  • So generally do you consider that the media being present at operations can be beneficial to the public interest?

  • Yes, I do, and I think different organisations -- you know, if you're the Evening Standard, it probably is very much part of your bread and butter to do those operations because it's your -- it's a different kind of newspaper, and yes, I think they can be beneficial, but I think they need to be caveated by an insight that's not just going to come from that operation and listening to the official source on that operation.

  • Yes, so they have their place, but your concern is that there needs to be more texture to it, to the --

  • That's part of my broad concern that you can't just trust the official sources of information, yes.

  • The question of tipping off, and what I mean by tipping off is an officer or the police generally contacting a media organisation and letting them know when a raid or an arrest is going to take place so that the media can be present, so it's not that you're formally shadowing them, but you're just told about it. Have you ever been tipped off in that way?

  • What, in an authorised way or unauthorised way?

  • I don't think I have, no.

  • So you haven't been in the sort of situation where you've been for a drink or a meal with an officer, built up a good rapport, a few weeks later had a telephone call saying, "We're going to arrest someone of interest next week, come along", nothing of that ilk has --

  • But are you aware of that happening?

  • I'm not aware of it, no.

  • I mean I'm not aware of it personally.

  • Obviously I've read, of course, but I'm not aware --

  • Well, you've seen the photographs too, I mean these people being photographed as they're taken away from their homes or photographed as they emerge from police stations.

  • Yes, but I'm not aware where that information is coming from, and I'm not aware of my colleagues or other people on other papers being told by police officers. I am not aware of that.

  • No, but do you think that's the right side of the line or the wrong side of the line?

  • What are we talking about here? Because I think any journalistic organisation, if it discovered through a source, not a police source but another source, that somebody of note might have been arrested, I think lots of organisations would send photographers to that police station.

  • Of course, but you've just removed the question I'm asking by saying it's not a police source. A policeman has said to you, "We're going to arrest X", or "Y is going to be at the police station being interviewed about his or her conduct". It's not public, but everybody turns up and takes photographs.

  • I think if that's coming from a police officer, that's wrong.

  • Off-the-record briefings. What is your view of those?

  • Off-the-record briefings can be very helpful. I mean, you have to clarify what you mean by "off-the-record".

  • Yes, I was going to ask you, because it seems to mean something different to --

  • I think most British journalists see "off the record" as you can use the information but you can't quote me and I wouldn't necessarily quote off-the-record information, I would try and use it as a context.

  • Do misunderstandings occur?

  • Yes, but I personally always clarify with the person I'm talking to about what they mean by that phrase, so I know where I am.

  • So if someone says, "I want to tell you this off the record", you say, "Hold on, what do you mean?"

  • I think first of all I'd listen, and then I'd say, "For clarity, what can I use and what do you want to be -- do you want some of this to be unreportable?" You know, I'd clarify.

  • So you don't leave it ambiguous?

  • No. I have done in the past when I was younger and it leads to big misunderstandings.

  • You appear keen to say in your witness statement that giving information off the record is not about secrets being passed down necessarily.

  • It's not necessarily something illegitimate?

  • No, it's not at all. I don't think so, no.

  • You say it's about journalists and police officers being able to have an open conversation about an issue?

  • And preventing mistakes in reporting, correcting inaccuracies, that sort of thing?

  • Do you consider that there should be any kind of limitations on police officers speaking off the record? Do you consider that they should be regulated in any way?

  • I think -- I keep repeating myself, but I think we already have laws and guidelines in place, and I think they should be reiterated. I'm sure they have been now. I think you have to trust police officers, who are, after all, trusted with investigating serious crimes in this country, and suddenly we don't trust them to have a conversation about something that they're involved in and not give away secrets. I think you can regulate as much as you like, but unless you instill people with integrity and trust them, I don't think that's going to work, so I wouldn't encourage more rules and regulations, no.

  • When officers are speaking off the record to you, are there occasions where what they're saying to you distends in your view into what's just gossip or tittle-tattle, matters that they shouldn't really be sharing with you?

  • What, about an operation, you mean?

  • Well, whether it's gossip about a colleague, gossip about the competence of their line manager --

  • Human beings do gossip. I can't say that I haven't had any conversations with a police contact who hasn't gossipped about a colleague, but whether I print that or not is another thing.

  • But there might be occasions where you would print that?

  • It depends. It depends whether it was in the public interest, who the police officer was, whether it was accurate, whether it talked to a serious issue or not.

  • What about your experience of speaking to senior officers, so Deputy Assistant Commissioner and above? During those conversations, to what extent have you had experience of gossip and tittle-tattle?

  • So nothing marked that you can remember now, nothing of any particular note?

  • I don't think so, no. I mean, having heard last week's evidence, there was certainly a lot of tension at Scotland Yard at the time of Bob Quick leaving and all of those issues and it was very marked, the tension, and the hostility at times was open if you were in a room with them, but I wouldn't say anyone gossipped to me about it, no.

  • I might risk asking you to repeat yourself, but I do want to finish the questions by asking you about the future and how you see relationships between the police and the media can remain appropriate to ensure that the information flow is not unnecessarily curbed by any measures that are put into place. What are your views on what, if anything, needs to be done to ensure that the relationships remain appropriate?

  • I think, as I've said, the way to stop corruption, to my mind, is to have openness and to have integrity and to perhaps give people more training in ethical issues and encourage personal responsibility, to reiterate the law, but I think closing down communications and only allowing information to come from one source is not necessarily going to reduce abuse or corruption. It could actually drive it underground, drive the flow of information underground and create a black market, if you like. So I think we need to use the laws we have and use them, you know.

  • No one is suggesting, are they, that you ought to be confined to one source, the official source, only; that's not been a recommendation that anyone has published?

  • We don't know what they're suggesting yet, but certainly it feels like that at the moment, because information is being constantly channelled through the official sources and police officers are not willing to talk, and they're scared of talking. That's what's happening.

  • And that's your experience as you described earlier --

  • Yes, it's more than one --

  • -- of the current environment?

  • You've said that the heart of the matter is personal and organisational integrity, or you would agree, would you, that that's at the heart of it, really, in enforcing integrity, using the laws that we already have, but ensuring that officers know where the boundaries are? Is that a fair way of summarising?

  • Yes. I think if you respect your organisation, you don't tend to brief against it, you don't tend to leak about it.

  • Before you finish, is there anything else that you would wish to take the opportunity to say about that or any matter that you've considered today or matter that I've not brought to the Inquiry's attention today that's in your witness statement?

  • Just briefly on the issue of training for both parties, I feel certainly for reporters the traditional route was up through local newspapers, where if you made a mistake, you soon found out about it. That doesn't tend to happen any more. You would have to go and call on people who had lost children in accidents or criminal investigations. It teaches you humility, it teaches you to be sensitive and it teaches you that these people are human beings, and I think that kind of training needs to be -- somehow we need to teach journalists again what that means. I don't quite know how we do that.

    On the same hand, I think police officers need -- they need better media training. The media training they currently get, as far as I understand, is how to hold a press conference, where to stand when you're being filmed, but I think they need some kind of training about ethics, media training, their role in a democracy, the fact that you can't have unnecessary secrecy and the things you can say to the press legitimately, not necessarily the things you can't say, all the time.

  • On both sides we need to understand each other's worlds a little more, perhaps, as well.

  • Do you have any proposals for how that might be achieved?

  • I think you could build training on both sides, couldn't you? I don't quite know how you do that.

  • Those are all the questions I have. There may be some further questions.

  • Thank you. You have one other -- well it's not your suggestion, but it's the acknowledgment of the possibility that you wouldn't have a problem with my suggestion, that is having some sort of mechanism to audit contact merely so that if there are problems, it can be spotted.

  • Thank you. Thank you very much.

  • Sir, is that a convenient moment or shall I call Mr Peachey?

  • No, that's convenient. Yes.

  • Sir, before you rise, you asked me yesterday about the briefings that have been advanced to the Home Office. One was released to the Inquiry soon after that first arose, the other one has been released to you, your team, this morning.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • Sir, the next witness is Mr Paul Peachey, please.