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

  • MR SEAN O'NEILL (affirmed).

  • Your full name, please?

  • Thank you. You've provided us with a witness statement dated 30 January of this year.

  • You've signed and dated it under the normal statement of truth. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • In terms of your career, Mr O'Neill, after working as a reporter in Northern Ireland, you moved to the Daily Telegraph in 1992, you joined the Times in 2004 and you became its crime editor in 2007; is that correct?

  • In terms of the standard diet, as it were, of the stories you write for the Times as crime editor, are you what one might call a traditional crime editor, writing crime stories of serious crimes, or is the sort of story you write slightly different?

  • We have myself as a crime editor and a crime correspondent and the crime correspondent tends to do more of the kind of live crime, crime in action type stuff. I would say about 50 per cent of my work is to do with the processes of policing, the policies, the politics, the personnel, more to do with senior police officers and things like that. So slightly different from the traditional.

  • So looking at macro policy issues?

  • Quite often, yes. And also, to be fair, who's coming and going. The fairly regular race for the succession at Scotland Yard is of perennial interest.

  • But one hopes that it will settle down.

  • Yes. I think it's good for the country that they have a period of stability. There's been too much flux and change.

  • Is it of interest to you to know about what's happening in the management board in terms of personnel frictions in the management board in the past, for example?

  • Yes. When I became crime editor in 2007, the friction -- the civil war, as I think it's been described, at the top of the Met was very much the story.

  • And you were receiving information about that, were you?

  • I was seeking information about it, but a lot of the information was being played out in public. We had very public displays of that friction at Metropolitan Police Authority, at Tarique Ghaffur's famous press conference. It wasn't hard to find information.

  • In paragraph 3 of your statement, you set out your position very forthrightly, if I may say so. You say:

    "... the MPS [is] a difficult organisation to deal with. Its institutional instinct is to be closed, defensive and secretive and that attitude is reflected in a tense relationship with the media."

    Has that always been the case, Mr O'Neill, from your experience or has that tension waxed and waned?

  • I think, to be fair, it waxes and wanes, but over certain issues I have always found it to be closed and kind of withholding information. I think Mr Paddick referred to it had a tendency to cover up. I think my preferred word is defensive. It's protective of its image and its reputation.

  • You tell us in paragraph 4 that in order to open it up a bit, the way forward, from your perspective, is to establish personal contact and some degree of trust. In the first instance, do you seek to do that socially?

  • No, not necessarily in the first instance. I think the first contact tends to be through the press officer or perhaps meeting an officer at a press conference or at a court case that they are dealing with, so that would be the first contact. You might handle a story that they're engaged in and if that goes well, I think quite often I would try and make a social contact after that, to say, "This is who I am, this is what I'm interested in, I thought you did a really good case there", or, "That was a very good briefing, could we do more of the same in the future", that kind of thing.

  • Are you seeking from that person in due course the provision of information which might be of interest to your readers?

  • Paragraph 6, please, Mr O'Neill. Your contact with the Press Bureau, the DPA. You say:

    "When focused on terror stories, I regularly called the specialist operations desk in the DPA."

    Did you have regular dealings with Sara Cheesley, who gave evidence to this Inquiry?

  • Are you able to assist us with your impressions of her?

  • I think I've always regarded Sara as one of the more tight-lipped press officers in the Met. I think that is entirely to do with the kind of work she deals with. I understand she has a fairly high security clearance. She has to be very careful about what she says to the likes of me. But I've always found her to be entirely professional and therefore, because she is quite guarded about a lot of her subject area, when she does have something to say, you know it's authoritative and important.

  • Thank you. Paragraph 13 now. Our page 00640. You say you did pursue contact with Sir Paul Stephenson when he was in the post, that's Deputy Commissioner:

    "... because he was firm favourite to be the next Commissioner and I wanted to be able to profile him."

    That presumably was your assessment based on the information you receiving, was it?

  • And previous situations where Ian Blair had succeeded John Stevens. It seemed to be the case that the number two was always the hot favourite to succeed. And I think at that time the Met was quite keen to raise Sir Paul's profile a little bit. He'd come from Lancashire and wasn't well-known in London and well-known to the crime reporters.

  • You did write a piece which you say was only in the online edition, it's your first exhibit, and I think we consider what you've said there, but it's clear that Sir Paul wanted to adopt a different management style to his predecessor, but that's --

  • I think the exhibit I have is actually the piece that appeared the day after he was announced as Commissioner in January 2009, so it draws heavily on the contact I'd had with him.

  • Can I ask you about your contact with assistant commissioners. You were interested in those who were serving in the specialist operations directorate and the specialist crime desk. Did you have frequent dealings with AC Hayman, AC Yates?

  • I had fairly frequent dealings with both of them.

  • Our review of the gifts and hospitality register doesn't suggest that you had frequent lunches or dinners with either of them. Indeed, it was very, very rare. Is that a fair impression or not?

  • I think two with each of them.

  • And in the case of Mr Hayman, those were all CRA lunches where there would have been other -- no, actually one was a CRA lunch with two or three other reporters and a press officer present, and the second one was I was kind of introducing Mr Hayman to a journalist from Vanity Fair who wanted to write about the British terrorist situation and again a press officer was present.

  • What generally was the purpose of your seeking contact with assistant commissioners, either in specialist operations or specialist crime?

  • Do you mean social contact or just general contact?

  • I suppose I have a -- because of where I come from, I think I've had a long interest in terrorism in particular, I grew up around it and I have followed that since 9/11, followed the Islamist terror situation, so before I came a crime editor I was very interested in that situation and I've also had a huge interest in the threat posed by organised crime, which I think has been largely neglected in this country in favour of other forms of policing.

    So I was quite often pursuing information about ongoing -- you know, pending trials or ongoing court cases to do with terrorism in particular and the state of the threat, and with organised crime I was quite interested in highlighting subjects that I don't think had been given enough prominence, such as the background -- I was particularly interested in gun crime and the background to gun crime.

    So not just assistant commissioners but DACs who were more operationally hands-on, I probably had more contact with them.

  • Were you ever seeking unauthorised information or leaks about frictions in the management board?

  • It depends what you mean by "unauthorised". I'm kind of interested in what's unauthorised, and I think what Mr Hogan-Howe referred to in his statement as what's helpful or unhelpful, it's kind of does it do harm? Sometimes those who choose to describe something as unauthorised are -- what am I trying to say? I'm trying to say that I'm slightly suspicious of the term "unauthorised". I think sometimes they mean "unhelpful".

  • Maybe paragraph 43 of your statement gives the answer to that at 00645, where you say:

    "Informal off-the-record briefings have been kept confidential usually because the contact is passing on information which they're not supposed to disclose to a journalist."

    That's what "unauthorised" means, isn't it?

  • Or does it mean simply that their bosses don't know about it? It might be information that is helpful to an investigation.

  • Just referring to your own witness statement, that may be thought to provide a useful touchstone. I'm just suggesting that you're assisting us in defining what unauthorised disclosures might be, and it's everybody will know, save in hard cases in the middle, what information is supposed to be disclosed to a journalist and what information is not supposed to be disclosed to a journalist.

  • I'm often puzzled by why they don't want to disclose some information, which I think is strongly in their interests and in the public interest. I mean, we broke a story recently about the widow of one of the 7/7 bombers who was on the run in Africa, suspected of involvement in a terrorist bomb in Kenya. We partially disclosed lots of information about it, did quite a lot of digging, we're fairly sure this was the woman. The Kenyan police confirmed it. Scotland Yard absolutely wouldn't confirm it, said they had no information -- the information was not theirs to disclose, they couldn't go there at all, but we ran the story on the basis we were fairly confident what the Kenyans had.

    We then sent a reporter to Kenya, who was told by the Kenyan police "All the information we have identifying this woman comes from Scotland Yard". I'm quite puzzled why Scotland Yard does not want to say there's a British terror suspect on the run, here's a photograph, we could do with public assistance in catching her.

  • I can quite understand this issue that you have about the equivalence of unauthorised and unhelpful, and it may be that the calibration of what information ought to be in the public domain should change, on the basis that what should be kept confidential should be kept confidential only because breach of that confidence will cause other potential adverse consequences. Now, I can understand that point, but that does raise some difficult issues.

    I'm sure you would agree that it's unhelpful if a police officer is commenting on areas that are outwith his expertise and therefore may get things wrong?

  • So that sort of control is reasonable.

  • The question is where you draw the line, so yesterday the view was expressed -- I think it was yesterday -- that the Leicestershire police should have been prepared to explain the forensic evidence that the Portuguese police were inaccurately leaking, because of their secrecy laws, and that raises a question about the extent to which it's appropriate for the British police to interfere or be seen to be interfering with an investigation being conducted elsewhere. Do you see a tension there or not?

  • I do. I completely agree with you about recalibrating the type and quantity of information that is made available. I think there's far too much secrecy and defensiveness. I think what Leicestershire police could have done in that situation was to use a vehicle like the CRA or something and say, "Look, unreportable, not for publication in any way, but we can guide you that the Portuguese are wrong", and then --

  • This is they're misreading the evidence?

  • Yes. And I also listened with interest to Mr Driscoll last week, and I wondered -- and this is me speaking about a subject I don't know enough about, but I wondered, given that he knew Steve Wright's interest and the Daily Mail's interest in the Lawrence case, if he had widened his inclusion zone slightly and put his arm around the Daily Mail and said, "Look, we are reopening this, please don't write anything about this", if that would have solved the problem that he raised.

  • Then you get into a slightly different problem, don't you, which is: do you put your arm around the Daily Mail, in which event the Times may say, "Hang on, you're putting your arm around the Daily Mail, what about the Times?"

  • And you get the problem of favouritism and you get the risk then that journalists may see it in their commercial advantage to curry a great deal of favour with individual SIOs, or individual senior police officers, in order that the arm might be put around them. This isn't easy stuff, Mr O'Neill.

  • No, I know. I know, it's -- in this job at all times you're walking that tightrope. Is the information you have in the public interest? Do you write about it? At what point do you go to Scotland Yard and ask them a question, because you widen the circle? We have the same thing, you widen the circle of knowledge at all times, especially if you're working on an exclusive story.

    I think in that case, the Lawrence case, my nose might well have been out of joint, but I would have to admit that Steve Wright and the Mail were the trail blazers on that story, and perhaps in that case they deserved a little favouritism. I think it would have been possibly in the interests of the case.

  • But you see the risks that that carries with it?

  • Mr O'Neill, I'm sure in most cases you will know whether information is being passed to you in circumstances when it shouldn't have been, at least from the police perspective, not necessarily from the public interest perspective. Do you take that fact into account when assessing where the public interest lies in relation to the publication of that information?

  • I think you always know when someone is passing you something that they shouldn't, simply because they are cautious and they will take steps to -- you're a little more clandestine in your meeting or in your communication, and I think we have a very strong duty, as reporters, to protect those people when they come to us.

    We also have a huge responsibility to do what we can to investigate the quality of that information before we publish it, but that investigation into the quality and the public interest of the information is for me more important than the disclosure itself.

  • To what extent do you take into account your assessment of the motives of the person providing you that information?

  • I'm always alert to the possibility that you might be dealing with a disgruntled employee and it's worth examining, if you can: is there a pending disciplinary process or past one or something like that?

  • I take it that the sort of information we're talking about is rarely, if at all, disseminated during the course of a lunch with a police officer; the dissemination comes much later. Is that broadly speaking right?

  • I don't think anybody's going to pass you information at a first meeting. You would have to have some kind of degree of trust or what you get is the completely anonymous approach. I think I refer in that paragraph 43 to some stories I wrote some years ago about SOCA. That was completely anonymous. I never met that contact.

  • The purpose then from your perspective of the social contact is to put people at ease, to build up trust so that in due course, if they want to disclose information to you, they will. Is that broadly speaking correct?

  • Not just disclose information, but also if you go to them and say, "Your department is running this really fascinating operation or strategy, I'd really like to do a feature on it or work on a piece." More the latter, actually. My expectations of brown envelopes and wonderful stories is fairly low, to be honest.

  • Do you feel that if there were less social contact, and your statement makes it clear that there has been less in recent months, that your sources will dwindle or dry up?

  • My social contact is limited for a couple of reasons in the last few months, and I haven't been working full-time, but I do fear that the ability to build a trustworthy relationship with someone is going to be seriously inhibited if you can't have a coffee or a pint or a bite to eat with them. I do think that is a concern, and I think it's quite important for senior crime journalists to be able to meet senior police officers and talk openly and freely without necessarily a watchdog or a press officer sitting on your shoulder recording every word or listening in on every word.

    I mean, my practice in these situations increasingly over the years has been to maybe spend quite a long time talking to an officer about a whole range of subjects, and then maybe come back to him the next day and say, "Look, I'm really interested in X or Y, is there any way we can develop that?" rather than to run off and rush into print, because I think the relationship -- you're in this game not just for five minutes. You can't burn your contact. You need to talk to people for years and years and years, and if they think that -- if they say something, blurt something out inadvertently and you rush off to print with it, they'll never speak to you again.

  • The presence of the press officer, does that tend to have the effect that the party line is put across; when the press officer is not there, you get a version which is -- I won't say "closer to the truth", because that was be grossly exaggerating it, but unvarnished?

  • In my experience, it depends entirely on the individual officer. If the officer is confident of his or her subject and material and confident in dealing with the media, then they don't tend to bother about the presence of the press officer. I mean, they are -- quite often they're superior. At senior rank. At lower ranks, DI or something, I think there is an inhibition if you have a press officer present. They're kind of thinking: what are the press lines? Am I allowed to go beyond the official corporate press line?

  • Your contact with Mr Fedorcio, the head of DPA, again there appears to be little evidence in the records, but tell us if this is wrong, of lunches with him save in a CRA context --

  • -- with other journalists?

  • I recall two lunches with Mr Fedorcio in five years.

  • The purpose of those lunches, as you say, was to build up a working relationship with him, but what do you mean by that, what was the ulterior purpose, if any?

  • No ulterior purpose. To my mind, he was -- he'd been there a long time, he knew how the Met worked, he knew most of the crime reporters. There were certain sensitive subjects, stories would break where he would be the person you would go to in the hope that he would have knowledge of it. Simple as that.

  • In the hope that he'd have knowledge of particular sensitive stories; is that right?

  • Well, if a story broke, say, somewhere else -- I mean, I've gone to him where I've had a particularly sensitive story that we want to break, I would go to him and say, "This is a story we're running tomorrow, these are the lines we're going to take, I'd like a considered and detailed response from the Met", but also if, you know, a major story breaks or major -- a bombing or something like that, you would hope that he's across that information and is able to help you out. But frankly, you are ringing -- in an emergency situation like that, you're ringing everybody, you're just on the phone constantly.

  • Interestingly, you make it clear in paragraph 21 of your statement, the bottom of page 00641, you "do not think it is a healthy situation for reporters to accept hospitality from organisations they write about." The obvious question -- there are two obvious questions. First of all, why not?

  • I think I go on to say why not later on. I think there is the danger of -- I think the term is "agency capture", that you go native, you will become too close to them as an organisation, too defensive of them, where actually, especially in policing, given all the extraordinary powers the police have to use force, to lock people up, a huge part of our job as crime reporters should be to scrutinise what they do and hold them to account.

  • It should work the other way as well, shouldn't it?

  • That's why I really have limited social contact with people.

  • You see, I can see there is a difference between having a cup of coffee with somebody, but what's been the feature that might be causing some concern is where it's not just a cup of coffee, it's actually rather more of an entire social event.

  • And again that's a matter of judgment, isn't it? One size won't fit all, but there comes a time where you've absolutely crossed the line, or would you not agree?

  • I personally don't think I have ever crossed the line.

  • No, no, you misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting you've crossed the line. I'm suggesting the entertainment on offer, where the extent to which hospitality has been lavished does cross the line, either way, whether it's agency capture by the police of the journalist or the other way around.

  • I agree. That's why I try and limit contact to what I think is a reasonable level. On the point of the restaurant, sometimes I have chosen what might appear to be a slightly more expensive restaurant because I know it's got a quiet table somewhere and --

  • Yes, I've heard that explanation.

  • Well, I genuinely feel more comfortable having a little quiet booth at the back talking about paedophilia or gun crime or mad terrorists than sitting at Starbucks or Pizza Express.

  • I do the same with lawyers, by the way.

  • I wouldn't necessarily encourage that either, you see, Mr O'Neill, and that's not simply because if -- well, all right.

  • I suppose you would say, Mr O'Neill, it's the way journalism works: you provide a nice lunch and you hope something might flow, but in the public interest, in due course. Is that broadly speaking the position?

  • What I hope will flow is a relationship of trust and integrity. I can't deal with people unless they trust me.

  • But people will not provide you with information which is sensitive, which maybe they understand ought not to be provided to a journalist, unless they trust the journalist. That's self-evident, isn't it?

  • To be fair to you, as you've made it clear through your various exhibits, the sort of stories you have written over the years and which one can read in the exhibits are clearly in the public interest, aren't they?

  • Well, I mean it's by no means all of them. Those are some of the ones I rely on to say why I believe there has to be a free flow of information, because I do not think that information would be disclosed by a corporate press office. It's not in their interests to do so.

  • No. Can I ask you please about your experience of police forces outside London, because you've made it clear you do have some considerable experience. What, if any, are the differences here?

  • Again, it's -- the relationship you build quite often for me has a lot to do with who is the chief constable or the officer you're dealing with. Frankly they tend to be smaller and often more friendly. I mean, I've had a particularly good working relationship for a number of years now with Merseyside Police, and I find them to be incredibly helpful in facilitating access to an officer or -- I mean, I've interviewed Mr Hogan-Howe when he was Chief Constable there, I've interviewed Mr Murphy, who is the Chief Constable now. I find them hugely impressive police officers and they were always very open and saying, "Right, you've heard from me, go and talk to the guys at the sharp end who are doing the work."

  • I appreciate you've only been working part-time recently, but therefore do you see the prospect in Mr Hogan-Howe of a different relationship now that he's at the Met rather than in Merseyside?

  • I think, since he came in, there is a different relationship between the police and the press, and I suppose that's an inevitable consequence of what happened last summer. He has to steady the ship and he has spoken of a period of austerity between the police and the press. I personally hope that we can reach a more sensible accommodation than we have at the moment because I think the relationship is quite stultified and congested.

  • That's what you said right at the beginning. The reason I ask is because you speak positively about his view when he was Chief Constable of Merseyside.

  • I think he had a very good media policy, but I don't know actually what the written media policy was, but any dealings I had with them or with him were always very fruitful. He would give me time to talk to him about whatever subject I wanted to talk to him about, or whatever subject he wanted to talk about, and I had access to his matrix team, and with Mr Murphy, I had a very good -- I mean this comes back to unauthorised disclosure.

    We had a story which is exhibited there about a guy who was importing -- smuggling guns into Britain, live handguns, on passenger flights from America. That was an unauthorised disclosure of information, probably. Eventually tracked that down to -- found out that Merseyside were running the operation, and that was an example -- I bring it up because it's an example where the police and the press can work very well together. Merseyside said to me, "You're on the right track but you're right in the middle of a live operation, this guy is in custody in America, we want to pick up two people here, could you sit on this and we will answer your questions and -- but we really would like you to sit on it", and we sat on that, I think, for three months before we ran the story.

  • In paragraphs 53 and 54 of your statement, Mr O'Neill, 00647, you're quite critical of the Department of Public Affairs acting as gatekeepers.

  • Not facilitating the flow and disclosure of information. In what way do they impede the disclosure of information?

  • I just think they're less than frank. They give up -- they quite often give a partial picture. And in the current situation -- as I say, I am not really working full-time so I've less contact with the Met than I might normally have, but I understand from reporting colleagues that they have been quite obstructive about facilitating access to an officer on a particular case, and I believe some of my colleagues in the broadcast media are having quite a difficult time with them at the moment over release of some footage in a major court case that has been played to the jury, I think.

    But my main issue would be the lack -- they don't tell the whole story.

  • Is that a phenomenon you feel has worsened in recent times, or has it been a constant picture, in your view?

  • I think that's a fairly constant picture. You quite often just get the bare minimum. There was a case -- there was a press release they put out about two weeks ago about a PC who was convicted of assault at Westminster Magistrates' Court. The Metropolitan Police press release simply said, "PC X has been convicted of assault, he will be sentenced at a later date", something like that, "two other PCs were found not guilty". What it didn't say was that he had pulled a 14-year-old boy from a car and head-butted him. So what they said was not misleading, but it was not the full picture.

  • Can I ask you, please, Mr O'Neil, to address now the HMIC report, paragraph 61, page 00649. You're not alone in saying you don't like the recommendation that all contact between police and journalists should be noted or recorded.

  • Can I ask you to explain in more detail why that's your view, particularly if the hypothesis is that the police are providing you with more information, because there's a greater spirit of openness and transparency?

  • Well, I've yet to see the greater spirit of openness and transparency.

  • I'm trying to deal with the piece, aren't I? So I can understand you being very concerned if the press were to say, "Not only are we going to carry on trying to focus down on what information we give the police, but also we're going to want to know absolutely everybody who even so much as exchanges a greeting with a police officer", I can understand that you would not be comfortable with that, but I'm trying to find the right balance. So in the context of the questions that Mr Jay asks, I'd be very grateful if you would help me try to find the right balance. I don't know. You may think it should just be a complete free-for-all, anybody should be able to say whatever they like, whenever they like, and it doesn't matter. If it isn't going to be a free-for-all, where is the -- you may not like the word "control". Where is the reflective adjustment that allows for some measure of understanding of what is happening? It's in that context that I ask you to address Mr Jay's questions.

  • I think, sir, I don't believe there is a free-for-all at the moment.

  • No, there isn't, I recognise that.

  • I don't just mean since last summer. I don't think there has been a free-for-all previously. I think there is clear evidence of some serious misjudgments by some very senior people, and I think, and as you rightly say, it angers rival newspapers, but I think there seems to have been favouritism towards one particular title and I don't think that's acceptable either.

    But my dealings with officers, the boundaries have been fairly clear. They don't transgress into operations, they don't jeopardise operations. They behave quite cautiously. And if they do want to tell you something that is coming up, it is under a kind of agreement that you are not going to transgress it. There may even be -- at that point there may be a press officer and a formal embargo.

    What I would resist about a recording and note-taking, what causes me concern about it is that I really believe that an officer who is confident and able to deal with the press and feels quite, you know, absolutely certain of their own ability in that environment, and therefore has contact with the press, my fear is that that officer will ultimately be victimised, if everything is recorded. They will find themselves overlooked for promotion, they will find themselves, you know, sidelined.

    I mean, my experience of the politics of policing is that it can be a viper's nest. There's a lot of -- anyone who's chronicled the Ian Blair years knows there's a lot of back-stabbing and back-biting that goes on.

  • Is it your concern, Mr O'Neill, that if, for example, it was seen that you were speaking to quite senior police officers frequently, then people might draw certain inferences about that?

  • Well, yes, I think we've seen that happen. I mean, I think people made reference to Steve Wright having a drink with John Yates. I mean, I -- I think Steve Wright is kind of probably the doyen of crime reporters at the moment, or was before he moved on to pastures new. I don't think he's a corruptible crime reporter and I don't think -- I don't think he was doing anything improper, but it was suggested by Bob Quick that there was something improper in him having a drink with John Yates, and I really completely disagree with that. I mean, I think Steve has written some stories which have been hugely critical of Mr Yates and some of his operations. So I don't think there were any favours being done there.

    But in the current climate, it is -- you know, particularly if you were to arrange to meet an officer, you would kind of be looking over your shoulder all the time. The last time I met an officer, we met a very, very long way from Scotland Yard because he was so nervous about meeting me and that anyone would see him, and he's a perfectly honourable, experienced police officer.

  • You say in the last sentence of paragraph 61:

    "I do think there is absolutely no need for senior police officers to be socialising with proprietors of newspaper groups or media companies."

    Do you have any evidence that that's occurred?

  • Well, I do know that -- I think it's well-known that senior officers in the Met went to the News International summer party and things like that. Some of them have said that they've met management level people like -- I don't see why that's got any relevance to their job. They should be talking more to the likes of me or to the editors frankly, rather than dealing with chief executives.

  • Mr O'Neill, you're rather scathing of the Elizabeth Filkin report and you use quite strong language there, don't you: "East German Ministry of Information". You're entitled to your opinion.

  • I think I was quite angry about it. Probably less so now than when I wrote that. But I did find it quite a patronising document, particularly if I were a female crime correspondent I would be furious, because it seems to imply they're just a bunch of women in short skirts who are out flirting with people, and I don't think that's the case. But I do find it's -- I mean, what I don't like about it really is it recommends that the answer to the Met's problems is to give more power over the control of information, which it calls transparency -- I mean, who decides what is transparent? What are we going to be transparent about? It's in the hands of the same senior officers, the same senior officer class who have brought all these problems upon the Met's head in the first place. It doesn't seem to me a sensible course of action.

  • Finally, paragraph 70 of your statement, page 00652. You say:

    "Much has been written about the Times hiring Andy Hayman ... and a lot of it has been wildly inaccurate."

    What has been wildly inaccurate?

  • Can I say I -- in the questionnaire you sent me for this statement, I was not asked about Andy Hayman. I felt I should put this in to correct the impression that this was somehow a favour done by News International.

    The initiative to contact Andy Hayman was mine, to be honest. He was -- I don't think he knows this, but he was second choice. I approached Peter Clarke first of all.

    We had a relatively new editor, he had a new style whereby a news story -- he liked to have a news story accompanied by a commentary or an analysis, something like that. I quite often felt uncomfortable writing the news story and then commenting on it, I didn't think that was appropriate, so I suggested we find an expert commentator. We do the same with health, we have a doctor who writes routinely, and I thought it might be -- you know, I knew Clarke and Hayman had retired in fairly quick order, one after the other, and we had at the time a huge terror trial going on, the airline plot trial, and I thought if there were more terror trials in the pipeline, it would be good to get one of these guys to give an expert commentary on terrorism issues and then more broadly on policing issues.

    So it was 2008. Hacking wasn't in the news, wasn't an issue.

  • It runs the risk, doesn't it, of the retired senior officer undermining those who are then in command?

  • You may say that's fair enough, and that's where your comment may be better than a retired senior officer, because you're entitled to say what you like. Of course they are as well.

  • As a private citizen, they are, and frankly they speak from a position of greater knowledge than I do.

  • But that might in itself undermine the public interest, because their authority may itself undermine what may be an entirely legitimate and appropriate approach, even if a different approach might have been also appropriate. Do you not see the risk of that?

  • I see the risk where someone with recent experience of the management board is writing about it, I can see that. I can see that if that person has a score to settle, that might be done.

  • But I genuinely believe with Mr Hayman that, particularly when he was writing about Ian Blair or, after that, Paul Stephenson, both men he knew quite well and had worked with, my personal view was that he pulled his punches rather. He wasn't scathing of them in any way whatsoever.

  • I'm not actually trying to deal with the personalities.

  • I can see where you are, sir. There is a risk there, yes.

  • It wasn't any question, then, of Mr Hayman being helpful to you whilst he was Assistant Commissioner and this was a sort of quid pro quo for that?

  • No. I had very limited contact with him, and he had media contracts with ITV News, with LBC, with NBC, and we nabbed him just before he signed up -- he was being pursued by the Daily Telegraph. Frankly now I wish I'd let the Daily Telegraph sign him up. It would have been better for him and for us.

  • I've been asked to put this to you. You say that you "persuaded the editor we should sign him up". Was that difficult?

  • I think I overstated the case there. I think I introduced him to the editor and the deputy editor and said, "This might be a good guy to have". I don't have the power to hire and fire. And I think James and the deputy editor then put him through a fairly lengthy interview process and I'm not -- I think he wrote a couple of articles, possibly, before we signed him to a contract.

  • Thank you very much, Mr O'Neill.

  • Can I raise two questions with you? The first takes you right back to the beginning of your evidence and your concern about the defensive institutional instinct of the Met. Do you think there could be something of a two-way street here, that postulate that in the main our senior police officers are trying to do their best.

  • And if they are met with strident challenges and personal attacks when they make what, on the face of it, may be difficult decisions in circumstances which were not necessarily of their making, then they're more likely to respond by trying to close down the risk of that sort of attack, and that actually, one of the balancing features of requiring a greater openness may also be a greater understanding of the problems that they actually face. Not necessarily to agree with them, I'm not trying to suggest that the Times or any newspaper should pull its punches, that's the great advantage of free speech in our democratic society, but that there may be something of a reaction if there is not shown to be quite the same understanding of their problems as are justified. Do you see my point?

  • Yes. I think that a better dialogue between us and them would be good, and I think perhaps we'd be careful about completely excluding social contact from that dialogue, because I think that would help build up that understanding and that relationship of what they do and the problems they face.

    I completely agree with you. I think a characteristic of reporting the Met in particular in recent years, probably especially since Ian Blair's situation, is that it has become much more like political reporting, it's become almost a branch of Westminster/Whitehall, where the Commissioner of the Met is set up there as someone to be scrutinised, overly scrutinised, and somebody who is almost a political figure, who can fail, and as I said, the race for his successor becomes like -- it's a bit like the flavour of when a cabinet minister gets in trouble and everybody's calling for him to resign, there is an element of that, and that has changed the reporting of the Met in particular.

  • Could you understand why that approach -- and I understand the point you're making -- might reflect itself in the way that the Met is prepared to provide the ammunition for you to shoot the leader?

  • I can absolutely see why it makes them defensive. I think it's been less of a problem since Lord Blair left, because there hasn't been this open internal conflict.

  • Well, I understand, that's one aspect of it. But if one looks at the rate of attrition of senior officers, which we also commented on at the beginning of your evidence, this might be a consequence of the increased stridency. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is not for me to say, but I am simply looking at trying to find the right balance.

  • I agree with you, but I think if we were to find that balance, we need greater, wider, more open channels of communication, and I think more so at the moment than anything else. Policing is in the middle of a huge change, which at first glance, to my eyes, seems to be making it much more secretive and less accountable, not simply the reaction of senior officers to what's happened recently.

    We have, you know, forensic science is being completely overhauled and much more of it is going to be done in-house by the police, which to my mind takes us back to the days of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four and all those terrible miscarriages of justice. Those risks are heightened. We have legal aid budgets being cut, fewer people will actually see a solicitor in a police station.

    I think at a time when we need far more information and openness around policing and more scrutiny of policing and we have a police and crime commissioner who is a completely untested office --

  • We've not discussed that at all but that actually simply adds to the melting pot, doesn't it?

  • Hugely. And we need more scrutiny and more openness, and I just don't think the Met historically have done that.

  • Two further comments on that. First of all, there's a limit to the amount of time senior officers can devote to --

  • -- the media because they have a job to do.

  • And if anything, I think somebody spoke of an overfocus on what's in the newspapers.

  • I think they read far too many headlines and get paranoid about them.

  • And the second is the perception if overly friendly relations might be thought to create their own problems. I mean, in the sense that goes back to the hospitality thing, there has to be found a middle way.

    That was my first issue. Well, I've ventilated it with you and I've received your view. The second is this, and I'll put it in a rather blunt form: the CRA. Is the membership of that group too restrictive? About right? Is it appropriately balanced as the mechanism by which the more in-depth work can be done in briefings? Do you feel that works as it should?

  • I don't, actually. I think it's been rather talked up. To my experience, the CRA is a loose affiliation of rivals who would happily cut each other's throats to get to a story first. We have -- as a body, we have enhanced access to some information about policing and to briefings and to officers. I think perhaps a lesson for crime reporters is that perhaps the CRA could be more professional and better organised and more clear about what it wants from the Met and what it expects and what it offers in return in terms of adhering to embargos and rules and things like that.

  • What about its membership?

  • I think there are about 40-odd members, something like that. It covers all the national papers and the broadcasters and --

  • The Standard and quite a few freelancers, people who have been -- who write solely about crime, things like that. I think perhaps there's a case for including one or two other -- specifically where we're dealing with London, one or two other organisations that deal with London, the London broadcasters, BBC London and ITV London, but maybe the Voice.

  • It's not for me to decide. I'm just trying to see how all these things fit together. Mr O'Neill, thank you very much indeed.

  • Good morning, sir. The next witness is Mr House, the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police.

  • Thank you very much indeed.