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

  • MR WILLIAM STEPHEN HOUSE (sworn).

  • Could you firstly provide your full name to the Inquiry.

  • My full name is William Stephen House.

  • You've provided a statement to the Inquiry dated 19 January 2012. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • I am going to start with your career history. You are currently the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, a position that you've held since 19 November 2007, you tell us. Prior to that point, let me summarise your career history. You first joined Sussex Police in 1981, you then held various roles within Sussex, Northamptonshire and West Yorkshire Police. In 1997 you attended the senior command course and then you went on to hold two Assistant Commissioner roles within Staffordshire Police. In December 2001 you joined the MPS as a Deputy Assistant Commissioner. In May 2003, you moved to a different Deputy Assistant Commissioner role. Then in May 2005 you were promoted to Assistant Commissioner. You tell us a bit at the bottom of page 2 of your statement about that. But in May 2006 you became Assistant Commissioner specialist crime, and that was your last role before you became Chief Constable of Strathclyde in November 2007. Have I accurately summarised your career history?

  • Very accurate, thank you.

  • Mr House can I thank you for the obvious work that you and it's quite clear your force have put into responding. I hope the questions weren't too restrictive. They were intended to make sure that they cover the ground, but if there's anything you feel we've not covered at any stage, please take the opportunity to elaborate.

    Could I make it clear that I'm aware that Strathclyde are presently involved in an investigation which raises a number of the issues with which this Inquiry is concerned, and I want it to be understood by all: I am not merely not inviting you to deal with that inquiry, I am positively requiring you not to. It has been a very important aspect of this part of the Inquiry that I am not trespassing on individual investigations. I've learnt a fair amount about Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta, but only in the most general and not the most specific sense. Your operation, I understand it, is very specific, and covers one particular incident. I have no intention whatsoever of impeding or affecting any criminal investigation or inquiry.

    I say that now so that those who say, "Well, why wasn't he asked about ..." will understand that this does not feature within what I'm trying to do.

  • Before I come on to ask you about your role as the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police I just want us to know a little bit more about Strathclyde Police. You tell us on page 3 of your statement that Strathclyde Police comprises some 8,000 or so police officers and has 2,400 members of police support staff. You also tell us that this makes up about half the police strength for the whole of Scotland and that more than half of Scotland's population lives in Strathclyde and on that basis it's the biggest territorial force in Scotland by some considerable distance.

    Can I ask you now, as I say, about your role as the Chief Constable of Strathclyde? You're asked at question 2 here on page 3 what your first impressions were of the culture of relations between the media and Strathclyde Police when you first took up the role. You say that your first impressions were of a relationship with the media which was markedly different to that which you had known whilst with the Metropolitan Police. Can you tell us what you mean by that. What was markedly different?

  • I think in the main that my predecessor, who I made clear in my statement is regarded as a first class Chief Constable in his own right, had a very specific view to the media, which was one of non-engagement, therefore it was a very different environment, when I came to Strathclyde, from what I'd been used to in the Metropolitan Police, which was in my view one of quite positive engagement.

  • You then go on to say that one of the first things you did was you held a joint press conference with the then Chair of the Police Authority, Councillor Rooney, on the Sunday before you took up office. You say that you took this as an opportunity essentially to set out your stall, lay out your vision for Strathclyde Police in a very clear manner, and in response to question 4, at the top of page 5, you say you were initially keen to use the media in that particular way. You wanted people to know that there was, as you say, a new sheriff in town, you wanted to lay out your plans for the force and the way that it would work.

    During that initial period when you engaged with the media, how often did you have contact with the media? How would you describe it?

  • Well, I think the evidence we've submitted, and I'm sure you'll question later, details the fact that I did the rounds of the editors of the major newspapers, and also, I think, the BBC and I believe STV as well, but that was an initial flurry of activity in a follow-up, I guess, to the press conference, to, in a less formal setting, outline the fact that I did want a different relationship from my predecessor, and also to lay out what I was expected to do in the five years of my contract. So it was an initial injection into a relationship which was at a very, very low level of activity, a low tickover, because of my predecessor's views, which he held for his own reasons, and I don't seek to criticise that.

  • If I can describe the extent of your contact with the media during that initial period, you say you did the round of the editors in Scotland?

  • The rounds of the various TV and broadcasting networks, you held press conferences, and then you say this in the third paragraph on page 5:

    "I have been Chief Constable of Strathclyde for over four years now and the extent of my personal contact with the media has changed over that time. Initially I was keen to use the media ... " and there is the quotation about the "new sheriff in town".

    "Over the years, as I believe this message has reached the public and our partners and politicians in the West of Scotland, I have taken several backward steps and left it to other people to represent the organisation in the media."

    What does "several backward steps" mean in practice? What did you actually stop doing in relation to the media?

  • I would stop fronting crime in action stories and leave that to the officers that led them. I was taught that senior officers front the bad news, and the operational and junior officers front the good news, and that's part of what we're there for. Once I'd done my initial introduction to the West of Scotland and laid out what it was I wanted to do in the five years, I wanted to get different people engaged in that.

    I also think there's an element of weariness and if people keep seeing the same face of a senior officer popping up, it becomes less about the message and more about "It's him again", which I don't think helps anyone involved in the process, the media, the officer, the force itself or in particular the public. So it was a calculated initial injection and then a gradual step back. Not a disengagement, but a step back.

  • You go on at the bottom of page 5 to describe the contact that you do continue to have with the media. You explain that your own direct interventions now tend to be on issues of more strategic impact, so, for example, you have a fairly practical position on particular issues, such as the Scottish government's proposals about minimum pricing for alcohol. You therefore also take similar prominent positions, for example, on proposals for police reform in Scotland.

    Does that mean in practice that you have far less regular now contact with the media in Scotland?

  • Yes. It's much less regular. It tends to be more defined. Although I would say if we get a request from an individual newspaper or television outlet to do something specific, we will consider it, and if it is of interest or it's going to be of value or benefit to ourselves, to the public, then we will consider it. It's not that I don't do anything, but we're much more sparing. We will try to move that to other members of the organisation.

  • You explain that initially you did the rounds of the editors, you met with TV stations, et cetera. Do you continue to do those things?

  • I meet with editors if they're new editors, I'll usually meet a new editor just over a cup of coffee, usually now just to say hello, and hear from them any views they have on our relationship. It's a useful time for me to check up on what they think of our media set-up and see whether or not they think it's of benefit and where they think the strengths and weaknesses are.

  • Do you take the view that a chief constable needs to maintain regular personal contact with editors or journalists in order to perform his role, or do the backward steps that you've indicated indicate that you take a different approach to that?

  • I probably want my cake and eat it there. I would say that it's better if you know them and they know you and they know where you're coming from and they can judge your mettle and vice versa. These are busy people as well, they don't want to be constantly seeing me. Once the contact is established, I think it's pretty businesslike at a low level, and as and when necessary after that.

  • You were asked later on, question 44 on page 21, about your current impression of the culture within Strathclyde Police in its dealings with the press and you say you think "the culture within the force has changed in the last four years to one which now acknowledges that the press are people with whom we should have a positive relationship where possible". Are you happy with what you've achieved?

  • Yes, I think we've gone in the right direction. I think we're in a situation where people in the organisation understand that it's a professional relationship and that we are doing it for the public good, and there are positive reasons to do it, and it's not a dirty thing that needs to be hidden away, and one of the things I didn't put in my evidence that I don't think that we do to encourage that is in our selection processes for senior officers, our internal selection processes, we always include a mocked up media interview, which does a couple of things. It allows us to test them under a bit of stress, but it also sees whether they can perform credibly dealing with that sort of a situation. But I think the more subtle thing is it tells them that we consider this aspect to be an important part of the make-up of a senior operational police officer, and I think that helps to feed through to the culture that contact with the media is part of the job, but it must be within certain bounds, it must be professional and it must be for the public good, not for the private good.

  • We'll come back to the specifics, the policies and how you run it in practice. Just at the very general still, I've asked you about whether you're happy. Do you think from your perception that the media are happy with the way that you conduct your role and the way that Strathclyde Police now interact with the media? Obviously I will be asking the editor of the Herald that in due course.

  • But I'd like your view.

  • I hope that most of the media and indeed the reporters individually would say it's a more open relationship than it used to be. I think importantly, and it's come out a couple of times this morning, that we will try and stop them going wrong, if we think they're going to go wrong, because that was a criticism in the past, that, "You let us publish anything". I hope that they would feel that we would now step in and say, "Well, I don't think that's going down the right line".

    Inevitably, reporters will always want more access, that's the nature of their job that they will want more, so there will always be a "yes it's better but", and sometimes there are specifics that we can fix and sometimes it's just the nature of the job.

  • Let me ask you about some of the specifics now. I'm going to ask you first about gifts and hospitality if I can. You were asked about this at question 19 onwards. You tell us that:

    "The current Strathclyde Police policy and associated standard operating procedure in respect of subscriptions, testimonial, gifts and hospitality directs that officers and staff members should not accept gifts or hospitality for personal benefit as a consequence of their position."

    You also go on to say that it states that:

    "... it is the responsibility of all staff to ensure that their actions do not give rise to or foster suspicion that outside individuals/organisations have gained favour or advantage through the offer or acceptance of any gifts or hospitality ..." et cetera.

    Is there any financial limit below which gifts or hospitality are not recorded or does this principle apply to all gifts or hospitality regardless of value?

  • My understanding is it should be all value.

  • You're asked later on at question 26 whether you think the policy as it stands is sufficient, and you say yes. Have you ever identified any problems during your time with officers or staff accepting hospitality or gifts in breach of the relevant policy?

  • Not to my memory. I don't believe I have.

  • Let me ask then about your own acceptance of hospitality or gifts. Could you perhaps tell us in general terms first of all when you consider it appropriate for a chief constable to accept or provide hospitality? Do the same rules apply to you as to all other members of staff?

  • In general, yes. But I think there has to be some level of caveat there. I've reviewed the gifts that I've accepted and the gifts that I've sort of either sent back, said I can't accept this, or passed to somebody else or sent to a charity, and there has to be an element of judgment in there.

  • Let's give you some specific examples. Look to pages 6 and 7 of your statement. In the answers to question 6 onwards, you explain the extent to which you have accepted hospitality from the media whilst you've been Chief Constable. If we start with question 6 at the bottom of page 6.

    You essentially identify three occasions where you have accepted hospitality from the media whilst Chief Constable, one occasion at question 8 where you have provided hospitality for the media on behalf of Strathclyde Police, do you see that? Is that the only four occasions in the four years that you've been Chief Constable that you have accepted or given hospitality to the media?

  • As far as our records and my memory is, that's correct. Except, as I sit here, I've remembered that I was also invited as the guest at the Scottish editors annual dinner -- lunch, and it must have been just before the General Election because David Cameron was the guest of honour and I think I was invited because rather than having him sit next to any editors who might ask him difficult questions, they put me next to him because I was a safe somebody to put beside him. I didn't pay for that lunch, that lunch was provided.

  • Your test is really set out on page 5 of your standard operating procedure, isn't it? At some stage we'll come to that. Or now. Is that convenient?

  • No, that's convenient.

  • In relation to gifts:

    "Common sense will be sufficient in most instances and the asking of two simple questions: can I justify this? Can I be sure I will not be subject to legitimate criticism?"

  • And then in relation to hospitality:

    "Treat it with caution. You should accept it only if there is a genuine need to impart information or to represent the force in the interests of public relations. Offers to attend purely social or sporting functions should be accepted only where divisional senior management regard such attendance as appropriate and relevant to the current role."

    That last sentence becomes a little bit less clear, but "genuine need to impart information or to represent the force in the interests of public relations" again broadly covers it, doesn't it?

  • Can I ask you about acceptance of gifts now. You've provided your gifts register with your statement, it's behind tab 4. Again, a bit of common sense has to be applied here too. I don't want to take you through this in any detail, I just want to understand the principles that lie behind that decision to accept or decline gifts.

    We can see just from looking down the first page that a lot of the items are very small indeed, we're talking about glass ornaments, an umbrella, a pen, various small items. But can I just ask you about the second page, please, and you'll see there 19 August 2010, about two-thirds of the way down the second page, you are offered "complimentary ticket for director's box at Queen's Park Football Club". See that?

  • I can't, but I remember it, yes.

  • And again the response:

    "Letter sent, no thanks but may attend in an operational capacity."

    That's just a direct application of the policy, would that be right?

  • Yes. With the West of Scotland fever around football, I don't attend any football matches in an either private capacity or as a guest. I go along operationally in uniform.

  • You're not necessarily on the front line?

  • Well, usually, sir, because it's about visibility, that's why I go. So yes, the front line is where the police officers are and that's where I go.

  • If you just look at the third page, we have a selection of what look like Christmas presents. You'll see there's three entries on the third page, 21st, 23rd and 23rd December 2010. I'm using this as an illustrative example. You were given some cognac, some chocolates, some wine and so on by various individuals we don't need to identify. They all appear to have been accepted but then gifted to charity. Do you see that?

  • To be honest, I'm struggling to find that one.

  • It should be the third page -- perhaps I can get it on screen.

  • It doesn't matter. They're all gifted to charity, auction or children's hospitals.

  • Oh yes, sorry. I've found them, yes.

  • What I want to understand is: does the fact that it's given away -- and you'll see the number of occasions where items are given away to charity as a matter of course -- make a difference in terms of perception of acceptance of the gift?

  • The way -- it's a very good question and I'll reflect on it, frankly. It's a personal judgment with each one of these. Sometimes I accept it because I think to myself if I give it away to somebody and they find out, they'll be offended and there are some issues around that, but more often than not, passing it on to a charity of some sort seems the right thing to do. We record it. So if somebody comes back and says, "You were unusually nice to Sir David McNee as a result, Chief Constable, of him giving you some champagne cognac", we can show that I may have been unusually nice to Sir David McNee, but actually we didn't accept that, we passed it on.

    I do understand there is a perception issue. I'll have a look at that and consider that for the future.

  • I then want to ask you about meetings which don't involve hospitality. You've already told us that you would meet on occasion with individual editors, for example a new editor and so on, but you explain in your statement in response to question 11 that the director of communications or a media manager would also be in attendance on such an occasion. Why do you consider that to be necessary?

  • Because it's a business meeting in furtherance of the aims of the organisation, and these are people who will be useful to be in there with the editor. My director of communications is absolutely central to the effort the organisation puts in to keep people safe, and I need them there to talk to the editor. They are, after all -- they have a common knowledge and a common history in terms of experience, and I think that matters.

  • All right. Let me ask you about your relationship with politicians. You were asked at question 12 onwards about your relationship with politicians. You were asked whether you ever feel under any pressure from politicians, and in response to question 14 you in fact say that politicians are more likely to feel pressurised by senior police officers if you've taken a particular stand on a particular issue. You say politicians who don't agree with whatever that particular stand is expressed frustration with that. Can you understand why they expressed frustration and does it make a difference that they are elected representatives in that respect?

  • I can understand absolutely why they express and feel a frustration about it, but my simple view is that policing is an important public sector service. Chief constables are the leader of that service, and it is part of our role to speak in public about serious issues if we feel that there's something to be gained from doing that for the organisation or for the public good, so I do do that. I don't do it at the drop of a hat, because I'm conscious that it does create frustration and it can lead to criticism of why I'm doing it. I think it's part of the role.

  • I make it absolutely clear that you also say in your statement that you're always careful to present any such comments with caveats on a lack of political intent on what you're saying and to stress that what you say is always based on your professional policing experience and judgment.

  • I do say that, but I don't think it carries much weight with the politicians who get frustrated, but I say it anyway.

  • Let me ask you now about the relationship between individual officers and the media, please, and we're looking at question 15 onwards here. You give slightly different answers on what the relationship is like, according to whether or not it's the national media or the local media that's involved, an interesting situation.

  • You start by saying in response to the question that your force's corporate communications department should be the first port of call for any national media, you say by that, by national media, you also refer to the Scottish media that covers the whole country. The communications officer, you say, would process the query, speak to the relevant police officer and provide a response to the journalist and then the query and the subsequent response are logged on what's called the spotlight system. Again, you say, top of page 10:

    "If any media outlet was looking to speak to an officer in relation to a matter concerning Strathclyde Police, this would be processed and logged by the staff within again the corporate communications department."

    I pause there and before turning to the local media and the different approach there, would this log, the spotlight log, include recording off-the-record information that was provided?

  • That's one of those questions I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that.

  • Fine, I'll ask the next witness. Are you happy from your perception that this system works in practice, this system of essentially the first port of call always being for national media the corporate communications department, logging, processing in this way?

  • I am, and I wonder if your view depends on whether you regard the department as helpful guides to the media or fierce watchdogs and guard dogs. I would say helpful guides. They make sure that they speak to the right individual officer and facilitate that at the right time and in the right way.

  • Do you perceive a chilling effect on this system, that you need to go via a certain route and that everything is logged and processed in this way?

  • I would say it's a professional way to go about it. And it does allow us to keep track of who is being asked to be spoken with, but it's not something that -- I've never reviewed these logs to see which police officer is speaking to the media about this. I genuinely feel it's there as a positive help to the media to make sure we can help them speak to the officer that they should be speaking with.

  • You may have heard the last witness say that his concern with logging everything would be that particular police officers would end up being victimised or passed over for promotion because of the number of occasions on which they speak to the media.

  • Do you see that as a concern?

  • It's not something I recognise, to be honest. I guess part of it is why do we -- I mean, I don't meet individual media for stories without someone from the media department present recording it. That's a policy I've adopted through learning harsh lessons when I was in the Met, so it's something we encourage. But it's for the protection of everybody involved. It's not to keep track of what the officer is saying so much as making sure that what the officer says is what appears, more or less, in print, and if it doesn't, we can go back and say, "You got that story wrong, that's not what we said".

  • As far as you're aware, is there a system in place that monitors who has been speaking to the media at any time or on how many occasions they have spoken to the media?

  • Not that I'm aware of. I'm not even aware if Spotlight can do that sort of search, but I guess you can ask the next witness.

  • I'll ask the next witness. Can I then turn to the local media, because that's a different approach. You say in the last paragraph, responding to question 15 on page 10:

    "At a local media level, this process differs. Responsibility for engaging with local, community-based media lies with community inspectors. The inspectors meet with the editors/heads of their key local media on a regular basis and information on local level crimes is supplied from community policing teams directly to the media. Any crime or incident of a serious nature -- or one that is likely to demand national media attention -- is picked up by the corporation communications department."

    First of all, forgive my ignorance, how would you define local community-based media?

  • I'm not sure I could define it, but it would be something like one of the town newspapers. The West of Scotland is particularly rich in local town newspapers. Every small town has its own newspaper. Usually it's a version of a corporate publication, but it still has local stories, but they are relative, you're talking about populations of towns of 30, 50,000.

  • So not the larger newspapers such as the Herald or --

  • -- Evening Times or the Scotsman, but smaller community-based newspapers?

  • Why does the process differ in this way?

  • Two reasons. One is probably sheer volume, because there are so many of these, and second is, I think, contained slightly in the answer, which is it tends to be about very low level local stories. If it's something which is of greater concern, then it would come up the chain to the corporate communications department.

  • So those are the formal ways in which you interact with the media, the formal national media route, the formal local media route.

    At question 16 you're asked whether contacts with the media are restricted to certain staff and you say this:

    "... officers are able to speak to the media, but the management of this process is conducted by the corporate communications department. We do not generally encourage, nor have we fostered, a culture of individual officers building relationships with the media. That said, I do know that some officers in my force may be said to have a good profile in the media because they are comfortable dealing with journalists and because the type of work they do gets reported regularly: such dealings are subject to scrutiny ..."

    And so on. Can you explain that? Why have you taken the decision essentially to foster or not to encourage or foster a culture of individual officers building relationships with the media? Where is the danger?

  • The danger -- I'm not certain there would be a desire for large numbers of officers to have that engagement, because I think a general view from police officers would be fairly conservative towards the media, so I don't think there's an untapped desire by a lot of my officers to be speaking with the media on a one-to-one basis. But I do think there are situations where officers will say -- it depends.

    I'd be delighted for individual officers of very junior rank to be talking to the media about specific cases that they're involved with, as long as they do so within legal guidelines. It's when it becomes more around the closing of a police office and you then get a situation where the local media wants to talk to a sergeant or a constable about "What do you think about this? Is it true that the local office is going to shut down and the public are going to be left without a police station in the town?"

  • The difference is between operational issues and policy issues.

  • To what extent is that contact recorded?

  • I don't believe there's much recording of the contact between the local newspapers and the community inspectors, only if they, colloquially, call for help, ie "I think I'm getting out of my depth", and speak to the communications department.

  • In relation to question 17, you were asked what you expect Strathclyde Police to gain from such contacts with the media and you say this:

    "There is one thing, and one thing only, that I expect Strathclyde Police to gain from any contacts with the media and that is an improvement in our service to the public."

    You go on to say there's only one reason why people should speak to the media, or staff should speak to the media, and that's to improve the service which they deliver to the public. Is that then the test that you would apply overall to contact between Strathclyde Police and the media? Should that be the test that you apply across the board?

  • I think in a general sense yes, I'm aware it sounds a bit aspirational and maybe not as practical, but it's trying, in my mind, to explain the difference between that you are speaking to the media with the media or responding to them for professional reasons about police work, not to raise your profile, not to show what a good cop I am or look how influential I am. It's about the needs of the organisation, which should be the needs of the public, and that's the key test for me.

  • Sir, would that be a convenient moment to break?

  • Yes. I'd just like to make a note. Thank you very much. Seven minutes, thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • Could I ask you about leaks. Question 30 you're asked:

    "To what extent have leaks from Strathclyde Police to the media been a problem during your tenure as Chief Constable?"

    You explain that it would be wrong to say that from time to time information has not leaked out to the media but then you say over the page that you do not believe that your force has a significant problem with the leaking of information to the media and that most officers and staff operate with integrity at all times.

    Then you go on to set out in response to questions 32 and 33 how many investigations have been conducted into actual or suspected leaks from Strathclyde Police to the media during the last five years, and you tell us that there have been 45 investigations conducted in respect of suspected leaks during the last five years, all of them have been reported to the CCU, which is the counter corruption unit, and that it's resulted in one officer being reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service; of the remaining 44, eight resulted in the report being disproved, 29 unsubstantiated and the other seven basically remain subject to review.

    Then you were asked:

    "Has disciplinary action been taken against any member of staff for leaking information?"

    The answer is no. And essentially you say in one case relating to passing information for financial reward and that report's now with Crown counsel for further direction.

    I've been asked to ask you a number of questions about this. First of all, how were the leaks discovered? If you can give us a general picture, because I understand that in each case that will probably be different, but were they a result of, for example, published articles where it became clear that information had been leaked or were they discovered in some other way?

  • No, I think in general it would be that something appeared in the newspaper and when we track it back, we work out that we believe that was a leak.

  • Is that the majority of cases?

  • It works in that way. The follow-up question to that is whether any of these concern celebrity cases, ie information about celebrities which appears to have been leaked to the media?

  • Yes, I would say -- and it's an estimation, because I haven't done that analysis -- I would say most of them do because that's effectively where the money would be, so yes, it's the newspapers, the reporters and the photographers being on the doorstep of the police office as a celebrity is released and of course that shouldn't happen. So we backtrack as to how did that happen and the view is that is a leak from the organisation and we investigate it.

  • 45 investigations in five years does seem quite a large number. On what basis do you take the view that you don't believe there is a significant problem? Is it because of the number that are actually proven or is there some other reason why you take the view that this is not a significant problem for Strathclyde?

  • I suppose's a statistical view, really. We have 8,500 police officers, actually, not 8,000, who are -- you're looking at nine alleged leaks a year that we investigate, and find that most of them are unsubstantiable. That doesn't mean to say they weren't actually leaks, but it means we can't prove, and it is very difficult to gain the evidence, but I don't think statistically that's a very high number for an organisation of our size.

  • I go back to your answer to question 30, top of page 14. Moving away from the celebrity leaks, in the second paragraph you say:

    "I am also bound to recognise, however, that unauthorised disclosure of confidential information to the media is an ongoing concern. Whilst such incidents are relatively rare, there have been occasions where the leaks to the media have hampered or even compromised an ongoing investigation of serious crime."

    That is more serious. Can you give us any examples -- you don't have to give us any specific names -- can you give us an example of a situation where that has occurred and has it occurred during your time as Chief Constable?

  • It has occurred during my time, and it's around -- the ones I can remember are around homicide investigations where information is leaked out to the media which, for tactical investigation reasons, the SIO would have preferred to retain, in other words, identifying features of the modus operandi is leaked out, which may have been able to be used within court, it's now in the public arena and we can't use it. That has happened on a few occasions.

  • I'm not suggesting that you're underplaying the significance of this problem, but I'm not sure that the parallel you talk about, the number of officers you have, quite works. The rather more interesting question would be how many celebrities you've had in custody where there hasn't been a reporter outside, because most, 99.9 per cent of your work will not be so interesting that the press will want to report something, you know, "Fred Smith from 23 Acacia Avenue was released", there's no story there.

    So the issue is really one which can come back to this, isn't it: the disappointment in the lack of professionalism by somebody within the Police Service who hasn't appreciated that even once this happening or one leak about an MO in a murder, to take your other example, actually damages the integrity of the police. Would that be a better way of looking at it?

  • It would probably be -- certainly the non-statistical way, yes. I don't mean to suggest that I underplay it. I guess it's an inevitability view that I have. It is going to happen.

    The scenario would be this: a local politician or ex-politician is arrested as a result of a punch-up, and is photographed leaving the police office. What we're talking about here is an organisation that -- people talk within the organisation. Celebrities are by nature known, so word of mouth will quickly get around that so-and-so is in custody and it will go almost viral in that way.

    I think quite a lot of people know about it, and there is an inevitability, sometimes, about people talking to the media. We obviously don't do the analysis of how many celebrities do we take into custody --

  • No, I appreciate that, and I wasn't suggesting you should.

  • I take the point, and I understand why it happens, and I'm not overplaying it myself, but I'm just thinking about, well, in 8,500 officers that's not a big deal, but actually if it is a point at all, it's actually in relation to a very, very small number of cases that it would only ever arise.

  • And every time it happens, it's damaging and disappointing, yes.

  • But I would stress it is investigated, thoroughly.

  • Yes, but you don't need to tell me about how difficult it is to find out who leaks information. I've had four examples in the course of the Inquiry.

  • That takes us neatly onto the process by which you try and prevent leaks happening and how they are then investigated. This is set out in your response to question 31 on page 14. I'm going to summarise it. You say that your force's counter corruption unit monitors media reporting to identify and try and prevent incidents of the leaks and therefore there's a close working relationship between your corporate communications department and the CCU. The CCU also delivers training to all new recruits, and you explain to new recruits how unauthorised disclosure will be dealt with.

    The CCU also monitors handling of any information held on your systems which has been the subject of unauthorised disclosure to try and identify and establish whether the officers and staff have accessed it and, if so, whether it's been for operational policing purposes, and then there's an investigative process to see whether or not they may have been responsible for any disclosure.

    My question for you is: how well does that work? Are there any improvements that could be made to the process of either prevention or investigation?

  • I'm sure there are improvements, and if we were offered them, we would certainly consider trying to improve the system. We are here into the people that we are recruiting into the organisation and their motivation. We've recruited, because of growth in policing in Scotland, a huge number of officers in the last four or five years. I've spoken to every intake of new probationers, and talked to them about integrity and talked to them about particularly the Data Protection Act, because a number of our officers get themselves into trouble over the Data Protection Act. In fact, just yesterday I signed two officers who are being investigated for misuse of data protection, data in our systems.

    So we try to recruit the right people. We tell them what our standards of behaviour are and expect and we let them know that there is an investigative process and their fingerprints in the systems are all logged and can be tracked back. We still suffer intrusions and unauthorised disclosures, and sometimes it's media-driven, sometimes it's criminally-driven. That's another aspect.

    We could increase the size of the CCU, but that's about resources.

    There are IT improvements in Scottish policing coming up which will allow systems to be more integrated and will allow a better watch over this sort of thing, so that will help as well, but we would be happy to take on board recommendations anywhere around that.

  • Touching briefly on the issue of bribery, you say in response to question 34 that you never consider any payments to be legitimate between the media and any officer or member of staff. You tell us at the bottom of page 15 that the standard operating procedures, the same one we've been looking at, provide general direction on this, that would cover it.

    Again you tell us in response to question 36 that there is no evidence that there is an extensive problem in the bribery of personnel within Strathclyde Police. Does that mean that there is some of a problem or no problem?

  • Without reading it, there is some of a problem. It would be naive to say that it does not happen. I have no doubt that there are specific individuals in my organisation who are in receipt of money from various people. I'm not suggesting it's individual newspapers, but various people who are looking for exactly the sort of information that we've just been discussing, celebrities coming into police custody, that is inevitable. Bound be to happening.

  • At paragraph 37, going on to process, you tell us in some detail about how you educate your personnel about bribery, what steps you take to prevent bribery or detect it, and retrospectively to investigate bribery. It's detailed, I don't want to read it out, but again are you satisfied that that system works? Are there improvements or recommendations that you could put forward?

  • I can't put any forward, because if I could think of any, we'd be doing them now and they'd be in my answer, but again I'd be happy to take on board, if this puts forward some best practice, we'd be happy to look at it.

  • Some final questions. First of all, the corporate communications department, I don't want to ask you in detail about that because we have Mr Shorthouse coming shortly to tell us about that, but you were asked about movement of people between -- people who move between working for the police and then moving on to work for a media organisation and vice versa, and you say essentially there's no limitation on that, you don't prevent people from moving around in that way, you don't keep a record of movements.

    Do you see any concern here about police officers going off to work for the media or members of the press then coming to work in your press office or the corporate communications department? Can you see a concern there?

  • I would like to sort of look at two different levels here.

  • We actively recruit into our media department from journalists, and I think to do -- and to say we won't accept journalists into our media department would be the wrong decision because we're looking for people who understand what journalists are looking for and are there to assist them getting what they need within the requirements of our organisation.

    If someone from the media comes into our organisation and then goes back out again into the media, you are reliant upon professional code of ethics, both journalists and the police. I have to say that we have a number of people within our media department who have been journalists and worked in the media and we experience no problem. If they were to turn around and go back into the media, would I be concerned? Actually, I wouldn't be, because they're good at what they do and if they go and work for someone else, they'll be good. Will they use some of their knowledge and their understanding? Well, they're bound to, that's human nature.

    That's one aspect. The other aspect is senior officers retiring and going off and writing. That does -- that is of concern, I think. I think if it's done in the right way, it's done authoritatively about technical issues to inform the public, to provide a useful inject of experience and done for positive reasons, it's a good thing. If it's done for revenge and settling of some scores, and "let me tell you what really happened", then it's disappointing.

  • Should there be any limitations on such senior police officers taking up such roles in your view?

  • The view we took of it when I was in the Met on management board was you just shrug your shoulders on it, there's not much you can do about that, I don't think. It's a difficult one to write into a contract that you can't then seek employment in any form of journalism or media.

  • Could you not have a cooling off period?

  • It's not difficult, actually, but it's subject to restraint of trade conditions, there are limits, so you could do it for a little while.

  • You could be rather careful about how you restricted it. You're quite right to say you couldn't say, "You can never ever do this", that would be struck down. I think that's a fair reflection of the law, isn't it?

  • It's a better reflection than my knowledge of the law, sir, but I suppose by difficult, what I meant was I'm not sure I'd feel it was the right thing to do in many respects. One has to trust senior police officers and 99 per cent are completely trustworthy.

  • I am not going to ask you about Operation Rubicon, I'm just going to ask you whether you have anything at all to add.

  • There's two things, sir, I would like to address and I'll do both very briefly.

    One is I'm aware that there's been some discussion about would it be a good idea to have a senior police officer running the media set-up of a police force. In my view, that would be a retrograde step. I think most police forces have been there. It's not somewhere I would choose to go, personally, because there is a professionalism within media and communications which is not the natural strong suit of police officers. So that's one thing I would be grateful to be able to say.

    The other thing is I picked up from the previous witness and the questioning and the line there was the difficult balance of allowing and encouraging access between media and police officers to inform public, to assist the police in doing their job, but the difficulty of recording that in some way. I don't think it's unreasonable to look at some methodology of requiring all contact between police officers and the media to be in some way recorded, or at least a record kept that the contact has taken place, if not a recording of every word spoken.

    But I think the answer I gave about the local community issues is where it becomes a difficult balancing act, because there would be so much contact and it would be of such a low-level and local nature as to be probably overly burdensome for the benefit that's gained.

    I think a system is capable of being developed that would provide safeguards on both sides.

  • Thank you. That's very helpful.

    There's one question I would like to ask. It's really general for you. You were asked: do you consider any further steps which could or should be taken to ensure relationships with the police and the media are and remain appropriate, and you say you don't offer up specific recommendations, firstly because you think it would be presumptuous in light of the Inquiry's role, and then you say your position is fairly set out in your statement.

    I wanted to disabuse you of the idea that it would be presumptuous. You have the experience over a career of policing and you've had to deal with it and with the problems it creates within the media day by day. By definition, I have not. Therefore I welcome the assistance that your experience provides you. Of course it's not necessarily going to be definitive, and you won't be responsible for anything that I say, particularly anything that I say that you disagree with. So it's not at all presumptuous and I wouldn't want you to feel inhibited from making any suggestion to me that you felt might assist the better engagement of the public in policing and the prevention of what on any showing are harmful facts, and I'm really talking about the operational side, not merely facts that may cause some embarrassment but are accurate, from entering the public domain.

    So I just wanted to make it clear that you understood how I stand on the issue of the help that I need from everybody.

  • Thank you, sir. I won't take that as an invitation to speak for the next half hour, but the only thing I would like to say is I have a lot of experience in dealing with the media, a lot of it gathered in the Met and now in Strathclyde. I can think of one occasion in that whole time when I felt let down and ambushed by a member of the media. It was a fairly senior member and it was an important issue, but I think once out of the amount of time that I've been involved is actually not a bad return.

    I suppose what I'm trying is say there is I don't believe that there is a really solid level of distrust within senior police officers with the media and vice versa.

    I was interested in Mr O'Neill's evidence around he thought that the appointment of commissioners and fall, unhappily, of certain commissioners has become a political Westminster event. I think that's absolutely true, and that's really poisoned a lot of the well, in my view.

    On day-to-day stuff, maybe away from the heat and the febrile atmosphere of Westminster and the Met, on serious crime issues I think there's been a lot of progress made in recent years and I wouldn't want to see that in any way damaged by what's been focused on as the subject of this Inquiry, because I think some of that is specific to quite a febrile atmosphere within the bounds of Scotland Yard and the square mile around Scotland Yard, I guess. I think it is different and it can be different in other places, and I think it's interesting that the new Commissioner is reflecting, and I think that's the right thing to do. He's clearly said that there has to be a measure of austerity, to use Mr O'Neill's word --

  • Actually, it was Mr Hogan-Howe's word.

  • I didn't hear so I didn't want to quote him as saying that. I think it's the right thing to do, it's the right approach, but I don't think it should be a long-term approach.

  • I understand the point. It raises a subsidiary question, which is this: I recognise the problems may be the most acute within the square mile of the Met, to use your analogy, of New Scotland Yard, but do you see a value in having a system that is actually broadly the same for all?

  • Yes, I do, and I'd go back to my own experience. If I put myself in the position of an editor in the West of Scotland, when I arrived as Chief Constable it sort of -- they'd been used to, I think, seven years of my predecessor with a particular style on media, and then I come in with a completely different style. The next chief -- well, there won't be another Chief Constable of Strathclyde because we're merging into a single force, but whoever is the first Chief Constable in Scotland may have a different style again and there's a swing there which provides the media with -- they can get understandably what's the policy, what's the procedure and practice under this individual?

    So if there was a consistent -- it wouldn't just be a consistency across the country, acknowledging Scotland is a different jurisdiction for policing, but it would also be a consistency across time, and it would allow relationships to grow and solidify within an understood code of practice across the boundary between media and policing, and I think if it was consistent over the years, that would strengthen and would grow and would hopefully avoid the sort of issues that you are having to deal with.

  • Thank you. Which has led on to yet another question, but I think the last: I understand your point about having a professional media communicator as head of your communications office, and it may be that titles don't matter, but is there a value in having a senior police officer who is able to bring the policing perspective to bear in relation to communications? Yesterday we heard a chief inspector, who is actually the head, but I don't think it's terrible important because there was then a head of news who was absolutely media personnel, had a media background. So do you think there's a value in having a -- I appreciate it's an expensive resource, but having a senior police officer who actually focuses on that area for a limited time and thereby possibly has the effect of ensuring that relationships don't become too cosy with one editor as opposed to another, with one news outlet as opposed to another, because somebody comes in and has to start again?

  • I can see some value in it, sir, but I can also see some value in another model, which is that the head of communications, which is Mr Shorthouse's remit, sits on our management board, what would be in the Met called the management board, therefore he is subject to cross-examination and questioning by myself, my deputy, my three ACCs, my director of finance and resources on a variety of different issues around how we're handling this story, how we're doing that, how our communications are going, what's this story all about, because he is in the cut and thrust of the management of the organisation on a daily basis.

    I think that's a good model. It works, I believe, fairly well in Strathclyde -- more than fairly well, quite well in Strathclyde. It may not have worked elsewhere in other organisations. That may be a personality issue, I don't know. But I think if the person is at the senior level -- I think the danger -- sorry to go on -- is if they're not at that senior level and they're hidden away in their own specialism unwatched, then exactly the sort of thing you mentioned can become the case: I'll always give the story to X, because they look after us, I'll freeze them out.

    If the media head is within the management board of the organisation, that's one of the things that would be brought out and would be questioned, and indeed in Strathclyde has been. How are we handling this story? Why is it going there? Why are we not doing this? Why are we releasing this now? Why are we not holding onto it? We look at all the different issues.

  • Mr Shorthouse will put one view across and we may put a different view across.

  • I might tentatively suggest that the risk of that -- and I see the value in it -- may be that you very, very senior police officers concerned with public order, concerned with all these other issues, tend to get sucked into rather too much discussion of the headlines, which actually is one of the criticisms that was made about life in the Met. But all these things are a balance.

  • The word I would have used, sir. That's why when I went to Strathclyde, I moved the balance slightly back towards the middle but not all the way I think to where it inevitably had been in London.

  • Thank you very much indeed.

    That leads us on neatly to Mr Shorthouse.