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

  • Sir, when I made the opening statement on behalf of the MPS at the start of this Inquiry, I promised you our full co-operation. I hope that we've made good on that promise so far.

    The MPS renews that promise for this module. We make it clear now that the approach we've adopted to date and the approach we propose adopting in the future is one of complete openness with this Inquiry. Subject only to matters of legal professional privilege, we will disclose to you everything within our knowledge that's relevant to your terms of reference.

    Sir, this short opening will cover just three issues: first, and briefly, the judicial review brought by Chris Bryant, MP, Brian Paddick, Lord Prescott, HJK and Ben Jackson against the MPS; second -- and this is obviously related -- the criticisms of the conduct of Operation Caryatid, the first investigation into phone hacking, and sir, what that says and what the new evidence says about press and police relations; and third, Operation Elveden and the current investigation into corrupt payments to public officials about which you've just heard something from DAC Akers.

    Sir, I said we will disclose to your team everything relevant to your terms of reference. That includes matters which may well found criticism of the police. In that context, it's right that I say a word or two about the judicial review.

    As you'll be aware, those proceedings were compromised. The parties came to terms on the basis that the MPS accepted one, and only one, of the criticisms made against them but vigorously disputed the rest. So, sir, the MPS accepted that it was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention by failing to make sufficiently clear in public the criminal activity that they had uncovered in Operation Caryatid. In particular, it was accepted that they failed to ensure that those identified as potential victims of voicemail interception were made aware of that interference with their private life, of the possibility of continuing threats of the same sort, of the steps they might take to protect their privacy and the identity of those responsible for the interception.

    It was agreed between the parties that that obligation might have been discharged, for example, by an announcement in the media or through the phone companies or, in appropriate cases, by contacting the people concerned directly.

    Furthermore, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick apologised to the claimants in writing on behalf of the MPS for their failure in that respect. Sir, no damages were paid, but we agreed to pay the claimants reasonable costs. We did not agree, sir, that there was any good case against the MPS, either on the facts or on the law, to the effect that the investigation on phone hacking was deficient in any other respect.

    Furthermore, sir, when faced with our proposed declaration, sir, the Administrative Court declined to hold, even in respect of the suggested Article 8 breach, that this case could be taken as a precedent for the future. In other words, whether or not there is an Article 8 duty to inform victims in circumstances such as these remains, as a matter of law, an open question. However, whatever the legal duty, the MPS makes clear that its aim is always to put victims first. That is at the very heart of the Commissioner's new total policing strategy.

    It will be a matter now for you, sir, but it was and remains our contention that the decision in 2006, 2009 and thereafter not to expend on phone hacking the sort of substantial resources which are now devoted to Operation Weeting was reasonable. It was reasonable because, as serious as interception of telephone calls is, it is not a matter of life and limb. With the greatest of respect to those who undoubtedly suffered distress when they discovered that their phone messages had been intercepted, their cases were simply not comparable, for example, with the serious terrorist threats that were facing Britain in 2006 and the years thereafter.

    There were, at the time of the original phone hacking investigations, 72 live terrorist plots under investigation. Police resources were being stretched so far that the MPS was having to take officers off investigations into the less imminent threats in order properly to manage the more immediate ones.

    Operation Caryatid had about six officers or staff engaged on it. Operation Weeting has 90, of which 35 are working on the victim management team.

    As you review the actions of the police now, and what that says about the culture of press/police relations, we invite you to have at the forefront of your mind the obligations on the then Commissioner and his officers to prioritise their limited resources in a way that best protected the people of London. These, sir, are judgment calls, but we would suggest that the judgment that had to be made here was perfectly obvious. It should be remembered that it was only five months before the original phone hacking investigation began that London had been the subject of the devastating terrorist attacks of 7/7 and had faced the attack, successfully foiled by the MPS and the security services, of 21/7.

    It should also be borne in mind that the day after the Mulcaire and Goodman in August 2006, the terrorist threat level went up from severe to critical because of Operation Overt, the transatlantic airline plot.

    Furthermore, we would suggest, it is simply too glib to say that Operation Caryatid should have been moved from the anti-terrorist command to elsewhere in the Met. Too glib because wherever it is suggested it should have been placed, it is necessary to identify which other elements of police work should be sacrificed to accommodate it.

    There is, sir, we would say with respect, a real danger, in an Inquiry which has a year to conduct its investigation, which has the luxury of being able to concentrate on the issue at hand and which knows what happened at the end of the phone hacking story, judging a police team that had none of these things.

    To many, phone hacking was a monstrous attack on freedom which should have prompted the most extensive police investigation, but for the police team actually responsible for this case, without the benefit of hindsight that its critics now enjoy, without the benefit of limitless resources, with very powerful computing demands and priorities, the decisions as to how to investigate these complaints were, we will say, sensible, reasonable and, to use the modern jargon, proportionate.

    That is not to say that the MPS made no mistakes. In particular, the MPS does not resile from the admission that there were significant errors in the way it communicated with the victims of phone hacking. When it was asked for information by those who thought they may have been the victims of unlawful media intrusion, the responses were misleading. Inadvertently misleading, but misleading nonetheless. Is essence, sir, the MPS devised a perfectly sensible strategy for informing victims but failed to ensure that that strategy was properly implemented.

    As to police relations with the press more generally, we will invite you to conclude that in the main, the police have maintained proper and reasonable relations with the media, becoming neither too cosy nor too remote. Different commissioners have set different leads as to the proper calibration of contact with the press, but all, we will say, were responsible and reasonable for their times.

    Undoubtedly there will be those officers who will appear to have been too keen to foster good relations with journalists and who went too far, and there will be a few, some will argue, who were too monastic in their approach. We will approach you with the material to expose all the extremes and all the material in between so that you can make the judgment.

    Consistent with our promise to disclose everything relevant to this Inquiry, we have disclosed to your team details of the present Elveden enquiries into the Sun newspaper and other newspapers. In the light of that, you have required the MPS, by way of a section 21 notice directed to DAC Akers, to provide a statement containing a detailed description of Elveden as is possible without undermining the present investigation and you have now heard Ms Akers give evidence. What she has said will go, we would suggest, some considerable way to addressing the serious criticism that's been made recently of this operation. The MPS has been accused of operating like the Stasi, of adopting grotesquely disproportionate tactics against journalists simply going about their normal lawful business. The MPS is said to be in league with the Management Standards Committee of News International in an unwarranted attack on the freedom of the press.

    Our response, sir, is not simply to say: we get criticised if we carry out an investigation and we get criticised if we do not; instead, sir, the evidence of Ms Akers demonstrates just how misconceived and misplaced the Stasi analysis is. The evidence which the MPS and the MSC have unearthed points to serious wrongdoing of the newspaper concerned involving corrupt practices by a number of officials in almost every walk of public life.

    We are not talking, as some from a position of blessed ignorance have suggested, about journalists buying a copper a pie and a pint, but instead there is evidence of repeated payments, significant amounts of money for confidential information provided in breach of trust. It will be for a court to judge whether these events occurred and whether or not the disclosure purchased by such payment is in the public interest. Ms Akers' evidence was to the effect that for the most part the information so purchased was simply salacious tittle-tattle.

    There are two significant differences between the present operation under DAC Akers and the earlier investigation. First, the amount of police resources devoted to the task, and I have spoken about that. Second, the co-operation of the management of News International.

    In the early investigation, there was only limited and inadequate co-operation. In this investigation, there is proper co-operation. I do not mean by that that News International are breaching journalistic privilege willy-nilly. Ms Akers has explained to you that ordinarily the MSC are redacting the names of sources. That has considerably slowed down the Met's work of trying to find the persons allegedly supplying the information for the payment, but it has meant that the MSC are respecting journalistic privilege until there is evidential base for an allegation of illegality. Where there is such evidence, sir, the MPS will pursue the lead wherever it takes them.

  • Mr Garnham, just before you sit down, I'm not asking you necessarily to respond to this now, but just to expose some thinking, and I'm doing no more than thinking.

    I can well understand that the terrorist threat to the country will have loomed large in any consideration of how far the investigation of what was revealed, following the search of Mr Mulcaire's home, should go. What I am presently having more difficulty with is the very limited use that was made of the truly vast amount of material that had been so carefully assembled by Mr Mulcaire.

    A number of possibilities suggest themselves. One, you have mentioned much more work with the phone industries, much more work to make public the danger of the transparency of voice messages and the risks to everybody in voicemail messages, and greater communication with those who, on any showing, were the subject of interest. I appreciate that legal arguments might be suggested: well, unless you listen to the intercept before it had been listened to, does that come within RIPA? It certainly comes within the Computer Misuse Act.

  • Sir, it's much more than that, the difficulties, because it's whether or not the person concerned was himself the subject or herself the subject of the interception or whether they were a person of interest only because or by means of the interception of people to whom they communicated.

  • Yes, I understand that. But conspiracy is a remarkably broad offence, and if one is going about seeking information -- I mean, all this can be examined in the evidence. It seems to me that it's not merely a question of the Article 8 rights, whatever they may be, of those whose messages may or may not have been listened to, but it goes far wider.

    The next strand is what was done with News International themselves and with the newspaper industry. Here there was a veritable Aladdin's cave of information not substantially different in size to that which the Information Commissioner discovered in relation to Motorman, and the inference that could be drawn was that there was a very substantial industry in seeking to obtain information for reasons which may or may not be justified.

    One of the aspects which I will be most interested in is this: if I have no doubt the police discover in a firm that somebody has been pinching money from them, embezzling it, then I would have thought the police would be the first to give advice to that firm about protective measures that should be taken to prevent embezzlement by staff. I don't know how far up it was believed that it went in News International at the time, but it doesn't really matter, because there is always somebody higher, and I would like to be put in the position of understanding why it is that the police, with all their resource problems in relation to terrorism -- which I fully recognise and, you won't be surprised to learn, fully sympathise with -- shouldn't have gone to News International and said, "This is what has been going on. It's at this level. Now, I [the police] was want to know (a) what's been happening, (b) what you're going to do about it and (c) how you're going to make sure it doesn't happen anymore, not because we want to prosecute anybody but because part of our role is to prevent crime."

    I've said that rather more extensively than perhaps I intended when I started to talk, but I'm sure you understand the point that I'm making.

  • I do indeed, sir, and you're right to say that I won't attempt to provide a comprehensive response --

  • By I will say this as immediate reaction. The first is it would be wrong to characterise the Mulcaire archive as a carefully prepared document by him. It wasn't. It was a mess of scraps of paper, and in itself it required an awful lot of work even to understand what it is and there is a danger, I would say, with respect, of looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. We all now know what it meant and where it was going to take us. That was less obvious to the officers on the ground at the time.

  • But let me just take -- you'll get me involved in a discussion about it. Let me just take what you knew: that there were hundreds of names. Hundreds of names is more than sufficient. A hundred names. The point is: it's more than just a couple.

    And it gets worse than that, because the Metropolitan Police -- now you excite me to go on -- knew that News International were talking about one rogue reporter and minimising everything, and I would have thought that you didn't have to spend very much long with the Mulcaire documents to realise this was actually a much more serious problem than was being portrayed.

  • Much more now is known about what those hundred names meant than was at the time. It was not remotely surprising that somebody in Mulcaire's position had a list of persons of interest. What was not known at that time was the nature of the interest he had in them. What was not known was whether they were on his list simply for the purposes of phone hacking or for other enquiries, and there was more than one way in which he went about his work.

    I repeat, sir, that your example to me is a good one of the danger of reviewing what happened knowing what we do know, rather than through the spectacles of the officer at the time.

  • I'm very happy to do it through the spectacles of the officer at the time, because I think my questions will remain. I'm not making a decision about it; I'm merely alerting you to something that concerns me.

  • Sir, I accept that and I'm grateful.

    I only say one other thing. You talked about the need for giving advice more generally at the end of this exercise. I'll just say two sentences about that. First of all, we accept, as I've already indicated, that there was a failure on the part of the MPS to carry out an adequate briefing to the public, to the world at large and to those particularly affected by what happened. We accept that and have for some time.

    Sir, we would also say that the nature of this very public interest prosecution at the Old Bailey, at the Central Criminal Court, of a journalist and the private investigator concerned, referring to the nature of his operations, the nature of their operations, did provide a pretty public statement of what was going wrong and it was one that would have been self-evident to those in the senior levels of the newspapers concerned.

    Sir, we will take on board all that you say and make sure our evidence addresses that.

  • Right, fair enough, Mr Garnham.

    Mr Phillips?