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

  • MR JEREMY KIRKBY (sworn).

  • Good morning. Please could you confirm your full name?

  • Are the contents of the two witness statements which you have provided to the Inquiry true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • You are currently the Assistant Chief Constable of Surrey Police, and you've held that position since 2008; is that right?

  • You've served with the Surrey Police force since 1983, with breaks to spend three years with the Metropolitan Police between 1998 and 2001, and a secondment to the ACPO and the National Police Improvement Agency between 2005 and 2008; is that right?

  • You tell us at paragraph 5 of your witness statement that you are conducting an internal investigation into Surrey Police's handling of information obtained from the News of the World in April 2002 concerning access to Milly Dowler's mobile phone voicemail. That investigation, which is known by the code word Operation Baronet, is not yet complete, is it?

  • But you tell us that when it is, you are going to provide us with a further witness statement dealing with your conclusions?

  • In those circumstances, we're not going to deal today with those issues.

    You go on to tell us in paragraph 6 of your witness statement that from a point of principle, Surrey Police's approach is to be open and transparent with the media, but the gist of your statement, if I've understood it -- and then supported by examples which we will come to -- is that that has proved to be easier said than done.

  • You give us some background to the Surrey Police. At around the turn of the century, you tell us, it was a time of great change. Surrey's area of responsibility increased considerably and there was competition for staff with the Metropolitan Police Service, who at that time were offering a very favourable terms and conditions, and that gave rise to something of a hiatus, didn't it?

  • Yes, it did. There was quite a bit of churn of staff between ourselves and the Metropolitan Police.

  • From a point of view of media relations, you describe their state at the turn of the century. You tell us that there were some staff in the media relations team who had been local journalists, and others who came from all sorts of backgrounds, and that generally speaking you had a good working relationship with the local media but limited exposure to the national media; is that right?

  • We'll see, through the various examples in your statement, how that changed in recent years. You also tell us that Sir Denis O'Connor became the Chief Constable in 2000 and he brought with him a cultural change in the attitude of the Surrey Police force to the media. Could you describe in your own words what that change was?

  • I think Mr O'Connor had experience in the Metropolitan Police of the sort of scale and sort of nature of some of the very big inquiries and also dealing with specifically the Crime Reporters Association. We'd had very little exposure to significant incidents, so Mr O'Connor brought a number of changes to us over the period that he was present.

    Firstly, he introduced what was referred to -- and I believe he referred to as well in his evidence -- as critical incident training. That was around significant investigations where senior investigating officers and other senior officers and media relation officers went through a two-day process of training and exposure to incidents which would be quite significant for a force of our size and to develop staff, and also a relationship which he introduced later on as a result of the investigation into Milly Dowler with the Crime Reporters Association.

  • Thank you. We'll come to that in more detail later on. At paragraph 12 of your witness statement, you tell us that there are a number of celebrities who live in Surrey, and that a constant theme has been the interest of the media in celebrities. I don't want you to go into any details at all, but is it right that you have an officer at the moment who has been investigated in relation to a leak about celebrity information?

  • If we move now to paragraph 13 of your witness statement, under the subheading "A year of challenges, 2002", you tell us first of all about the disappearance of Milly Dowler and the subsequent police investigation. You give us an idea of the scale of that investigation. At paragraph 14, you say 3,500 house-to-house enquiries, searches of 350 sites or more, including 40 underwater sites and 35 miles of waterways. The force also had to follow up a number of sightings which were reported, including some which had an international dimension, and 256 people of potential interest had to be traced and interviewed either to eliminate or implicate them.

  • Against that background of the operational task that the force faced, you tell us in paragraph 15 about the media relations operation. It's well-known now that there was an enormous media interest, and at paragraph 15, you tell us, based on some of the work you have done in Operation Baronet, what the reaction of some of the media relations officers were. They have described to your investigation media demands as being "alien", "steep learning curve", "just immense", "relentless", "overwhelming". Is that right?

  • And that senior officers involved in the case have described elements of the press as "extremely demanding", and in some respects "mischievous" and the level of interest as "unprecedented and immense". Are you able to expand at all on what is meant by "mischievous"?

  • Yes, the "mischievous" term was used by the senior officer, Chief Superintendent at the time in his statement which he provided to the team. It goes on to explain that the media were, at times, exploring hypotheses and seeking to develop them and almost sort of test them in a public environment, when in fact there was very little fact to support some of those things.

  • A quasi-investigation being conducted in public?

  • Yes, and played out in public as well, and seeking to draw police officers into comment on those hypotheses, where we were not looking to do so.

  • The Detective Superintendent at the time, who later, at the Levi Bellfield stage of the case, became the SIO, says:

    "There were almost last-minute requests, often on a Friday afternoon, with demands for information around a story that the media wanted or intended to run at the weekend. This was huge pressure that diverted considerable amounts of our time."

    The SIO says:

    "I think the inquiry was too consumed by the press and media."

    Against the background of those two comments, I'd like to ask you: in your opinion, did Surrey Police become too involved with the media at that stage of the inquiry?

  • Firstly, the comment that you attributed to the Detective Superintendent, I think it was Maria Woodall. She was a detective sergeant at the time and she subsequently became a detective superintendent. Just a point of correction.

  • In my judgment, my assessment, I don't think we did become too consumed by the media. I think it was a demand which was placed on us, and we had to respond to it. There was clearly -- and I have had sight of the investigation which was going along alongside of it and the lines of inquiries which were being pursued, but I think what this was seeking to demonstrate was at times a demand was placed on us when in fact we wanted to be responding to lines of inquiry and putting resources to that, but because the media deadlines -- and I think the pertinent point here that was being made was often on Friday afternoons, deadlines for publications on Saturday or Sunday. You had a very restricted amount of time to actually be able to comment, so it meant diverting resources to actually look to be able to respond in an accurate way to the press, which was on an issue which was going to be published.

  • That does suggest, doesn't it, a degree of distraction from the job in hand?

  • Yes, absolutely, a degree of distraction.

  • You explain there's another side to the coin, and that is that Surrey Police did want to cultivate interest so you could get the message out there about needing evidence and witnesses?

  • Yes. I suppose there's a general comment for myself: the press and the media can be massively helpful in a number of inquiries. A missing person inquiry, keeping it in the public's sight and reminding them to keep thinking about if they had any information which would assist us with the investigation was very important, and they certainly helped us in that regard.

  • At paragraph 17, we have some more quotations from the investigation, this time dealing with the amount of resources available in the press office to deal with the demands. Reading from the top of page 8:

    "Most of the time we did not have the resources in the press office to get back to the original caller due to the volume of calls we were receiving."

    And then, further down the page, the position is described as "complete chaos", and at the bottom of the paragraph, "having run out of control". It's plain, isn't it, that there weren't sufficient resources in the press office at that time to deal with the unprecedented media interest; is that fair?

  • I think it is. I think it's a combination of the number of resources, the experience of resources and the way the resources were structured in order to respond to an incident of this magnitude and this interest from the press.

  • I've been asked by a core participant to ask you this: do you think there was an overprioritisation on satisfying the media in the early stages of the investigation?

  • No, I don't. I think there was a -- I think that it was one of a number of considerations and a number of demands which was placed on the investigation. I think -- I've also had sight of the other investigations, the other lines of enquiries which were being conducted at the same time, but without doubt, it was -- I do not want to give an impression this was not generating a vast amount of demand on us and we were having to put resources into it, but we're also putting attention and resource into the actual primary investigation as well.

  • It's quite clear from your statement that statements had been made by all the officers and they've generated this material which you've been describing to me and I'm grateful.

  • But does that mean that when Operation Baronet winds up, you'll be in a position to provide an analysis and a potential set of guidelines or structures to advise other forces in connection with such inquiries, should they be unfortunate enough to be in the same sort of position as Surrey? In other words, what's the value of this beyond finding out precisely what happened and when?

  • Well, I hope there will be some value in the investigation I'm conducting and it will identify areas of good practice and any learning that we need to take from this. Further in this statement -- and I'm sure we'll come to that -- there are some changes which we've already instigated as a result, around the structure, around the experience, around the training that we give to our staff.

  • Yes, I wasn't just thinking of Surrey.

  • Because I'm trying to look at the position on a rather wider basis. This is probably an unfair question and you're perfectly at liberty to decline to answer it: do you have any broad timeframe in your mind as to when you're likely to produce something as a result of this inquiry? Not merely an answer to the questions you've been asked, but generally.

  • No, the timeframe I'm working to is the end of May, I'll be able to produce my -- what I've referred to as my final report. There may still be some further investigations, inquiries ongoing.

  • So does that mean that when you produce it, it will be in the public domain?

  • I'll be presenting it to this Inquiry --

  • That's what I wanted to hear. Thank you very much.

  • Anticipating what you said a moment ago, we can move on to paragraph 18, where you start to tell us about how Surrey Police reacted to this overwhelming media demand. You say that one mechanism was pooling interviews and information, treating all media outlets equally and minimising the number of interviews that victim's family and friends would need to give. You explain in your statement that this proved to be unpopular with the press, but my question for you is: from a policing point of view, did it work?

  • From an operational perspective, the pooling of interviews, I think, is a positive mechanism, especially if you're dealing with victims or witnesses who may be vulnerable or sensitive. It just means you can do one interview, questions, similar to today, can be given to the interviewer from different and interested parties, and that is the impact of it. It's easier for us to manage and it's less of an impact on our resources.

  • Would you do it again?

  • Yes, I would do it again.

  • Over the page, you describe how the Sunday Mirror published an article describing the investigation under the then -- was Mr Gibson the SIO?

  • -- the then SIO was "rudderless" and this media coverage has since been described by then DCC Peter Fahy as "a factor in replacing the SIO for the investigation".

    Can I ask you, first of all: would you agree with me that if a newspaper describes an investigation as "rudderless", that's simply an expression of opinion and a manifestation of the freedom of expression?

  • The second question arising from this evidence is whether, in your view, it's a legitimate factor for a senior manager to take into account, when replacing the SIO, what the opinion of the Sunday Mirror is?

  • From my perspective, it was a factor, as identified by Mr Fahy. Knowing what I do know about the review processes which were going on at that moment in time, I think the SIO was replaced with a more experienced SIO, based on -- based primarily on operational factors and operational reasons, an assessment made by the chief officers at the time.

  • Replacing someone on the basis of operational factors and operational considerations or considerations of that person's performance are all plain and legitimate, but is it legitimate to take into account at all what the opinion of the press is?

  • I think if there's a perception that the investigation isn't being run in a professional and thorough manner, then I think -- I'm just talking about reality now, as a senior police officer and making judgments. You consider everything that is available to you. You still make the judgment based on a number of factors, and I think primarily in this case it was based on operational factors, but to ignore what is being said, either by the press or by the family or by the public, you can't do that. That's not how reality works.

  • So it comes down to the fact that the opinion of the press can influence the course of an investigation?

  • Well, I suppose the point is that the police have to maintain public confidence in the way in which they're tackling what is a very significant incident.

  • If there's a concern that public confidence is being lost, to ignore that would be not entirely sensible. Would that be fair?

  • That's absolutely correct.

  • At the end of paragraph 18, you tell us about the circumstances in which the News of the World and the Sun came to offer a reward for information which would lead to finding Milly Dowler. You tell us that the SIO was initially very reluctant and declined the offer of a reward, fearing that it would generate large numbers of spurious calls which would distract from the police investigation. You say that he felt he had little choice ultimately to accept, because the newspapers made it plain that if he didn't agree to co-operate, they would offer the reward anyway.

    I've been provided by a core participant with a copy of the Sun at the time when the reward was made public. That's 27 March 2012. It's fair to say -- I think you have a copy --

  • I think that's the date on which it was printed, ie today, rather than the date upon which the offer was made. Was it made on 1 August 2007, where it says "last updated"? If you look immediately under the headline, it identifies:

    "Last updated 1 August 2007."

  • I think, sir, that I certainly am seriously wrong in reading out the date at the top, but I'm not convinced that it's 1 August either, as that's simply the date on which it was last updated. Was this reward offered back in 2002, before it was known that Milly Dowler tragically was dead?

  • It says "Sun reward to find missing Milly"?

  • So it must have been some time in that timeframe. It's fair to say that that article includes an enthusiastic welcome from the police and full co-operation. Obviously at that stage, it had been decided that if a reward was going to be offered, to make the most of it. Can I ask you: given how supportive the police were publicly to the reward, are you really sure that there were serious reservations about the reward being offered?

  • The DCI, the senior investigating officer at the time, expressed his concern about the need for a reward. I've seen his policy book, I've seen the statement that he has provided. Rewards can be really useful in investigations in generating interest and bringing more focus back onto an investigation. In this case, I'm not so sure that a reward was necessary. The SIO at the time indicated there was significant press interest already. We weren't trying to generate more public interest; it had quite a lot of it already. But the point being made is: if they were going to run the reward anyway, then I think just pragmatically we would wish to be aligned to that than actually arguing against it.

  • You could hardly go out in public and say, "Well, actually, we don't think this is a good idea at all."

  • Are you able to help us with what the consequence of the reward offer was? Were the SIO's initial fears realised?

  • I don't know, but what I will do is I will ascertain what was actually generated from the reward and I will submit a note to the Inquiry to update you on that point.

  • Thank you very much. The next paragraph of your witness statement deals with the CRA, and tells us how Surrey changed its approach and began to deal much more closely with the CRA, providing briefings, which started in July 2002.

    At paragraph 20, informed by a quote from Detective Chief Superintendent, now Deputy Chief Constable Denholm, you explain how this policy of engagement with the CRA forged improved relations and refocused efforts on gaining fresh evidence and witnesses. Is that fair?

  • But then, perhaps less favourably, at the bottom of page 20, you go on to at the moment us that Maria Woodall felt pressured at one stage to give out some details of an arrest plan, which she wasn't entirely comfortable with, because she felt she needed to do so in order to prevent a newspaper publishing damaging material about another aspect of the case. On its face, that's a matter of some concern, isn't it, if the press have pressured an SIO into publishing -- or giving out, at least -- details which she's uncomfortable about releasing?

  • Yeah, I think the judgment needs to be made by the SIO whether the information they provide will actually compromise the operation. Having spoken to Maria Woodall about this incident, the information that she would have given was in general terms and certainly would not have compromised the operation and the arrest -- the subsequent arrest which would have been made.

  • But doesn't this example suggest a lack of trust between the SIO and the newspaper concerned, because she obviously had a fear that the newspaper, unless she gave them something, was going to publish damaging information?

  • Yes, in relation to the damaging information, but I suppose on the contrary it shows the degree of trust that she would have had -- she met with this individual with a member of the press team, and she must have had a certain amount of trust to give them the information, general information around an arrest plan.

  • Is there not a need to ensure that SIOs are given the confidence simply to say no where necessary, and to rely upon the press, if they're told that something is going to be damaging, not to report it?

  • I think each case has to be assessed on its own merits. I think SIOs should be confident -- yes, they should be confident. And should they compromise the operation investigation? No, they shouldn't, and I don't feel this has been done here. They should also take the advice of other professionals and in this case she was accompanied by the head of our coms department at the time, who was an experienced operator.

  • Your statement moves next to tell us about the consequent changes following the Milly Dowler investigation in 2002 and some the things that Surrey Police did to raise its game in media relations. These included recruiting experienced staff and more ex-journalists to work in the media relations office. In particular, a press and publicity manager with extensive experience of major investigations was recruited.

    This Inquiry has heard some evidence, opinion evidence, at least, that the presence of constables, operational officers, in a press office might be advantageous. Surrey Police seem to be going the other way in recruiting a higher proportion of ex-journalists. What's your opinion as to whether or not it's useful to have operational officers in a press office?

  • I think having operational officers involved in decision-making around press and publicity matters is quite important. Whether they need to be the head of the department or actually located in there, I think there are other ways of getting that experience and getting that operational assessment and involvement in matters. Personally, I think having professionally trained confident individuals who come from that background is a good way of actually doing it and works for us. I've heard and I've seen evidence supplied by other colleagues of mine, sitting here, who see the value of having a police officer. I think they can both be of value but if you are going to do the one that Surrey Police have chosen to take, there are other ways of bringing operational experience into decision-making, especially around significant incidents, and I think that's one of the key learnings that I've seen coming out of the work that I'm doing at present.

  • The other changes that you mention include the introduction of external trainers to deliver training sessions -- these are training sessions about media relations, are they?

  • -- the introduction of a single database to record contact between the media relations team and journalists, and more planning to manage large-scale media interest, with options such as work rotas for the media relations officers, task allocation and so on. Have all these changes, in your opinion, been beneficial?

  • You move next to tell us something of the Surrey Police's involvement in the Deepcut investigations. That is the investigations into the deaths of four soldiers who died at Deepcut army barracks between 1995 and 2002.

    At paragraph 23, your statement tells us that one of the significant results of work ongoing on this investigation at the same time as the Milly Dowler investigation is the additional demand that it made on the media relations team, and the solution was to borrow officers from the Hampshire force and the Sussex force to help you out. Did that work as a plan?

  • Yes, it did. It wasn't -- it was press officers as opposed to police officers, just to avoid any confusion. Yes, it did, and, in fact, the sort of -- the concept of mutual aid, as we refer to it in policing, when you bring in staff from other forces to help you -- normally it's police officers, but in this case mutual aid, and I've seen it subsequently. Forces have called in mutual aid for specific specialist purposes, and press officers is one good example of that.

  • Are there any particular features of the relationship between the Surrey Police and the media in relation to the Deepcut investigation that you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention?

  • The only difference between the Deepcut investigation and the interest from the press and media was -- it was mainly political commentators or defence commentators, as opposed to the usual journalists that we deal with from the sort of crime reporting angle. So they're just people that we hadn't dealt with previously.

  • Can I take it from that answer that --

  • -- there were no particular issues of note?

    You move next to tell us about the investigation into the man who was known as the M25 rapist. At the top of page 13, you tell us that there was a problem. There were a number of speculative reports, including one that incorrectly linked another Surrey crime to the series, despite the reporter having been given firm direction by the media relations team, and that the force's response to that was for the Chief Constable to write to the journalist's editor. Was that effective as a mechanism for preventing future transgressions?

  • I don't know the result of the letter, what it actually generated. I haven't checked to see and I can do so. I don't know whether it has been effective. I'm trying to think now if that newspaper has done anything similar since then which we have recorded our concern over. (Pause) I don't know, I think is the safest answer to say.

  • Obviously in the first instance, direct contact between the force and the newspaper involved is one option, but if that doesn't work, do you think that there ought to be a formal mechanism for the resolution of police complaints about the press incorporated into any future model of press regulation?

  • Yes, I do. I think there must be a sensible escalation process. In this case, one of our press officers had communications with the journalist and expressed concern about what they intended to do, was to link an unlinked offence publicly. It then got escalated to the senior investigating officer and then subsequently, having been published, the Chief Constable wrote and expressed. I think in appropriate case there is should be a further escalation process.

  • But that wouldn't necessarily just be the police; that could be any public body that felt that the press were not approaching a particular issue with which they were concerned in an appropriate manner.

  • That's absolutely right, because in this case, the person who was potentially the most affected was the victim and their family. I have knowledge of this case. So the person who was potentially most aggrieved and affected by it was that person and their family.

  • What's critical is that you shouldn't necessarily force them to do it because they have other issues to cope with.

  • And that complaints and concerns ought to be accepted if made by responsible third parties on their behalf.

  • Or with an equally significant interest in the subject matter of the story.

  • That's correct. I think we, as a public body, have an obligation and duty to act on behalf of the victim and witnesses.

  • Having earlier described how, during the course of the Milly Dowler investigation, the force fostered closer relations with the CRA, you tell us a little bit more about how they proceeded over time at paragraph 26. There were formal briefings, but also informal socialising; is that right?

  • Yes, that's correct. There was in total -- from 2002 until 2010 and the conviction of levy Bellfield, there were five formal CRA briefings in relation to operation Ruby, which is the operation of Milly Dowler, and that is -- there was only -- we've only done eight in total in that period. So the majority of our briefings with the CRA have been on the Milly Dowler investigation.

  • And the informal briefings were held at a restaurant or a bar?

  • A restaurant bar in Guildford.

  • You also tell us that that practice came to an end. Why was it decided to bring to an end the informal contact between the Surrey Police and the CRA?

  • The purpose of those gatherings, which -- I think six or seven since 2002, was so that senior officers and press officers could meet with journalists from the Crime Reporters Association, understand their expectations and their needs and develop an understanding of working practices on that basis.

  • The Crime Reporters Association is really national newspapers?

  • What about your local newspapers? Were they cut out of this?

  • Out of that process, yes, but I don't think you'll -- it's not -- well, I can answer on behalf of the press of Surrey: they do get a lot of exposure to us. We have arranged editors events. We have events with journalists -- local journalists where we meet with them and brief them. In a way, that's our daily bread and butter, that sort of relationship. This was to identify a particular need where we hadn't had exposure to national journalists, and that process -- we would pay for the food and then everybody else would pay for the drinks. I've attended two of those in 2009 and 2010, didn't drink any alcohol, drank soft drinks, stayed for about an hour on each of those, let the crime reporters listen to what they had to say about the relationship with the Surrey Police, found it useful.

    In 2010, as part of the chief officer group, we reviewed the future of those. The purpose to develop relationship and understanding, we had done so. We knew all of them. We had done various briefings. The situation -- I think the context, public perception around austerity and socialising had changed, and therefore we made a conscious decision that we wouldn't carry on doing those social briefings. If an operation arrived tomorrow where I thought there was the benefit of a formal CRA briefing, I would certainly do it.

  • Your witness statement says that there was a desire to respond to an increased awareness -- I'm looking at the end of paragraph 26 on page 14:

    "... a desire to respond to an increased awareness of public perception towards corporate entertaining during times of austerity and mounting scrutiny towards public spending. The last event was held in August 2010."

    That reasoning didn't feature largely in your answer a moment ago, so could I ask you: to what extent was this concern about perception in times of austerity a feature in the decision?

  • I think it was a key reason for the decision as well, the public perception of spending money on socialising with crime reporters. I think the test for me is: do I feel able to justify it publicly? I think the purpose of relationship-building had been already achieved. I think times were becoming hard and the chief officer decision was based on both of those factors.

  • Looking to the future, where do you think the balance lies between the need to maintain effective channels of communication with the media and the dangers, from a perception point of view, of hospitality?

  • I think if we didn't have a relationship with the national media that we do, have forged over the last eight years, and there was some clear benefit to be obtained by having an event where you would sort of listen to expectations and develop relationships, professional relationships, I would have no problem with doing that. But I think there's one thing about doing an event with a large number and an established association, and I think there's something quite different between having social encounters with individual journalists.

  • You move next to tell us about Surrey Police's dealings with the media when the celebrity Matthew Kelly was arrested. Before we go into any further details about this case, it's important, isn't it, to make clear that Mr Kelly was never charged?

  • You tell us in your statement that there was early and growing media interest because they had wind that something was afoot even before Mr Kelly had been arrested, and that caused the Surrey Police to change its plans and to arrest Mr Kelly earlier than it would have wished. Is that right?

  • Is that an example of media interest interfering, albeit in this case to a modest extent, with policing operations?

  • Yes. It necessitated us bringing forward a planned arrest because we knew there was going to be coverage and publication material the next day, and which then -- that arrest and the way we actually conducted that arrest received adverse criticism from other aspects of the press.

  • Yes, because you tell us that the force did take steps to protect Mr Kelly's privacy. You didn't release his name, you arrested him at a theatre after a production, he was taken out through a back entrance and similar arrangements were made at the police station. Those efforts were criticised by the national media and you tell us at the end of paragraph 27 of the reply that you got from Piers Morgan, who said:

    "Thanks for the note. These stories are hideously difficult for both you guys and us. Fame and crime sends most of the usual rules out of the window. I hear what you say, and I will bear it in mind when we revisit this story."

    Is it your experience that where the media are concerned, fame and crime sends their adherence to the usual rules out of the window?

  • It can do. I don't think it does in all cases. I certainly wouldn't wish to tar all journalists and media with one brush, but I think it can do.

  • You move next to tell us about the Abigail Witchalls case. The Inquiry has already heard substantial evidence about this. Looking at your witness statement and what you tell us about it, would it be fair to say that there was some good and some bad?

  • Let's look first of all at the good. Is it right that the press were a successful vehicle through which Surrey Police was able to maximise its calls for witnesses and information?

  • Yes. There was a case where a sighting of a blue car had come into the inquiry. We made an appeal in relation to that, and very quickly, and as a direct result of that coverage, the people who were in the car came forward and we were able to eliminate that as a line of inquiry, which at that stage of the investigation was really useful, and it meant that other resources could be -- or the resources could be diverted on to better lines of inquiry.

  • Pausing there, since we've touched upon an example of good practice, can you give us some idea of how far frequently you see the good rather than the bad in the relationship between police and media?

  • Yeah, I'm conscious that this statement has focused on quite a bit of our bad experiences. If I had to give a percentage, I'd probably say about 90, 95 per cent of the experience, possibly even higher, with media, both local and national but definitely local, has been positive, supportive, especially in relation to the purpose of policing -- you know, prevention, detection of crime and appealing for witnesses. Yes, positive.

  • Turning now to the bad -- I'm looking at paragraph 29 -- you tell us that there was a point in the investigation when the SIO became greatly concerned that a newspaper was going to publish a photograph of the suspect before that suspect had been through formal identification procedures. Had that happened, that would have been prejudicial, potentially, to the investigation, wouldn't it?

  • Yes, it would have been potentially prejudicial to the investigation.

  • Can you tell us in your own words what happened?

  • We were contacted by the paper, who informed us that they had a picture and they were going to publish it and were looking for wider comments around the issue. The press officer spoke to the SIO and an attempt was made to stop them publishing. It escalated, with the senior investigating officer having to contact the editor of that newspaper and explaining the potential consequences of that action in relation to the identification procedure, and then the editor agreed to delay publication until after the identification procedure took place.

  • So in that case, despite some anxious moments, everything worked out all right in the end. Returning to the theme I asked you about earlier, about what formal mechanisms might be valuable in the future, had the newspaper not decided to follow the SIO's wishes, would it have been useful to have a formal mechanism for taking pre-emptive action to prevent a damaging publication?

  • Yes, it would have. Newspapers have a responsibility to know and to assess the consequences of their actions anyway, so they should -- if they breach that, there should be some escalation mechanism to hold them to account.

  • Moving now to paragraph 31 of your witness statement, you tell us of an incident where Surrey Police shot and killed a man close, I think, to Guildford cathedral. The difference between this example and the others you've given us is that that led, of course, automatically to the immediate involvement of the IPCC, didn't it?

  • You tell us in your statement that the consequence of that from a media point of view is that they then managed all the media enquiries in the case and Surrey Police was limited in its ability to provide information that might have affected public confidence in the actions of the police. What I want to ask you is whether, having described the position, you are saying that it's unsatisfactory and there needs to be change, or are you accepting that although there is a downside from the police force's point of view, you understand that it is necessary in such circumstances for the IPCC to have control of relations between them and the media?

  • I know in a number of inquiries, probably more significantly outside of Surrey Police, but it has caused tension around the desire of the service and police force to communicate more information and give more updates to the public -- publicly than the IPCC. From my personal experience, and especially more recently in dealings with the IPCC, there are clear guidance on who has primacy and the clearance of lines. I think I have seen a much more pragmatic and sensible approach taken by the IPCC in relation to some of the incidents that I've been dealing with recently, where we can come to an agreement, and I certainly wouldn't be advocating, from a Surrey Police perspective, a change in the way we do business -- the way we actually deal with this at present.

  • You come next to tell us about a really quite recent incident in June 2010 when the Surrey Police had to cope with an armed siege at a Barclays Bank in Ashford. The interesting feature of this example seems to be the sheer number of different channels of communication that were in play. First of all, you tell us that it was a major incident and that meant that media officers were deployed both through the headquarters, as a team, and also there was someone on the ground from the media relations team. Did that work well?

  • In addition, you tell us there was a high degree of citizen journalism, with videos taken by local people being passed on to the national media organisations and put onto websites. Did you benefit from any of that citizen journalism?

  • In relation to this incident, I don't think we did. I did benefit from -- I think it was one news agency had a helicopter overhead, and so I had the benefit of listening to the police reporting and seeing live coverage from the actual location as well. I was the strategic firearms commander in charge of this incident and I was at headquarters watching.

    But I think the point -- I think the point that you're trying to make is there can be benefits from citizen journalism by capturing of evidence which can be used subsequently.

  • Next you tell us that the force made continuous use of Twitter in covering the unfolding incident. Was that successful?

  • There was also regular updating of the force's website to keep abreast of events. So you're describing here, through the use of Twitter and the web, direct communication with the public, not involving the media. Do you see that as complementing or beginning to supplant the traditional route of communication between the police and the public via the media?

  • I think social media is opening up massive opportunities for us for the way we engage and communicate with the public. I think in this instance it was complementary, predicting what will happen in the future. I think we are seeing greater use of social media by the public. It's a good means of communication. Twitter is an excellent means of actually getting fast time information out there, accurate information quickly.

    One of the interesting factors in this is not only did we communicate with the public; we were also actually communicating with the press on Twitter as well, in so much as they were picking up the comments and the feeds that we were putting out.

  • Of course, in addition, there were the more traditional routes of communication through the media by the way of statements made to the public and interviews being offered?

  • Although this is obviously a very different type of incident to some of those that you've described further in the past, what's your view about the current state of Surrey Police's media relations operation? Is it fit for purpose? If it is fit for purpose, is there room for improvement?

  • I think there's always room for improvement, but I think it is a lot better now than certainly what it was in 2002. I think the quality of the individuals and the training, their experience, is a lot better. You have to align that with the officers, the training that they've received as well, in order to assess and also to give interviews and to engage with the press. So I think that is a lot better. The systems we have and processes, the Solcara and also the on-call system and our ability to mobilise in the event of a major event is significantly more improved.

  • At paragraph 34, you return to the Milly Dowler case, but this time to deal with events in 2010 and 2011, which we know ultimately led to the conviction of Levi Bellfield. For the interests of the Inquiry, we're interested in what you say in the second half of paragraph 34. I think we need to be careful about what we say here because I understand that criminal proceedings are currently ongoing.

  • But the position seems to be that there was sufficient concern about the reporting of Mr Bellfield's past, and particularly an alleged abduction of Rachel Cowles, as to lead to a newspaper facing contempt of court proceedings?

  • Two newspapers are facing contempt of court proceedings.

  • So does that give some support to what you were saying earlier, that not always, but on occasions the rules seem to fly out of the window --

  • We can't reach that conclusion about that particular example, if that's ongoing, can we? But the assertion "fame and crime sends most of the usual rules out of the window" may be evidence not merely from Surrey's experience but from also the experience of other very major serious crime.

  • You give us another example in the next paragraph relating to the murder of Heather Cooper, where you say there was much national media coverage wrongly naming, at one point, an unconnected individual.

  • Overall, having been through those examples, would it be fair to say that on occasion the media have hindered and damaged the work of the Surrey Police?

  • Yes, I think that is -- in summary, I think it has.

  • Sir, we're going to be taking the evidence provided by Mr Marrat as read. There are a couple of things which are in his statement which this witness can amplify or confirm.

    First of all, is it still the Surrey Police's policy not to name people unless and until they are charged?

  • And hospitality registers have been maintained for some years now by Surrey Police, haven't they?

  • But a recent development is that they're provided to the Surrey Police Authority for scrutiny?

  • Is that system working well?

  • I believe, so. I was at a meeting recently with the Surrey Police Authority and the audit committee were -- the lead member for this had said he had scrutinised the accounts or the register and the pro formas and he was satisfied with the processes which had taken place. He did make an observation that he felt it was quite bureaucratic, in fact justifying when you turn down hospitality as well as when you actually accept it. I was in a position to comment on the pros and cons of having to do both.

  • If it's bureaucratic, it's also transparent, isn't it?

  • Not all bureaucracy is bad. (But most of it is.)

  • Without delving into that controversial proposition, can we move now, I think rather more briefly, to your second witness statement.

    This statement deals with the databases which Surrey Police hold and the steps it takes to protect the confidential information which it has on those databases. So we get an insight, through your statement, into the sort of operation that a force has to mount to protect this information.

    First of all, you tell us at paragraph 7 that Surrey Police uses no fewer than 71 applications which hold personal data, of which a small number appear to be national but the vast majority are local. Is that right?

  • That's correct. Not all of them hold personal data of members of the public. They are sort of finance, HR systems, all of those, but in order to answer the question, I asked that all our systems be counted.

  • Your statement very helpfully tells us quite a lot about them, but I don't think we need to go into the details. What I would like to explore briefly are the steps that are taken to protect this data. First of all, dealing with the human side of things, it's right, isn't it, that extensive training is provided, that there are policies in place warning against misuse and describing what misuse is, down to the level of curiosity and curiously exploring being a misuse of the system?

  • And there are dire warnings of the consequences of misusing the computer systems; is that right?

  • There are warnings that potentially discipline and misconduct action will be taken and we do publicise cases where misconduct action has been taken to send a strong message to staff.

  • That's publicised internally?

  • But not externally?

  • Moving to many some of the technical protections, you tell us that all users have to use a force identification number, that there are strong passwords in place and that a failure after so many attempts to get the password right leads to a lockout. Some of the systems have warning screens and you tell us that some systems have other restrictions restricting, for example, which terminals can be used to access them, which functions they will perform and which records they can and cannot access.

  • So there is a battery of technical protections. Moving now to auditing --

  • Can I just make two other comments, please?

  • There's also -- officers and staff have security clearance, so they have vetting processes and only certain people with certain levels of vetting can access certain systems. And also, not every officer or police staff member has access to all of the systems either. We control it so it's aligned to your role.

  • Yes. I think, dealing with the police force, we're starting from a position where you've sought, at least, to recruit people of integrity?

  • We try our hardest, yes.

  • I'm pleased to hear that, yes.

  • Moving on now to auditing, you tell us that there is typically within your electronic systems a capability to track down what a person has done under a particular user identity. Is there a capability, if a piece of information has been leaked, to ascertain without a name or password who has accessed that information?

  • Yes, there is. So if there's a piece of information which has been publicised, which you thought wouldn't have been -- should have been in the public domain, you can then go back to the systems, look at where that would have -- which system that information could have been on, especially if it's something very specific, you can narrow it down to a system, and we have means of actually auditing who accessed that system when, or should I actually say under whose password and whose log-on did they access, because we have seen evidence of staff who abused other people's log-on processes to access systems previously. But we do have comprehensive means of backtracking.

  • You tell us that where you receive intelligence which suggests there's been misuse of the system, that is investigated, but equally you tell us that there are no random checks. Why is that?

  • I suppose -- where would you start? We do checks in relation to PNC. There's a programme called PNC Guard, which is national, so when somebody does a check on an individual or a vehicle, one in ten cases, they have to give a greater justification as opposed to just a reason code, and then that is reviewed to see if there was a legitimate reason and we can do further information on those. But I suppose realistically you would have to have a very big team checking for discrepancies for what I actually assess, within Surrey anyway, is a very low incidence of breaches.

  • It boils down to it being disproportionate and very difficult?

  • On the subject of the PNC, is it right to say that the protections for the PNC the tightest of all?

  • They are very tight. I think there are other systems that we have -- some of our intelligence systems are national intelligence systems which forces can access have tighter controls but --

  • If it's not the tightest control, is it right to say that there are a lot of your systems which are not as tightly controlled?

  • Is that because of the relative risk of misuse, including consequence?

  • Both consequence and the content, yes.

  • You describe to us that there is a risk appetite assessment and that the Surrey Police has gone through a process of deciding how much risk it is prepared to accept?

  • In terms of examples of misuse -- I'm looking now at page 22 of your witness statement, and in relation to a question about media-related suspected abuse, you give the answer at paragraph 87 involving five matters. The first is ongoing. The second, you tell us that investigations showed that the information provided had in fact been authorised. In the third case, the complainant stopped co-operating and the investigation was terminated, and the fourth and fifth cases are ongoings.

    So that leaves us, doesn't it, in the position that over the last five years you've not actually had a case come to a conclusion which has found an unauthorised leak to the press, but you have three ongoing matters?

  • Yes. If I could just clarify, the first four of those cases all relate to what I would refer to as press releases which have been authorised by an investigating officer, and so it's the content of a press release which people have complained about, a formal release, as opposed to a leak of information.

  • And the final case is a matter which is being dealt with by Operation Elveden and therefore we won't say anything more about it.

  • At paragraph 88, you deal with other incidents. You say there have been a total of 34 incidents of either inappropriate access or disclosure over the last five years. 16 have been dealt with as misconduct, with the remaining 18 as gross misconduct. Just to be clear, are you saying that those have nothing to do with the media?

  • You described in this statement a very considerable number of safeguards of various types, which we've touched upon. But if you are only reacting to complaints, how sure can you be that people are not performing unauthorised access to your databases and getting away with it?

  • I can never be 100 per cent sure.

  • Is the reality that in the real world it's simply not possible to provide 100 per cent assurance against misuse?

  • That's true. We have an anti-corruption unit, as most forces do. We do covert and targeted action if we have any intelligence to support that, but the reality is you can never be 100 per cent sure.

  • Thank you. Those were all my questions.

  • I have no questions, Mr Kirkby. Thank you very much indeed. I'll be interested to see what you come up with on the other matter. Thank you very much.

  • Sir, would it be possible to have a break now before the next witness?

  • (A short break)

  • The next witness is Mr Port, please.