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

  • MR THOMAS JONATHAN STODDART (sworn). MS BARBARA BREWIS (sworn).

  • Mr Stoddart, first of all. I think you've given your full name, but for the record, if you could just give that again.

  • Yeah, it's Thomas Jonathan Stoddart.

  • You've provided two witness statements to the Inquiry. The first is dated 20 February 2012.

  • Do you confirm the contents of that witness statement are true?

  • You've also provided a second witness statement, which is at our tab 20. The copy that I have isn't signed or dated but it deals with the security of police systems. Are the contents of that witness statement true also?

  • You served for 16 years with Northumbria police. You then became assistant chief constable for Lincolnshire Police in 1999. You were deputy chief constable for Durham Constabulary in 2003, and during this time you had the strategic lead for the management of the force media and press office. Then you were appointed Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary in 2005; is that right?

  • You have experience of reviewing major crime investigations. Indeed, you were asked to review Operation Weeting, which we'll come to.

  • That's correct, as well.

  • Ms Brewis, give your full name?

  • My name's Barbara Joan(?) Brewis.

  • You've also provided a witness statement, and that's dated 20 February 2012?

  • Do you confirm the contents of that witness statement are true?

  • This is your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • Equally, Mr Stoddart, the two witness statements I refer to there are your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • Ms Brewis, you are a media and marketing manager for Durham Constabulary. You've been involved with the media your entire working life?

  • Yes, that's correct.

  • You began your working life as a reporter for a local newspaper?

  • You say that after a varied newspaper career, which culminated in your appointment as a chief subeditor for a major regional evening paper, you moved into public relations when you were appointed press officer to Gateshead Council?

  • That was in 1990. So in 1999, you became deputy head of media services at Northumbria Police and then in 2010 you were appointed to your current role?

  • You are also a regular contributor to the National Police Communicators Course. Is that a course provided by the Association of Police Communicators?

  • That is a course provided by Lincolnshire Police, which is the national police press officer course.

  • I see. In total, you were a journalist for 20 years before switching hats, if I can put it that way. To what extent has that experience helped you in your current role?

  • I think it's been helpful because I understand how the media works, because obviously I used to be part of the media. It means that I know a lot of the people who are still involved in the media. I've worked with them. It means I can anticipate -- I know what they are want from the press office. I understand about deadlines, I understand how stories are formed and how they're placed and I can anticipate questions. I can also ask -- I understand what the question is behind the question. I speak their language. I would hope that I still do.

  • Yes. Are members of the media more likely to put pressure on you knowing that you understand the pressures that they're under?

  • I think possibly it can happen sometimes. I think it's less so now, because I've been out of that domain for so long, but they know I understand.

  • Yes. So broadly speaking, you see it as an advantage to your role?

  • I do think it is. I think it is a natural progression for reporters to move into public relations and it's two sides of the same coin, so it is helpful to both sides.

  • How many staff are there in your team?

  • At present we have four and a half. Four full-time and one part-time person.

  • Your team, you say under question 5 in your statement, page 05219, acts as the main but not the sole communication channel between the force and the media. To what extent do individual officers have direct or informal contact with the media?

  • We have 12 neighbourhood policing teams, each with an inspector. The neighbourhood inspectors do have regular contact with the local media on a daily -- often a daily basis. We feel that we are not the sole communication channel. There are instances where the media -- it's helpful for them to speak directly to inspectors, but for some issues, some that are more complex, some that involve lots of different areas, not one particular neighbourhood, it's much more useful to come through the press office because they'll get a more holistic approach to the question.

  • In what circumstances do you expect the neighbourhood inspector to refer a query to you?

  • I think if it was about a corporate issue rather than just something pertinent to their neighbourhoods, I think if it was more complex, I think if it was where a corporate response was required rather than a neighbourhood response. And they would tell us, for information as well, just in case we were asked a similar question about a different neighbourhood.

  • That's quite important. Does that mean that although they may go direct to your neighbourhood, you would expect to be informed -- not the detail but of the contact, so that you could follow it up if you wanted to?

  • We would like to be informed. It doesn't always happen, but we would see it in the newspaper anyway and we would -- they would put it on their own Facebook pages, which we monitor, so we would know it was happening. It's never created any issue. We think it's a sympathetic way to work.

  • Yes. I'm just concerned about the question of different people saying perhaps slightly different things.

  • I think the neighbourhoods -- they're talking about the neighbourhoods, and our aim is always to promote public confidence and they know that. So when they are giving items to the media, they are working on that same objective, which is to inform our communities, have communication with our communities and promote reassurance and let our communities know what we're doing for them. That's really what this is about.

  • Are you saying that you would like all contact to be notified to you?

  • I think it would be helpful if, in general terms, they said, "Well, I was talking to this reporter today and I've told them this story." They often do. They don't always.

  • Do you think there needs to be a formal requirement so that they do do that, or --

  • I think we are a small enough force where that doesn't really -- it doesn't have to be on such a formal arrangement because we know anyway what people are talking about.

  • Mr Stoddart, it's your evidence in your witness statement that contact takes place on a daily basis across all ranks, from your police community support officer up to the more senior ranks. Is that something that you consider is healthy?

  • I do. I think that, in the scale of things, that what we have is a workable and trusting relationship with our local media. Our neighbourhood inspectors take the lead on a lot of the community issues, talk about meetings, the kind of low level community concerns that really do worry communities, so anti-social behaviour, low level local crime.

    Anything more serious clearly gets routed through our media department, but I'm happy with the arrangement, it works very, very well and we do empower officially our community support officers, for example, who are very, very close to our communities, to directly forewarn the media of any particular problem-solving initiative or some kind of PR initiative.

    So I'm relaxed about that. I think it's a good system, I think it works well, and we haven't ever had any difficulties at all in terms of two talking heads or any kinds of contradictions. Not that I can think of, anyway.

  • Have there been problems with inappropriate comments being made? I'm not talking now about unauthorised disclosures or leaks, but officers not understanding how far they go should go legally or in terms of the remit of their responsibility?

  • No, not at all, and perhaps surprisingly, when the whole issue of social media started -- we have got a social media policy or guidance and I was -- I have to say, I was slightly nervous about whether or not this was going to cause us difficulties, but so far it hasn't. We have Facebook and Twitter accounts for our neighbourhood inspectors. They've been given advice on how to use them. They have the media department to turn to in the event of any concerns that they may have, and these are an invaluable tool in terms of appeals, requests for information, informing our communities and I'm very pleased with the way things are going in relation to that.

  • We heard yesterday from members of the press in the Cumbria area that Twitter can be more of a hindrance than a help, in that there's a character limit and there isn't a restriction really on police officers saying, "This is an incident I'm attending, this is what I'm doing." They don't find it necessarily all that beneficial to follow. Is that something that you've experienced, Ms Brewis?

  • As far as the character limit is concerned, what we often do is tweet something which links to our website, where people can read the whole story.

  • So that's not an issue. The smaller bite-size chunks are really about instant appeals that you might not want to put a full-blown press release out about. You know, three scooters stolen from such-and-such. Were you in the area? Did you see anything? Please ring us. It's really good for things like that. It's a really good communications tool.

  • So it's more communicating with the community, rather than the media?

  • Could you just tell me, so I have the context, how many police officers and support staff are there in Durham?

  • 2,500 roughly staff altogether, of which -- I think it's now at the moment 1,390 police officers. It's been considerably downsized in the last few years.

  • From what you've described, there are open channels of communication between the force, individual officers and the media. Has this altered recently? We've heard evidence from some members of the press that forces have, either officially or in practice, been closing down direct communication with officers. Is that something that you've felt in Durham?

  • From my perspective, no. I still do a lot of media work with TV and radio. I do less with the written word, but I don't think there's been a significant change in the culture of the organisation.

  • Ms Brewis, can you comment on the culture? Because you'll be speaking more regularly, I would imagine, with individual officers.

  • I don't feel there's been any sort of sea change. I think people are more aware possibly of issues. I don't think -- we haven't shut down -- nobody's shut down. We are carrying on. It's business as usual. We hope we've always operated with integrity and from an ethical standpoint, so we will continue to do that.

  • You haven't sensed a loss of confidence?

  • Or a concern about what's actually happening here?

  • I don't think so, no. I really can't say. I think it seems a little bit remote. Really, people think it's down here and it's not --

  • Durham is a long way away.

  • Yes, which is not a bad thing sometimes.

  • Ms Brewis, your team, you say, has input into media training courses for police officers and also provides ad hoc media advice to officers. On those training courses, do you cover hospitality, appropriate relations with the media, those sorts of topics?

  • No, we didn't use to. We do now. That is one change we have done. We are -- I am already -- we are drawing up plans to increase the media awareness so that it covers more staff -- police officers and police staff. We will include inappropriate relationships, we'll include release of information, ethical use of social networking sites. It's something that wasn't on our radar. It is now and we're going to do something about it.

  • Are you able to say in a nutshell what the key message is on appropriate relationships?

  • Have a good professional relationship with the media but they're not your friends, basically.

  • That's the nutshell: they're not your friends; have a professional relationship.

  • Moving on then to the culture of relationships. Mr Stoddart, you described the culture as healthy, open, honest and transparent. We know that whilst Deputy Chief Constable, you were the strategic lead for the management of the force media and press office. Did this give you particular insight into media relations that you might have not have had otherwise?

  • I think because of my various roles throughout my career, time in the CID, borough commander, I've always had a reasonably active relationship with the media. As a Deputy Chief Constable with strategic oversight, yes, it gave me a better understanding of some the stresses and strains. We have a very small media department and although Durham is a long way from Westminster, it does still have its own unique demands and challenges.

    And I'm very pleased that -- I don't want to be sounding complacent or smug, but we have a good local rapport and our national embedded reporters are also -- we've got a good relationship with them as well and it's healthy, it's professional and people know where the limits lie.

  • When you say "national embedded reporters", you mean national correspondents who are based in Durham?

  • What about visiting members of the national media, the print press?

  • I suppose I adopt the mantra that if you don't know them, you can't trust them, so until you have a professional relationship established, you work within the limits of what you know about -- you stick to the facts, you stick to the story, and you don't ever take people into your confidence if you don't have that trusting relationship.

  • Have you had bad experiences with visiting members of the media?

  • As a chief officer, no, but yes, as a detective superintendent, yes.

  • Was that in terms of being misquoted or inaccurate reporting? What sort of problems did you have?

  • I've had some kind of alarming headlines in local newspapers and national newspapers which maybe weren't helpful and I've had misquotes perhaps in the past that I didn't feel too good about. But by and large, the relationship is healthy, transparent and reasonable.

  • Were you generally able to resolve those problems that you did have as a detective?

  • It's a long time ago, but sometimes we just agreed that we couldn't agree.

  • Yes. You state, under question 16 in your statement, Mr Stoddart -- I think I may have the wrong reference. Bear with me one moment.

  • While Ms Boon finds the reference, you've said Durham has its own unique demands and challenges. Are those demands or challenges anything to do with any aspect of the work that I'm having to do? Because I don't want to tread on your toes inappropriately, or without knowing what I was doing.

  • Sorry, do you mean in terms of this Inquiry in general relations with the media?

  • No, I mean -- I'm talking about just the fact that we have our own pressure that that creates interest from the national media. We have, you know, major critical incidents that attract very, very significant media attention. I refer to it in my statement at one point where we had four -- three murdered and one suicide on new year's day just this year. A lot of national attention. We had, three years ago, a significant counter-terrorism incident which occurred in our area. So they cause, you know, the same demands as you would expect from elsewhere.

  • Yes. So it's the same elsewhere, although obviously your examples are different to theirs.

  • Sure. It's not about any relationship with the media.

  • Thank you, sir. I've found the reference. I had the right reference but I was looking in the wrong statement.

    Under question 16 in your statement, Mr Stoddart, page 05245, your first statement, the second paragraph:

    "Although some of the media coverage may be difficult or unpleasant, it hasn't ever been what I thought of as inappropriate or dishonest."

    You're talking about all forms of media coverage, there?

  • Would it be a fair way to encapsulate your evidence that the media have been healthily critical?

  • Absolutely. It is extremely uncomfortable, as a chief constable, to have unfavourable comments or comparisons, but the fact of the matter is we simply have to be accountable and we put up with that.

  • Yes. Ms Brewis, you consider that there's a culture of openness and transparency within a professional framework. Those are your words.

  • You consider you have good working relationships with the reporters who contact you on a regular basis. From your perspective, is there anything peculiar to the Durham area that explains your relationship, the culture that you experience?

  • I think a lot of reporters have worked for some of the local papers, the local media for a long time, and I think there's been -- at least two of the staff have worked in the press office for a long time, so they've built up those relationships. I had built up relationships in my previous jobs with some of the same reporters, so there's been a consistency and that has helped because this is -- it is about building up good working relationships and it doesn't happen overnight, and there has to be an element of trust on both sides and you can only do that over time, trust in that we will help facilitate what they want and in turn they will help us if we need particular facilitations from them.

  • Of course, what can happen when people work together over a long period of time, as you've described, and get to know each other, the relationship can change into more of a friendship and cross a certain boundary. Is that something that's happened in Durham?

  • Not in my experience, no. We are not -- we don't socialise with the local media. We don't --

  • It's just not what's done?

  • It just doesn't happen. We know them well, we work with them. We don't see them outside work.

  • Is that something that you've ensured has happened on purpose or it just hasn't happened perhaps more by chance?

  • It just hasn't happened. And I think if I saw that it was starting to happen, I would raise the issues that we've already talked about, that they're not your friends.

  • Yes. Mr Stoddart, in terms of your personal contact with the media, how would you characterise that now?

  • I think I've already mentioned I probably have more contact with television and radio than I do with local written media. Notwithstanding that, I know the editor of the local paper quite well, sit on a couple of strategic partnership boards that he also sits on. He used to be a member of a charitable organisation that I am a trustee of as well, so I know him quite well. Would I call him a friend? No. Do I know him reasonably well? Yes. Have I had disputes with him? Yes. And you know, it's a healthy relationship. But I suppose as the Chief Constable you have less contact with the kind of people that Barbara has. I think that's just by degrees, by nature. And although they would like sometimes a comment from myself, Barbara does help me out in relation to that. Most of my contact is with the BBC, Sky, ITV.

  • In terms of hospitality, you say that in 13 years as a chief officer, you've had one dinner with the national media.

  • And the purpose of that dinner, it was part of an ongoing operation to raise national and local interest in an impending operation into an organised crime group?

  • So there was a clear policing purpose behind it?

  • It wasn't -- it was about off-the-record briefings, sir. We used this as an opportunity to provide a background context to a really good operation that we were running and we wanted national awareness, national media, to show how good we were in terms of dismantling this organised crime group. I think we really did achieve that. I think it was an absolutely ethical, above-board process, but that's the only time in 30 years that I can remember having any kind of social discourse or a dinner or anything like that with the media.

  • Mr Stoddart, under question 21 of your statement, page 05246, you make the point that:

    "As a rule, there is no contact between my officers that occurs outside the working environment as this is almost conducted entirely over the phone or in a police station. Senior officers, ACPO rank and those leading inquiries, again, as a rule, only conduct business in an official or legitimate location. I have mentioned the one occasion as Chief Constable that I socialised with members of the media."

    So it would seem from what you say there that it's simply not part of the way things work, to be meeting socially.

  • That's correct. It's a very healthy culture within Durham Constabulary and it's partly a product of the fact -- as Barbara's alluded to, we're a small organisation, compact, and although there are a number of newspapers, we have healthy respect for their position and they have neither the time, the money nor the inclination to try and wine and dine us. I've never been offered any form of hospitality at all by the media locally.

  • So what's your attitude to what's emerged during the course of the Inquiry, if you have followed it at all?

  • Yes. Pretty disappointed, I have to say. And I have to -- I have very grave concerns about overfamiliarity with police officers from each and every rank. I would hope that we can establish something from this that would go some way to eliminating that. I think the culture, just by this very challenge, will change throughout the service.

  • Yes. Is that a convenient moment?

  • (A short break)

  • Mr Stoddart, following on from Lord Justice Leveson's last question, you've described the culture in Durham Constabulary where there isn't socialising with the media. You've expressed your concerns about overly close, overly familiar relationships. Is there a medium somewhere in between, and if so, how does an officer judge where the appropriate line is?

  • I think that this is the kind of difficult issue that we have in terms of relations with the press. On the one hand, we need to have a healthy, searching, probing press to hold us to account as public servants. On the other hand, we want to be able to ensure that there is integrity and honesty in the relationships between police officers and media. I recognise that our approach, which is trusting, has fewer controls on than perhaps a larger organisation where perhaps everything goes through a central media unit.

    I think if we were to do that, we would have to invest quite significantly in the media department. It is small, but perhaps that might have to be the price we pay, unless we make very, very explicit -- and we have got some guidance in our written policies that Barbara has helpfully produced over the years, in terms of what can and can't be done, what should be done locally, how to do certain scenarios. But the fact of the matter is we operate on a high trust basis with our staff and a high trust basis with the local written media, and perhaps that's something that we need to really kind of tighten up on to find what is this happy medium, because I don't want breaches and any kind of allegations being made, but similarly I don't want to inhibit the democratic principles of free speech.

    Now, police officers clearly have to abide by our policy, the force policy, but I'm sure that they will adapt to anything that we can come to. So I'm interested to see what comes out of all of this, this whole scrutiny.

  • So you haven't formulated in your mind get where that happy medium might lie, how officers can be guided in their conduct?

  • Well, we train our police officers. Barbara's already acknowledged that we need to do more in terms of media training with Durham cops, and we do trust PCSOs, who have a very important community role, and are very popular in county Durham and Darlington, but the reality is: what is the trade-off? We have a very, very engaged media who haven't, as far as I'm aware, let us down, and I have a very engaged workforce who are trusted to deliver and as yet -- I've responded in my statement that I can't think of any occasions when there's been leaks to the media.

    So it's almost like "if it ain't bust, don't fix it", but I'm very conscious of the fact that other forces have had some really serious breaches, leaks, inappropriate relationships, so it's something that we really are having to think about.

  • Do you think it has to be one size fits all, that there should be a national policy, or do you think this should be left to local --

  • I think that what's happening today, I think, with the IPCC and ACPO and the HMIC in relation to both Filkin and the HMIC integrity scrutiny, I think that should provide some strong national standards, national guidance. I think then the solution, the work about, could come locally, because certainly, you know, 2,500 people in Durham Constabulary and 45,000 in the Metropolitan Police -- the scale is just ridiculous. So I don't think that one size fits all is going to work.

    I do think national standards should be made clear. I think that somehow or other we have to enable there to be a local solution to come to that which is agreeable to those national standards.

  • High level principles, worked out on the ground.

  • And then clearly inspected against -- whether it's by HMIC or internally, both and from outside as well.

  • Indeed, in your statement, page 05259, the second paragraph under question 54, when referring to the ACPO guidance or national guidance, you say:

    "Any such guidance should be capable of adaptation to suit the geographical and demographic nature of the individual force."

    I was going to ask you what regional variations might be needed. Is it the question of scale that you've referred to or is there anything else that varies that needs to be taken into account geographically?

  • I don't think it's the geography; I think it's the scale. But I think it's also the starting point, that forces are at different points in their maturity or their relationship with the media and some forces, to comply with it, would maybe be going backwards. It would be to their detriment. So I think it needs to be flexible enough to work out locally, but it's not a matter -- I don't think it's a matter of geography. It's simply a matter of the organisational maturity or development.

  • What you're saying is some forces might need more rigid guidance than others?

  • I'm not sure that's what I was trying to say. I think that what I was trying to say was that forces may already have above and beyond exacting standards, and that you can't just impose a national standard or a national solution across without first doing a health check.

    Now, we're all doing health checks as to where we are, and that's being done in Durham as well, to make sure that the HMIC integrity review and those issues raised in Filkin are then being put into a kind of action plan so that we are in a fit position to take on the next round of recommendations.

  • Ms Brewis, just to complete the picture, you say in your witness statement that you've never accepted hospitality from the media in your current position?

  • And you've never offered hospitality either to the media?

  • Not in my current position, and where it has been offered, it's not -- it's been for a policing purpose, to -- sort of events, which are information events, where there is some refreshment.

  • That's from the media specifically, is it?

  • Yes. It's certainly not exclusive. All media, their press offices, their -- not -- it's sort of a public event.

  • Is that in your current role or your previous --

  • In previous roles.

  • Yes. On the question of regulating contact with the media, Mr Stoddart, you say that individual officers aren't required at all to record their contact with the media presently.

  • You've spoken very highly of the trust that you have in your officers presently and how they're yet to test that trust, but do you think that recording contact is something that you should implement for the future?

  • I've thought about this very hard, actually, since I submitted this statement, and I've moved from kind of agreeing with the Filkin recommendations of informal contact -- more is better than less, but recording things in pocket notebooks to protect the police officer and the media as well.

    The more I've thought about it, the more I think that perhaps we need to be more rigorous in relation to this, that we should have a central repository, a central system that records the contact and, importantly, what the content of the conversation or meeting was, even if it is -- you know, I think it's not kind of an accidental encounter, but telephone conversations, pre-planned meetings, press conferences, briefings, they should recorded. I think it would protect the integrity of the organisation and the police officer, and I think that -- I've thought about it and I've thought about the bureaucracy that would be entailed in that and I think it's doable, certainly from our perspective. Whether or not it's doable in someone like the Metropolitan Police with the proliferation of national dailies in the Metropolis, I don't know, and I don't want to have threatening letters tonight from Bernard. But the reality is I do think that we could tighten up. I think we need to tighten up. I think certainly Durham needs to tighten up in relation to this.

  • You're unlikely to get such letters, given that you made it abundantly clear this isn't actually a problem for you.

  • No, but the reality is I don't want to be complacent about it, sir. I want to make sure that we actually challenge our culture, and perhaps it's by accident rather than by design that we are where we are.

  • So you're envisaging that there is a record of any information that was shared with the media?

  • We already keep a record -- Barbara keeps a record of those contacts on a daily basis where the access is through the press office. I think that perhaps my neighbourhood inspectors need to email or ring or phone or directly input into a system that we could --

  • It needn't be too complex. A couple of lines.

  • How do you think it might be received by the neighbourhood inspectors that you were referring to before, who have the daily contact with --

  • I do think that -- initially I think there will be some grumbling, but I think that once they understand why and the awareness is raised, I think they'll feel absolutely that this is the appropriate thing to do.

  • For me, it's not what the reaction of neighbourhood inspectors will be. The privileges of rank mean that neighbourhood inspectors will probably do what their Chief Constable tells them to do. It's what the reaction of the press would be. You may have heard that a number of reporters have said, "Oh, it will chill. Nobody will speak to us. It will be terrible." Do you think that will be so in Durham?

  • No, I don't think so. I can't really see that happening. We would not want to see it happening.

  • You should be able to work within that framework and if it's the right thing to do, we'll do it.

  • I clearly disguised my question well. What I was getting at was whether you think that the inspectors might be less inclined to answer the phone if they know they have to make a record of the contact, the information given.

  • I thought that's what I answered, actually.

  • So it's my fault, is it, Ms Boon?

  • No, it was my fault for disguising my question.

  • Moving to your policies now. It's our tab 13, I don't know if you have the same tabs. This is a document entitled "Media guide". When was this guide introduced?

  • It was produced some years ago, but it has been updated, I think, within the last three years.

  • Right. There was only one page that I wanted to highlight and that's the first inside page. So your internal numbering 1, our number 05148:

    "This guide has been compiled to help all officers and staff of Durham Constabulary in their dealings with members of the media. It is impossible to cover over scenario but the guidance is designed to cover most operational situations. Previous force policy stated only officers of sergeant and above were authorised to speak to the media without reference to supervision. However, over the years, it has become common practice for constables to do so as well, provided they are speaking on issues or cases which are within their remit. If there is any uncertainty about the subject matter of a reporter's line of questioning, seek advice from supervision or from the press and public relations office. The force has long practised openness with the public, and that, of course, includes the media. We continue to be committed to holding back only what we must."

    The next paragraph:

    "Speaking to the media means, in the eyes of viewers and readers and the ears of listeners, that you become the spokesperson for the force. Don't be tempted to talk outside your sphere of responsibility, knowledge or experience but do feel confident to talk about subjects you are comfortable with."

    That would seem to be consistent with what you're saying, which is: speak openly, be confident about doing it but don't trespass beyond your area of responsibility.

  • The next policy, at tab 11, "Gratuities, gifts, donations and testimonials guidance and procedure". Ms Brewis, I understand the lunches/hospitality part, was brought in in 2009; is that right or do I have this completely wrong?

  • That was actually before my time.

  • Right, of course.

  • But I think it is relatively new, yes.

  • I've got that from reading the front page:

    "Updated 20 February 2009. Reason for change: to include lunches/hospitality."

  • It's due to be reviewed or was due to be reviewed last month.

  • Well, it probably is being reviewed, I would say.

  • Paragraph 1.8.3, which is on internal numbering 3, our 05136. This must be the 2009 addition:

    "Any lunches/hospitality accepted will potentially be subject to public scrutiny, therefore working lunches and other hospitality may only be accepted where it (a) allows the business of the force to be legitimately progressed, (b) is open and transparent, (c) does not invite the perception of a conflict of interest, (d) cannot be perceived by others to be extravagant."

    Presumably, Mr Stoddart, that's something that you would hope to expand on to give officers more guidance than that in terms of -- or is that a fair reflection of --

  • I think that's a fair reflection in terms of where we are. On occasion, the ACPO team do have lunches not with the media, but with contractors, other organisations, suppliers, people with legitimate interest in the policing business. I think this whole investigation/Inquiry will rightly cause all forces to challenge exactly what we have whether or not it's fit for purpose, and I can see now that there are areas where we may need to be tighter and define things a bit more carefully.

  • The final policy, tab 14. Not that these are the only policies that you have, but the only ones that I'm bringing particularly to the Inquiry's attention. This is Durham Constabulary procedures, tactics and guidance, media and marketing. This has been in force since July last year; is that right?

  • Date approved at FMG, July 2011. The relevant passage is the last page, 05177, "Contact with the media":

    "Durham Constabulary officers and staff are encouraged to have an open and transparent relationship with the media in the furtherance of the prevention and detection of crime. However, this relationship should always be on a professional footing. Situations where the line between professional and personal relationships could become blurred should be avoided at all costs. Exchange of hospitality should be proportionate. It may be acceptable to buy drinks for or accept drinks from individual members of the media at one-off social occasions. However, employees should be aware that if they regularly accept larger items of hospitality, such as tickets to Premiership games, days at the races, et cetera, on a regular basis from the same members of the media, their impartiality may be called into question. They are also leaving themselves open to opportunist reporters wishing to call in favours. All hospitality offered and received must be recorded in line with force policy on gifts and gratuities. If you do pass information on to individual reporters, it should always be for a genuine policing purpose and not just because they asked for it and you feel you owe them a favour. The message is: journalists are not your friends. They only want to talk to you because they hope you will pass on information which would otherwise be denied them."

    Is there anything you wanted to add to that?

  • Just to explain that we actually did that as an appendix because of the HMIC report on police integrity, and it did find that we had sound governance arrangements in the majority of cases but there was actually no specific guidance relating to appropriate contact with the media. So I discussed that with Professional Standards Department and came up with this wording, and that would be then pursued through the media awareness training that we're planning.

  • In fact your buzzline about journalists not being your friends is there and that's something that feeds through the training in the policy. You've provided slides of the course that you provide.

  • This is the current course?

  • Yes, the investigative skills course at tab 3.

  • But this is going to be further developed because we need to cover other areas. This is just a basic media awareness, how to maximise media potential, how to work with them in the best way for both sides.

  • There was just one slide that appeared to be of interest particularly, sorry, I should say. Sir, I believe these are ordered numerically this time. It's at 05118. You don't have that numbering on yours, do you? It's the slide that refers to phone hacking and other scandals. It's two from the back. Two pages from the back, three slides.

  • That is:

    "Phone hacking and other scandals. Leveson Inquiry is looking into many areas including police/press relationships. Regular contact with local media is encouraged but stay professional."

    The point that arises from that is you appear to be communicating the message: don't freeze up just because there's an inquiry going on. Would that be fair?

  • Yes, absolutely fair.

  • But missing from that is "regular contact with national media is encouraged". Is that by design?

  • No. I think it's just because it happens more infrequently and local media -- we work with local media on a daily basis so it's really important that we encourage everybody to consider that.

  • But it's not part of the training to say, "Continue speaking to the local media but be more careful with the national media"?

  • It probably will be, actually. It's something we'll develop as we look into the different strands of the issues arising out of this Inquiry.

  • That feeds from what Mr Stoddart said earlier, that when you have a relationship of trust that's one thing but when you don't have that relationship of trust, you need to be more cautious; is that what you're getting at?

  • Off-the-record conversations, if I may touch on those. Ms Brewis, you're not against off-the-record communications, providing they're always done for a policing purpose. Is that fair?

  • I'm sorry, is that off the record, i.e. non-attributable?

  • "Off the record", as far as we're concerned, is background information which is -- will provide clarity and understanding to a reporter so that they can produce an accurate article.

  • In your experience, in your current role, have journalists always honoured the basis on which you've provided the information?

  • Yes, they do.

    And that's the importance of having good working relationships with the local reporters, because the sanction is if they don't honour it, they never get it again, and they understand that.

  • Is it correct that your office has advised neighbourhood policing teams not to give out information off the record? I get that from Mr Stoddart's statement, so I apologise if I'm ambushing you with that, but is that something that you are aware of?

  • We would always advise them to be cautious. I think they do err on the side of caution.

  • But you don't prohibit off-the-record conversations?

  • Not specifically, no. But it tends to be about the more serious issues anyway, that we would be contacted about. It tends to be serious crimes, other investigations, where the media are looking for a particular steer and -- we may give some guidance to help how they use the story, but it's not -- it tends not to happen at a local level.

  • I see. Mr Stoddart, I got that from your witness statement. Is there anything you wanted to add to this?

  • No, I was under the expression that the media advice was that for neighbourhood teams, just in case, err on the side of caution by all means but consider every briefing to be on the record.

  • I think what I always say to people: when you're talking to a reporter, as soon as you start speaking, they are taking notes, so assume they're going to use it.

  • Yes. At question 44, Ms Brewis, of your statement, page 05232, you give an example of an incident that arose during a major fraud investigation, where a journalist voluntarily, or at your request, didn't publish information in order to avoid a prejudice to the criminal investigation. Is there anything you wanted to add to that or to develop?

  • I think that's an example where we used -- where we had judicious use of briefing, because we asked them not to do it. There was a proper policing reason for that -- we didn't want the suspect to go to ground -- and when he was arrested we told the reporters and they were able to run stories and promote the work that we did, the good work that we did.

  • In fact, you say there that the concern was that if the reporters published the information, the suspect would be alerted and would be more difficult to capture.

  • You say:

    "Once he had been arrested, we told the reporters and provided enough information for them to run stories ahead of any other media outlets."

    So you honoured their exclusive, if I can put it that way?

  • Yes. I think I would always honour an exclusive. If a reporter comes and asks a question about a story they are running and nobody else has it, I think it's only professional to honour that exclusive. I would not put it then out on general release. I may put it out on general release once it appeared in that outlet, but I wouldn't do it in advance of that.

  • The question of leaks, Mr Stoddart. I think you've more or less dealt with them. You've said that there have been no known leaks from Durham Constabulary staff to the media. Over what time period are you considering?

  • I've been at Durham now for nine years and I can't think of any from the police. I was reminded, however, that -- it's in my statement -- that there was an inadvertent disclosure of a sensitive Police Authority paper which found its way into the media's hands, but that was traced down to inappropriate disposal of information rather than a deliberate leak.

  • Yes. And Ms Brewis, you state that deliberate leaks are uncommon and have never been regarded as a significant issue?

  • No, not with my experience with Durham, no, not at all.

  • It's fair to say that the context you give is that you don't have many major news events or other issues which might attract significant media interest nationally.

  • That's one of the reasons, but generally speaking, it's not a common occurrence. You know when people are leaking stories. It's easy to tell when there's a source inside who's leaking.

  • Yes. Mr Stoddart, I just wanted to ask you a few questions or go through your evidence on the security of databases. I won't spend too long on this. You provided a detailed statement which, broadly, we will take as read. But what you deal with is security of both the Police National Computer but also databases which are owned and operated by the Durham Constabulary.

    There are a number of databases holding a variety of personal information, some of which will, of course, be intelligence. Access is granted, you say, dependent on operational need, and even within databases, some parts are restricted on a need-to-know basis; is that right?

  • Prior to accessing some databases, users must attend a training session. For others, training is on the job. All users are appropriately and proportionately vetted, you say, and prior to being granted access to a network, a screen will come up, reminding the user that they -- a splash screen is what you call it, reminding them that they must use the systems only for official purposes.

  • You do have audit facilities and the Professional Standards Department carries out intelligence-led operations. Are there any random checks or dip sampling of the use of the systems?

  • Yes. Both local and nationally, we have random sampling and within the PNC guard, which is referred to in my statement, there is a facility to, randomly and intelligence-led, do some screening of the usage to ensure that it's done for an appropriate purpose, whether it's training, crime or another police matter, a vehicle stop or whatever. There are categories of why that can be used and there will be challenges to the officers for their reason based on those random requests.

  • Are you talking there about the PNC or --

  • Yes. PNC Guard -- sorry, I should have been clearer. PNC Guard is exactly that. That's what it does. It's a commercial piece of software that we've invested in. Most forces, I think, have something similar or the same, and it enables us to ensure that there is no inappropriate use of the PNC, both on a random basis and more intelligence-led.

    Locally, our systems are all auditable and we do again audit those. But again, it's a balance between control and trust. We invest a lot of money and time in training and investing in good technology and good IT, and part of the reason that our performance as a force is very strong is because we have good IT where we don't inhibit its use. We trust our police officers to use it appropriately, but we do have a facility, clearly, to audit and we have a dedicated department in the information department who are there for exactly that purpose.

  • And you're not aware of any suspected leaks from Durham Constabulary databases to the media either; is that right?

  • Not to the media, no. We've had -- again, they're in my statement somewhere -- a number of inappropriate pieces of use of either national or local systems and I've outlined in there what the outcome of some of those investigations was: resignation, requirement to resign, cautions, no further actions and so on. But yes, we take it very seriously. Clearly we can't be absolutely 100 per cent certain but we do what we can within the constraints of the organisation.

  • And in fact, you've only had two complaints from the public in the last two years which relate to the suspected misuse of police databases?

  • And one of them was held to be vexatious by the Independent Police Complaints Commission?

  • Yes, that's correct.

  • You've referred to the PNC Guard, which is software that all police forces use to protect the PNC.

  • We heard from Mr Kirkby this morning from Surrey Police that when the PNC is interrogated, once every ten interrogations, there will be a request for greater justification of the need to access the PNC. Is that a standard setting or is that something that police forces can control themselves?

  • As I understand it, the filter can be adjusted to suit the force, but one in ten seems to be the standard default position, yes.

  • And similarly you're not aware of any suspected leaks of PNC data from Durham Constabulary employees to the media within the last five years?

  • If I may return to media relations, is there anything -- we've discussed along the way your thoughts about the future and the reviews that you're conducting presently. Is there anything that you wanted to add in terms of the task of preserving what's good in the relationships that Durham Constabulary has with the media, the openness, the transparency, the free flow of information, but at the same time ensuring there's sufficient controls to monitor and ensure that there isn't any misconduct?

  • There's nothing I want to add except to say that I think we recognise that this is a changing landscape all the time, that social media has really changed the dynamic in terms of how we control conversation with our communities and the media, because we know that the media monitor our Facebook accounts and so on.

    I'm also concerned that we need to be where -- I couldn't help -- I was sitting in on the Avon and Somerset case, I don't want to comment on that, but we do know that we need to be more attuned to training our senior investigating officers to -- how to handle the media. I put one of my homicide working group members onto the national media group that Andy Trotter chairs, to try and make sure that we improve our policing preparedness and response, our equipment and ability to deal with the media in all its new guises for the senior investigating officer, because there are some vulnerabilities there, I think.

  • Is that the skills gap that you refer to in your statement?

  • Senior investigating officers --

  • It might be, I'm not sure.

  • You say you recognised a skills gap within your own force within the lower ranks?

  • I think that we have been -- I think we've been fortunate that we haven't had a major issue in terms of disclosures or leaks or inappropriate contact. I think what Barbara and I are saying is that we are reviewing everything we do, we are keeping a very close eye on what the HMIC and Filkin comes out with today and I think I recognise that, although we've trained BC commanders and senior staff and detectives, inspectors, we maybe have left it a little bit to trust with some of our very low rank officers. So we need to kind of enhance what we do there as well.

  • Ms Brewis, you deal with the future to some degree in your statement too. At question 8, 05220, you say:

    "If any changes were needed, it would be to promote the value of media training and encourage more of them to have the confidence to carry out radio/TV interviews."

    So you would like officers to have more confidence?

  • Yes. Radio and TV, local radio in particular, are really good communications mechanisms, but officers are naturally nervous because it's not something that they're used to doing. I always say to them, "The more you do, the easier it gets", so it's another way of getting our message across. It's putting a human voice to a police message, which has to be a good thing, and again it's all about community confidence and reassurance.

  • At question 30, finally, you highlight -- that's 05227 -- that contact between your team and the media is monitored throughout the day via your media management system, but you state:

    "If necessary, we could enhance this through a system of regular documented checkpoint meetings to ensure we can demonstrate we are maintaining professionalism at all times."

    What would those checkpoint meetings involve?

  • Well, we have -- we maintain a database, which is -- records all media contact. We have regular team meetings. On the agenda we could put an item:

    "What has everybody done this week? What sort of contact have you had with the media? How did you handle it?"

    Just basically a checkpoint to make sure that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing.

  • So it's a topic for discussion so it's easier for you to then keep an eye if somebody were progressing towards an overly close relationship, you might be able to catch it then?

  • Is there anything either of you would like to add before I move on to your review, I think there's something completely different, linked but a different topic.

    So Mr Stoddart, I want to ask you about Operation Ocean Grove; is that right, isn't it?

  • The Commissioner of Police, Mr Hogan-Howe, asked you to conduct an independent review of Operation Weeting. First of all, is it common practice for a chief officer to ask another chief officer to review an investigation?

  • In terms of the field of major crime, in particular homicide, yes, it is. It's acknowledged as good practice. Normally from within the force, so if it's a conventional murder, you would put together a review team within your own -- from within your own force and ensure that structural governance wise, leadership, all the usual issues, that you would undertake that review.

    In a more serious case, you may commission an external chief officer to lead a team. This was slightly unusual in that Mr Hogan-Howe asked me to head up a team into something that was major crime but wasn't a homicide. So it was slightly new ground for the Police Service, but for very, very good reasons.

  • Have you conducted that review?

  • Yes. We started towards the end of August and we put an interim report in on 29 September, and then a full report on 22 December, so we finished it within four months. Between the two reports, we made a number of recommendations.

  • I won't ask you what the recommendations are, but what was your objective?

  • The objective was really to provide some reassurance and objective reassurance to the senior management team of the Metropolitan Police that Operation Weeting and the inquiry was going in the right direction and maximising the opportunities.

  • Could a fair summary of what you were doing be that you were making sure that the investigation itself, Operation Weeting, was going to achieve what the Metropolitan Police Service wanted it to achieve?

  • I think that's a good way of putting it. I think it's about ensuring that the investigation had integrity and was doing absolutely everything that it could within the limits of the various quantities of data and the vast numbers of potential victims that everything was being done within reason.

  • Did you experience cooperation from the Metropolitan Police Service?

  • 100 per cent. They were terrific. Right from the workers on the -- in the major incident room up to the Commissioner of the Met himself. There was nothing held from us and we received really good co-operation. It's not to say that we agreed about everything, because we didn't, but we were able to provide what we felt was good support, good strategic advice, and tactical advice as well to the inquiry team to make sure they got the best out of us.

  • Had you had any concerns, if you had thought that at any level you weren't receiving the co-operation that you thought you ought to receive, what would you have done?

  • I'd have spoken to, in the first instance, the officer in overall command of the investigation, and if it couldn't be resolved there, I'd have taken it higher and there would have been absolutely no difficulty with that because we had a very calendered frequent set of meetings, both with the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner and the Deputy Assistant Commissioner who was leading the investigation.

  • So this was while Mr Godwin was Acting Commissioner?

  • Mr Godwin was Acting Commissioner. It was actually Mr Hogan-Howe, when he was Acting Deputy Commissioner, he commissioned it. Sorry, there's a lot of "commissioner" here, sorry. He asked me to undertake the review, and I reported to Mr Hogan-Howe as the temporary deputy and then when he became the Commissioner, that carried on. It became a little bit mixed because Tim Godwin then had a little bit of a role in that before he left the organisation, but I had absolute support from the Metropolitan Police.

  • Could I just understand, was this simply looking at whether the strategy and the tactics were right, or did it go beyond that, or maybe it's included within it, to understand and provide a second view upon the depth to which Weeting was going?

  • It wasn't the latter, it wasn't a reinvestigation. I would still be there.

  • No, I wasn't suggesting it was a reinvestigation, but as I'm sure you're aware, there have been concerns expressed that the Met, having taken a different line in 2006, in 2009 and 2010, were now defaulting the other way by setting the mesh so fine as to catch a very great deal which was going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort. So I'm just trying to work out whether you were, as it were, not looking at the allegations, but looking at how the mesh had been set.

  • Yes. We did look at that and it was about the process, the staffing and the resourcing, the appropriateness of the lines of investigation and inquiry, the priorities, and the large number of victims, to make sure that we could provide some reassurance to the executive of the force that the inquiry was going far enough, that they were setting the mesh at an appropriate level. I don't want to go -- if I can avoid going into detail, I will, but we did look on occasions right into the very heart of the investigation, and to try and assist in making sure.

  • I absolutely don't want you to go into the detail, and I'm sure you did provide strategic and tactical advice. Is it appropriate for me to ask -- and if you don't think it is, just tell me it isn't appropriate -- whether you were satisfied that the broad thrust of the direction of Weeting was proportionate, balanced and appropriate?

  • Absolutely. It was proportionate, balanced and appropriate.

  • Yes. Those were my three -- so it is appropriate for me to ask and that's the answer?

  • It is appropriate for you to ask and that is the answer. Clearly, there were huge issues in relation to the numbers of potential victims, as you well know, but the matter was being thoroughly and proportionately investigated.

  • I don't think it's appropriate to go further and I certainly won't ask you. Thank you.

  • Those are all my questions, sir.

  • Thank you. Mr Stoddart and Ms Brewis, thank you very much indeed for coming. You commented earlier on in your evidence that Durham was a long way away, so I'm particularly grateful to you.

  • That's a convenient moment, thank you very much. Tomorrow morning, 10 o'clock.

  • (The hearing adjourned until 10 o'clock the following day)