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

  • MR DEREK BARNETT (sworn).

  • Could you tell the Inquiry, please, your full name?

  • Yes, I'm Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett.

  • And you are presently the president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales; is that right?

  • You provided the Inquiry with a witness statement. Are the contents of the witness statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief?

  • You may have seen or heard what I said to the Federation representative yesterday. I'm very grateful to you for preparing this statement. I appreciate that, of course, many of the responsibilities which are the subject of the Inquiry would fall to the ACPO ranking officers but I was keen that other ranks should have the opportunity of providing such feedback or information as they could. So I'm grateful to you for doing that.

    Are you full-time within your association or are you also -- do you also have operational police duties?

  • No, I am a serving chief superintendent, but full-time seconded to the role of president of the Association.

  • It's for a three-year term of office.

  • Chief superintendent, you tell us about your career at paragraph 1.3. You joined the Cheshire Constabulary in 1978 and you've served in a number of different capacities in that constabulary and in a number of different ranks until your election as vice president of the PSAEW in March 2007; is that right?

  • And you were elected president in 2010?

  • If we could now look a little bit at the Association itself. Is it right that it is recognised in the Police Act?

  • Yes, it is. Following the police strike of 1919, the Police Federation was formed, but that represented officers only up to the rank of chief inspector, and it was recognised in 1920 that there was a gap, and the government of the day allowed superintending ranks to meet once a year, which evolved into several meetings a year. The OGSE(?) committee in 1952 formally established the Association, which I think was then formalised in the Police Act of 1964.

  • The membership is comprised of those who hold the ranks of superintendent and chief superintendent, and rather like the Federation, you automatically become a member if you are of the appropriate rank, but there's an option to pay a subscription and to benefit from additional services for representation and legal advice; is that right?

  • You tell us that there are 268 chief superintendents and 1,170 superintendents, a total of 1,438 members. What proportion of the overall membership are subscribing members?

  • I think statistically 100 per cent. There are a handful, I think less than double figures, that choose not to.

  • Your objectives as an organisation are, first of all, to negotiate on matters of pay and conditions and to provide support and advice to your members. But perhaps of particular interest to this Inquiry -- and I'm looking now at the second and third bullet points of paragraph 2.2 -- are to lead and develop the Police Service to improve standards of policing and to actively contribute to help shape future policing policy and practice at the national and strategic levels.

    Does it follow that you have a particular interest in the outcome of the O'Connor and Filkin reports, and in due course in the recommendations that this Inquiry will make?

  • Can we now look at one or two specific topics and see what the Association's position is on them. First of all, the ACPO Communication Advisory Group guidance on handling the media. You tell us that, like other witnesses, the Association has identified a gap in the guidance, in that it doesn't say very much about the ethical aspects and conduct issues arising when dealing with the media. Is that right?

  • Yes, I think so. That's correct, yes.

  • But you go on to identify another feature of the guidance. You describe the current guidance as having a low visibility. Could you, please, expand upon that and tell us how that manifests itself in practice?

  • Okay. I think it was important in preparing the evidence that we speak to our members, and the feedback from them was that a number of them were aware of the guidance but that it was primarily aimed at press office professionals rather than operational police officers, and those that had seen it thought it was a useful guide but really didn't have a wide audience within our membership, and hence the suggestion of low visibility.

  • So what does the Association suggest might be done about that?

  • We are happy to work along with The Association of Chief Police Officers to revise the guidance, and also, once that has been revised, to use our network and make sure that every single superintendent and chief superintendent gets an electronic copy of the new guidance.

  • So in other words, a much wider dissemination than has been the case to date?

  • And as well as disseminating it, is there anything that the Association can do to ensure that it is read, digested and understood?

  • I think so. I think the structures we have in place would make that the case, that people would receive it and would use it.

  • Substantively you mention, at paragraph 25.2 of your statement, page 13, that suggested changes include greater clarity about relationships and off-the-record briefings, and guidance about generic public order, harassment by paparazzi and traffic offences relating to media activity. These are the sorts of things that you think that those dealing with the media ought to have in mind as well as the general communication message?

  • Yes, I do. I think it would be very useful.

  • You also -- I'm flicking back now to page 4 and paragraph 6.4 -- advocate an unequivocal statement in future guidance about the acceptance of payment for information being wrong, criminal and a disciplinary offence?

  • I think that should be explicit.

  • Is that because you think there is a problem with the level of understanding of that at the present or is it because you think it's a message that just simply needs to be continually reinforced?

  • I think it's just a core element of policing, and when a police officer becomes a sworn officer, they take an oath of attestation, and they also take the Police Service statement of common purpose and values, and again, that's very explicit in there about the role of integrity and impartiality.

  • You tell us that one of the circumstances in which the Association will help a subscribing member is if he or she is libelled and it's not possible to sort out the issue locally. Would that protection extend to helping a member whose privacy had been invaded?

  • Yes, it would. In the course of their duties, that is.

  • Can you help us with whether or not the Association has, in your recollection, ever had to provide such assistance to a member who has been the subject of adverse comment by the media?

  • Yes, we have. We receive, on a regular but not frequent basis, members who will report that they've had unfavourable reporting in the media, and sometimes would suggest that that's been inaccurate or libellous, and they would seek our support in doing that. We have a process whereby we would seek legal opinion to see whether that is the case, and if the legal opinion supported that, we would assist the member in taking legal action. That hasn't happened, to my knowledge, on more than two occasions in the last six years.

  • If I move now to the question of training, as I understand your statement, you are suggesting that there is room to improve training about the broader relationship with the press and ethical concerns arising from it, very much echoing --

  • -- the criticism you make about the current guidance. Is that a proper understanding of the Association's position?

  • It is. Throughout a police career, at various ranks and various specialisms, you will have training in relation to dealing with the media. That tends to be, I would call, on a sort of process level or a mechanical level, what to do and what you don't do. It is less about the ethics and some of the issues I think that have been covered by this Inquiry, which I do think is a gap.

  • In terms of how that gap is filled in practice, do you think that it's something which ought to be done locally or is there room for national guidance and national standards?

  • I think there is room for national guidance and standards, but I would add the caveat that training is not the whole answer to this. It is a question, I think, particularly with the new police professional body that will be in place in November this year, of making integrity and ethics core in all police training, and particularly in the early parts of a police officer's career.

  • If we move now to the present position, a number of witnesses -- and you are one of them -- have talked about the impact of the current scrutiny of relations between the police and the media. You deal with it on page 8 of your witness statement, at paragraph 13.7, and you describe a heightened sensitivity in dealings with the media at the moment. You say that many -- I think here are you referring to many police workers in general or are you referring only to your members?

  • I think it's something that is general to the service.

  • You say:

    "Many are sticking to the facts and some are seeking to avoid contact altogether."

    Now, is that a matter of real concern to you?

  • I think what you're probably seeing is, quite understandably, a sense of caution in people at the moment, and I sense that the outcome of this particular Inquiry will be a watershed in the way that the police and media deal with their relationships, and I think in that sort of interim period, people are slightly cautious as to what they may or may not do, which I think is leading to this perhaps reticence to speak on occasions.

  • Is part of the solution going to be giving clear guidance about what police workers can and cannot say to the media?

  • Yes, I think that will be part of the answer, yes.

  • And providing a level of training and support which will give them the confidence to know what is right and what is wrong when dealing with the media?

  • Yes. I think that is part of the answer, but I think a greater part of the answer may be in the change of culture, perhaps, and understanding of some of those key issues of integrity and ethics, bringing those to the fore, when people are dealing with certainly the media.

  • In terms of whether or not contact is desirable, are you of the school that considers that it is important for the police to get its message across to the media and for the media to be able to hear from police as to what's going on?

  • I think it's very, very important for a number of reasons, particularly in an operational sense and public confidence and reassurance, but I also think in terms of holding the police to account, it is good to have a strong and active press.

  • Can we move now to off-the-record communications, which you deal with in paragraph 15 on page 8 and the top of page 9 of your statement.

    The point that you in particular make is the need to distinguish between an off-the-record conversation and what you describe as a "managed confidential briefing". Do you there mean by "off the record" a conversation which can be printed but without attribution?

  • I think it's a difficult distinction. I think the term "off-the-record briefing" is probably unhelpful, because it almost gives a sense that somehow there's an element of secrecy about it. Really, what it is, I think, is really a way of describing a routine conversation between a police officer and a journalist that ought to be the subject of note or record, not necessarily to record it verbatim but to record the fact that it's taken place, where and when and who between, and the issues that are covered. But I think the term "off-the-record briefing" is one that should be consigned to perhaps the dustbin.

  • Are you in a position to suggest a replacement or would you like to just stop at saying that the term "off the record" should fall out of official usage?

  • I think the term "confidential briefing" describes it very adequately.

  • Moving to the question of bribery, you support the recommendation made by Sir Denis O'Connor that forces should institute robust systems to ensure risks arising from relationships and information disclosure, gratuities and hospitality should be monitored and managed. So it follows that you think there more that can be done to reduce the risk of problems. Do you have anything specific in mind at the moment or are you going to approach the consultation which will, in due course, take place with an open mind?

  • We will approach that with an open mind.

  • On the question of leaks, at paragraph 17 of your witness statement, you suggest that as far as you're aware, you think the problem is more one of careless disclosure or the thoughtless use of associate networks than it is of a systematic and endemic problems. If that is right, what is the solution, in your point of view, to minimise the risk of leaks in future?

  • I think certainly, again, coming back to the issue of awareness, and -- I think it is occasionally easy for police officers to be asked a question by a member of the public or ostensibly a member of the public at a crime screen, for example, or a public order incident, and unwittingly give information which they believe to be accurate and correct but isn't perhaps in the context of the overall operation or the overall investigation. So I think there is an issue about awareness to officers of all rank.

    But I also think I would echo what previous witnesses have said, that in any organisation it is likely to occur on occasions that people will leak information deliberately.

  • In terms of dealing with the careless disclosure, do we come back to matters of training and perhaps, above all, culture?

  • Yes, and that should start as soon as a police officer becomes a constable.

  • In terms of trying to work out how big a problem leaks are from the police, one of the things you touch on in your statement is a use of the term "police sources", which may be a term used to disguise all sorts of ultimate sources for information. What's your view about the future use of the phrase "police sources"?

  • I think -- it's a term that's used by journalists quite often, perhaps as shorthand. It also probably reads well in the copy as well, but my experience is that police sources are referred to on occasions when they may not be police sources but it is convenient to say that they are.

  • Hospitality. Could I explore with you, please, where the boundaries might properly lie, in the Association's view. You make clear in your witness statement that you don't think that a cup of coffee or even a lunch is inappropriate. Where do you draw the line?

  • I think we have to be careful to have a proportionate response to this, because I think what we have been looking at here are some extreme cases. I would argue that the vast majority of contacts that police officers would have, particularly in my experience, are at a very low level in terms of hospitality, and I think we have to be careful that we don't introduce guidelines that are quite -- that constrain people's normal relationships.

    It is very subjective as to what stage something becomes inappropriate, and my sense is that we should actually leave that to people's common sense and judgment and their professionalism, but based on a very clear code of ethics and guiding principles. I think that is the right way to hold people to account.

  • Is there a difficulty that if your --

  • So you wouldn't have any sort of limit at all?

  • I think it's difficult, sir. If, for example, you put a limit of £40, £50 or whatever, at what stage does £39 become acceptable, £41 doesn't? I think it creates almost a --

  • You might not do it in money terms at all. You might do it by way of description.

  • Which I think almost brings you to the subjectivity rather than a clear defining line in terms of value or level of hospitality or what level of hospitality is appropriate or not. I just have a sense that if that -- we are -- part of what the Home Secretary is trying to do is to create policing more of a profession, and I think it's important that if we are to do that, we allow people professional discretion but hold people to account for the hospitality that they have and make sure the hospitality they do have is open and transparent.

  • Isn't there a difficulty that if insufficient guidance is given, then the uncertainty which a lot of witnesses, including yourself, are describing as impairing the flow of information between the police and the media -- that state of uncertainty may persist, mightn't it?

  • It is, and it's for that reason that we have offered to work with our colleagues in the Association of Chief Police Officers in the guidance that they are drawing up certainly at the moment.

  • Are you accepting that in principle it needs to be sufficiently clear that people know where they stand, even if it may not be dotting every "I" and crossing every "T" as to precisely how much may or may not be spent on a specific occasion?

  • I understand that you've been thinking about the concept of public interest in terms of the flow of information between the police and the media. Could you help us with your current thoughts on that topic, please?

  • These are some discussions that we had with our members as part of the preparation for the hearing, and a view that we came to -- which is certainly not meant to be definitive but it gave us some sort of clarity of thought -- is information which, on the balance of probabilities, is considered to be better for the public good, that is disclosed or published, rather than kept secret. This would include information in relation to conduct that is corrupt, illegal, unethical or places an individual or the general public at risk of harm.

  • Obviously with questions of public harm there's an immediate need for information to be made public. In terms of internal corruption, if somebody finds out about some wrongdoing internally, is it your view that that person should try, first of all, to deal with it internally through the chain of command, or should they go straight to the media?

  • One would hope -- there are a number of courses available to officers and staff. One is, as you've described, through the chain of command. There are, in most police forces, to my knowledge, a confidential reporting line as well, and you would hope that that would cover most eventualities. Perhaps in extreme circumstances there may be an option to go outside of that, but I think there is a very clear principle that in those circumstances it can never be right to accept payment for doing so.

  • Indeed. So does it come to this: it's only if there's public interest knowledge which is not being dealt with by the organisation, and as a last resort, that it's right to go outside? Is that right?

  • Press offices. You tell us -- I'm now looking at page 11, paragraph 20 -- that in your view the press office has become a vital component for modern policing. You explain why at paragraph 20.1. Can I ask you this: do you think that it is the solution to communication between the police and the media, or is it only a part of the solution?

  • It can only be a part of the solution, in my view.

  • So you envisage a continuing flow of information between journalists who are directly contacting police officers?

  • Yes, because I think it is important to remember that the vast majority of contacts between the police and the media are at very much a local level, whether it be a borough level or town and village level, and it is easy sometimes to get drawn into believing that all contact is at a national level.

  • Is that one of the reasons why it's so important that standards and guidance are disseminated widely?

  • You explain the Association's support for Sir Denis O'Connor's recommendations and also for Elizabeth Filkin's recommendations, and also the desire of the Association to play a part in their implementation. Could you help us with how you see that happening in practice?

  • Yes. We are actively engaged with our colleagues in The Association of Chief Police Officers, and it is something that we will be keen to contribute to. We have also had discussions with Sir Denis' department as well. The Filkin -- Elizabeth Filkin's report is very much a Metropolitan Police matter, although I think the principles can apply outside.

  • Thank you very much. Those were all my questions.

  • Chief superintendent, thank you very much indeed.

  • Sir, the next witness is Dr Mawby.