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

  • MS LYNNE OWENS (sworn).

  • Your full name, please, Ms Owens?

  • Thank you. You've provided us with a witness statement dated 26 January 2012. You've signed it and there's a statement of truth in the standard form. Is this your formal evidence to the Inquiry?

  • The date you signed the statement you were still an Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police, but on 1 February you became the Chief Constable of the Surrey Police; is that so?

  • In terms of your career, you started off with the MPS in August 1989. After moving up the ranks, you transferred to Surrey in December 2002 as a superintendent. You transferred back, however, to the Metropolitan Police in May 2009 as a Deputy Assistant Commissioner, but then in December 2010, you were appointed as Assistant Commissioner, central operations; is that right?

  • It was March 2009, not May 2009.

  • Pardon me, March 2009. And your responsibilities as Assistant Commissioner, those covered matters such as the royal wedding, visit of President Obama and then the response to the London riots; is that right?

  • We're going to cover almost entirely your time with the MPS, not your time at Surrey, with which -- you've only been there, I think, about five weeks. There's only one small matter we may cover.

    Can I ask you, please, about paragraph 8 of your statement, first of all, when you received some advice from the director of public affairs, who of course was Mr Fedorcio; is that correct? He said it would be sensible if you met some journalists so that they could get to know you in advance of any significant event. His suggestion was that this may be in a social setting. What was your response to that piece of advice?

  • I thought that the advice that I should meet some journalists was sensible. I hadn't worked in London for a long while and I didn't have pre-existing relationships. I didn't concur that it should be in a social setting, as I prefer to keep my professional and personal life separate.

  • Do you or did you consider there was any ethical difficulty in meeting with journalists in a social setting or was it more a matter of your own personal style?

  • It's my personal -- my preferred personal approach is to meet them separately.

  • That said, did you have any perception, though, of difficulties which could arise if you meet with anybody, really, in a social setting, if it in fact is part of your work?

  • I think the challenge of a social setting is if you are in that environment and you're drinking alcohol, then there is perhaps an expectation that you will say some things that you wouldn't say in a more formalised setting and I didn't want to take that risk.

  • You say additionally that early in your detective career, a wise and more senior colleague advised you never to give your mobile telephone number to journalists as that prevented contact at inappropriate times in inquiries, and you say you've always followed that advice. So it applies even though as Chief Constable. You haven't handed out your mobile number to journalists or anybody in a similar position; is that so?

  • Can I ask you this: in your time in the MPS, have you received the sort of media training that Lord Stevens referred to?

  • I don't believe I have received media training in London but I have received various levels of media training throughout my career.

  • Apart from matters such as how to comport yourself in front of a television camera, which no doubt has its own challenges, what advice were you given as to how you should approach the media, the print media in particular, what you should say to them and what you shouldn't say to them?

  • The first step in the process is to make the contact through a professional media office, who will, in advance, have clarity for you about what sort of questions are going to be asked. You should answer questions honestly and frankly and accept that other than in off-the-record scenarios, everything you said will be reported.

  • In paragraph 9 of your statement, you make it clear that your approach may be not the same as others, that others have taken a different view. You are keenly aware you haven't previously worked in a senior position in the MPS and had not experienced any of the recent difficult history, whereby the effectiveness of the MPS and its senior leaders was judged through media reporting. Is there also an implied judgment there that you were or perhaps are not in agreement with the more, if I can put it in these terms, expansive social relationships which some of your senior colleagues have enjoyed with the media over the years; is that right?

  • I can only provide commentary on the way that I have approached it, and certainly it's worked from my perspective.

  • But I'd like to know what you mean by this, if you don't mind, Chief Constable:

    "I had not experienced any of the recent difficult history whereby the effectiveness of the MPS and its senior leaders was judged through media reporting."

    First of all, does it follow that you believed that the senior leaders of the Metropolitan Police were being judged through media reporting?

  • Certainly before my arrival in London, I think we saw during Lord Blair's commissionership some commentary on his leadership in the media and I think that did impact on the relationship the Metropolitan Police Service formed with the media.

  • In what way should that -- did that mean that there should be a greater attempt to engage with them or a decision to step back on the basis you're not going to influence them? I'm just trying to understand what was going on and how it changed when you arrived.

  • I think Sir Paul Stephenson gave evidence yesterday about the story becoming about the Commissioner rather than being about the work of the many outstanding officers and staff of the Metropolitan Police Service. So I think there was a sense that we needed to be more proactive in engaging with the media so that they knew about the totality of the work of the officers and staff on the ground, rather than providing commentary based on gossip from within management board.

  • Although that's a leak, isn't it? But if you felt that it was important to, as it were, tell the police story -- and I have no doubt there was and remains a very valid police story -- how did you plan to do that in your new role?

  • I did that in the meetings that are included in my statement, within my office. So I still engaged with the media, but I just didn't do it over lunch or in a social setting.

  • Did you have any difficulty persuading people to come to meet you?

  • I think the journalists did find it slightly strange.

  • Which suggests that -- well, it's obvious, isn't it -- that the culture was that you would meet journalists over a glass of wine, perhaps, or in a more social setting.

  • I'm not sure whether I would say it was culture, but there was an expectation that may happen.

  • I just want to understand, if I can, a little bit more what you're saying in paragraph 9. The recent difficulty you're referring to is maybe the difficulties Lord Blair had -- and we'll probably hear about them tomorrow -- with negative reporting in the press. Was that a function of, in your opinion, a particular media style which he operated -- and if so, one could understand why you would want to cultivate a different style -- or was it a function of something else altogether?

  • I obviously wasn't in the Metropolitan Police Service when Lord Blair was Commissioner, so it's quite difficult for me to comment on the style that he personally had.

  • Okay. The meetings you had, though -- and you refer to them or begin to refer to them in paragraph 10 of your statement, but you give other details elsewhere. In the first meeting, when you were appointed as an Assistant Commissioner, you met with a number of journalists. Can we understand, please, where those meetings took place?

  • I believe they all took place in New Scotland Yard and I think all of them were in my office, but I'm pretty certain they were all in the Yard.

  • So it follows that by definition no hospitality was offered by the journalists to you because of the terrain which you were occupying, and doubtless all they got was a cup of tea or cup of coffee as appropriate?

  • That really sets the scene, does it not, for all the other meetings you had with the press. Were they always at New Scotland Yard or did sometimes you go to newspaper offices?

  • I sometimes had to go to a studio to give an interview -- the Radio 4 studio, the studios at Milbank -- but face-to-face meetings with journalists took place at New Scotland Yard, yes.

  • Is this right: it's not really a question of you never going to a restaurant; you never went to a newspaper office? Is that correct?

  • Not for the print media, no.

  • Yes. For technical reasons, for broadcast media, you had to go to them.

  • Some may say -- and therefore I put it to you gently -- that this is an extremely austere approach. Would you agree with that or would you say, rather: no, it's an entirely appropriate approach?

  • From my perspective, I thought it was an entirely appropriate approach.

  • Because everything is entirely above board. Were all the meetings noted as well, in terms of the fact that they took place rather than necessarily what was said during the course of those meetings?

  • All the meetings were recorded in my diary, yes.

  • Did you ever have off-the-record meetings or were there occasions where a meeting which started on the record went off the record?

  • I did have some off-the-record conversations in relation to specific events, notably around the royal wedding, but generally that was in a CRA environment, Crime Reporters Association environment.

  • Different people use "off the record" in different ways, so to be clear about it, what do you mean by "off the record"?

  • Generally, it was when I was clarifying a fact that wasn't reportable at that time because it would either disrupt a criminal case at court or would be otherwise disruptive to a policing operation, but it was when I was trying to clarify a point or a fact.

  • So would this follow: that in due course, after the relevant event, there would be no objection to publication, and your name being mentioned, but it was to ensure that there would be no publication until the relevant event occurred? Have I correctly understood it?

  • Are these the sort of standards which you were hoping to -- well, obviously they're the sort of standards you're going to apply to yourself as Chief Constable of Surrey, but are they the sort of standards you're hoping that those under you will also be applying?

  • I think the topic is a difficult one, because I do think there has to be different standards for constables who operate on the front line through to those of us who occupy the most senior positions. As an example, in the world of public order, we were trying very hard to encourage officers to explain what they were doing to people they were encountering, including journalists. So I wouldn't want them to have to operate to this level of standards, but the higher you are in an organisation, the more open to scrutiny and accountability you should be, and therefore these are the standards that I would be expecting for senior leaders in Surrey Police.

  • In your interactions with the press, which are fully recorded in your statement, did you ever feel there were occasions when they were trying to get you to say more than you wanted to say?

  • Yes, absolutely. That's -- I think that's a journalist's function, is to try and get the scoop or the slant on a story.

  • The implication is that in your case they would always have failed; is that fair?

  • The job on both sides, maybe.

  • If it's correctly played out, as it were. I'm not going to go through each and every meeting because I don't think there's any need to. I would like, if I may, to address paragraph 37 of your statement. I hope we can do it quite generally. I haven't been given the pages numbers. This is 07224.

    This is a leak issue involving the activities of a crime squad in London, and I understand that although that investigation is outside the reach of Operation Elveden, the investigation is ongoing; is that right?

  • That's correct. There has been one misconduct hearing and there are further to follow.

  • The essence of the allegation, without going into it, is that some material -- we can put it quite generically -- found its way to a particular newspaper?

  • And the suspicion is that someone within the crime squad may have leaked that material?

  • I wouldn't go quite that far. We don't know how it got to be with the newspaper. We didn't know whether it came from the offices, one of the other organisations that may have had access to it or indeed from anywhere else within the Metropolitan Police Service.

  • This is one example out of possibly a few examples of stories in the media which have caused you to question their origin. So is this the implication: that leaks, to your experience, have not been widespread?

  • No, this asked specifically about my experiences in London and there were only a handful of instants where I personally questioned the stories that I saw being reported.

  • So it's limited to your own experience; it's not a general commentary --

  • -- of what may or may not be going on in the Metropolitan Police.

    Can I go back to Surrey Police, when you were there before you went back to London, I think, in 2009. Paragraph 42 of your statement. The policy itself is exhibit LO9, which is page 07209. Do you have that to hand? It's possibly under tab 10 of the bundle which has been prepared for you.

  • This is quite an austere policy. For example, in the second paragraph:

    "Where an unsolicited offer of a personal gift or gratuity is made, the assumption should be that it will be politely declined."

    Meals are later down the page:

    "When offer of a gratuity is made by a member of the public, such as a meal or attendance at a function and it would be in the interests of the force to attend, a divisional commander, departmental head or ACPO will be notified and authority sought to attend. This is to protect staff from any subsequent suggestion of impropriety."

    The gist or purpose of this is to deal with perceptions of impropriety as much as the fact of impropriety; is that right?

  • "Before accepting such an offer, the following should be considered: is it a duty participation? Is it a duty attendance? Is it a charity? Is it plainly for pleasure? In this case, attendance should never be free."

    In other words, you can attend, but you must pay your own way, effectively?

  • Is this policy under revision as a result of the Filkin and O'Connor reports?

  • Yes. As you say, I have been in the force for five weeks. In the context of the Filkin and O'Connor reports, I have asked for it to be reviewed and revisited and I'm expecting a report back to my chief officer group.

  • Is it your preliminary view that this policy is not austere enough, or is it your preliminary view that it may be too rigid?

  • My preliminary view is that generally it's in the right space, but I'm not sure it makes sufficient distinction between front-line staff and senior officers in its current form.

  • Current hospitality guidance -- LO10 is not in fact for some reason on the Lextranet system, but you've set out the relevant paragraphs in paragraphs 48 and 49 of your statement, 07229. It's very similar to the policy we've been looking at.

    I've been asked to ask you this in relation to paragraph 50: in 2002, the Surrey Police media relations office won an award for excellence from the Association of Police Press Relations Officers. For what was that award, can you recall?

  • I didn't know about this award at all until I was constructing this statement and included it for the sake of completeness.

  • The other aspect of Surrey's policy which is relevant is that all pre-arranged meetings with the media are logged on to a database which is called Solcara, and this includes both on-the-record and off-the-record contacts. How valuable is this, in your opinion?

  • One of the questions we're currently asking ourselves is whether that system is capturing everything. I know that one of the things the Inquiry is looking at is the bureaucracy surrounding potential processes that can be put in place and there may be an argument that trying to record everything is too bureaucratic and therefore that leads to things getting missed, which in itself could cause a confidence issue.

  • Another point which might be made is that if an officer has an inappropriate contact with the media, particularly one which is off the record, he or she won't record it anyway, so there's little point in all of this. I mean, what you'll see is the good and not the bad. Is there any validity in that?

  • I think there is a risk that if anybody chose to engage in a corrupt relationship, they wouldn't record it.

  • Yes, but if somebody had a meeting and hadn't recorded it, and it was seen, they'd have no answer. That would be bang to rights, wouldn't it?

  • But the problem is to try and find the right calibration.

  • So in other words, Mr Jay, I'm really saying there may be something in it, because the problem is trying to discern what is appropriate and what's inappropriate. So if you catch somebody doing something which they've not recorded, then the inference that it is inappropriate is pretty strong.

  • I was just bouncing an idea, rather than --

  • No, I'm not criticising you.

  • We've covered your evidence quite shortly, Ms Owens. There's one other point, though, before we conclude. Your reaction, please, to the reports by Elizabeth Filkin and Sir Dennis O'Connor. Could you help us with that, please? First of all, have you had the chance to read those reports?

  • I have had the chance to read them and I contributed to the Filkin report personally.

  • Do you think those reports are, generally speaking, in the right space, to use your term?

  • I think broadly they're in the right space. I think the challenge is in implementation.

  • Possibly in relation to the issue of bureaucracy and overrecording; is that a concern of yours?

  • Yes. I think we have to get the balance right between giving officers on the front line that do a very difficult job the capacity to explain to the public and the media what they're doing, at the same time as making sure, at the top level of the organisation, at senior levels of the organisation, there are some rules and regulations, because it's clear that public confidence has been significantly impacted on by this episode and we need to make sure that doesn't happen again.

  • So what should I be doing?

  • I think that's a tricky question, sir. As this hearing is demonstrating, I think there is a balance that needs to be struck, because it clearly is very important that the media have access to accurate, timely information, because that does inform the public, and therefore it goes to the heart of public confidence and therefore police legitimacy. So I think we need to balance the need to give them accurate and timely information with the need to audit the way in which that is happening, and I think there is a distinction to be drawn between fact and opinion.

  • I take that point. Is there an argument for putting more data out on your own websites? I know that there's a move to publish a lot more data about crime, but is there an argument for putting out much more that would not, in any sense, compromise your operational capabilities -- because you wouldn't really be alerting the villains to what you were doing -- but to make what you're doing that much more open and transparent so that it can be found without the necessity of trying to buy a pint for a young detective?

  • I think we've been trying to do that with freedom of information requests. So as we've been getting volumes of information into the policing or requests into the policing service, we've tried much more to put it on the front foot: this is what our plans are for the event. It's definitely what we plan in the world of public order policing. I think that works for items of policy and strategy. I think where that becomes difficult is for specific policing operations, particularly if there are court case implications.

  • Yes. You couldn't put anything out that prejudiced a prosecution or indeed a civil case that you were involved in, but presumably once a case has concluded, it's possible to be very much more open with the public, which might solve some of the problems. You may have heard me say to Lord Stevens the concern that I have about maximising public confidence in criminal justice in order to encourage participation within the system, because without it we're in real difficulty.

  • Yes. I think that's right. I think it's an issue of balance and how you create confidence in the system by being open post-event. I think one of the challenges that we have is that it's quite difficult to get balance and measured responses within the media. I think the sensational and the exciting are the stories that tend to hit the headlines.

  • What's your view about -- I don't say the inevitability, but the very frequent occurrence that anybody who is in the public eye coming to a police station, there are always people there to record it and photograph it, or at their homes or if they have accidents? That sort of scenario has been common for a very long time.

  • Yes, it has been common for a very long time, but personally I find it abhorrent that any police officer could release those details to the media and I make that position widely known in any of my interactions with my staff. One of the privileges of being a police officer is that we come across people in their lives when they're at their most difficult times, and the fact that people would be prepared to release that data for the sake of -- whether it's for making money or just for gossip reasons is frankly beyond me, and I don't think people who behave like that should be in the Police Service.

  • I think that's an extremely useful point on which to finish. Thank you very much indeed, Chief Constable. Thank you very much for coming and for the work you obviously put into your statement.

  • You've failed me, Mr Jay.

  • All right. It has to happen occasionally. Monday morning, 10 o'clock -- no, tomorrow. I'm ahead of myself. It's only Tuesday. Tomorrow morning, 10 o'clock. Thank you very much.

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