Times crime editor says police 'closed and defensive' because of inquiry

Posted: March 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm

The Metropolitan Police has become “closed and defensive” as a result of the Leveson Inquiry, a senior journalist has said.

Sean O’Neill, crime editor of the Times, said the inquiry had resulted in a chilling effect on press contact with the police and a clampdown on media relations by the Met.

He told the inquiry: “I do fear that the ability to build a trustworthy relationship with someone is going to be seriously inhibited if you can’t have a coffee or a pint or a bite to eat with them.

“I do think that is a concern, and I think it’s quite important for senior crime journalists to be able to meet with senior police officers and talk openly and freely without necessarily a watchdog or a press officer sitting on your shoulder recording every word or listening in on every word.”

In his written statement O’Neill said there is “virtually no social contact with officers” in the current climate. He said he would usually buy officers coffee, pints of beer, lunches and evening meals, often in the company of other crime reporters. Hospitality records showed a number of dinners with former assistant commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates, and force’s head of press Dick Fedorcio.

He said: “The last time I met an officer we met a very, very long way from Scotland Yard because he was so nervous abut meeting me and that anyone would see him, and he’s a perfectly honourable, experienced police officer.”

O’Neill called the Filkin report, examining police relationships, patronising and “ultimately dangerous for the future accountability of the police”.

He said the report had created a “climate of fear” preventing officers from speaking freely to the press, and said it was insulting to female crime reporters.

He added: “[The report implies] they are just a bunch of women in short skirts out flirting with people.”

The crime editor defended the Times’s hiring of Hayman as a commentator, saying he recommended him to editor James Harding. Hayman was paid £10,000 a year for his column.

He said: “Frankly I now wish I’d let the Daily Telegraph sign him up. It would have been better for him, and for us.”

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