The Home Secretary has revealed she was concerned about a link between the Metropolitan Police and News of the World.
Theresa May MP told the inquiry she wrote to Scotland Yard on July 14, 2011 – after the Milly Dowler revelations – about a contract between the Met Police and Neil Wallis’ PR firm Chamy Media. The former News of the World deputy editor had been hired by the Met’s head of press Dick Fedorcio as a PR consultant in 2009.
Fedorcio resigned from his job in March this year after learning he would face disciplinary proceedings over awarding the contract to Wallis’ firm.
The Home Secretary was given a briefing note on July 18, 2011, to help answer potential difficult questions in the House of Commons, including a response to whether a link could be drawn between Wallis’ relationship with the Met and the hiring of Andy Coulson as David Cameron’s director of communications. Coulson, former News of the World editor, resigned from Number 10 in January 2011 over the phone hacking scandal.
Wallis told the inquiry last month he advised Sir Paul Stephenson, Met commissioner from 2009 to 2011, on how to improve his chances of being made commissioner and was not hesitant about sharing his opinions with the officer.
Stephenson denied a close friendship with Wallis and told the inquiry the former journalist was an acquaintance. The former commissioner resigned in July 2011 after the relationship was questioned.
May said she was surprised by the resignation – following the revelation the commissioner had stayed free of charge in a Champneys spa promoted by Wallis – but had not tried to dissuade Stephenson.
She said: “I expressed surprise because I’d already had a conversation that weekend with Sir Paul when he’d spoken to me about the all that appeared in the newspaper about his day at Champneys, and he’d given no hint in that conversation at a possible resignation, therefore when he rang me later that weekend to say that he had resigned, obviously that was a surprising turn of events.
“I feel that he led the Met Police well when he was commissioner, and the organisation at the end of it was stronger for his leadership, and it was in that context that I expressed regret that matters had come to this point.”
May said she had not been briefed on phone hacking before an article on the scandal was published by the New York Times in September 2010.
May told the inquiry several times the police were responsible for the phone hacking investigations rather than the Home Office, and at the time she decided to let them continue. She was challenged by Lord Justice Leveson, who called the Hacked Off campaign a “prominent arguer” for the inquiry raising a series of issues about the hacking allegations and press practices.
May maintained it was for the police to consider fresh evidence after Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, suggested a body of evidence worth investigations emerged towards the end of 2010.
She said: “I think it’s important that the police are able to complete their investigations and then judgments may be made in relation to a particular case, so it was right for them to do their investigation.
“This is a question of how the police were handling the case. It was a question about whether new evidence had been available, that there was a specific question as to whether individuals had been informed, who were on the list, as to whether their phone might or might not have been hacked.”
She said she was reassured by Tim Godwin, acting Metropolitan Police commissioner, that the phone-hacking inquiry was “under control” in January 2011.
The Home Secretary was also asked whether she had been put under any pressure by the Sun to order a review of the Madeleine McCann case. Her reply was that work in the Home Office was “coming to fruition around this time anyway”. Both Rebekah Brooks and Sun editor Dominic Mohan had called May at the time, on May 11, 2011.
The inquiry was shown, during her evidence, new guidance on media and police relationships drafted by Association of Chief Police Officers, which May said were important in keeping advice on contact consistent across all forces.
She added: “I think it’s trying to apply a framework of common sense to the relationships that the police should be having with the media. It is the case that the police in various circumstances do need to speak to the media and the media will be speaking to the police.
“I think what this does is brings a clear framework in for offences so that they understand the way in which those meetings or discussion can take place and that everything is recorded.”