A News of the World journalist filed a crime story from a computer at Scotland Yard, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Dick Fedorcio, who has headed the Metropolitan Police press office since 1997, said he had allowed Lucy Panton, crime reporter at the News of the World, to file a story on disgraced police commander Ali Dizaei from his office computer.
His written statement said: “She was being chased by telephone and/or text by her office to file this story, which they were expecting from her. To help her, and as she was under pressure, I offered to let her type the story, which she did from notes that she arrived with, in an e-mail on the standalone computer in my office. She accepted and wrote the story and sent it. I was present in the office throughout this time, and therefore got advance sight of a story about an MPS officer.”
Fedorcio said the computer was not connected to the MPS computer system and Panton would not have had access to police files or documents, but admitted it may have been an error in judgment to allow her to use the computer and his email address.
The inquiry was shown the email from Panton to the news desk containing her copy, which had been forwarded from Fedorcio’s email account. The journalist asked the news team, including Ian Edmondson, to delete Fedorcio’s details from the email chain as “would not be helpful 2 him for people 2 know I was using his office” [sic].
The statement also revealed the Directorate of Public Affairs was sent a Christmas hamper by then News of the World editor Andy Coulson in 2003, as a “thank you” for the efforts of the team in dealing with the paper.
When questioned on this by Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, Fedorcio said he often dealt with requests from the paper on a Saturday afternoon, including an article on the alleged Victoria Beckham kidnap plot, which had been shrouded in secrecy by journalists to keep it away from competitors.
Fedorcio contradicted evidence given by former commissioner Lord Stevens earlier this month on the surveillance of DCS David Cook and his wife, former police officer Jacqui Hames by the News of the World in 2002, which Stevens said he had not been informed of. Hames told the inquiry she believed the scrutiny was due to her husband’s involvement in an inquiry into the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan.
In his statement Fedorcio claims he informed Stevens that a meeting had been arranged between Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, Commander Andy Baker and Cook to explain why the couple had been put under surveillance by the paper. The inquiry has been told Wade said journalists suspected Cook and Hames to be having an affair, a fact disputed by Hames as the couple had been married for several years. Fedorcio said he could not remember the exact details of the meeting, but Wade may have alleged Cook was having an affair with someone else.
He added: “I took Rebekah Wade to the reception where I left her with the Commissioner having told him that I thought the meeting had been useful.”
Ferdocio said Cook and Baker told Wade one of her journalists was being paid by Southern Investigations, Morgan’s company, for consultancy work.
He added: “[She was] non-plussed…I did not see a big reaction one way or another.”
Fedorcio’s written statement referred to the relationship between former assistant commissioner John Yates and Neil Wallis, deputy editor of News of the World. Fedorcio said he was aware the two had a professional relationship but “did not understand them to have significant contact outside of work”. In his evidence to the inquiry Yates repeatedly referred to Wallis as a close personal friend.
Ferdorcio was questioned over his own relationship with Wallis, after appointing his company, Chamy Media, to work with the press office. Wallis offered assistant to Fedorcio after his deputy took an extended leave of absence due to illness. He told the inquiry he had to put forward three applicants for the position, and chose candidates from the Bell Pottinger and Hannover public relations companies.
Jay QC suggested the other two candidates had been chosen because Fedorcio wanted Wallis in the postion, and knew the other companies would charge more, which Fedorcio denied.
Lord Justice Leveson added: “There are obviously other people who are perhaps more comparable to Chamy Media than Bell Pottinger… Let’s be blunt about it. This is set up to get a result.”
Fedorcio admitted he may not have taken on Wallis’s firm if he had been aware of the extent of his friendship with Yates.
Fedorcio told the inquiry he kept his work and private life separate, despite having several one-on-one meetings with members of the press.
He said: “I have no personal contact with any of the journalists I have dealt with in my time with the Metropolitan Police.”
Jay QC pointed out a majority of Fedorcio’s recorded meetings with the press from 2003 to 2008 were with News of the World.
He was also questioned over the lending of a Metropolitan Police horse to Rebekeh Brooks, after it was pointed out his son carried out work experience at the Sun while he was arranging the lending process.
Sara Cheesley, senior press officer at the Met, also gave evidence to the inquiry this morning. She said she had been “surprised” by the contract between Chamy Media and the Met and only became aware of it in last year. She said Yates told her that he knew Wallis, but was told the pair met a couple of times a year.
When asked by Lord Justice Leveson whether she believed socialising with journalists was necessary for senior officers, Cheesley said she could not say either way, and later refused to answer the question.