The investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence could have been jeopardised by Daily Mail reporting, a senior police officer has claimed at Leveson Inquiry.
DCI Clive Driscoll, the senior investigation officer on Operation Fishpool, a 2006 review of the investigation, said leaks reported by the Mail had a negative impact on the progress of the case. He told the inquiry the source of the leaks was never discovered and “everyone became a suspect”.
He said in a written statement: “Many of the leaked stories were published by the Daily Mail and my recollection is that Stephen Wright was usually the author. I do not believe that Mr Wright would have deliberately done anything to undermine the investigation.”
“I found it odd that the Daily Mail were publishing many of the leaks, as they had always campaigned for the suspects to be prosecuted and had been supportive of the family’s fight for justice. I cannot explain why this was the case, but felt that the newspaper was being used.”
Driscoll told the inquiry: “It had a negative effect on the investigation, it had a negative effect on my team… I don’t know who leaked this, so therefore everyone becomes a suspect.”
He praised the paper for pursuing the story, but said an article published shortly after a meeting between officers, the Lawrence family and their lawyers in 2007 had undermined the police relationship with the murdered teenager’s family.
He added: “This newspaper article was particularly damaging as it undermined our relationship with the family. Every time a story leaked to the press I had to repair relations. It also risked the integrity of the investigation and trust of other witnesses.”
“The upset that was caused was evidence. Really it reinforced their belief that it was corruption that played a part in her having to wait 18 years in order to get partial justice.”
Driscoll said a senior member of the Met was suspected of briefing and making allegations outside of the official line, but did not confirm the name or that the individual had been the source of the leaks. The individual is currently under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Operation Elveden, the Met investigation into alleged payments to police by members of the press.
He said the Mail had agreed not to publish certain articles relating to the investigation after contact from the police, and thanked them, saying “if they had it would have had a serious consequence on the investigation we were planning”.
The inquiry also heard from the Sun’s crime editor Mike Sullivan, who was questioned over his relationship with senior Met figures, including former assistant commissioner John Yates and director of public affairs Dick Fedorcio.
He said he had a “reasonably close working relationship” with Fedorcio that had developed over several years. Robert Jay QC, inquiry counsel, said records showed the pair had met five times between 2004 and 2008. Sullivan said the meetings were to keep him in the loop of police information.
He said: “Over a period of time you get to know someone well and therefore you would normally expect to perhaps have more contact with that person, not just Dick but with plenty of others, rather than someone arriving [like if] another newspaper has appointed a crime reporter.”
“I would regard myself as part of a group of long-serving crime reporters, who would have been in a circle of trusted journalists for Mr Fedorcio to talk to.”
Sullivan says he has met former senior Met police officers John Yates and Andy Hayman on social occasions, but had not been close to any other assistant commissioner. He said evidence heard by the inquiry from former assistant commissioner Bob Quick was wrong. Quick said he had seen Sullivan, Sun crime reporter Lucy Panton and Stephen Wright of the Mail having drinks with Sir Paul Stephenson and Yates, and implied it was indicative of a general culture between some senior officers and journalists. Sullivan referred to it as a one-off occasion.
He further contradicted Quick, saying he was not aware of the Sun ever having used Southern Investigations, the company run by murder victim Daniel Morgan and Jonathan Rees, as alleged by the former officer in his written statement.
He told the inquiry he had been informed by a reliable source that the Met monitored stories written by journalists and graded them on how favourable they were to the force. Neil Garnham QC, representing the Met, question Sullivan over his allegations.
Sullivan told Jay: “I was reliably informed three to four, perhaps five, years ago that there was such a system… I was told that that system existed and I quite believe it.”