Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson has accused the Metropolitan Police of being “lethargic” in responding to phone hacking allegations.
The MP said he was “naively reassured” by former assistant commissioner John Yates that the original phone hacking investigation had been properly reviewed by police in 2009.
Johnson, giving evidence to the the Leveson Inquiry today, said he believed the Met were involved in an “ongoing process” to inform potential victims of hacking – including politicians John Prescott and Tessa Jowell – after Yates conducted a day-long review of Operation Caryatid.
In 2011 he called the Met “either evasive, dishonest or lethargic” over the investigation and said he stood by the statement. At the time of Yates’ review, Johnson was advised not to refer the investigation to the HMIC and defended his decision to the inquiry.
He said: “If you’re thinking of calling in the HMIC to investigate the police… you would always been relying to a large extent on the advice you’re receiving from the police as to why they are pursing this properly and why there is no reason to call anyone in to independently examine what they doing.
“They would of course be offended by a Home Secretary calling in independent people to look at how they’d approached this because I think it is more than an implied criticism – it’s an explicit criticism.”
He said the “constant refrain” from the force was that hacking did not go any wider than private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman.
Sir Denis O’Connor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, told the inquiry in March the Home Office had “no appetite” for HMIC inspectors to review the investigation, following conversations with two civil servants in the department.
He added: “But my understanding was that, as with a number of other options, discussions ensued with ministers and the home secretary at the time, and there was no appetite for the HMIC being involved. So it never really got off the ground, sadly.”
Johnson criticised the British press for directing “personal spite” at politicians but said he advocated self-regulation. He told Lord Justice Leveson it was important not to drag the press “kicking and screaming to a regime they fiercely disagree with”.
The MP said he had upset former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks by mistakenly calling her “Rachel” during their first meeting.
He told the inquiry he did not realise the close nature of relationships between senior Met officers and journalists, or that former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis had been hired by the force as an advisor.