Leveson opens door for barrister to argue in favour of Motorman files disclosure

Lord Justice Leveson has recognised a request from the Hacked Off campaign for the Operation Motorman database to be published.

The judge said David Sherborne, barrister for the core participant victims, was welcome to formally submit the request if he thought it would highlight the culture and practice of the press rather than “who did what to whom”.

He added: “If Mr Sherborne wishes to argue such a step is appropriate…he is at liberty to do so.”

This morning Hacked Off called for the files, which name journalists who commissioned thousands of actions which they must or should have known were, on the face of it, illegal, from private investigator Steve Whittamore, to be published. The campaign had previously asked the inquiry and the Information Commissioner’s Office to redact and publish the files but was refused.

In his opening remarks, Lord Justice Leveson told the inquiry he mind “remains open to all options” following an announcement by Lord Hunt that the Press Complaints Commission is to be shut down and reincarnated before the inquiry has finished.

He added: “I am grateful to him and Lord Black for keeping the inquiry team informed but it is important that… should not be taken as an endorsement or agreement.”

He also expressed concern over the leaking of witness statements to the press, before they have been made publicly available on the inquiry website, and said he will require core participants to sign a declaration of confidentiality.

The inquiry heard from Cressida Dick, an assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, who added to evidence given by other senior officers last week. She said the leaking of information to the press from police officers was not an “endemic problem”.

She added: “I genuinely do not believe this is a culture or anything other than isolated individuals.”

The assistant commissioner was questioned over John Yates’ handling of the review into the 2006 Met phone hacking investigation, and his relationship with Neil Wallis, then deputy editor of the News of the World.

She told the inquiry: “If I had been asked to do this piece of work and I knew somebody as well as it now appears [Yates knew Wallis]… do I have any conflict and if you do think you have any conflict you have to discuss that with the boss, and that’s what I would have done.”

She added: “I was completely and totally unaware of that relationship at the time. I had never heard of Mr Wallis until early 2011.”

Lord Justice Leveson called the outcome of the conflict “disastrous” and said it had been suggested Yates had dismissed the case as a result of his friendship with Wallis. Dick revealed she could have taken charge of the review, but felt Yates had the relevant experience to deal with it. She said a 2009 Guardian article, which contained fresh allegations about hacking at the News of the World and prompted the review, was something the Met “couldn’t ignore and definitely needed to have a look at”. After a single day, Yates publicly announced that further investigation was not necessary.

Dick was also questioned over the Met’s relationship with the now-defunct Metropolitan Police Authority, and said she had laid down clear boundaries with Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London and then chairman of the organisation.

She claimed Malthouse had told her not to put too many resources into the phone hacking investigation, and said she had reminded him of her operational independence.

She added: “I felt I wanted to put down a marker, mainly because I didn’t want to compromise him… In such a charged investigation that would have compromised him and us in our investigation.”

Dick described “finger-pointing” between the Met and the MPA after sensitive information on police investigations was leaked to the press on several occasions, after it was made available to the MPA.

Asked about her contact with the media, Dick said she would talk to journalists in the street and occasionally during social events but would not release information except through the Met press office. She admitted there was a perception that some police officers were too close to the media.

She said: “Some of the contact has led to the perception. I can’t tell if it has been overly close, whether it has been wrong or right.”

She told the inquiry she briefed crime reporters, usually members of the Crime Reporters Association, but with press officers present and a record taken of the meetings.

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jan frankreply
March 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm

More than ever, this shows that instead of some or other commission to regulate newspaper owners, there should be a professional body to regulate the behaviour of journalists. Such a body might well have to defend the journalist who wants to keep his licence against the pressure of the newspaper owner who wants spectacular results, but I think this stands a greater chance than having yet another voluntary newspaper owner’s panel.

Refereereply
March 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm

When Associated Newspapers lost its case to prevent the granting of anonymity back in January it must have realised that the day of judgement could soon bear down its own methods of evidence gathering. By turns censorious, priggish and, yes, thuggish in tone, the Daily Mail is apparently at the top of Whittamore’s greatest hits list. If Leveson were to allow even a heavily redacted version of the findings of Operation Motorman to be published there may be no hiding place for much of the British press.
Maybe the most positive outcome will be the shelving of Lord “blank canvass” Hunt’s rush to establish an unregulated successor to the PCC before the Leveson inquiry publishes its findings.

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