Lord Blair admits different approach to phone hacking ‘could have been taken’

A former commissioner of the Metropolitan police has admitted the Met could have taken a different approach to phone hacking allegations at the News of the World.

Lord Blair, commissioner from 2005 to 2008, said the then deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke took a reasonable decision not to continue with the investigation following the arrests of News of the World journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2006, but that a different approach could have been taken.

He told the Leveson Inquiry he was informed in 2006 his phone number appeared in Mulcaire’s notebook.

He said: “I see the reasonableness of [Clarke’s] decision but it would have been possible to make a different decision which would have to escalate it up to those parts of the organisation who could take a different decision.”

He added: “I didn’t ask the question which now looks so obvious, as to how many other [potential phone hacking victims] there were.”

Blair said he did not understand why then assistant commissioner John Yates “made the decision at the speed that he did” not to reopen the hacking investigation following further allegations printed in the Guardian in 2009.

He added: “From what I can see, that decision was just too quick. Why could you not have gone back with all those allegations and looked further at what the material did actually say?”

Blair told the inquiry he had no recollection of being asked to give authority for the loaning of a police horse to Rebekah Brooks in 2008 and it was “not a big deal”. He said the Met’s head of press Dick Fedorcio, due to give evidence to the inquiry, maintains Blair discussed the matter with Brooks over a lunch on the same day Fedorcio set up a meeting for Brooks to arrange the loan.

He added: “What I understand Mr Fedorcio will say is that he was telephoned by Rebekah Brooks asking about this arrangement… and that then he arranged for her to go down and see the inspector in charge of horses and then have a discussion about it and this actually seems to have happened on the day that I had lunch with her, and what I understand Mr Fedorcio is going to say is that this was discussed at the lunch. I have absolutely no recollection of that.”

Blair told the inquiry he was concerned by evidence given by Brian Paddick, former deputy assistant commissioner, who said Fedorcio had briefed against Blair during his time heading the force.

His diary showed four recorded meetings with Rebekah Brooks: a phone call in 2005, a meeting in 2006, a lunch in 2007 and an exchange after the Sun ran the headline “Blair is doomed”.

A lunch with News International’s Les Hinton in 2006 and a lunch with News of the World editor Colin Myler, deputy editor Neil Wallis and Fedorcio in 2007 were also shown. Blair said he met the Crime Reporters Association once a month and had one-to-one interviews with journalists once every two months.

He added: “I didn’t have any dinners at all with editors or journalists with an exception with one friend who was a friend before I became commissioner, which was entirely social.”

Blair said staff spent too much time worrying about press coverage and felt the Met management board should have less contact with the media, adding too many meetings with journalists were “unrecorded and unnecessary”.

The former commissioner said was recently told it was unlikely senior officers would be arrested under Operation Elveden, investigating payments to the police, and it was inconceivable they would take money from journalists. He said officers leaked information due to the “sheer enjoyment of being in a position to share and divulge confidence”.

Blair named former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, who gave evidence to the inquiry last week, as an officer investigated in 2007 after information about a conspiracy to kidnap and behead a Muslim soldier was leaked to the media. Blair said telephone records showed a “high volume of traffic” on Hayman’s phone to journalists.

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