A former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has told the Leveson Inquiry he would have been “ruthless” in pursuing phone hacking claims.
Lord Stevens, commissioner from 2000 to 2005, was pressed by inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC on how he would have responded to the allegations printed in the Guardian in 2009. Stevens said he would have gone where the investigation took him.
He added: “I’d have gone on and done it. That’s what police officers are paid to do, to enforce the law… I would like to have thought the issues that the Guardian raised I would have picked up as commissioner. I think I would have been quite ruthless in pursuing it.”
Stevens was questioned over his relationship with Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the News of the World, calling it “totally professional”.
The former commissioner’s autobiography was serialised in the paper, and led to him writing several articles over a two year period in a column called “The Chief”, edited by Wallis. He was paid £5,000 for seven articles in the first year before his fee was upped £7,000 for the second. Stevens said he lost most of the money after the Northern Rock bank collapsed.
He told the inquiry he terminated the contract following the convictions of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, for hacking voicemails of the royal household, in 2007. He said he heard further information about “unethical behaviour” relating to News of the World headlines.
He added: “I would never have written the articles if I had known what I know now.”
Steven’s hospitality register had not been recovered from Met records but his diary, made available to the inquiry, showed frequent meetings with editors and journalists with national newspapers between 2000 and 2003. Stevens said he had been determined not to favour any newspaper group.
He was questioned over three lunches with Rebekah Brooks, then Wade, and former husband Ross Kemp at the Ivy in 2002. Stevens said they had been meetings regarding his charity, and that separate meals with Wallis and their wives was in regard to the same charity.
He added: “Ross Kemp very kindly agreed to front an evening in which we were going to get charitable donations. My wife was at two of these and on one of those occasions I personally paid at the Ivy.”
The diary also showed several meetings with editors including Paul Dacre and Max Hastings. He said other meetings with Rebekah Brooks related to Sarah’s Law, a campaign run by the Sun following the murder of Sarah Payne.
Stevens was asked about his media training policy, which advises officers to be honest and “never tell lies to the press”. He said off-the-record briefings can be dangerous if police officers are giving their opinion to the media, rather than evidence-based information.
The inquiry also heard from Lord Condon, commissioner from 1993 to 2000, who said his professional relationship with the media was a significant part of his role and would at times completely dominate his life.
He said: “For every waking minute I was on duty, that relationship with the media would be the single thing that would be dominating my life. Major terrorism event in London, there would be an insatiable demand for the commissioner of the day to be saying things about it, to be reassuring the public, to be giving information.”
He added: “Rightly or wrongly, the commissioner is seen as the voice of the police force.”
In his written statement, Condon described hospitality as “the start of a grooming process that can lead to inappropriate or unethical behaviour”. He told the inquiry he had preferred to meet journalists and editors on police premises, but would occasionally agree to visit media offices or restaurants.
He said he remembered a meal with Stuart Higgins, then editor of the Sun, and had agreed to meet Max Hastings for lunch as he “always moaned about the quality of food at Scotland Yard”.
Condon was responsible for introducing hospitality registers for the Met in 1998 and said it seemed to be “a sensible stepping stone in encouraging good behaviour”.
He added: It seemed sensible to give some pretty clear steer around hospitality, gifts, hospitality registers. Every meeting with the press that involves hospitality should be able to pass what some people have described as the blush test: would you be happy for a local politician, a neighbour, a member of your family [to be present] – does this meeting feel right?”
The former commissioner told the inquiry he declined several offers to write an autobiography or become a media commentator after retiring from the force, as it would have taken him out of his “comfort zone”.
He added: “Having spent my career majoring on integrity, independence, being apolitical, it just seemed I would have to take decisions to be partial or be drawn into favouring one group over another.”
Condon said police corruption in relation to the media was not a matter of concern when he began as commissioner and he had been disappointed by some of the issues leading to the inquiry.
He told Lord Justice Leveson police corruption is cyclical, following a pattern of inquiry, remedial action, relaxation and complacency before the next scandal.
He added: “It’s about human weakness and opportunity and those two are omnipresent.”
Carine Patry Hoskins, junior inquiry counsel, asked Condon about Operation Bumblebee, a police procedure around domestic burglary, during which journalists were invited to be present at police raids. He said the raids had been tightly controlled and media coverage was instrumental in reassuring the public.
Condon disagreed with the evidence of Elizabeth Filkin, from yesterday, saying it would be wrong to overly-restrict meetings between the police and media.