Officer who headed Operation Weeting independent review had ‘absolute support from Met Police’

The officer who headed an independent police review of the phone hacking investigation has said he had “absolute support” from the Metropolitan Police.

Chief Constable Jonathan Stoddart of Durham Police told the inquiry he was asked to carry out an independent review of Operation Weeting, the police investigation into phone hacking, by Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe.

He said: “It was about the process, the staffing and the resourcing, the appropriateness of the lines of investigation and inquiry, the priorities and the large number of victims, to make sure that we could provide some reassurance to the executives of the force that the inquiry was going far enough.

“Clearly there were huge issues in relation to the number of potential victims, as you well know, but the matter was being thoroughly and proportionality investigated.”

Stoddart provided an interim report last September, and a final version in December but was unable to elaborate on the details.

Stoddart appeared with colleague Barbara Brewis, media and marketing manager at Durham, who said the concerns of the inquiry seemed “a little bit remote” from her force.

She said: “It’s business as usual. We hope we’ve always operated with integrity and from and ethical standpoint, so we will continues to do that.”

Stoddart added: “We operate on a high trust basis with out staff and a high trust basis with the local written media… I don’t want breaches and any kind of allegations being made, but similarly I don’t want to inhibit the democratic principles of free speech.”

The chief constable said he had been disappointed by evidence given to the inquiry by other senior officers.

He said: “I have very grave concerns about overfamiliarity with police officers from each and every rank. I would hope that we can establish something from this what would go some way eliminating that. I think the culture, just by this very challenge, will change throughout the service.”

Amanda Hirst, head of corporate communications at Avon and Somerset Police, said members of the press deliberately flooded the press office with “speculative media enquires” to get information on the Joanna Yeates investigation.

She said: “In the context of Joanna Yeates in particular, one of the constant refrains that we had from some journalists was that it was in the public interest, they had a right to know, and I think certainly our perception was very much that they wanted to be inside the investigation, which clearly was never going to be tenable.”

She later added: “Whether it was a deliberate tactic, it certainly felt at the time as though it was, and certainly I think the point of it was very much to get to the heart of the investigation.”

“We had multiple questions from many newspapers… they weren’t general, they weren’t ‘how is the progress of the investigation’. They were focusing on very particular themes.”

Hirst told the inquiry it was known Vincent Tabak, convicted of Yeates’ murder last year, had been following media coverage on the case on social media and the force’s website before his arrest.

She added: “ It was very, very important for us to preserve the integrity of that investigation and ensure that anything that was inappropriate that shouldn’t get out into the public domain was contained.”

She said the press office had been approached by several journalists requesting interviews with Yeates’ parents, and said one feature writer wanted to spend a day with the investigation team.

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