Chief constable denies giving Chris Jefferies name to press
Marta Cooper: Chief constable denies giving Chris Jefferies name to press
27 Mar 12

The chief constable of Avon and Somerset police has denied that the force leaked information or guided the press about Chris Jefferies after the Bristol landlord was wrongly arrested for the 2010 murder of Joanna Yeates.

Testifying at the Leveson Inquiry this morning, Colin Port said to behave in a collusive manner was “abhorrent”.

“We don’t give off the record briefings,” Port said, stressing it was “not normal practice”. His colleague, Detective Chief Inspector Philip Jones, who was the sneior investigating officer in the Yeates inquiry, also testified that there were no off the record briefings on Jefferies. “If there were, they were unauthorised,” Jones said.

In his second witness statement to the Inquiry in January, Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace claimed he had been informed off the record that “the police were saying that they were confident Mr Jefferies was their man.”

Port said Wallace’s claim was “absolutely outrageous”.

Jefferies, a retired English teacher, successfully sued eight newspapers for libel last year, with the Mirror being charged £50,000 for contempt of court. Dutch national Vincent Tabak was later convicted of Yeates’s murder.

Wallace called the episode a “black mark” on his editing record and expressed “sincere regret” to Jefferies and his friends and family.

Port said the force did not name Jefferies either on or off the record. He said there had been an “inadvertent” leak, but stressed this was a “genuine error”. He noted that leaks in the force were rare, and if they did occur, it would be due to “malice, spite or money.”

Also testifying this morning was Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby of Surrey Police. He described the press interest around the abduction and subsequent murder of teenager Milly Dowler in 2002 as “unprecedented” and “immense”, with some senior officers involved deeming elements of the media “extremely demanding, and in some respects, mischievous”.

He said the force’s Media Relations Team was “unprepared” for such heavy press attention and that there were not enough resources to deal with the “overwhelming” interest in the case.

He added that the senior investigating officer in the Dowler case initially declined offers from the News of the World and the Sun for rewards relating to information of Milly’s whereabouts, “fearing that it would generate large numbers of spurious calls that would distract from the core police investigation.” Yet the officer eventually felt that he “had little choice but to cooperate with them”, after the papers indicated they would offer a reward with or without Surrey Police’s cooperation.

“Rewards can be really useful in investigations in generating interest. In this case I’m not sure that a reward was necessary,” Kirkby added later.

Kirkby told the Inquiry he was conducting an internal investigation into the information obtained by the News of the World in 2002 regarding the hacking of Dowler’s voicemail. The findings, due to be completed by May, will be made public and submitted to the Inquiry.

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