Paddick and Prescott decry police hacking cover up

Former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Brian Paddick, has described a culture of cover-up and infighting among senior officers during his time at the force.

Testifying at the Leveson Inquiry today, Paddick called for a change in culture “from the top”, arguing that it was important for there to be a healthy and “above-board” relationship between the police and the press, suggesting that relations between the two should be on the basis of formal, minuted meetings, “not on gossiping over dinners or booze”.

“We have to draw a line when it comes to police officers being paid for information,” Paddick added. “I do not accept (…) that if a story is in the public interest you can pay a public official to disclose information,” he said.

He told the Inquiry that the Met’s commissioners had “conducted charm offensives with mixed success” and wrote in his witness statement that the efforts made to get positive stories into the media “distorted” senior officers’ judgments.

“The difficulty comes when the police have to prosecute their ‘friends’” his statement read.

Paddick wrote that the culture at the Met went from being “very open to almost paranoid” during Sir Ian Blair’s Commissionership. He cited a “clampdown on anyone having contact with the media”, and unsuccessful investigations being launched to look into unauthorised leaks of information. He added that “good relationships” with UK newspaper editors were “seen as being more important than ever”.

He added that the Met sought to prevent certain stories from getting into the public domain in order to protect its reputation. He told the Inquiry he was ordered to “tone down” criticisms made of a review into rape investigations by the Met that had found “serious shortcomings” and made recommendations. The press officer involved said her job was to “make sure report got no publicity”, Paddick added, arguing that the interests of rape victims were sacrificed to protect the Met.

He opined that the “desire of the MPS to avoid public embarrassment and reputational damage may have led them not to pursue evidence of possible police corruption and to mislead the public about the ambit and scale of phone-hacking.”

He noted that within six days of the arrests of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006, 418 potential hacking victims had been identified, but “only a tiny fraction of those people were actually told”.

Paddick also told the Inquiry his name appeared on a printout from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s computer, listed as a “project”, which he said meant it was “reasonable [that] there was a prima facie case I was a target for phone hacking.”

He also revealed that a printout from Mulcaire’s computer that was shown to a police officer appeared to contain details of people who had been given new identities after being put on the Witness Protection Programme.

“It would have included people like the people convicted of James Bulger’s murder,” he said. “People are only put into the witness protection programme when their lives are potentially at risk or in serious danger. For this to be in the hands of Mulcaire and potentially the News of the World is clearly worrying.”

He stressed he had the “utmost respect” for current DAC Sue Akers, the officer leading the investigations into illegal behaviour of journalists, but added that it was “difficult to see how everybody can have complete confidence we are going to get to the bottom of what is going on” He suggested it would be better for public perception if current investigations were being conducted by an outside force not connected to the Met.

Last year Paddick and the former deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott successfully argued at a judicial review that the Metropolitan Police failed to notify them about potential hacking.

Prescott, who also appeared before the court this afternoon expressed his unease about the relationship between politicians and the press.

“I’m not the best person to ask about relationships with the press because mine has never been good but with regards to the Murdoch press, I always thought it was wrong that politicians at the highest level were too close to Murdoch…There is always a price. It’s not exactly corruption and I’m not accusing them of that…I thought it gave a corrupting influence that they had too much influence and power.”

Prescott added that that he was opposed to a statutory regulation, even though he believes he has “as much reason as anyone to have a go at the press”.  The former MP suggested a regulatory framework, to be decided on by a judge, adding: “You have to find a balance that people think is fair. What’s made the difference is no-win no-cost. I just think if you can’t get redress, you’ve got to have a sanction.”

Describing the stories regarding his social life, the politician told the court he had wondered where stories came from, but never imagined that his phone had been hacked. In December 2009, Prescott was told by police that there was no evidence that Glenn Mulcaire had intercepted his voicemail, but police said there were two tax invoices and a piece of paper with “Prescott” written on it.

“That should be a good clue to a policeman that there is something there. I did suspect at first they meant my son because the Murdoch press and the Times had done a number of stories on him but I’ve since been assured not,” Prescott told the court.

He added that misleading statements and the failure of the police to provide him with the information he believed he was entitled to, led him to take legal action.