News of the World encouraged bribes, Leveson told

The president of the Crime Reporters’ Association, Jeff Edwards, was encouraged by his former boss at the News of the World to bribe police officers for information, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.

Edwards joined the now defunct tabloid in 1981 and was appointed crime correspondent soon after. Around the end of 1983, his then line manager told him he was unhappy with his work, arguing that he was not producing enough stories.

Pressuring him to improve his performance, Edwards’ boss told him: “we have plenty of money available, let your contacts in the police know that we will reward them for good information.”

“I do not remember what I said in return but I remember being worried about both my job and what my boss was suggesting as I had never paid police officers before, and was worried about the legal and ethical issues involved,” Edwards wrote in his witness statement.

“No more was said for about three or four weeks, but I did not offer bribes or rewards to any police contacts and clearly my performance was still not good enough because the News Editor confronted me again. He was angry and again said words to the effect that I should be paying police officers to induce them to pass on information,” he continued.

“I do remember that I became upset and said to him that I disapproved strongly of such methods and said something on the lines that I thought we were about exposing hypocrisy and corruption and yet here we were with him instructing me to bribe police officers.”

Edwards added that he felt this was the “final nail” in his coffin: “I remember him becoming angry and saying words to the effect that ‘if you will not do my bidding I will find someone who will’.”

He was removed from his position as crime correspondent and returned to the main newsroom as a general reporter the following week.

Edwards said he worked with “many excellent and enterprising journalists who upheld the best traditions of the profession” at the News of the World, but noted his feeling that there was a “section of the staff who displayed dishonest and devious behaviour”. He said the culture at the Daily Mirror, where he  later became chief crime correspondent, was “far removed” from that of the Sunday tabloid.

Elsewhere in his oral testimony, Edwards claimed the police operate on a “blame culture” during crises or scandals, and will take the “easier option” of closing down “as much engagement as possible.”

He advocated “delicate adjustments” being made to the rules of engagement between police and the press, pushing for a more “common sense” approach rather than what he termed a “carpet-bombing of the system.”

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with further evidence from crime reporters, as well as former Times lawyer Alastair Brett and Peter Tickner,  former Director of Internal Audit at the Metropolitan police.

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