Leveson Inquiry: Wallis defends police, press relationships

A former senior executive of the News of the World who was contracted to provide PR advice to the Scotland Yard has defended his police contacts.

Recalled to the Leveson Inquiry today, Neil Wallis brushed off the suggestion by Robert Jay QC that dining with officers might lead to a perception of “over-cosiness”, rejecting the notion that experienced officers such as Lord Stevens were “going to be seduced by me taking him out for steak & chips”.

He said his going out for dinner with a police officer was no different from a civil servant doing so with a businessman. “Have you ever had a working lunch with somebody more than once?” he asked the Inquiry. “It is the way of the world.”

Defending his trade, Wallis said: “Journalists live and die by their contacts. I nurtured these contacts because that’s what journalists do. ”

“I’ve built relationships with the police, politicians,” he said, “I haven’t put an arm lock on these people.”

He emphasised what he saw as a greater need for public officials to talk to journalists. “We need more talking, rather than less,” Wallis said, arguing it was healthier for democracy and a free press.

The Metropolitan police has faced criticism for awarding Wallis’s company, Chamy Media, a £24,000-a year contract to provide communications advice to the Met on a part-time basis from October 2009 to September 2010. Giving evidence at the Inquiry last month, former commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said that it was with hindsight that he regretted the force entering into a contract with Wallis. Last week, the Met’s communications chief, Dick Fedorcio, resigned after disciplinary proceedings were launched against him, with an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into Wallis’ contract finding that Fedorcio had a case to answer for gross misconduct.

Discussing the arrangement, Wallis said his value was providing “crisis management” to the force.

He also described his working relationship with senior officers at the Met prior to his departure from journalism in 2009. Wallis dated this back to the the tenure of Lord Condon (1993-2000) and stressed the setup was “corporate, strategic” and not about “a quick hit for a story”.

“One benefit of my relationship with senior offices was, if I rang and said ‘we have situation Met needs to get involved with’, they’d take it seriously because they’d know I’m a guy who wouldn’t mess them about,” Wallis told the Inquiry.

He added that he advised Lord Stevens on his application as Met commissioner, advising him to emphasise he was a “coppers copper”. Wallis stressed he himself had “strong views” on what was happening at the Met at the time in light of the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and that whoever succeeded Lord Condon was an “important appointment” for the force.

In his witness statement Wallis wrote: “It should not come across that my involvement in advising the senior police officers from Scotland Yard was entirely altruistic. There was something in it for me and my newspaper.”

He added that when the paper was running a highly public campaign, senior officers would write exclusive articles of give quotes in support which would go into the tabloid.

Wallis was arrested in July 2011 as part of Operation Weeting, the Met’s investigation into phone hacking. He was bailed and has not been charged.

Also giving evidence this morning were Stewart Gull of Jersey States Police, Paul McKeever of the Police Federation, and Mark Burns-Williamson and Nathan Oley, both of the Association of Police Authorities. Oley, the APA’s head of press and public affairs, said guidelines for press-police contact as suggested in the Filkin report would be “helpful” for the future.

“We’re entering unchartered territory,” Oley said, citing greater media interest in policing. He said the Inquiry’s outcomes were crucial to ensure a “free flow of information” by both parties.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Cheesley "unaware" of News of the World executive's Met contract

The Metropolitan police’s senior press officer has told the Leveson Inquiry  that she was not aware that the force had hired a former executive editor at the News of the World as part of a PR consultancy arrangement until after his contract had been terminated.

Giving evidence this morning, Sara Cheesley said she only became aware of Neil Wallis’s £24,000-a-year PR consultancy at Scotland Yard in July 2011. Wallis’s company, Chamy Media, provided communications advice to the Met on a part-time basis from October 2009 to September 2010.

Cheesley said she was “a bit surprised” when she learned of the contract. An incredulous Lord Justice Leveson said: “I am just surprised that you didn’t know anything about him at all.”

Also giving evidence today was the Met’s communications chief Dick Fedorcio, currently on extended leave from Scotland Yard since August pending an investigation into Wallis’s contract arrangement.

Leveson questioned him about the possibility of a “reputational risk” for the Met hiring Wallis months after the Guardian reported on phone hacking at the now defunct tabloid. “And here you were contemplating giving a chap who was deputy editor at the time?”

Fedorcio, who has been the Met’s director of public affairs since 1997, responded that he did not see it that way at the time. In his witness statement he wrote that “on a professional basis, Nell Wallis fully met my requirements; we knew nothing about Neil Wallis that would be to his detriment.”

“There was no indication that he was suspected of involvement in criminality — he had never been named, implicated or questioned regarding phone hacking; he had never been required to resign over the issue at the paper; the phone hacking investigation was closed; and Nell Wallis was no longer employed by the News of the World and was now setting up his own media business,” Fedorcio continued.

He added that former assistant commissioner John Yates had asked Wallis in August 2009 if “there was anything that was going to emerge at any point about phone-hacking that could ’embarrass the MPS, me, him or the Commissioner’,” and that Yates received “categorical assurances that this was the case”.

“As John Yates had obtained and recorded this assurance I felt there was no need for me to repeat the question,” Fedorcio wrote.

In his oral testimony he revealed he was “surprised” about the extent of the out-of-hours meetings between Yates and Wallis, but said he was aware that the two “got on well” and that there was “banter” between them over football matters. Fedorcio added that, had he known the pair were close, he might have thought that hiring Wallis was inappropriate.

He also clarified that Wallis himself had put his name forward for the position over a lunch, “rather than it being proposed by anyone else”, as Ferdorcio had suggested to the Home Affairs select committee in July 2011.

He also revealed that on one occasion in 2010 he let former News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton type a story from his email account on his standalone computer, as the reporter was “under pressure” from the tabloid to file copy. He recalled that Panton had arrived at an end-of-the-week meeting, which Fedorcio had set up with the tabloid paper in order to work with them at an earlier opportunity on stories, with her notes for a story on former Metropolitan Police commander Ali Dizaei, who was jailed for corruption in 2010.

“I was present in the office throughout this time, and therefore got advance sight of a story about an MPS officer,” he wrote in his witness statement, admitting to the Inquiry later that it “may have been an error of judgment”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from crime reporters.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Stephenson blames Met's "defensive" mindset for phone hacking failure

The former commissioner of the Metropolitan police has said a “closed” and “defensive” mindset were the reasons behind the force not investigating phone hacking further in 2009.

Sir Paul Stephenson told the Leveson Inquiry there was a “flawed assumption” that the original 2006 investigation, Operation Caryatid, which led to the jailing of former News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, had been sufficient.

He added that the force was hookedon a “defensive” strategy that would not expand its resources without new evidence.

In July 2009, then Assistant Commissioner John Yates was asked to review the 2006 investigation,  but ruled that there was no fresh material that could lead to convictions.

Asked about re-opening the investigation in 2009, Stephenson said it “was simply not a matter of priority” for him. He added: ” Do I believe that there was a deliberate attempt to back off because it was News International? No I do not, sir.”

Chiming with the evidence given last Thursday by the Met’s former Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Peter Clarke, Sir Paul agreed that priority in 2009 was investigating terrorism.

In his witness statement, Stephenson wrote that following the Met’s launch of hacking investigation Operation Weeting in January 2011, the the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Kit Malthouse, expressed a view that “we should not be devoting this level of resources to the phone hacking inquiry as a consequence of a largely political and media driven ‘level of hysteria’.”

Sir Paul was also quizzed about the controversial appointment of former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis as a PR consultant for the Met in 2009. In his statement Sir Paul wrote that “with the benefit of hindsight I regret that the MPS entered into a contract” with him.

He said the pair had met in 2006, and that he himself played no part in selecting Wallis’s PR firm, Chamy Media, as a consultant, noting that it was handled by the Met’s public affairs director, Dick Fedorcio.

Sir Paul added that he had no reason to doubt that Wallis was a fit and proper person to be awarded the contract.

He said was made aware in April 2011 that Wallis was a “person of interest” in Operation Weeting, and in July that he had been arrested.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Stephenson told the Inquiry that there was the potential to become “obsessed” by headlines, and having to deal with “negative commentary” was “distracting” for senior officers. He added that there were individuals on the management board who gossiped and leaked to the press, creating a “dialogue of disharmony”.

Discussing his resignation last summer amid speculation over the Met’s links with News International and his relations with Wallis, Sir Paul said he had always held the view that “if the story becomes about a leader — as opposed to what you do — that’s a bad place to be.”

“I didn’t think I had any alternative and out of a sense of duty and honour I decided to resign,” he said.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

"Phone hackers don’t kill you, terrorists do," Leveson Inquiry told

Three former police officers from the Metropolitan Police Service, who were involved in the original phone hacking investigation appeared before Leveson to discuss the relationship between the police and the press today.

In a gruelling three hour testimony, John Yates, former assistant commissioner to the Met Police, was questioned rigorously by both Robert Jay, QC, and Lord Justice Leveson.

Jay explored a catalogue of diary events in which Yates met with a number of journalists, including Neil Wallis, an executive at News International, Colin Myler, former News of the World editor, and Lucy Panton, crime editor of the News of the World.

Jay repeatedly asked Yates if he believed these appointments, at venues such as the Ivy Club, were appropriate. Yates explained “In terms of what we know now, in terms of what has happened, I suppose it is [inappropriate], but it wasn’t at the time.”

He added: “I think it’s hugely important that senior officers of the police have a relationship with the press.”

Yates was asked about an email to Lucy Panton about an Al-Qaeda plot, and story. The email mentioned Yates as “crucial” and added that it was “time to call in all those bottles of champagne. Yates dismissed this as a “turn of phrase” and denied ever being plied with champagne by Panton.

The former Met officer was also asked about an occasion when he had drinks with James Hanning of the Independent. Yates described him as an “interesting interrogator” and added “he challenged some of my preconceptions on phone hacking. It was interesting to talk to him because he was giving a completely different view on what happened. He saw a “grander conspiracy”.

When asked if Hanning had shared with him his belief that knowledge of phone hacking went right to the top of News International, Yates denied this.

Yates accepted making a “fundamental misjudgement” in his definition of phone hacking victims, but also explained that at the time it was not considered a particularly serious matter.

In relation to revelations earlier in the week that Lord Prescott was not made aware of the extent of the information which had been gathered about him, Lord Justice Leveson voiced his concern that “persistent requirements” made by Yates, did not reveal the answer.

Yates replied: “It is deeply regrettable, and I can’t account for it, I’m afraid.”

Peter Clarke, former Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations appeared before the court first, and described the “complicated relationship between the police and the press. Clarke explained that at different levels within the police, there were different levels of relationships with the media.

He said: “I felt that that it was useful to have more informal meetings with groups of journalists from across media outlets at lunches to discuss broad issues of strategy”

When asked by Jay if there was favouritism towards a particular news agency, Clarke said; “I was totally disinterested between them. If my memory serves me, it tended to be on one occasion we would have broadsheets, another red-tops, another broadcasters. We had representation from across the media groups.

During his time as the head of the anti terrorist branch SO13 9between 2002 and 2008), Clarke said that any relationship with the press was to promote the public interest.

Clarke explained that “public interest is paramount” with regards to relations between the press and the police. He added: “any engagement with the media was to try and help protect the public, and to keep them safe.”

He said: “I was not interested in trying to make the police look good, that was not my agenda, it was to try and support the counter terrorist operation at that time.

In relation to the expansion of the inquiry which Clarke admitted he never wanted to happen, he described the pressure put on the SO13 unit, during the time of the original phone hacking investigation, telling the court that at the same time, there were 70 separate terrorism inquiries underway.

He explained that he could not have justified releasing officers to work on the phone-hacking investigation, because of the terrorist threat.

Putting it bluntly, Clarke told the court that phone hackers “don’t kill you, terrorists do.”

Clarke told the court that the 11,000 pages of Mulcaire’s notebooks which were seized were not analysed at the time because the investigation would have been an “enormous undertaking” and would have involved “dozens of officers over weeks if not years.”

He added: “The fear was what that resource commitment would lead us…it was disproportionate to other competing demands at the time.”

Clarke also discussed the obstruction from News International following the arrest of Glenn Mulcaire on the 8 August 2006. He said: “In terms of the investigation, it became immediately apparent that we weren’t going to get any co-operation from News International. Usually, companies bend over backwards to try and preserve their reputation and assist in inquiries. This was a closing of the ranks from very early on.”

Throughout his testimony, Clarke remained firm that all those involved in the case were not affected by News International, “those officers conducted an honest inquiry, they were uninfluenced, as was I by News International.”

Andy Hayman, former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner also appeared at the hearing.

He told the court that he entered his role with a “reserved” approach to the media. He said “I didn’t feel I needed to engage because I felt that sometimes that kind of relationship was difficult.”

But Jay’s questioning led to the discussion of several meetings between Hayman and Lucy Panton and Neil Wallis. Discussing a “working lunch” in March 2007, Hayman said; “I can’t remember the purpose, I can remember the lunch, but it would not be anything different to anything other than what I’ve already explained, the support that newspaper was trying to give the ongoing terrorist inquiry.” Jay revealed that this lunch was paid for with a Metropolitan Police Service American Express card.

Hayman supported earlier comments from Clarke, that resources were struggling to balance between the phone hacking investigation and on-going terrorist inquiries.

Hayman said: “Without wishing to sound alarmist, the pot was actually running dry, so we had nowhere really to go. Within the Met that was exactly the same … that would have a massive attack on the counter-terrorism.”

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson