Condon warns of "bureaucratic overreaction" to press-police contact

The former commissioner of the Metropolitan told the Leveson Inquiry today that too much closeness between the police and the media can lead to unethical behaviour, but warned against an “overreaction” to links between the two.

“Hospitality is the start of a grooming process that can lead to inappropriate or unethical behaviour,” Lord Condon said in his witness statement.

Condon said that every meeting with the press that involves hospitality should be able to pass the “blush test”, asking “Does this meeting feel right?” He added that a commissioner’s life would be “made difficult” if professional relationships crossed over into friendships. “It is not intrinsically wrong to be friendly,” Condon said, “but I knew where my comfort zone was.”

Yet Condon urged against turning the media into a “pariah”, warning Lord Justice Leveson of a “massive bureaucratic overreaction” if meetings between the press and police were restricted, or if a police officer who “was within 50 yards” of a journalist had to record it.

The Leveson Inquiry is currently in its second module, examining relations between the press and the police.

Condon, who was commissioner of the Met from 1993-2000, said at times his professional relationship with the media would “completely dominate” his life. He said there would be an “insatiable demand” for the commissioner to be communicating with the public and the media. He added later that the growth of officers blogging and using Twitter meant that the service nationwide needed to “re-calibrate” how it delivers information to the public.

He told the Inquiry he had also turned down offers of writing a newspaper column, stressing that he had spent his career “majoring on integrity, independence [and] being apolitical.”

He told the Inquiry held about eight to 12 meetings a year with editors, stressing that a commissioner should be without favourites in the press, and that he did not think he had invited anyone from the media to his home address.

Condon told Lord Justice Leveson that police discipline goes in a “cyclical” pattern of “scandal, inquiry, remedial action, relaxation, complacency, scandal.” He reiterated that the Inquiry’s challenge is to make changes that are “enduring”.

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