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The crime editor of the Times has said the “chilling effect” of the Leveson Inquiry and the Metropolitan police’s “internal clampdown” has led to there being “virtually no social contact with officers”.
“In the current climate, if you arranged to meet an officer you’d be looking over your shoulder the whole time,” Sean O’Neill told the Inquiry this morning.
He expressed his fear that building up a relationship of trust with contacts would be “seriously inhibited” if it were impossible to meet them for coffee, noting that he had “bought officers and staff cups of coffee, pints of beer, lunches and evening meals”.
He emphasised the need for crime correspondents to be able to talk freely and openly with officers. “You’re in this game not just for five minutes; you need to talk to people for years and years and years,” he said.
In his written evidence, O’Neill added that the Met’s institutional instinct was to be “closed, defensive and secretive”, adding that such an attitude “is reflected in a tense relationship with the media.”
He told the Inquiry: “the last time I met an officer we met a very, very long way from Scotland Yard because he was so nervous abut meeting me and that anyone would see him,” adding that the officer in question was “perfectly honourable”.
O’Neill also slammed the Filkin Report into press-police relations as “patronising and ultimately dangerous for future accountability of the police”. He compared a passage of the report to “an East German Ministry of Information manual”, arguing that the document has “already created a climate of fear in which police officers —who may want to pass on information that is in the public but not the corporate interest — are afraid to talk to the press.”
He added that report was insulting to female reporters, saying that it implied crime correspondents were “a bunch of women in short skirts flirting”.
“An aggressive and inquisitive press is one of the mechanisms society has for holding the police to account and contact between journalists and officers is just one of the ways we do that,” O’Neill wrote in his witness statement.
“Allowing chief officers to clamp down in a draconian manner on the flow of information, as Filkin recommends, would be a retrograde step.”
O’Neill said he felt now was the time for more information and scrutiny around policing and more open channels of communication.
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