Phone hacking fallout: Institutional indolence means Yates has to go

If Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson bites the bullet and acts now Assistant Commissioner John Yates has to be in his sights, writes Kevin Meagher.

Following yesterday’s car crash performance before the home affairs select committee, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, must be seething. He had to witness the spectacle of senior officers and former officers sitting in front of a parliamentary committee offering “lame” excuses for their failure to adequately investigate the phone hacking scandal in 2006, 2009 and 2010.

Step forward, head bowed, formed Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, who led the initial investigation into phone hacking back in 2006. Explaining his failure to expose what we now know to be widespread practices at the News of the World, he said:

“This is a major global organisation with access to the best legal advice, in my view [they were] deliberately trying to thwart a police investigation.”

His former boss, former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, had little better to offer:

“What we look like now, it’s very lame. I think what’s happened is, I think we’ve had more time to do it, more revelations have come out, the News of the World have given us material that we didn’t have at the time.”

Meanwhile, current Assistant Commissioner John Yates – the man responsible for twice refusing to reopen the investigation into phone hacking in 2009 and 2010 – conceded that his decision had been “poor”.

He said:

“It is a matter of great concern that, for whatever reason, the News of the World appears to have failed to co-operate in the way that we now know they should have with relevant police inquiries…”

That three of the most senior police officers in the land could have been so easily put off investigating such serious allegations, and been so remiss in examining evidence that was already in their possession, beggars belief.

As Labour MP Chris Bryant has repeatedly pointed out, the tsunami of revelations we are currently witnessing originate from evidence the police have had in their possession since August 2006. This includes 11,000 pages of hand written notes and computer records from former News International private investigator Glen Mulcaire, including voice recordings of intercepted messages.

In this morning’s Guardian, investigative reporter Nick Davies assesses the evidence of Assistant Commissioner Yates. He was asked to “establish the facts” in his 2009 review of the case but conceded yesterday that he did not speak to Hayman and Clarke who ran the 2006 investigation, nor did he take legal advice or examine the contents of the material seized from Mulcaire in 2006.

The MacPherson report back in 1999 memorably described the Met having a problem with “institutional racism”. It seems it also has a problem with institutional indolence too.

Conspiracy theories will doubtless abound as to why the police failed to act, taking the News of the World’s assurances seemingly at face value – even when damning evidence to the contrary was in their possession. Former Assistant Commissioner Hayman yesterday even admitted having “businesslike” dinners with representatives of the News of the World, even while the phone hacking inquiry he oversaw was taking place.

Just as the media needs to clean out its stable in order to regain public trust and credibility, so, too, does the Met. A full-blown crisis beckons. The question for Sir Paul is whether to wait until the judicial inquiry compels him to act, or whether he starts that process immediately.

The danger for the Met is that it makes the same mistake as News International by compounding its initial ‘crime’ with the dismal public presentation of its case.

If he bites the bullet and acts now Assistant Commissioner Yates has to be in his sights. His failure to do justice to this issue is manifest and despite Sir Paul’s perfunctory backing yesterday, Yates is emblematic of the police’s faltering handling of this whole sorry saga. His apologies now and unconvincing performances do little to help his – or the Met’s – case. In a bid to turn a new page he should go, immediately.

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