Condon: Drinks from journalists a 'grooming process'

Accepting hospitality such as dinners and drinks can be the start of a “grooming process” which leads to criminal behaviour, a former head of Scotland Yard said today.

Lord Condon, who was Metropolitan Police commissioner from 1993 to 2000, said he was “very disappointed and concerned” by the Leveson Inquiry’s revelations about how officers have acted recently.

The inquiry has heard that a number of senior Met officers dined at fine restaurants and drank champagne with News of the World journalists after the paper was investigated for phone-hacking in 2006.

News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton was told by her newsdesk in 2010 to “call in all those bottles of champagne” to get inside information about a terrorist plot from John Yates, Scotland Yard’s then head of counter-terrorism.

Lord Condon told Lord Justice Leveson today: “Based on what is in the public domain, primarily from what has happened in your inquiry, sir, I have been very disappointed and concerned by some of the issues that have emerged.

“And had I still been involved in the service, I would have been probably very angry.”

The former commissioner said in a statement to the inquiry: “In my view hospitality can be the start of a grooming process which leads to inappropriate and unethical behaviour.”

He added: “In any walk of life, hospitality can be appropriate, can be sensible, can be necessary, can be ethical.

“But on the other side of that, it can lead to inappropriate closeness, and in some cases that can lead to criminal behaviour.”

Lord Condon told the inquiry he tried to meet every newspaper, TV and radio editor once a year to explain the work he was doing at the Met.

He preferred these briefings to take place at New Scotland Yard, but on occasion he visited media offices or went to a restaurant.

“Over the course of seven years, on a small handful of occasions I may have had the odd meal,” he said.

“Max Hastings, as editor of the Telegraph and as editor of the Standard, always moaned about the quality of the food and drink at Scotland Yard, and I think I weakened a couple of times. I think I had lunch with Max Hastings at one of his clubs.”

Lord Condon said he also dined out with former Daily Mail crime reporter Peter Burden and ex-Sun editor Stuart Higgins.

Lord Stevens criticises phone-hack probe

Meanwhile, another retired head of Scotland Yard today criticised his former force’s failure to investigate fully allegations of widespread phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Lord Stevens told the Leveson Inquiry he hoped he would have been “quite ruthless” about pursuing claims in 2009 that the illegal practice was far more prevalent than previously believed.

Fellow former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Condon said he was “very disappointed and concerned” by issues about the behaviour of Scotland Yard officers exposed by the press standards inquiry.

Scotland Yard’s original phone-hacking investigation resulted in the jailing of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on royal aides’ phones.

But the Met was widely criticised for failing to reopen the probe after the Guardian published a story in July 2009 alleging there were more journalists and many more victims involved in the case.

Lord Stevens, who was head of Scotland Yard from February 2000 to February 2005, told the Leveson Inquiry today: “Like Paul Condon, I have been disappointed with what has taken place.

“I would like to have thought that the issues with the Guardian that were raised, I would have picked up as commissioner. If they had been picked up then, I think I would have been quite ruthless about pursuing it.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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