Four things Boris Johnson could do to tackle Met Police abuse of RIPA (and doesn't)

London mayor Boris Johnson (pictured right, Reuters) is facing further questions on Metropolitan Police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act on journalists.

In his role as head of the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, the Conservative is charged with ensuring accountability of the Met – which has admitted using RIPA to secretly grab the phone records of The Sun as part of its Plebgate leak investigation.

Johnson, former editor of The Spectator magazine, at first defended police use of RIPA to obtain Sun phone records before admitting he hadn’t studied the case “in great detail” and then performed a U-turn when speaking at a press ball.

The Met's use of RIPA to evidence the phone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn and the Sun newsdesk is widely seen as an abuse of the act. RIPA is intended to detect or prevent serious crime, but in The Sun case – the three police officers exposed by the phone records were found to have no case to answer by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Johnson has claimed he does not have the power to intervene on the Met using RIPA – but Assembly Member Jenny Jones (pictured left), of the Green Party, believes he does and has called on the mayor to take action.

Jones told Press Gazette that Johnson would be within his rights to:

  • Tell the Met Police to stop using RIPA against journalists "until there's some sort of clear instruction about it, or the consultation [the Interception of Communications Commissioner's report] is over"
  • Introduce a public interest test for RIPA in which Met applications for RIPA use against journalists would be overseen independently. Under the current system, applications for telecoms data is overseen by senior officers within the force
  • "Dip sample" the Met's use of RIPA to find out whether it is being used appropriately
  • Order an inquiry into the Met's use of RIPA, including asking for a breakddown of crimes it is being used to investigate, success rate in terms of prosecutions and who has been targeted.

Jones said: "He could pose all of these questions and he doesn't."

Johnson is also facing four further questions on the Met, RIPA and journalism at next Wednesday's Mayor's Question Time.

Jones has submitted the following written questions: 

  • Has the Metropolitan Police responded to the Interception of Communications Commissioner's questions over the use of RIPA on journalists in the last three years? If so, what information was disclosed?
  • In the five years leading to the Leveson Inquiry, the Met Police conducted 38 press leak investigations. Was RIPA used to obtain the phone records of any journalists in any of these inquiries? If so, please specify examples
  • How many press leak investigations has the Met Police conducted after these 38 leaks, which were disclosed by Bernard Hogan-Howe at the Leveson Inquiry?
  • Does the Metropolitan Police Service have policy or guidance for officers and designated persons on how to decide whether it is appropriate to use PACE legislation or RIPA in relation to journalist's communications, journalistic sources and/or journalistic material? If so, please provide a copy of the policy or guidance.

She told Press Gazette: “I have never felt that either the mayor or his deputy mayor for policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, really challenge the Met. I think they’re far too cosy with them. They’re far too accepting of – oh, well, the police know best. That seems to be their attitude.”

Jones said that Johnson should also be “lobbying” the Government for more action over RIPA.

Jones, though, described Johnson as “unpersuadable” with regards to RIPA intervention, although she said he might “do something… if it was going to affect his chances of becoming an MP or leader of the Tory Party”.

A spokesperson for Johnson said: “The Mayor believes the police must be able to use all legal means to pursue serious criminality. Equally he fully appreciates the concerns raised around press freedom and the use of RIPA powers to potentially identify journalists' sources which is why he has called for prior judicial approval before access is granted.

"If RIPA powers have been misapplied then that would be a serious matter, so the Mayor looks forward to studying the findings and recommendations of the inquiry into the use of RIPA powers and welcomes the Government’s decision to consult on revisions to RIPA and amendments to the code of practice on acquiring and disclosing communications data.”

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