Media silence leaves Met Police 'isolated and distrusted'

Former Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens has warned that the force’s has become “reluctant to speak to the media” in the wake of the hacking scandal in a development which is “extremely damaging for British policing”.

He warned that if police failed to engage with the media they face becoming “isolated and mistrusted” and could even add to the conditions where “public order outbreaks occur”.

In January the Met adopted the recommendations in the Filkin report with current commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, stating there should be no more secret conversations” between police and journalists. The report also discouraged police officers from having drinks with journalists.

Nick Davies recently warned police force press offices may soon become ‘monopoly suppliers of information’with “dangerous” consequences.

He said: “…without unauthorised contact the Met police would have been allowed to carry on misleading the press, public and Parliament about the phone-hacking scandal.”

Stevens, who stepped down as Met chief in 2005, said: “My general view was that the police officers and support staff doing the job on the streets were the best people to talk about what the MPS is doing.

“I therefore encouraged ‘Met-wide communication’, I wanted everybody to get out and tell the story and face the questions. I saw it as the responsibility of leaders at every level of our organisation, including (and perhaps, especially) the Sergeants, PCs and PCS0s, together with their partners in each borough, to be involved in problem solving and public reassurance at the most local level, “However police officers below the rank of inspector were required to seek the approval of a senior officer to do so, in order to maintain proper control of the process.”

Stevens added in his witness statement: “As I have already made clear, in many respects I regard the media as a key partner for the police service, and I have been grateful on several occasions for the objective and informed coverage given to cases and concerns involving the MPS. Through contact with police officers, the media gained an insight into the difficulties that they faced and by doing so were able to inform the public.

“The main aim of contact with the media is to build public confidence in the police…I also hoped that through media contact people would see a little more of the human face of policing. As the level of trust between police and the media grows, so does the potential for us to work increasingly effectively together on issues such as public information and witness appeals.

“Commenting from a distance, however, it seems to me that MPS personnel have become reluctant to speak to the media. The culture has changed significantly and understandably in light of recent events.

“Since the phone-hacking scandal broke, my perception is that the MPS and other police forces are highly sensitive and feel that any contact or relationship with the press is likely to be adversely construed and lead to criticism.

“Let me make this very clear, in my view this is extremely damaging for British policing. The media need to know what the police are doing, it is absolutely essential to have transparency and openness.

“The police need to engage with the community, it is a fundamental part of their job. If there is no engagement then the police risk not being part of the community. This will ultimately result in them being distrusted and isolated.

“It is in precisely these conditions that public order outbreaks occur as community tensions are heightened and there is public concern over the actions of the police.

“It is in these circumstances that there needs to be clear and unequivocal communication with the public to reassure them and prevent any inaccurate reporting of events.

“Whatever the police do they need to use the media to explain what they are trying to achieve and why they took certain actions. The media will also provide invaluable feedback to the police on the areas where things are not going to plan and there is a public feeling of distrust.

“If there is going to be any further progress on moving to a more preventative model of policing rather than a reactive model there needs to be an effective partnership with the media based on trust.”

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

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