Met chief Hogan-Howe: 'I can ask my officers to speak to journalists, but I can't order them to have trust'

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police acknowledged that "the relationship we have with journalists is not in good health".

And Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has called on the journalism industry to earn back the "trust" of his officers.

Delivering the Brian Redhead lecture at BBC's Salford office, Hogan-Howe claimed that “not enough officers feel confident to talk to journalists, but I want them to”.

He accepted issues have stemmed in part from the Leveson Inquiry, Operation Elveden and police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to find journalists' sources.

But the commissioner added: "Trust is a two-way street, and I think journalism needs to think how it will respond."

Leveson, Elveden and RIPA

Hogan-Howe said it was “too simplistic to blame” the current state of police-press relations to the Leveson Inquiry.

On Elveden, the Met’s investigation into journalists paying public officials for stories, he said:  “This was a significant anti-corruption investigation to find out to what extent confidential systems had been compromised by police officers, prison officers and other public servants taking money for giving information to journalists.”

According to Press Gazette research, more than 30 public officials have so far been convicted of misconduct in a public office after selling stories to newspapers. Of 29 journalists convicted, one conviction at trial stands – and this is being appealed.

Hogan-Howe said: “It was really important to get to the bottom of this. In policing, our ability to protect the integrity of our confidential information is paramount.

“Criminals want that information. It’s got great value to them, and we had to find out the scale of the breach and deal with it.

“I fully accept that the media didn’t want to use that information in the same way that organised crime does, but you cannot have officers being paid for confidential material.”

Hogan-Howe also brought up criticism over police use of RIPA to find journalistic sources. According to the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO), in the three years to October 2014, 19 police forces used RIPA to secretly obtain the phone records of 82 journalists to find their sources.

Following Press Gazette’s six-month Save Our Sources campaign, the law was changed to prevent forces from accessing phone records to identify journalists’ sources without judicial approval.

Hogan-Howe said: “We recognised the ensuing concern and the impact on journalists’ trust in police, and we’re happy to put our requests through a judge in future if there’s the potential to disclose a journalist’s confidential source.”

Hogan-Howe added: “Police do understand the importance of protecting confidential sources. We spend a lot of time doing it ourselves, but I do think these cases demonstrate that we could be better in understanding the particular issues involving journalism.”

Proposals

Hogan-Howe put forward three "proposals" that he believes will help improve relations.

The first was the development of "clear ethical guidance on investigative issues involving journalism" and the importance of confidentiality. He said the Met was working with the Society of Editors to produce draft principles.

As part of the second proposal, to help build relationships, Hogan-Howe said he would be inviting "inviting home affairs, political journalists and editors to a half-day event at which senior officers and investigating officers will both be present". He said: "We will build on the work we’ve done together around counter-terrorism and bring in specialists on organised crime, sexual violence and domestic abuse to give those attending an opportunity to listen and ask questions."

The third proposal was to "fill the gap that journalists feel has opened up over giving them better guidance to understand the background to incidents".

He said: "I think the rules we’ve brought in to require officers to record the contacts they’ve had with journalists are required to meet the standards expected by the public, so I won’t be changing these. But I do want my officers to share understanding as well as information, provided it’s done in a way that’s recorded and open to public scrutiny. I want them to talk to journalists more."

But he added: "I wasn’t going to come here and talk about trust without having something to offer, and I hope my ideas will move our relationship forward.

“But trust is a two-way street, and I think journalism needs to think how it will respond. I can ask my officers to speak to journalists, but I can’t order them to have trust. That has to be earned, just as we have to do week-in, week-out with the public in all we do."

Read the Hogan-Howe speech in full.

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