The Metropolitan Police has written to editors addressing concerns about an escalation in the Elveden bribes inquiry to include contacts with journalists which did not involve payments.
In recent weeks two senior police officers have been arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office as a result of passing information to journalists where there was no question of a payment being made.
This has led to widespread concerns that the Met could be targeting officers for simply passing confidential information to journalists.
In a letter to the Society of Editors, Met assistant commissioner for specialist operations Cressida Dick (who is in overall charge of the hacking and bribery investigations) said she wanted to “reassure editors on a number of points”.
She said: “I believe it is important to remember that we are not investigating victimless crimes nor has the remit of Operation Elveden been extended to any police officer who has simply spoken with a journalist, as has been suggested.
“The investigation is about police officers and public officials who we have reasonable grounds to suspect have abused their positions in return for corrupt payments. However when suspected criminal wrongdoing that does not involve payment comes to light it cannot be ignored.”
She added: “The investigations being carried out do not mean that the Met wants or intends to stop officers talking to journalists. Provided it is above board and follows straightforward guidelines that have been in place for many years, police officers interacting with journalists are not matters for Operation Elveden. It is in the public’s interest that police and the media have an open and health relationship".
She said that some commentators have drawn “inaccurate conclusions” about police motives adding that there is “extensive deliberation before each and every arrest”.
She also added that there are “sound operational reasons” for the 6am dawn raids which most arrested journalists and other individuals have faced under operation Elveden and the number of officers used in these raids which, she said, “reduces the time spent by police in someone’s home”.
It has been reported that some journalists have been placed under surveillance prior to arrest. Dick said that “the reality is that discreet checks being made in the immediate run up to arresting an individual at a certain time and location are a necessary police procedure”.
At least 59 journalists have been arrested as a result of the various police inquiries stemming from the hacking scandal. Many have been on bail for more than a year without charge.
Dick said the length of time individuals are spending on bail was a “genuine concern” for the police said that the delays are “the result of the complex nature of these inquiries”.
She admitted that the Elveden investigation may be having a “negative effect on relations between police and journalists” but said that this “in no way undermines the value the MPS puts on the role of a free and investigative press in a democratic society – indeed this investigation is the result of such journalism”.