Met drops Guardian phone-hack sources grab

Scotland Yard has dropped its legal bid to force The Guardian newspaper to reveal information about the source of its phone-hacking stories.

The Metropolitan Police said it had “decided not to pursue” production orders against the broadsheet and reporter Amelia Hill after taking legal advice.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, said: “We greatly welcome the Met’s decision to withdraw this ill-judged order.”

He added: “We would have fought this assault on public interest journalism all the way. We’re happy that good sense has prevailed.”

The force had said it wanted to identify evidence of “potential breaches relating to Misconduct in Public Office and the Official Secrets Act”.

It had intended to seek the orders in a court hearing at the Old Bailey on Friday.

An officer working on Operation Weeting, the force’s investigation into phone hacking, was arrested last month on suspicion of misconduct in public office relating to the unauthorised disclosure of information. He has been suspended from duty and is on bail.

The Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards consulted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which asked for more information to be provided to it.

A police spokesman said last night: “In addition the MPS has taken further legal advice this afternoon and as a result has decided not to pursue, at this time, the application for production orders scheduled for hearing on Friday September 23.

“We have agreed with the CPS that we will work jointly with them in considering the next steps. This decision does not mean that the investigation has been concluded.”

The force stressed the investigation was “about establishing whether a police officer has leaked information, and gathering any evidence that proves or disproves that”.

The spokesman added: “Despite recent media reports, there was no intention to target journalists or disregard journalists’ obligations to protect their sources.

“It is not acceptable for police officers to leak information about any investigation, let alone one as sensitive and high-profile as Operation Weeting.”

Among the evidence said to be sought by the police was information about how The Guardian discovered that the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked.

The story prompted a massive public outcry and led to the former proprietor of the now defunct News of the World, Rupert Murdoch, personally apologising to the Dowlers. The family of the schoolgirl is now set to receive a multimillion-pound payout.

Guardian reporter Amelia Hill, the newspaper’s special investigations correspondent, was interviewed under caution by Scotland Yard over alleged leaks from Operation Weeting. She has broken a string of exclusives about the phone hacking inquiry.

Scotland Yard said the application for production orders had been made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act rather than the Official Secrets Act.

The spokesman added: “The Official Secrets Act was only mentioned in the application in relation to possible offences in connection with the officer from Operation Weeting.”

Rusbridger said: “Threatening reporters with the Official Secrets Act was a sinister new device to get round the protection of journalists’ confidential sources.”

Met deputy assistant commissioner Mark Simmonds defended the investigation into the leaks.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve acknowledged and I’ve acknowledged the role the Guardian has played in the history of what brought us to where we are now, both in terms of its focus on phone hacking itself and indeed its focus on the Met’s response to that.

“But in all the glare that has been thrown on to our relationships with the media, we have had to ask ourselves the question about how do we do more to ensure that public confidence in our officers treating information given to them in confidence appropriately is maintained.

“That’s why we undertake robust investigation into incidents of leakages.”

He added: “I think what’s happened is it’s thrown into the spotlight the difficulty that we have in getting a new balance in our relationship with the media, in the wake of all the issues that have been aired, very publicly, in recent months.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: ‘We are delighted that common sense has prevailed and the Met has woken up to the fact that they cannot get away with such flagrant abuse of the Official Secrets Act.

“This was an outrageous attack on a central tenet of journalism – the protection of our sources. This is a victory for journalism, democracy and press freedom.”

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