Met Police making 'intimidating calls' to crime journalists

Daily Mail associate news editor Stephen Wright has warned that crime journalists are receiving ‘intimidating calls’from the Metropolitan police ‘demanding to know who sources are”.

Wright covered crime for 15 years for the Mail and was instrumental in its campaign targeting the killers of Stephen Lawrence.

He denied suggestions that one article he wrote might have undermined the Lawrence inquiry and also warned that the current clampdown on unauthorised journalistic could encourage corruption.

During questioning about his sources, Wright told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday: ‘I am concerned in the current climate, I have colleagues, former colleagues in the CRA [Crime Reporters Association] who have been receiving what I would call intimidating phone calls from a certain department in the Metropolitan Police demanding to know who sources are.

‘I find that very concerning indeed, even over innocuous matters. I’m very mindful about going into detail about these matters.”

Yesterday morning, detective chief inspector Clive Driscoll was critical about a story which appeared in the Daily Mail on 8 November 2007 revealing there had been advances in the Lawrence case. He said that just hours after a meeting concluded between police and the Lawrence family he received a call saying a story was going to appear in the Mail.

He told the inquiry: ‘I have nothing but respect for Mr Wright, no one has tried harder, no organisation has tried harder to bring justice to Stephen’s parents, but we were getting there, and it was undermining that inquiry, and I can’t understand that.”

Responding to this point in the afternoon session of the inquiry yesterday, Wright said: ‘I put a call in to the Scotland Yard press bureau on the eve of publication of the first article, and no objection was, from memory, no one actually came on the phone to me and said, ‘Please don’t run this’.

‘I would argue, I would say in my experience these iconic cases, the Lawrence ones and the like, when there are developments in them, can be very difficult for the police to control the flow of information…We would not have run that story had the police objected, and nor would we have run the story if we thought it was going to jeopardise the investigation in any way.”

Commenting on the recent Filkin report, which suggested journalists seek to get police officers drunk in order to make them divulge information – Wright said: ‘There’s no trickery involved in my crime reporting at all. No trickery. If people want to tell me something, or wanted to – it’s a matter for them, then we make a judgement on whether it’s right to run the story or not.”

Talking about the issue of hospitality, he said: ‘I think it’s part of it. I’m happy to meet a police officer for a cup of coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, drink, or in his office, doesn’t matter to me.

‘I think my own personal view has been an overemphasis on hospitality because for me it’s just a small part of the way in which you operate as a journalist.

‘It would be completely inappropriate to lavish hospitality on a junior officer – any officer, frankly. I don’t think that is the issue at all, certainly not the way I operate, it would be completely inappropriate.”

Counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay QC put it to Wright that all police contact with journalists should be recorded and asked: ‘Do you see a difficulty with that?”

Wright responded: ‘Yes, I do. I think I see a bureaucratic problem with that, which is the police have enough bureaucracy as it is. I fear that people who do act in the public interest – and many of the people I’ve dealt with have over the years, they do act in the public interest talking to me – will be persecuted for doing that, even if there’s no record of actually what was said. That is my concern.

‘These types of rules could be abused by senior officers looking to look after their own careers. Controlling information flow. There has to be some sort of balance, in my opinion, some sort of balance, some sort of safeguard put in, because if every contact with the media is examined to the nth degree and people are scared of dealing with the media, it could lead to a corruption of a different type.”

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