Senior Metropolitan Police officer John Yates has taken legal advice about starting libel proceedings over "unfair reporting" of the tabloid phone hacking row, it emerged today.
The acting Met deputy commissioner told a parliamentary committee this morning that he was not pursuing any actions at the moment but had "sought authority" to do so.
Yates told MPs on the home affairs select committee that he was "entitled to defend" his integrity and the "the corporate soul" of the Met, following a number of stories about the force's handling of the News of the World hacking claims.
"There is fair comment and fair reporting and there is unfair comment and unfair reporting," he said. "All I have said is I'm protecting my position and I'm not undertaking any legal proceedings against anybody at the moment."
Asked if he had asked for public funds to be made available if he chose to pursue a legal action, Yates said: "I've sought authority in these areas, yes, but I'm not doing so."
Committee member Mark Reckless, a Conservative MP, replied: "In a context where individuals have been trying to get information from the Metropolitan Police and have been given that information and have had to spend very significant personal funds in taking civil action to get that information, don't you think it's particularly indefensible that you are using public money potentially to defend what you are doing as a public servant?"
Today was Yates's second appearance before MPs in less than a week. Last week he was questioned by the culture, media and sport select committee over the phone hacking allegations.
He rejected suggestions that he had misled MPs in the past by suggesting there were only about a dozen victims of the practice.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who believes his own voicemails were hacked, has claimed that the Metropolitan Police failed to properly investigate much of the evidence at the time, but he told MPs today that the new investigation launched this year was being "admirably pursued".
"I only wish this was what had happened in 2006," he said. "All the dots were there to be joined up. I think the police refused to do so."