Two award-winning journalists who believe they have been "betrayed" by The Guardian over an investigation into police corruption are calling for an inquiry into a letter sent to the newspaper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, by a senior Metropolitan Police officer.
Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn want the Police Complaints Authority to find out why a letter, containing what they believe are serious allegations against them and demanding details of their investigation sources, was sent by Commander Andy Hayman to Rusbridger last August.
That letter, published for the first time in Press Gazette today, was never shown to either Gillard or Flynn by Guardian management, leading the journalists to believe they had been severely let down by the paper.
The Guardian says the letter remained, forgotten, in its files until early this year. In the letter, Hayman told Rusbridger he believed that Flynn and Gillard "may be at risk, perhaps unwittingly" of assisting a private investigator, Jonathan Rees, in "unethically or unlawfully seeking his acquittal to the serious charges he will be required to answer" in a forthcoming trial for Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Public Justice.
He asked the editor for details of all contact between Rees and the two journalists or other members of Guardian staff. He also offered Rusbridger a confidential briefing.
Gillard denies the pair – whose freelance contracts with the paper have now ended – planned to publish anything about Rees, who was subsequently convicted of the conspiracy charge. He believes there is a link between the Hayman letter and the newspaper dropping their lengthy investigations into a police anti-
corruption unit – the so-called Untouchables.
Writing in Press Gazette, Gillard says The Guardian’s treatment of their investigation and the manner in which it dealt with the letter is "disturbing for a newspaper that markets itself as a sleazebuster and champion of ethical journalism". He also believes that the problem in investigating police corruption may be more widespread. The Guardian, he suggests, is "not alone in this betrayal of core journalistic principles".
However, Rusbridger insists there is no connection between the letter and the dropping of the investigations – a decision which he says had been taken before the letter arrived and was based on internal and external legal advice.
Hayman’s letter arrived when Rusbridger was on holiday and was dealt with by his deputy, Paul Johnson, who "placed it in his files and did not reply to it, since by that stage Michael and Laurie had been told that we felt that we had got as far as we could with their theories on police corruption", Rusbridger told Press Gazette.
He did not become aware of the letter until late January, after Gillard and Flynn, convinced of its existence, prompted him to check the files.
"It contained no serious allegations about Michael and Laurie and was in no sense an attempt to place The Guardian under any pressure," Rusbridger said. "No briefings between any Scotland Yard officer and any executive of The Guardian on or off the record occurred after the letter was received. There was not any contact so there was no pressure.
"The Guardian invested a large amount of time, money and the best legal resources we could find to back Laurie and Michael in their investigation into alleged police corruption. Our unequivocal and unanimous legal advice at the end of the day was that we could not defend the allegations that they were seeking to make."
By Ian Reeves