To say Bernard Hogan-Howe, who steps down as Met Commissioner this month, will not be missed by many journalists is an understatement.
Under his watch the Met had a record for arresting journalists which Kim Jong-un or Turkey’s president Erdogan might have been pleased with.
The Met arrested and/or charged around 50 journalists as part of its investigations into phone and computer hacking and payments to public officials under Hogan-Howe.
His force also did its own ‘hacking’, using legislation which was intended to tackle serious crime to secretly view journalists’ telecoms records and track their movements to find out which police officers had lawfully leaked them stories.
In 2012 relations between the Met Police and journalists became so icey that officers boycotted the Crime Reporters Association Christmas drinks lest sharing a festive drink with media colleagues rendered them guilty of corruption.
Many of those journalist arrests were the full monty. Dawn raids by a dozen officers whilst terrified relatives looked on. Suspects held and questioned for several hours. All notes and computer equipment confiscated. Then years spent in the hellish limbo of police bail.
Of the 50 or so journalists arrested and/or charged under Hogan-Howe’s watch (post 26 September 2011),three were convicted. Jules Stenson (formerly of the News of the World) and Graham Johnson (formerly of the Mirror) pleaded guilty to phone-hacking. Nick Parker of The Sun was convicted of handling stolen goods (although not given a custodial sentence).
Parker was handed an MP’s mobile phone by a source and returned it after examining it for what he had been told was evidence of involvement in bribery.
Other arrests of journalists included: Rhodri Phillips of The Sun, who was arrested for handling the same stolen mobile phone (even though he never laid eyes on it) and former News of the World journalist Bethany Usher, who was arrested for transcribing a voicemail which was provided to her by a source in order to stand up a story.
Two of those journalists who were ultimately cleared attempted suicide whilst under suspicion. Many never returned to their jobs after being suspended by their employer.
The Met has refused repeatedly to reveal how many times it has accessed the voicemails of journalists in order to identify their journalistic sources.
But in its eagerness to show that no stone was left unturned as part of the Operation Alice inquiry into the Plebgate affair it did reveal looking at the telecoms records of The Sun.
We ultimately discovered that the Met listened to the call records of three Sun journalists and the newsdesk in order to find and punish officers who lawfully leaked details of then Cabinet Minister Andrew Mitchell’s foul-mouthed tirade outside Downing Street.
Hogan-Howe’s force also issued local newspaper journalist Gareth Davies with a harassment notice after he sent one politely-worded email and then doorstepped a criminal who was defrauding his readers.
It took two years and the threat of a judicial review hearing for the Met to finally revoke the order and clear the record of Davies (without any admission of liability).
Hogan-Howe inherited the various investigations into journalists. But with those, as with Gareth Davies, his force showed an apparent inability to accept criticism or learn from its mistakes.
This coincided with a feeling that, post Leveson, the force had closed itself off from media scrutiny and become more opaque.
Hopefully Hogan-Howe’s successor will realise that journalists can be great allies for the police in the fight against crime and that our scrutiny can help improve the Met. We are not the enemy.