Met chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has claimed that his force used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on the phone records of The Sun because journalists were involved in committing a crime.
Hogan-Howe was speaking in the wake of a Home Affairs Select Committee report which called for an overhaul of RIPA because it fails to currently provide any safeguards for communications between journalists and their sources.
Hogan-Howe told Today presenter John Humphrys: "Journalists are no different to anybody else, if they are committing a crime they are going to get investigated…
“I know my experience is if you were to think about taking a journalists’ phone or a doctor or a lawyer’s that would be a serious issue about proportionality. We need to persuaded that there is a crime involved and this is a proportionate way of responding to that crime investigation.
“In the cases that I’m aware of the police have been investigating a crime where a journalist is believed to have been involved.”
The Met accessed the phone records of The Sun and of political editor Tom Newton Dunn in order track down officers who leaked information to the paper about the Plebgate incident where then Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell is believed to have called officers “fucking plebs”.
The Met tried to prosecute officers it believed passed information to The Sun about the incident. But the Crown Prosecution Service said a jury would find they acted in the public interest and refused to press changes.
Essex Police accessed the phone records of two journalists working for the Mail on Sunday as part of an investigation into allegations Constance Briscoe had lied to the police about not being in contact with journalists. But it is questionable whether this means the journalists were therefore involved in committing a crime.
Suffolk Police admitted using RIPA to access a journalists’ phone records in 2006 in order to find a police source for a story. In that case neither the journalist or the officer was under suspicion of breaking the law.
Asked whether he agreed with MPs that RIPA had been abused by police, Hogan-Howe said: “I’m not sure they did say it was abused…What I can see from that report is they raised some fair points about how journalists and other people who deal in privileged information should be tracked as far as RIPA is concerned…
“Where we agree is it’s a good idea to review how police deal with these kinds of requests.”