A police and crime commissioner has described the Metropolitan Police’s four-year £33m investigation into journalists as “utter nonsense” and declared that it is time to stop the “witch hunt”.
Former Met Police commander Kevin Hurley was elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey in 2012.
Figures released to Press Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the Met has spent £33.5m up to the end of September 2014 investigations allegations journalists have paid-off public officials and engaged in voicemail and computer-hacking.
Hurley said that with police resources under pressure, it was time stop these ongoing investigations and focus on tackling violent crime and serious fraud.
He told Press Gazette: “The point has been proven. What are we now going to achieve?”
Hurley said that £33m was enough to investigate more than 20 murders or put 600 extra officers on the streets for a year.
“I know of a London Borough’s CID office which has been cut by two thirds. What are we doing spending this much money investigating journalists? Where is the public safety issue in that?
“We need to be spending our money on tackling terrorism, murderers, rapists and people who defraud our businesses putting people out of work. This has gone far enough, it is time to focus on keeping the public safe.”
He added: “What does it prove, how does it make us safer? We can’t afford to put enough armed officers on to the streets to take on terrorists.”
Hurley said that there was also an issue with “proportionality” over the use of such extensive police resources on these crimes and he questioned whether the investigations into journalists and their sources would deter future whistleblowers.
He said: “When is a senior politician or a police officers going to have the bottle to say ‘enough’s enough, we proved the point – let’s get on with our core purpose to keep the public safe and stop using core resources on this witch hunt'.
“There’s murderers, rapists and people who defraud major corporations out there who need to be caught – not some journalists who crossed the line in what was reasonable behaviour on privacy a few years back.
“We need to protect whistleblowers and encourage them to do the right thing and tell the truth. This goes right across the public sector. We must encourage people to come forward and speak to journalists.
“There are many murders, serial rapes and serious assaults that remain unsolved in this country to say nothing of the fact that police forces around the country don’t have sufficient resources to tackle terrorism.
Describing the scale of the three investigations as “utter nonsense” he said: “Some journalists did step over the mark. But nobody’s died, let’s get a sense of proportionality. Let’s have some wisdom in decision-making.”
Since the start of 2011 some 64 journalists have been arrested. There have been ten convictions and four jail sentences (all for phone-hacking).
Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe hit back at Hurley during an interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari.
He said: "I think Kevin needs to look after Surrey before commenting on other people's police forces."
He added: "When I took over three-and-a-half years ago, the Met was being criticised for not investigating this [journalists hacking phones].
"It has not stopped us investigating murders. To suggest by investigating hacking we are not investigating murders is nonsense."