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Why many journalists will bid goodbye and good riddance to outgoing Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe

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.

 

 

Comments

5 thoughts on “Why many journalists will bid goodbye and good riddance to outgoing Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe”

  1. Both Evan Harris and Brian Paddick make good points so I will not reiterate them further. What I will say, in support of those who criticise Hogan Howe, is that he deserves it and so much more.

    This is a man who over the years ruthlessly used the media for his own personal satisfaction. He would brief off the record regularly whilst holding the rank of Chief Officer and no doubt it was to his own benefit. The man is a hypocrite and is not worthy of the Office he holds. He held others up to scrutiny, but at no time did I see anything of his own behaviour being reported, either voluntarily or otherwise. He pursued journalists and police officers and staff for having relationships which he himself had held in the past and in effect criminalised the behaviour of both. People in glass houses should not throw stones, but yet he did, time and time again. The vast majority of journalists are honest hard working individuals who, in the past, through their relationship if not partnership with Police have helped solve a substantial number of serious crimes and, whilst their bosses may have benefited financially through newspaper sales, in the main they acted in the public interest. yes there were a few bad apples but to outlaw a whole profession in the way in which Hogan Howe did, bearing in mind his own behaviour in the past, was simply unforgivable. So it is with a smile on my face that I say good riddance to the man and sincerely hope that he does not continue to serve within the public sector in any form.

  2. Brian Paddick makes a good point.

    To which I would add that
    1) The CPS makes prosecution decisions in these cases, not the police. That fact that so many charges followed is indicative that this was not an inappropriate police approach (by the standards of the CPS)
    2) I agree that such a long time on police bail is terrible (regardless of a later conviction), and it is noteworthy that that is now outlawed after a newspaper campaign – which only took place when it happened to their employees, not any other benighted group of arrestees.
    3) It is astonishing that there is no mention of the fact that over 30 police and public officials were convicted for taking corrupt payments made by journalists.
    4) Equally astonishing that the author makes no mention of the fact that almost all (if not all) these Elveden arrests were made on the basis of information provided voluntarily to the police by News Corporation – in what was the biggest betrayal of journalistic sources in the history of journalism.
    5) It is generally agreed that if the 2010 Bribery Act had been in force at the time of the payments, then it would have been much more likely that journalists would have been convicted
    6) The offence under which journalists were charged – which was slagged off in the Press Gazette and in the press as “ancient” and “obscure” (it is neither) – had two public interest defences (or what were effectively PI defences) in its construction. The Bribery Act has no such defence. Hacked Off has campaigned for such defences in the Bribery Act and drafted amendments for such defences in other offences (RIPA hacking and Computer Misuse) which were tabled in Parliament.
    7) These amendments were hardly supported by the press industry (which was busy wringing its hands and lamenting the state of the law), and so they failed (though Lord Paddick’s party supported them)
    8) As for the arrests being done “at dawn” with a full evidence-safeguarding team. If that had not been done, and evidence had been destroyed, in any other case, the Sun would be screeching “bungling bobbies botch arrests” and “Hogan-Howe must resign”. Perhaps the Press Gazette believes that there has never been any suggestion that anyone at News International would ever delete any incriminating emails, or dispose of incriminating electronic devices?
    9) The article is wrong to state that only 3 journalists were arrested, charged and convicted under the “Hogan-Howe era”. I will let others work out who is missing.

    I have not dealt with the repeated distortion that the Police accessing suspects phone meta-data through a statutory process (albeit in Plebgate being unjustified) is “hacking”. I have not dealt with the true facts of Nick Parker’s handling and text extraction of the MP’s mobile phone, which led to his conviction.

    Disclosure: I am Joint Executive Director of Hacked Off

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