The police have a great deal to answer for over this media crisis and one resignation, however honourable, does not exculpate their collective liability. Three months ago the Guardian highlighted that “we now know that in dealing with the phone-hacking affair at the NoW, they (the Met) cut short their original inquiry, suppressed evidence, misled the public and the press, concealed information, and broke the law”. Police HQ failed to change course or to intensify investigations or to act decisively on the damning information they hade been sitting on for years. The stunning Guardian revelation nearly a year earlier, in July 2009, that there were “thousands” of victims of NoW hacking came from a very senior police officer close to Sir Paul Stephenson. Why did the police do nothing to follow it up vigorously and immediately?
Equally why did Theresa May, the Home Secretary, apparently take no action when it was crystal clear over the last year, if not long prior to that too, that something very disturbing was happening at Scotland Yard? Was this complacency, negligence or collusion with a power structure so beneficial that it placed the culprit above the law and beyond reach of governmental reining in? It is not to be forgotten that Boris Johnson, who has his eye on the Tory crown, called the hacking affair last year ‘a load of codswallop’. And why was it that Cameron had more meetings in a year with News International executives than with those from all other organisations put together, namely 26 meetings with NI executives and editors over the course of 15 months, including 4 with Rebekah Brooks?
The cosy relationship between the police and NI was known to be uncomfortably close for years. Stephenson had 24 meetings, mainly lunches and dinners, with NI executives. When the Guardian reported in July 2009 that News Group had paid out more than £1m to settle alleged phone-hacking, he allowed his deputy Yates to decide, within 8 hours and without undertaking any internal inquiry, that there was no case to re-open the earlier police investigation – an extraordinary decision that is still by no means properly explained. He then hired in October 2009 the ex-deputy editor of the NoW, Neil Wallis, which further breached the vital principle of independence and opened the police to the charge of complicity, and and on Wallis’ assurances insisted to the Guardian that its allegations were exaggerated and incorrect.
Clearly these were unwise and improper actions at Scotland Yard. But it is equally clear that the Home Office failure, in the light of abundant and ever-increasing evidence, to exercise its proper role of scrutiny and supervision over police management at the highest level lies at the heart of this crisis. Theresa May connived far too readily with police assurances that no new evidence had emerged. It isn’t just rules about media power or cross ownership that have to be changed, but also enforceable guidelines for police operations.