Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Whence come you?

'More resources' for the hacking enquiry were recommmended by the Select Committee, has this translated into 15 more detectives? Probably not, it is much more likely this is a Met decision in light of the increased number of enquiries being made of the Weeting team, and would probably have happened whatever the committee report had said. So can we expect to see more?

To investigate the whole hacking business properly is an immense task; and properly is how it must now be done. That means exploring lines of enquiry which would not normally be followed. The difficulty is that, in normal circumstances, large investigations will often be constrained by what is practicable. Where many offences are disclosed a management decision will regularly be taken to restrict the enquiries (and hence the resources needed) to just enough necessary to prove the scope of offending, and to attract a suitable punishment. There is no other way, normally, to manage the investigation and also the ensuing trial. An indictment can become simply too large and complicated for a jury to consider. Were it not for such sensible decisions serial offenders like Levi Bellfield and Delroy Grant would be on trial for most of the next ten years - assuming the investigations were completed in their lifetimes.

You notice, though, that I keep using the word 'normally'. Very exceptionally the context of an investigation changes, and it becomes desirable not only to convict the guilty but also to prove publicly that enquiries have been thoroughly and completely carried out. While the original hacking enquiry might have started out as 'normal', the ever-increasing storm of the last two weeks means that Operation Weeting is now very firmly in the 'exceptional' category. It simply will not do for any stone to remain unturned, no possible offence to be missed. So every one of the 4000-odd names will be looked at to see if any attempt was made to hack their voicemail, and if so, each one will be investigated as a separate offence - undoubtedly many victims will have been hacked several times, each one a new offence. So the total number of crimes to investigate might well be into four figures, and it is hardly any wonder that 45 officers have so far managed only to speak to 170 or so victims. Franky that is quite good going . Never mind 8 hours, it will be amazing if this is wrapped up in 8 months.

So how might more resources be found? The Government could throw some money the Met's way, and as welcome as it might be in these straitened times, it won't be the complete answer. There is a limit to how much overtime officers can perform before becoming tired, stale and less effective. The answer must be more officers, but not just any old (or more accurately, young) cop will do. The expectation ought to be that experienced detectives are used, and the only two areas of the Met with those officers with numbers sufficient to be able to stand significant abstractions are the Murder Squads and Counter-terrorism. Of course the Murder squads already have an entire team struck off for the Madeline McCann review, and who knows what work is ongoing within Counter- terrorism? While both Commands may be relatively under-stretched at the moment, as we know all too well that situation can change virtually overnight. I am sure there is no greater priority in the Met at the moment than hacking - nor should there be, as a complete, transparent and successful resolution of that investigation is crucial to the process of rebuilding trust and confidence in the Met; essential if that wonderful but all too-often flawed organisation is to recover from what must be its lowest point for 40 years.

But in amongst all this, I wonder how fair it is on Londoners. The Met has traditionally taken on some national functions, notably protection of the Royal Family, as well as getting involved in other ad hoc issues in which it has no geographical interest - the McCann review, for example. Is the hacking investigation really a matter just for the Capital? Leaving aside the slightly esoteric and ultimately irrelevant debate as to where online or other telecoms-based offences actually take place, aren't the victims spread across the country and therefore several police boundaries? Isn't the whole thing anyway now one of national interest and importance? Perhaps the pain ought to be shared more widely, perhaps the additional resources the Select Committee called for should be drawn from other forces, so that other commitments in London are affected less and any that arise in future can be met without affecting the Weeting team.

It is perhaps an attractive solution, but one which the Met I knew and loved would resist on the basis it wanted to sort out its own mess. That attitude might be laudable, were it based upon a genuine desire to make amends rather than a degree of arrogance. But I think the current state of its reputation demands a new, more open and more humble, approach.

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