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.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Yes Sir, No Sir, Two bags full Sir.

I know John Yates well enough to consider him shrewd, decent and honest. I would have thought him the last person to be unconvincing before a Select Committee, but for the first and quite probably last time in find myself in complete agreement with Keith Vaz. (Incidentally, do you agree that having Mr. Vaz in charge of an investigation into corruption is at the same time astounding and brilliant?)

I had expected AC Yates to have been firm, eloquent and impressive. What we saw and heard was none of these things, so I have tried to work out why. The alternatives posed by most as this incredible tale has unfolded have been the traditional choice of 'cock-up or conspiracy'. But finding the former out of the question and the latter very difficult to believe of him, I have looked for a third way, and it just might be - and I sincerely hope I am correct - that it is a combination of the man's decency and the current Met culture of apology without blame, to which I have alluded in past blog posts.

To understand this possibility one must take a realistic view of how these investigations, even the most high-profile ones, are conducted. Very few of the operational decisions are made by the figurehead ACPO officer, even 'Yates of the Yard'. Instead they are reported to by junior officers on all but the highest-level strategic issues. They must trust their officers, of course, and will question and probe to ensure they are happy with progress, but they cannot and do not look at every document, every statement, themselves. If they did, why have the junior officers anyway? Given the back-covering environment in which police officers are forced these days to operate it is inconceivable that the decisions and their supporting reasons are not documented. Every investigation has a policy log, and when the officers who surely advised John Yates that there was no further mileage in the hacking inquiry did so, their reasoning would have been there in black and white, or at least an email or several.

So when he said in his weekend interview that he shouldn't, as an Assistant Commissioner, be expected to sift through two binbags of evidence himself, he was quite correct. But somebody should have, and I suspect somebody else decided not to, or at least not to ask a few Detective Constables to do so.He or she then took a punt, and assured the Boss that there was nothing in there. If John Yates is to appear convincing - for his own sake and that of the Met he must – he will have to bite the bullet and explain, in detail, naming names and producing documents. However distasteful this may be to a man of integrity and who treats his juniors with the utmost respect, it is the only way forward; in such dirty fashion lies the only way properly to come clean.

Because the blame cannot be pushed to News International, no matter how obstructive or uncooperative they might have been. John Yates is good enough a copper to know that, surprise surprise, criminals tend not to cooperate, not to confess and not to hand over evidence on a plate. And never two binbags full. They lie, cheat, hide and destroy their tracks and it is up to the investigators, despite all this, to find the proof and make sure justice is served. The notion that somehow News International ought to be above that, particularly in the context of this whole affair, is, I am afraid, as naïve as it is unconvincing.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Cash for answers?

While I was a police officer I gave lots of information to journalists, throughout Fleet Street and the broadcast media. None of them gave me a penny in return; indeed there was never any suggestion that payment might be involved. I suspect that each of them knew me well enough to appreciate that the second payment was even mooted it would be the very last conversation I had with them.

Since I retired I have been paid by a number of media organisations; in every case it has been in return for my commentary, my opinion or technical assistance. I have maintained a rigid stance that I will be paid only for what I create in my mind post-retirement, and that nothing else is on offer.

I sincerely hope that both the serving officers who sold information and the journalists who sanctioned payment will be properly dealt with for the corruption in which they have been complicit. That is necessary if the reputations of these two sometimes competing, sometimes symbiotic, often infuriating but ultimately always essential institutions are to be in any way preserved.

The baby and bath-water interface must be managed carefully. The release of information by officers, as I always did, could and should be encouraged for the sole purpose of furthering the interests of the Police - either to garner public support and confidence in investigations, or to protect, quite properly, the reputation of the service. Any other motivation, especially personal enrichment, must be jumped upon. But do not restrict the very necessary and very useful relationship which most journalists and most police officers employ to such good effect for the public good.