Police should not treat media as 'pariahs' inquiry told

The media should not be accorded 'pariah status' former Scotland Yard chief told inquiry.

The media should not be accorded 'pariah status' former Scotland Yard chief told inquiry.

THE media should not be accorded "pariah status", with police forced to document every chance meeting with a journalist, a former Scotland Yard chief told the Leveson inquiry last night.

Paul Condon said that police malpractice was about human weakness and opportunity, both factors that would continue to exist, and that the inquiry needed to find a way of demanding checks, action, and auditing without setting up massive bureaucratic demands for paperwork.

Lord Condon told the inquiry the history of police discipline was cyclical: "Scandal, inquiry, remedial action, relaxation, complacency, scandal ? that's been on a 20-year cycle."

The Leveson inquiry into media ethics, set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at the former tabloid News of the World, is examining the relationship between the press and police.

Lord Condon was commissioner from 1993 until his retirement in 2000. He said when he began he was briefed on police corruption issues, some of which involved major crimes but no mention was made of inappropriate police contact with the press.

He said he believed systems such as hospitality registers should be created using "the blush test": would the officer be embarrassed to admit to an encounter to the home secretary, a local politician, his neighbour or his family?

He described his contacts with the media, saying he called British newspaper editors to a meeting in the 1990s to warn them the IRA was planning a massive bombing attack on London. He told them they had a public responsibility not to report on the police investigation into the bombers until police had gathered enough evidene to prosecute those responsible.

He said they were given protocols for contacting Special Branch and the anti-terror unit in case of leaks and that the editors were responsible and co-operated with his request.

Lord Condon said that after his retirement he declined lucrative and flattering book offers partly because they all involved newspaper serialisation rights and, as someone who had always protected his professional independence, he felt it would be wrong to favour one media group over another.

Another former Met commissioner, John Stevens, said the validity of "off-the-record briefings" to media depended on context but he was wary of any that involved officers giving their opinions rather than relying on the evidence. "It's very dangerous territory, in my view."

Lord Stevens is also chairing an independent review of the future of police initiated by Labour but supported by all parties.

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