London Mayor Boris Johnson has again defended the Metropolitan Police’s use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act against journalists.
Ferrari said he was “staggered” to hear that Johnson, a former Daily Telegraph and Spectator journalist, believes RIPA can be used to find journalists’ sources, while discussing the case in which the Met obtained the phone records of The Sun newsdesk and political editor Tom Newton Dunn.
As Mayor of London Johnson has responsibility for holding the Met Police to account (the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime replaced the London police authority in 2012). Last month Press Gazette asked him detailed questions about use of RIPA against The Sun. In a written response he said that he couldn't comment on operational issues but that he was broadly supportive of the Met's use of RIPA and that in any case he felt sufficient safeguards were in place.
When the question over RIPA was first put to him, by Ferrari reading out a listener’s message, the Johnson said: “I am concerned about this. And I want to look into this, because… it should not be possible, I don’t think, for the police just to go on fishing expeditions and see what journalists have been doing, who they’ve been calling.”
He pointed out that RIPA does not give public authorities power to read messages, just the ability to see see “when and where a contact was made”.
Asked by Ferrari if they should have that power, Johnson said: “I think when you are investigating a criminal case, and when there are… quite serious charges at stake, then the use of such techniques… I think may be justified."
Asked if the Met Police were right to go through Tom Newton Dunn’s phone records, Johnson said: “I don’t know what aspects of it they were investigating, there were obviously some serious-”
Ferrari said they wanted to know the source of his story. Johnson replied: “There were charges there that – there were suggestions there – that there was a conspiracy by armed officers at the gates of Downing Street…”
They were trying to find a source, Ferrari said, asking Johnson: “That’s acceptable in your world, is it?”
Johnson: “The police have a duty to try to use their… to track down…”
To go "fishing" through a political editor’s phone? Ferrari asked.
“Well… that’s where I think I might disagree. Was it fishing? Or were they trying to get to the bottom of the guilt or otherwise of… there were very serious charges here, which as I recall… involved the potential conspiracy by a group of police officers with weapons… to frame or defame a minister. Or alternatively that that minister had lied."
He added: "In either event it was a serious business. And if the police are within the law… as they seem to be…"
“I’m staggered that you think RIPA could be used for that,” said Ferrari, pointing out RIPA is an anti-terror act, which Johnson denied.
“I think it’s designed to create a framework… because obviously the state is very powerful, and it should not be able to look at what journalists are saying. It shouldn’t be able to look at the texts. What they can do, as I understand it at the moment, is look at when, where and how a call was made.
“All I would say, without going into the details of the particular case, and it might be in that case they went too far – I haven’t studied it, I’m afraid to say, in great detail – but if there are serious criminal charges at stake it seems to me that it is not unreasonable to use the powers that they have.”
In response to the programme, Independent investigations editor Tom Harper tweeted: "As an ex-journalist, Boris Johnson's support for police avoiding judicial oversight to ID journalists' sources via Ripa are extraordinary."