Earth calling Bernard, come in Bernard - Press Gazette

Earth calling Bernard, come in Bernard

Since the revelation in September last year that the Met Police had secretly viewed the phone records of law-abiding journalists at The Sun I have not met anyone who thinks this is a good thing.
Well, anyone on Planet Earth that is. 
Most seem to agree that in this post-Enlightenment age it is not a great idea for police officers to be able to secretly view the phone records of law-abiding journalists in order to find out who is giving them stories.
Sadly, the person in charge of the UK's biggest police force  – Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe – appears to reside on another planet.
On Planet Bernard there is nothing wrong with the fact that his force viewed the phone records of three Sun journalists (that we know about), and the newsdesk, in order to find out which officers may have been in contact.
He also appears to think that there is nothing wrong with the fact that the Met misled Press Gazette and the general public about the extent to which it has spied on journalists' phone records.
Since the Operation Alice closing report into the Plebgate leak inquiry was published in September Press Gazette has long suspected that the Met might have accessed the Telegraph's phone records as well as The Sun. After all, it was the Telegraph which published the full police log detailing then chief whip Andrew Mitchell's foul-mouthed rant at a police officer outside the gates of Number 10.
In November, we were told by the Met press office in no uncertain terms that the full extent of the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to access telephone records during the Plebgate inquiry was detailed in the Operation Alice report.
The force said in a statement: 
"As part of Operation Alice the MPS took the unusual step of publicising a summary report of this investigation. That report confirmed where RIPA applications were made to obtain call data from a media organisation.
"Our use of RIPA as part of Operation Alice is outlined in this report."
We now know that the report only partly outlined the use of RIPA against journalists.
This week we learned that in addition to political editor Tom Newton Dunn and the newsdesk (as detailed in the closing report), the Met secretly viewed the call records of reporters Anthony France and Craig Woodhouse.
On Planet Earth the omission of their names from the original report, and the misleading statement, looks worryingly like dishonesty.
On Planet Bernard a different view is taken.
He told London Assembly members yesterday:
"Now what we’ve now been challenged with is that report, which we published counter to our policy, didn’t include they would say details of some journalists and some monitoring of their telephones. Which seems a bit odd to say we’re being secretive.
“The report was never going to be published. It was a senior investigating officer’s report, and it wouldn’t have always included the details it referred to anyway. So we think it’s an unfair criticism.”
On Planet Bernard it is "appropriate" and "within the law" to use powers intended to stop terrorism and serious crime to find which officers have been lawfully giving information to journalists on a matter of public interest in order to find and sack them.
In November, Hogan-Howe defended police use of RIPA against journalists on Radio 4.
He said: "In the cases that I’m aware of the police have been investigating a crime where a journalist is believed to have been involved.”
Message to Planet Bernard: It is not against the law for a police officer to speak to a journalist on the telephone. In the Plebgate case the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute the officers you sacked for contacting The Sun because it said they acted in the public interest.
There is an understandable tendency in any organisation to close ranks and protect colleagues. But there comes a time when it is better to admit that it's a 'fair cop' and resolve to learn from mistakes.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette