Questions raised over Met claim that Sun phone records grab approved by independent officer

Sun insiders have questioned the independence of the decision-making process around the Met Police accessing the newspaper’s phone records.

The force used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to access the phone records of The Sun newsdesk and political editor Tom Newton Dunn as part of the  Operation Alice investigation into Plebgate leaks.

Operation Alice was run by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) and Press Gazette has discovered from a well-placed source that the RIPA telecoms records requests against The Sun during the inquiry were signed off by detective superintendent Paul Hudson who works in the DPS.

In September the Met issued a statement about the RIPA request.

It said: “In line with current practice, in this case the authorising officer was independent from the investigation team.”

Current Home Office guidance states that the “designated persons” in police forces responsible for signing off RIPA requests “should not be responsible for granting authorisations or giving notices in relation to investigations or operations in which they are directly involved”.

A spokesman for the Met Police said: “The authorising officer in this case was not working on, nor had ever worked on the Operation Alice investigation.  As such it is accurate to describe that officer as independent from the investigation team and the decision making of the Senior Investigating Officer. “

The Sun is currently suing the Met Police over the use of RIPA to access its phone records and is likely to claim the move was breach of the Human Rights Act which safeguards both privacy and freedom of expression. The case is expected to be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Sun insiders feel that if the Met was keen to ensure that the RIPA request was signed of by an independent officer, it should have got the document signed by a senior officer in a different department from the one carrying out the Operation Alice investigation.

The telecoms records were used to find and sack three officers accused of directly and indirectly leaking informaton about the Plebgate incident to The Sun. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute the three officers saying that a jury would be likely to decide that they acted in the public interest.

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