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October 10, 2014

Former London police chief calls for RIPA re-write as senior Met cop defends legality of seizing Sun phone records

By William Turvill

The former head of the Metropolitan Police has said the "codes of practice of RIPA need to be re-written".

Ian Blair (pictured, Reuters) said that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed in 2000, would have been written differently if it was known police would use it to secretly obtain journalists' phone records and expose sources.

This came before the current deputy commissioner of the Met, Craig Mackey, admitted yesterday that as a rule the force would use RIPA, rather than going through a court, to obtain journalists' phone records.

Appearing before the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, Mackey was questioned over the Met's seizure of The Sun newsdesk phone records and those of political editor Tom Newton Dunn to expose the sources of the paper's Plebgate story.

Asked by committee chair Joanne McCartney why police did not seek to obtain the records through section nine of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (which requires the approval of a judge), Mackey said: "You absolutely can use PACE, but you use PACE if you want different material, i.e. if you want notes from a meeting, if you want something else.

"You can absolutely use PACE and that would be the threshold at which you do it. This is about phone records and contact."

McCartney asked: "Does PACE not cover that as well?"

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"You could do a whole range of things with a PACE application. You can cover this, you can cover a wider field, but if you want just the communications data this is the approach you use."

Asked if he thinks the force should have used PACE in this case, he said: "I wouldn't go and review this now the Interception Commissioner's doing it. I'm sure those sort of considerations will feature in many of the cases that they will choose to look at.

"But let's be clear, what was done was absolutely within the law at the time, as it exists and was absolutely within those standards.

"So it will now be looked at, there will be considerations as to whether more controls are needed and if so what do they look like."

He added: "It's not as simple as it's journalistic material, therefore you should never go there. So what does that look like and how does that work?"

Speaking yesterday, on the Today programme, Blair said: "We need to look at what use has been made of it [RIPA] over the last 15 years. Had it been considered that they were likely to go after journalistic sources I think that would have been in the code in a particular way in the same way as it is in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The codes of practice of RIPA need to be re-written."

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