MPs are planning to question a top Scotland Yard officer over the force’s attempt – subsequently dropped – to force the Guardian newspaper to dicslose confidential sources for stories relating to the phone-hacking scandal, sources said today.
The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will summon Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons to give evidence in a private meeting on Friday.
The Yard’s attempt to identify potential police leaks was widely condemned, with the newspaper’s editor Alan Rusbridger describing it as “vindictive and disproportionate”.
The Metropolitan Police said last night that it had “decided not to pursue” production orders against the broadsheet and one of its reporters after taking legal advice.
It had intended to seek the orders in a court hearing at the Old Bailey on Friday, when the committee’s meeting with Simmons will now take place.
Simmons defended the investigation into the leaks today, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We’ve acknowledged and I’ve acknowledged the role The Guardian has played in the history of what brought us to where we are now, both in terms of its focus on phone hacking itself and indeed its focus on the Met’s response to that.
“But in all the glare that has been thrown on to our relationships with the media, we have had to ask ourselves the question about how do we do more to ensure that public confidence in our officers treating information given to them in confidence appropriately is maintained.
“That’s why we undertake robust investigation into incidents of leakages.”
He added: “I think what’s happened is it’s thrown into the spotlight the difficulty that we have in getting a new balance in our relationship with the media, in the wake of all the issues that have been aired, very publicly, in recent months.”
Rusbridger acknowledged Simmons’s remarks about the need for a new balance in relations between the press and the police, but cautioned against moves to curb responsible journalism.
“I just hope that in our effort to clean up some of the worst practices we don’t completely overreact and try and clamp down on perfectly normal and applaudable reporting,” he told the programme.
“This was a regrettable incident, but let’s hope it’s over.”