Britain's ex-top cop: Too much police-press gossip

March 5, 2012 - 12:56 PM
Britain Phone Hacking

FILE - This Thursday Aug. 10, 2006 file photo shows Sir Paul Stephenson, the Deputy Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police Service, as he reads out a statement outside New Scotland Yard in London. The former chief of Scotland Yard has told a British inquiry into media ethics that there has been too much gossiping between senior officers and members of the press. He said Monday March 5, 2012, there was a tendency on the part of "a very small number" of police officers to gossip or leak damaging information to the press. (AP Photo/Akira Suemori, File)

LONDON (AP) — Too much gossip between senior police officials and the press has led to breaches in confidentiality, the former head of London's Metropolitan Police said Monday.

Paul Stephenson, who resigned last year over his force's failure to get to grips with the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News International, told Britain's media ethics inquiry that relations between a small number of police managers and the media were closer than necessary.

"There was a little too much gossiping about things that ought to have been confidential," he told the judge-led inquiry sifting through the scandal's fallout. He called the leaks "hugely distracting" and "unprofessional."

Stephenson didn't go into detail, but his comments are the latest to underline the often close relations between Britain's national press and its biggest police force.

Senior Scotland Yard official Sue Akers testified last week that journalists paid tens of thousands of pounds' (dollars') worth of bribes to serving police officers, and Stephenson's former deputy, John Yates, was thrown onto the defensive Thursday after it was revealed that he'd shared Champagne with one of the many journalists who are now suspects in the scandal.

Elizabeth Filkin, a civil servant commissioned by Scotland Yard to review its relationship with the press, testified that she'd been told police had given journalists exclusives in order to avoid embarrassing stories about their personal lives, and that the perception in the lower ranks was that senior officers were loading up on freebies — including a "very large" number of sports tickets.

Asked which media organizations were the most generous, she said: "There was certainly a lot of hospitality given by News International newspapers" — Murdoch's company.

The scandal over the systematic interception of voicemails has rocked Britain's establishment, leading to the arrest or resignation of dozens of reporters, public officials, and News International executives.

The saga has laid bare the overlapping links between the press, police, and politicians — links which critics claim allowed Murdoch's British newspaper company to get away with years of wrongdoing.

Stephenson appeared to touch on that sensitive issue when he revealed that London's deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, had privately urged him to scale back the investigation into wrongdoing at Murdoch's News of the World.

Opposition lawmaker Chris Bryant, an outspoken phone hacking victim, said the intervention amounted to "political manipulation" and called on Malthouse to step down.

Malthouse's office insisted it been "entirely proper ... for Kit Malthouse to probe the reasoning behind the allocation of resources into the phone hacking inquiry."

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