Police chief admits doubt on Press relations

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Relations between police and the Press “may be in the wrong place” after Scotland Yard was plunged into crisis by the phone-hacking scandal, Britain’s top officer said yesterday.

Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe told the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards he needed to repair public perceptions after predecessor Sir Paul Stephenson quit in controversial circumstances. He said “it was clear that the whole organisation was still suffering from the consequences” and “the whole team at the top was in quite a lot of flux” when he took over.

Responding to claims he launched an “austere” regime in response, he said: “It’s been a difficult line to draw.”

He said he was prepared to accept Lord Justice Leveson might rule his approach to Press relations might be wrong.

“The bar may be in the wrong place,” he said.

But he added: “Public confidence had been damaged at the Met so I needed to set a new boundary.”

Mr Hogan-Howe told the inquiry he had launched a clampdown on police leaks since landing the job in September last year.

He also said celebrities should be able to expect the same levels of privacy as any member of the public, adding: “I feel strongly that the police are expected to keep secrets.

“I don’t care whether you are famous or a member of community, you have the same expectations of privacy.”

Mr Hogan-Howe said it was “unfortunate” nobody was prosecuted after it emerged last year that more than 200 police officers and support staff were caught accessing the Police National Computer for their own ends. “It is hard to imagine that so many people in the police are leaking this information, they must be leaking it to someone,” he added.

Mr Hogan-Howe said he wanted a “good adult open challenging relationship with the Press”.

Relationships with the media were “quite unstable” when he first became commissioner, he said.

He was surprised by evidence showing “the frequency and the extent” of contact between journalists and officers.

“It was clear that the whole organisation was still suffering from the consequences of Sir Paul’s retirement,” Mr Hogan-Howe added.