London’s Metropolitan Police Service commanders used meetings with journalists to get introductions to politicians, advice on public opinion and tips on crimes, a former News Corp. editor said.
“It is a symbiotic relationship,” Neil Wallis, the former executive editor at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, told a judge-led inquiry into media ethics today. Wallis, who also worked at the Sun tabloid, was hired to give public relations advice to the department after leaving News Corp.
Wallis met with police commissioners and officials from at least 1998. They would go for dinner or drinks and Wallis would give his views on how police activity was publicly received. He might also tip them off about a crime that reporters had uncovered or facilitate an introduction, he said. In return, he said, officers sometimes gave his paper an exclusive story.
Wallis offered the example of former police commissioner Paul Condon, who gave an interview that claimed the force had hundreds of corrupt police officers, as part of a push to end police tenure.
“Any journalist is about their contacts, and you work on those contacts and you don’t do it for the instant hit,” Wallis told the inquiry led by Judge Brian Leveson.
A spokesman for the Met police declined to comment.
The News of the World, the newspaper Wallis helped run as deputy editor until July 2009, was shut down last year by the New York-based company after reporters had hacked into subjects’ voice mails and bribed police for stories. Wallis has been arrested as part of the probe. A relationship with him has cost at least one high-ranking official at the Met his job.
The last commissioner, Paul Stephenson, quit July 17 citing “accusations” about his department’s decision to hire Wallis to give public relations advice from 2009 to 2010. John Yates, the assistant commissioner, resigned the next day. He has been criticized for not going far enough to uncover phone hacking at Wallis’s tabloid. Yates and Wallis have described themselves as close friends.
The Met’s director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio also resigned last week, amid an investigation into a contract for press advice given to Chamy Media, the company run by Wallis. Fedorcio was also linked to the loan of a retired police horse to Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer at News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit.
The Leveson inquiry was commissioned by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to delve into media practices and recommend changes to the way the press is regulated.
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