Ex-News Corp. Editor Hiring by London Police Was ’Poor Judgment’

Senior London police officers were “oblivious” to potential conflicts and showed poor judgment by hiring a former News Corp. executive editor whose newspaper was probed for phone-hacking in 2009, a police watchdog said.

The Metropolitan Police Service’s use of ex-News of the World editor Neil Wallis as a media consultant and the hiring of his daughter in a human resources role breached department policy, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said today. At the time, the hacking scandal was expanding and starting to damage the Met’s reputation due to its failure to uncover the full extent of the problem, the watchdog said.

“Despite the growing phone-hacking scandal,” senior people at the Met “appear to have been oblivious to the perception of conflict,” Deborah Glass, the IPCC’s deputy chairwoman, said in the statement. “Professional boundaries became blurred, imprudent decisions taken and poor judgment shown.”

The News of the World, which Wallis helped run as executive editor until July 2009, was shuttered by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch last year to help contain public anger after revelations that the tabloid’s practice of intercepting mobile-phone voice mails was more widespread than the company claimed. Wallis has been arrested as part of a new police probe.

The IPCC didn’t find evidence of corruption, the Met said in a separate e-mailed statement.

A judge-led inquiry into media ethics, triggered by the hacking scandal, is also examining the press’s relationship with law enforcement. Police are investigating News Corp. journalists for alleged bribery of officers in addition to phone hacking.

‘Uncomfortable Picture’

The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, “is painting an uncomfortable picture of the relationship between the biggest police force in Britain and sections of the media,” Glass said. “This culture has had an impact on public confidence.”

The previous police commissioner, Paul Stephenson, quit July 17, citing “accusations” about his department’s decision to hire Wallis. John Yates, the assistant commissioner, resigned the next day. He was criticized for not going far enough to uncover phone hacking at the tabloid. Yates and Wallis have described themselves as close friends.

The IPCC said there was a “case to answer in relation to misconduct” by the Met’s former director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio, who resigned March 31. Fedorcio was the one who hired Wallis to write speeches and provide media expertise.

Wallis, in testimony to the Leveson inquiry earlier this month, said the tabloid’s relationship with police was symbiotic, because journalists would give tips about potential crimes and police would give the paper exclusive stories. He has denied the phone-hacking allegations.

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