Last Thursday a reluctant* Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, was called to appear before a Committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority to answer questions about the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International in the wake of all the revelations up to that date on the issue.
He answered questions for thirty minutes at 2pm before leaving.
He chose not to mention that Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World, had been employed by the Metropolitan Police as a media consultant in 2010. It was subsequently suggested that as Neil Wallis had been arrested that morning, as part of Operation Weeting, it would have been inappropriate for Sir Paul to say anything as this might prejudice any future criminal proceedings and that in any case all that the press people at New Scotland Yard were saying was that “a man aged 60” had been arrested.
It now turns out that the Press Association had named Neil Wallis as the “man aged 60” at 11.07am that morning, so the name was already in the public domain.
Sir Paul’s answers were lengthy and carefully prepared. I strongly believe that it was a serious error of omission not to say anything to the Metropolitan Police Authority about the Met’s contract with Neil Wallis – he was after all talking about his force’s relationship with the media and News International.
He could have said something like this without mentioning the arrest:
“And while I am talking about our relations with News International I should tell you that we do from time to time employ former journalists and media professionals as consultants and advisors. Indeed, for a six-month period last year we employed on a part-time, two day a month, basis Neil Wallis, a former Deputy Editor of the News of the World.”
However, given that the name of the person arrested was now known to the media, he should also have said something about it perhaps along these lines:
“I am aware that some media outlets have named Neil Wallis as a person arrested by Operation Weeting earlier today. I am not prepared either to confirm or deny such a suggestion and I would remind everyone of the importance of not saying anything that might prejudice any later court proceedings.”
Such remarks would have been consistent with openness.
The failure to say anything leaves Sir Paul open to the accusation that he is not prepared to be open with the body to whom he is accountable. Which leads to the question about what else does he chose not to tell the MPA.
And at a time when he and his senior colleagues need all the support they can get this was perhaps not very sensible.
*He was reluctant because he was due to preside over a long-service medals ceremony at Hendon and did not want to keep the officers receiving medals and their families waiting.