A former senior executive of the News of the World who was contracted to provide PR advice to the Scotland Yard has defended his police contacts.
Recalled to the Leveson Inquiry today, Neil Wallis brushed off the suggestion by Robert Jay QC that dining with officers might lead to a perception of “over-cosiness”, rejecting the notion that experienced officers such as Lord Stevens were “going to be seduced by me taking him out for steak & chips”.
He said his going out for dinner with a police officer was no different from a civil servant doing so with a businessman. “Have you ever had a working lunch with somebody more than once?” he asked the Inquiry. “It is the way of the world.”
Defending his trade, Wallis said: “Journalists live and die by their contacts. I nurtured these contacts because that’s what journalists do. ”
“I’ve built relationships with the police, politicians,” he said, “I haven’t put an arm lock on these people.”
He emphasised what he saw as a greater need for public officials to talk to journalists. “We need more talking, rather than less,” Wallis said, arguing it was healthier for democracy and a free press.
The Metropolitan police has faced criticism for awarding Wallis’s company, Chamy Media, a £24,000-a year contract to provide communications advice to the Met on a part-time basis from October 2009 to September 2010. Giving evidence at the Inquiry last month, former commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said that it was with hindsight that he regretted the force entering into a contract with Wallis. Last week, the Met’s communications chief, Dick Fedorcio, resigned after disciplinary proceedings were launched against him, with an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into Wallis’ contract finding that Fedorcio had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
Discussing the arrangement, Wallis said his value was providing “crisis management” to the force.
He also described his working relationship with senior officers at the Met prior to his departure from journalism in 2009. Wallis dated this back to the the tenure of Lord Condon (1993-2000) and stressed the setup was ”corporate, strategic” and not about “a quick hit for a story”.
“One benefit of my relationship with senior offices was, if I rang and said ‘we have situation Met needs to get involved with’, they’d take it seriously because they’d know I’m a guy who wouldn’t mess them about,” Wallis told the Inquiry.
He added that he advised Lord Stevens on his application as Met commissioner, advising him to emphasise he was a “coppers copper”. Wallis stressed he himself had “strong views” on what was happening at the Met at the time in light of the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and that whoever succeeded Lord Condon was an “important appointment” for the force.
In his witness statement Wallis wrote: “It should not come across that my involvement in advising the senior police officers from Scotland Yard was entirely altruistic. There was something in it for me and my newspaper.”
He added that when the paper was running a highly public campaign, senior officers would write exclusive articles of give quotes in support which would go into the tabloid.
Wallis was arrested in July 2011 as part of Operation Weeting, the Met’s investigation into phone hacking. He was bailed and has not been charged.
Also giving evidence this morning were Stewart Gull of Jersey States Police, Paul McKeever of the Police Federation, and Mark Burns-Williamson and Nathan Oley, both of the Association of Police Authorities. Oley, the APA’s head of press and public affairs, said guidelines for press-police contact as suggested in the Filkin report would be “helpful” for the future.
“We’re entering unchartered territory,” Oley said, citing greater media interest in policing. He said the Inquiry’s outcomes were crucial to ensure a “free flow of information” by both parties.
The Inquiry continues tomorrow.
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