LEAKS by the police to the media are an “ongoing concern”, according to the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police.
In written evidence prior to appearing in person at the Leveson Inquiry on press standards, Stephen House said: “I do not believe my Force has a significant problem with the leaking of information to the media. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the officers and staff of Strathclyde Police operate with integrity at all times.
“I am also bound to recognise, however, that unauthorised disclosure of confidential information to the media is an ongoing concern for Strathclyde Police. Whilst such incidents are relatively rare within the Strathclyde area, there have been occasions where the leaks to the media have hampered or even compromised an ongoing investigation of serious crime.”
In his written submission, he also admitted to 45 investigations having been conducted into suspected leaks to the media during the last five years, all of which have been investigated by the Counter Corruption Unit, with one officer being reported to the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service. Of the remaining 44, eight resulted in the report being disproved, and 29 being unsubstantiated, with the other seven remaining subject to review in the event that further evidence may come to light.
While no disciplinary action has thus far been taken against any police officer for leaking information, House’s answer to one of the questions forming the basis of his written submission (Q.33) states that one officer is still being investigated.
And when asked to explain his remarks in front of Leveson, House said that Strathclyde Police have 8,500 officers, but he also admitted to some bribery of his officers having probably taken place: “It would be naive to say that it does not happen. I have no doubt that there are specific individuals in my organisation who are in receipt of money from various people. I’m not suggesting it’s individual newspapers, but various people who are looking for exactly the sort of information that we’ve just been discussing, celebrities coming into police custody, that is inevitable. Bound to be happening.”
View this section of his appearance here – from around the 113′ 40″ mark.
Later, director of communications at Strathclyde Police, Rob Shorthouse, said: “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest at all that we have an issue with leaks coming from [his] media office.”
He added: “I think everybody who works in police communications is expecting there to be a change as a result of all of this, and us being the police and the candid organisation that we are, we will wholeheartedly adopt those changes.
“I think what will be interesting to see is that’s one side of the relationship, and we can record all meetings and everything else, but that’s just changing our behaviour, so I guess we are particularly interested to see what happens on the other side of that argument, what, if anything, is being proposed about the media.
He added: “The change in the nature of the media at the moment is huge, absolutely huge, and the pressures that are being brought to bear as a result of that, because of social networking … I think the impact of that, I think, needs to be part of the thinking, because it’s changed the media and it’s going to continue to change the media, and it’s going to just make that need to be more immediate and move away from the traditional roles that journalists have played, and I think that’s an important part of the debate.”
Said Jonathan Russell, editor of The Herald – making his second appearance at the inquiry – there is a “generally healthy relationship” between The Herald and Strathclyde Police.
He added: “I think that, if .. it’s felt that the media are critical of the police, the police don’t, in my experience, take it to heart and go all defensive. They’re very good at accepting that perhaps they may be wrong on something and almost use the criticism as a way to look at themselves and see if things should be done better. But it would be misleading to say we’re very critical of them. We’re not. It happens on occasion, as it would do with any large organisation, whether you’re a police force or some other organisation.
“I think that the Force delivers as good a service to the media as I’ve really come across, and I’ve worked in various Force areas throughout my career. Although I think …there is a general move towards slightly more openness over the last few years, so places I may have worked in the early 1990s may be better at it now than they were then. I think generally we get on well with the police and I think it’s important for both sides to remember it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
“While we want information, obviously, it needs to be borne in mind that we provide a very important service for the police in terms of looking for witnesses and helping in solving crimes. And also, as Mr House alluded to in his statement, we’re a very effective way for him to communicate a general policy message that the police want to put across.”