Old sparring partner former Deputy Commissioner John Yates had a mention in a question I asked the Prime Minister on Leveson. We crossed swords in 2007.
Lord Leveson says that he regrets that former Deputy Commissioner John Yates did not reflect on his close friendship with the deputy editor of the News of the World before he decided in 2009-10 not to reopen the hacking inquiries. Is not the great shock of this report the revelations of the very close relationships between press, police and politicians? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do, personally and as a Prime Minister, to ensure that the corrosive effects of cronyism are reduced?
On the relationship between the press and politicians, this Government have taken unprecedented action to publicise and make transparent all the meetings between politicians and editors, and politicians and proprietors. All that is now declared on a quarterly basis and that is how it should be. That did not happen in the past. The report recommends that that should also apply between senior officers and members of the press and that, to try to end excessively close relationships, there should be a cooling-off period before police officers go and work for newspapers. Lord Leveson does address those issues. We have not waited for the report; we have gone on and put those things in place.
Yates, innocent OK?
Now time has caught up with Yates of the Yard, it's interesting to recall how the Wales on Sunday were on the side of the righteous in 2007. A column written by an apprentice reporter named Matt Withers (whatever happened to him?) was unhappy because I had pointed out to Yates that suspects were all treated as innocent until they were proved to be Labour.
Unlike Rebekah who was invited to drop into the Police Station at any time that suited her, the Labour secretaries and typists were turfed out of bed at 5.00 o'clock in the morning. Amazingly the Press and TV cameras arrived even earlier. Yates vehemently denied that there was any collusion between press and police. Of course.
Now we know the truth. Good to have Wales on Sunday standing up for the police in their abortive inquiries. Of course, even though they were blameless, those typists and secretaries had it coming to them. the prophetic words of Withers read:
"• MEANWHILE, we’re sure you’ll all join Newport West MP in sharing the pain of those poor Labour donors and workers treated so cruelly by police investigating the cash-for-peerages scandal.
Mr Flynn is a member of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee who last week interrogated John Yates, the Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner who carried out the investigation.
Mr Yates admitted it had been “uncomfortable? for the suspects.
“Uncomfortable?,? says Mr Flynn. “They went through hell.
“Several wrote to us of their ‘prolonged deep distress’, and the ‘continuing ordeal’ of being hung out to dry with constant press stories that were unfair and untrue.?
All heart-rending stuff, and we’re sure it’s only the time constraints of his job that has prevented Mr Flynn from voicing his concern over similarly badly-treated suspects in long-running enquiries who weren’t multi-millionaire benefactors of his party."
The report on which Withers based his calamitous comments was on this blog in 2007. Subsequent resignations have been kinder to me than to Wales on Sunday's snide remarks. It reads:-
Outwardly calm, his body language eloquently expressed fury. Yates of the Yard is not happy this afternoon giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee.
His most eloquent answer was the five seconds of silence that followed this question from Committee Chairman Tony Wright. “Have you discovered there’s a trade in peerages?
Of course there is a trade, has been for 70 years and all three main parties are up to their necks in it. Our political system is – apart from Scandinavia- the cleanest in the world. Labour brought in a major reform act to make donations transparent. Sadly there was a loophole on loans and we appeared to have jumped straight through it.
Of course the police should have investigated an opportunistic complaint by a Scottish Nationalist MP quite legitimately on the political attack. But it should have been done and dusted in a few months. A complaint against Tories was over very rapidly without dawn raids, leak to the press and the torment that the witnesses went through.
One myth was nailed firmly by Yates. There has been a persistent story that Tony Blair refused to be interviewed ‘under caution.’ I asked Yates, ‘Did Tony Blair lay down any conditions under which he agreed to be interviewed.”. “No” was the unequivocal answer.
I accused Yates of being ‘cavalier’ in his treatment of witnesses. He said that he knew it was ‘uncomfortable’ for them. ‘Uncomfortable?’ They went through hell. Several wrote to us of their ‘prolonged deep distress’, and the ’continuing ordeal’ of being hung out to dry with constant press stories that were unfair and untrue.
As a committee we remain irritated that this investigation forced us to suspend our own. Had we continued we would have delivered practical proposal to reform the system.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stonewalled many questions that appeared legitimate to us. ‘That’s an area I can’t discuss.’ This is a big area - the size of a sub-continent. But the Inspectors inner fury occasionally slipped out. When the CPS refused to say why the diary of one of the witnesses was ruled out as inadmissible, Yates chipped in. His answer gave more than a hint that he thought that the diary might be the ‘crown jewels’ that would have allowed a prosecution to go ahead.
As a Committee we will be pilloried by the press as apologists for a rotten system. None of the committee is. But without a witness who was prepared to say that a bribe had been offered in return for a peerage, a prosecution was never a serious possibility. In the only successful case brought in the 82 years since 1925, there was such a witness.
The investigation has been futile. It has delayed reforms and inflicted a year and a half on torment on honourable people who are bewildered because they believe they have done nothing wrong. Sound and fury signifying nothing.