Leveson Inquiry: Jail officers 'took illegal payments'

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Media captionThe Metropolitan Police's Sue Akers said one officer had allegedly received £35,000

Two officers at high-security prisons allegedly took illegal payments from Mirror, Express and News International journalists, a senior police officer has told the Leveson Inquiry.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers said one officer had allegedly received £35,000.

But she said stories possibly linked to the payments revealed "very limited material of genuine public interest".

Trinity Mirror said it was co-operating with the police on the matter.

The fourth module of the inquiry, which was launched in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, is focused on future press regulation.

DAC Akers is leading investigations into phone hacking, claims of corrupt payments to public officials - including police officers - and computer crime.

In her evidence, she said Scotland Yard had analysed stories possibly linked to payments to two senior prison officers at separate prisons.

She said: "It's our assessment that there are reasonable grounds to suspect offences have been committed and that the majority of these stories reveal very limited material of genuine public interest."

The inquiry heard that one prison officer was accused of taking illegal payments of nearly £35,000 from Trinity Mirror, News International and Express Newspapers between April 2010 and June 2011.

Additional payments are also alleged to have been made, with a final payment in February 2012, she said.

The other official allegedly received payments totalling more than £14,000 from Trinity Mirror between February 2006 and January 2012.

Data intrusion

Nick Fullagar, director of corporate communications for Trinity Mirror, said: "We take any accusation against the company very seriously and we are co-operating with the police on this matter."

Express Newspapers said it had no comment to make.

In her evidence, DAC Akers gave a breakdown of arrests made and information gathered during the three investigations she is leading, including:

  • Forty-one arrests as part of Operation Elveden into corrupt payments to officials
  • This includes 23 former or current journalists, four police officers, nine current or former public officials and five alleged "go-betweens"
  • Fifteen current and former journalists arrested during Operation Weeting inquiry into phone hacking - 12 are on bail
  • Six people, including former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie, have been charged and are to appear in court in September
  • Files relating to three police officers and one journalist are currently with the Crown Prosecution Service
  • Seven arrests have been made as part of Operation Tuleta into allegations that computers were hacked
  • Police are looking into 101 allegations of data intrusion
  • Eight to 11 terabytes of electronic data are being examined

Ms Akers also suggested certain information obtained by News International seemed to have come from stolen mobile phones - one taken in London and another in Manchester.

She said police officers were investigating whether this was "the tip of the iceberg" relating to alleged accessing of stolen mobile phones.

Ms Akers - who is due to retire from the Met later this year - told the inquiry she was happy to return to give further evidence in September.

'Defensive and closed'

Later, in closing submissions, Neil Garnham - QC for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) - told the inquiry that no inappropriate relationships existed between police and journalists.

"We frankly admit that there have been incidents which led to a plain perception of cosiness between particular senior MPS officers and particular journalists," he said.

But he added there were no corrupt, cosy or inappropriately close relationships between senior officers and journalists that could "taint police decision-making".

He said the Met's decisions not to reopen the phone-hacking investigation in 2009 and 2010 "were taken too quickly and with a defensive and closed mindset", but had not been affected by relationships between officers and journalists at News International.

On Monday afternoon, the inquiry heard closing submissions from Gavin Millar QC, of the Telegraph Media Group, who said the Telegraph was appalled at the revelations of phone hacking that led to the inquiry being established.

He said such methods were a "long way removed" from behaviour at the Telegraph, and that an internal review going back to 2005 had found no evidence of hacking at the paper.

Mr Millar also said changes to media regulation could happen organically as part of a system accepted by the industry.

Speaking about the Press Complaints Commission, he highlighted its ability to deal with single complaints, but acknowledged it lacked the power to handle systemic failures.

He said the Telegraph recommended the PCC be replaced - "without the intervention of statute or government".

Mr Millar also warned the industry would be sceptical of over-regulation.

The inquiry then heard Northern & Shell's closing submission, provided by James Dingemans QC representing the Express and Star newspapers.

Mr Dingemans said that "uncertainty" in privacy law has been "a particular vice" for the British media.

However, he warned that any new regulatory system should be "different" from criminal and civil law - and should function mainly to "enhance" rather than punish the industry.

The Express papers - which are not members of the PCC - recommended that there be no current editors regulating any new body.

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