| LONDON, July 12
LONDON, July 12 "The basic test of a decent
police force is that it catches more criminals than it employs."
That adage, coined by Robert Mark, a Metropolitan Police
Commissioner in the 1970s, might just as easily be applied to
another profession with a similar stake in the public's trust --
In the wake of the UK's hacking scandal, the British public
seems to have reason for concern on both counts. The scandal
that began at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid has
tarnished the media magnate and British politicians alike. It
has also exposed the sometimes cosy, sometimes sinister
relationship between parts of Fleet Street and Scotland Yard,
the British capital's legendary police force.
An independent police complaints watchdog is investigating
media allegations that News of the World reporters paid tens of
thousands of pounds in "bungs", or bribes, to police officers
for information about celebrities, royals and other story
Scotland Yard has also admitted it bungled its initial
handling of the hacking allegations, accepting assurances from
executives from News International, Murdoch's British press arm,
that the problem was limited to a single rogue reporter.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates told the Sunday Telegraph
his July 2009 decision not to reopen the police investigation
into the hacking claims "was a pretty crap one" in light of the
complaints about phone intrusions then flooding in to the Yard
from celebrities and politicians.
At the same time, at least five senior police investigators
on the case discovered that their own cellphone messages had
been targeted by the News of the World, according to the New
York Times. That claim raises the possibility that police may
have gone soft in their investigation because they feared having
details of their private lives appear in the tabloid.
Allegations about two of the officers did eventually appear in
other news outlets.
A parliamentary committee will today grill four senior
officers about their failure to properly investigate the phone
The worst excesses uncovered in this case -- phone hacking
in particular -- may now end. But both reporters and police say
the practice of bribing low-level officers for information --
the identity of a suspect, the time someone will be arrested --
"This type of activity has been going on since the creation
of the police service and no national newspaper worth its salt,
if it wants to stay competitive, is going to stop doing this
kind of thing," a former police officer told Reuters.
"I don't think you can end it, because there's too much
demand from the media," said the former officer, who declined to
be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
One of the most serious allegations of police corruption to
emerge from the hacking scandal involves convicted criminal
Jonathan Rees, a private investigator used by the News of the
World to obtain information on politicians, senior civil
servants, central bankers and members of the royal family.
Rees was charged with murdering Daniel Morgan, his business
partner in a private investigations agency they ran, in 1987.
But after a protracted legal process that involved five
inquiries into the killing the case against him collapsed in
March this year. Prosecutors said important evidence had not
been disclosed to the defence.
Commenting on the failure of the case, Detective Chief
Superintendent Hamish Campbell said the initial probe of the
killing, decades earlier, had been flawed.
"This current investigation has identified, ever more
clearly, how the initial inquiry failed the family and wider
public. It is quite apparent that police corruption was a
debilitating factor in that investigation. This was wholly
The failures may also have come because of pressure from the
tabloid. Former Scotland Yard detective Dave Cook told Reuters
he now plans to sue the publishers of the News of the World for
harassment and hacking his phone while he was investigating the
high-profile axe murder.
Rees emerged as a key figure in the scandal because former
News of the World editor Andy Coulson reportedly hired him as an
investigator when he ran the weekly. Prime Minister David
Cameron later hired Coulson as his communications director.
Did Coulson know of Rees's past -- it also involved a prison
term for conspiring to deceive -- when he hired him? And did
Cameron know of Coulson's use of a criminal when he hired him to
work at Number 10?
Alastair Morgan, brother of murder victim Daniel, wants
answers. While the authorities conducted numerous probes of the
killing itself, "they've never done an inquiry into the
mishandling of the case."
"There's a deeply unhealthy and corrosive relationship
between the News Of the World and the Metropolitan police,"
Morgan told Reuters.
"We've only just begun to delve into it."
Will that relationship now end?
Tony Dyhouse, a security expert at Britain's ICT Knowledge
Transfer Network,a multi-industry forum on innovation, told
Reuters he believed the current furore would deter most
journalists from phone hacking, even as technology made it
easier to intercept communications and spy on digital devices.
"Now it is blatantly shown to be illegal, I think people
will think twice about doing this if they have something to
lose. I don't think most journalists would do this again. I
think it will move more to an organised-crime sort of scenario,
someone who doesn't care about breaking the law."
But Rob Mawby, a senior lecturer in criminology at the
University of Leicester, told Reuters journalists will never get
everything they want through the official channels, "so there
are always going to be opportunities".
"Where there's information that people want ... officers
will be on that 'invitational edge of corruption' and some
officers will give in to that invitation."
He said once the latest scandal and inquiries were over,
things would get "dangerous" again as the focus moved elsewhere.
"Once there's been a crackdown it slips below the surface again
and it's more difficult to detect and deal with. It's always
going to be there."
Still, it may be possible to cap. Robert Mark was confronted
with widespread corruption at the "Met" when he took over the
force in 1972. His drive against graft eventually led to the
departure or prosecution of hundreds of officers with ties to
"I had never experienced institutionalised wrongdoing,
blindness, arrogance and prejudice on anything like the scale
accepted as routine in the Met," he later recalled of his
arrival at the force.
Today, the Met says it takes graft more seriously than ever.
Its website says it has a directorate of professional standards
with 460 officers who probe abuse among the force's 32,000
officers and an almost equal number of support staff and backup
officers. Of Scotland Yard's total 3.6 billion pound ($5.7
billion) budget, the directorate's share is about 31 million.
Graeme McLagan, a former BBC home affairs corrrespondent and
author of "Bent Coppers", a study of Scotland Yard's anti-graft
fight, agrees corruption has lessened over the years.
"You still get corrupt cops," he told Reuters. "But they are
doing it individually. It's much less organised. Previously
you'd get whole squads or sections of squads who would be
"Now it's individual officers who do favours for criminals
or for family members who have ties to criminals or for
intermediaries of some kind."
(Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)
(Created by Simon Robinson)