Orde says he learned much from journalists
FORMER NORTHERN Ireland chief constable Sir Hugh Orde has told the Leveson Inquiry that he learned more from senior journalists about Northern Ireland in his early months in the post than they did from him.
Many of them, he said, had a great understanding of Northern Ireland and had written many of the definitive books on the subject. “So it was much for my benefit of understanding their perspective on where policing was going.
“They had a wealth of information which I could benefit from, so in a way it was a rather parasitic relationship at the beginning, where I benefited far more from their information than they did from anything I had to say to them,” he said.
Every journalist was given on-the-record interviews, if they requested them, but he reserved private background briefings – “more targeted conversations” as he described them – for those he saw as “competent and professional”.
Meanwhile, Sir Hugh’s successor, Chief Constable Matt Baggott, said Northern Ireland journalists were more responsible in their coverage than British-based colleagues because they “an absolute commitment to the future of the province”.
“They have a stake in it. And they are part of the confidence-building and they have an ownership of the issues,” he said.
“The national media will come in and will report on the story for one day, sometimes for the headline,” Mr Baggott added.
However, “the local media in Northern Ireland have to live with the consequences of their reporting and they are very much bought into the future of peace-building”.
Now heading the Association of Chief Police Officers in the UK, Sir Hugh warned the inquiry into press standards that the relationship between the press must be appropriate, but that it must not become “too rigid”.
“I think it is inevitable in the short term that it will become – journalists may find it more difficult as we become perhaps too defensive as perhaps a slight over-reaction to events that have gone on recently.
“I think we need to guard against that,” he said. “I would not want to become over-bureaucratic. I think we do have to be confident in our own skins that we can maintain professional relationships with journalists and not impugn our integrity.”
He said he had been surprised to learn of the “quite close relationships” between “certain individuals and certain media outlets” that had emerged during the inquiry, referring to the ties between some Scotland Yard officers and News International.
Police in Northern Ireland were fearful of dealing with the media when he arrived in Belfast in 2002, partly because a public profile could make them an easier target for dissident republicans, but this had changed by the time he left in 2009.
“Culturally, officers being identified as police officers in 2002 were still very tricky. Understandably many were very reticent to speak to the media. By 2009 it was routine for officers of all ranks to quite happily stand up in front of a camera be it at local or national level,” he said.
The former chief constable has sometimes become the subject of news stories himself, particularly after he was seen to challenge British prime minister David Cameron during last August’s riots in London.
In addition, a story appeared in the Daily Mail that wrongly alleged he had designed his own uniform and badge at home, though his attempts to get the Press Complaints Commission to deal with the story were a failure.