Mocking laughter greets former officer's explanations

 

If the Metropolitan Police thought things could not get any worse, they were wrong, writes MARK HENNESSY

ONCE ONE of the Metropolitan Police’s most senior officers, Andy Hayman is a youthful 52-year-old who has never left his Essex upbringing behind, with a casual, blustery confidence and the accent of Arthur Daley.

The accent led some to underestimate him in his career. Hayman reached the third most senior rank in the Met, decorated for his role after the 7/7 bombings and for rounding up those involved in the bungled bombing wave three weeks later.

However, his reputation will do well to survive the catastrophe that was his appearance yesterday before the Commons’ Home Affairs Committee, where both MPs and the public gallery openly erupted in mocking laughter at some of his answers.

Hayman was the third in a list of four serving and former Metropolitan Police witnesses before the MPs, who are still clearly livid they did not get the full story about the hacking scandal in the past from them.

While Hayman has retired, another of yesterday’s witnesses, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, is the one most exposed.

He was the one who decided not to reopen the News of the World inquiry in 2009 after further allegations.

He had not delved into the 11,000 pages of records “held in bin bags” that have now produced the names of nearly 4,000 hacking victims because the Guardian then had nothing new – adding that the Director of Public Prosecutions came to the same view 10 days later.

Rejecting calls that he should quit, Yates – who was supported yesterday by Home Secretary Theresa May – said he did not believe he should go because News International failed to co-operate with the police investigation.

Given the stage by Labour chairman Keith Vaz, a clearly astonished Conservative MP Michael Ellis drew out each of the words in his question: “You had thousands of pages of documents – why did you not look at them?”

Rejecting Yates’s defence that the majority of the blame lies at News International’s door, Labour MP Bridget Phillipson asked slowly: “Do you find it surprising that people involved in a criminal offence didn’t want to co-operate with you?”

By the end, Yates looked bruised, but even still he was clearly taken aback when the chairman said the committee had found his answers “unconvincing”.

Peter Clarke, once the head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch, put matters in context. The investigation in 2006 began with fears from Buckingham Palace that the voicemails of senior royals had been hacked.

However, London had been attacked twice the year before: a plot to destroy seven airliners in the mid-Atlantic was then under way and the terrorists involved were arrested just after Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire had been arrested.

Faced with countering terrorism “that posed an immediate threat to the British public”, Clarke said he had narrowed the investigation’s reach sufficient to ensure that Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted and that other Fleet Street malefactors were frightened off.

“Set against the criminal course of conduct that involved gross breaches of privacy but no apparent threat of physical harm to the public, I could not justify the huge expenditure of resources this would entail over an inevitably protracted period,” said Clarke.

Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, Clarke agreed with Yates about where the major blame should lie: “If at any time News International had offered some meaningful co-operation instead of prevarication and what we now know to be lies, we would not be here today.”

Flawed though it may be, Clarke’s argument was coherent; unlike Hayman, who appeared after him and was vague on detail and casual almost to the point of self-immolation when questioned about hospitality received from News International.

Such social contacts were part of his duties, he asserted, as he rejected charges that there was anything improper in having taken a job as a London Times columnist just two months after he retired and while the News of the World investigation continued.

Should he not now resign , asked the chairman.

Suddenly Hayman, who has clearly no intention of quitting and for whom journalism had been “a boyhood dream”, was belligerent. “If I get suspended or dismissed, I hope I get grounds for that.”

He was incandescent when Conservative MP Lorraine Fullbrook asked if he had taken any money while in uniform: “Good God! I’m not letting her get away with it! I can’t believe you asked that!” he shouted.

By now, MPs sat watching in disbelief, while some in the public gallery sniggered.

“I normally sum up people’s evidence,” said the chairman, “but on this occasion I find your evidence speaks for itself.”

Few disagreed.