Former senior Scotland Yard officer John Yates refused to let other officers examine his phone records in a leak inquiry because he was ‘very well-connected’, the Leveson inquiry hears.
Bob Quick, who was Britain’s most senior counterterrorism officer until his resignation from the Metropolitan Police in 2009, said that he had been asked to investigate whether leaks to the press from a sensitive investigation were coming from Assistant Commissioner John Yates.
Mr Quick, then the chief constable of Surrey police, was asked to look into allegations that there had been unauthorised disclosures to the media from Scotland Yard’s highly sensitive cash-for-honours investigation in 2006 to 2007.
His review found no evidence of leaks from detectives, and noted that the information which entered the public domain could have come from documents disclosed by police to people interviewed in the inquiry.
But he was called back to Scotland Yard on 26 January 2007 and asked by then-deputy commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson to carry out a further review into Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell‘s concerns that the leaks were coming from Mr Yates.
Mr Quick made a series of suggestions for actions which could allay Mr O’Donnell’s fears, including an analysis of Mr Yates’s telephone records.
“As a former head of counter-corruption in the Metropolitan Police, I recognised that as fairly standard practice in cases where the organisation suspected an officer might be responsible for leaks,” he said.
But Mr Yates did not give his consent to the move, the hearing was told.
Mr Quick said in a statement to the inquiry: “He refused, and when I pressed him he made the comment that he was ‘very well (or too well) connected’.
“When I questioned this remark, he emphasised ‘No, Bob, I’m very (emphasised) well-connected’.”
Mr Quick told the hearing: “I didn’t place huge significance on it at the time. I thought it was a bit of theatre.
“I sensed Assistant Commissioner Yates was clearly sensitive – as I think I would be – to an intrusive process like that.”
He told Mr Stephenson, who ruled it was not necessary to examine Mr Yates’s phone records.
Prosecutors announced in July 2007 that no-one would face charges over the cash-for-honours allegations, which dominated Tony Blair’s final year as prime minister.
The committee also heard about the investigation into Whitehall leaks to Tory MP Damian Green, of which Mr Quick was the officer in charge.
He was urged to shut down the investigation by Mr Yates and Mr Stephenson, with the latter warning him that he had “written out his resignation” amid political and media furore about the Met’s arrest of Mr Green.
Mr Quick, who had earlier expressed concerns about senior officers’ relationship with Daily Mail journalists, said the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail had been critical of the Damian Green investigation.
In December 2009 Mr Quick learned that the Mail on Sunday was going to run an front page story alleging that his wife’s wedding car business used serving police officers as chauffeurs, something he insisted was “completely and utterly untrue”.
When Mr Quick threatened the Mail with legal redress, the paper instead decided to run a different story claiming that his security was being compromised by his wife’s business activities.
“I felt it was a kind of bogus case they were making to run an article against me in relation to the real issue as I took it to be – the Damian Green investigation.”
He said, the article created doubts about his judgement and anxiety for his wife, who had to wind down her business.
Mr Quick went on to become an assistant commissioner in the Met, but he resigned in 2009 after accidentally displaying details of a secret operation to photographers as he entered Downing Street.
After he decided to resign, he found that London Mayor Boris Johnson had already announced the acceptance of his resignation on television before he had formally tendered it.
Earlier, former Met Commissioner Lord Blair said he was briefed about the Met’s phone-hacking investigation before the arrests of News of the World Royal Editor Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006.
But he said he was not given a sense of how widespread the illegal practice was or the likelihood that people other than Mulcaire were also carrying it out.
Lord Blair insisted that he understood former senior Met officer Peter Clarke’s decision to restrict the scope of the phone hacking probe in 2006, at a time when police were tackling a massive terrorist threat including the temporary closure of Heathrow Airport.
But he said he might have done things “slightly differently” had he known the large number of victims and the possibility that other journalists were also involved.
He told the hearing that the inquiry could have been handed over to another part of the Met, potentially the specialist crime directorate, for a scoping study at a later date.
Lord Blair only learned after 2006 that his private and official mobile numbers were included in notes seized from Mulcaire by police, the inquiry was told.
He said he had no evidence that his phone was ever hacked, and just put this down to experience.
“I think I just literally said ‘Oh, really?’ because we were dealing with all sorts of horrors at the time,” he said.
“So I just suppose I thought ‘Well, two people have been arrested, that’s it then’.”
The former commissioner criticised the speed of former Scotland Yard assistant commissioner John Yates’s response to a July 2009 Guardian report which alleged phone-hacking was far more widespread than previously believed.
Mr Yates began his examination of the claims on the morning the article appeared, and by the late afternoon had made a media statement dismissing calls for the Met’s hacking investigation to be re-opened.
Lord Blair said: “From what I can see, that decision was just too quick. Why could you not have gone back and with all these allegations looked further into what did the material actually say?…
“I don’t quite understand why John took that decision with the speed that he did.”
Mr Yates told the Leveson Inquiry last week that he was “good friends” with former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis and “may well” have drunk champagne with the paper’s crime editor, Lucy Panton.
But he insisted his links with the paper did not affect his decision not to reopen the phone-hacking inquiry.
Meanwhile, the attorney general is looking into concerns that the policewoman leading the investigation into illegal newsgathering could have prejudiced any potential trials.
Dominic Grieve’s office is examining the testimony given by Sue Akers to the Leveson inquiry last month after receiving at least one complaint. She told the inquiry that the Sun newspaper had a “network of corrupt officials” across bodies such as the police and Ministry of Defence.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general said: “Evidence given during the Leveson inquiry has been drawn to the attention of the Attorney General’s office,” he said. “The Attorney General will consider the concerns raised.”