12 Jul 2011

Yates of the Yard: phone hacking, bin bags and regret

As Met Police chief John Yates admits making decisions in the phone-hack inquiry which proved “damaging”, Channel 4 News looks at the missed chances which have triggered calls for him to quit.

Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates in 2009. (Getty)

Tough yet popular, the man for the big jobs, high-flying Marlborough and Cambridge-educated John Yates became known as the “safe pair of hands” of the Met Police.

In the 2000s he led a string of high-profile cases – including the “cash for honours” investigation which struck at the heart of Westminster. He was chosen to visit the family of Jean Charles de Menezes in Brazil after the young man’s wrongful shooting by anti-terror police in the wake of 7/7.

Yates’s special inquiry unit was nicknamed the “celebrity squad” and his high profile earned him a moniker worthy of a TV police drama: Yates of the Yard.

Today the 52-year-old’s rock-solid reputation has taken a pounding as the phone-hacking scandal continues to scorch through Government, the media and the police.

More from Channel 4 News: Thousands of phone-hack victims 'still to be told'

Missed chances

Assistant Commissioner Yates was tasked with reviewing the initial 2006 investigation into allegations of hacking by News of the World (NoW) journalists.

That first inquiry led to the jailing of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and NoW’s then royal correspondent Clive Goodman in connection with the hacking of Prince William’s phone.

The scandal was repeatedly said by News International executives to be the work of a rogue operator, one “bad apple”.

In July 2009, after spending a reported eight hours considering claims phone hacking had been much more widespread, Yates decided there was not enough new evidence to reopen the affair.

In a statement on 9 July 2009 he said: “Where there was clear evidence that people had been the subject of tapping, they were all contacted by the police.

“This case has been the subject of the most careful investigation by very experienced detectives… no additional evidence has come to light since this case has concluded.

“I therefore consider that no further investigation is required.”

In full: AC John Yates statement, 9 July 2009

His conclusion was used by News International’s Rebekah Brooks, who within a day wrote to Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman John Whittingdale, to refute claims that illegal phone tapping was “widespread” at NoW.

She wrote: “It [The Guardian] is rushing out high volumes of coverage and repeating allegations… implying that ‘thousands’ of individuals were the object of illegal phone hacking, an assertion that is roundly contradicted by the Met Commissioner’s (sic) statement yesterday.”

Yates stuck to his guns when he appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee in September 2010. As Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon reported, Yates said that “10 to 12 people” were judged by the police to have been subjected to the “minutest possibility” of risk.

Bin bags

In fact, 11,000 pages of documents, recovered from Glenn Mulcaire’s home, were still sitting in bin bags at Scotland Yard. In these documents we now know there were 4,000 names of possible hacking victims – from the rich and famous, to victims of murder and relatives of people killed by terrorists.

Yates now says his 2009 conclusion is a matter of “regret”.

If I have unwittingly misled this committee… than that is a matter of regret, of course it is. Asst Commissioner John Yates

Appearing again before the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday he said: “There was nothing to indicate to me in 2009 that there was new material in there that justified going through it.

“I don’t think you’d expect me to be utilising my time to go and examine bin bags.

“I’ve always said that there were potentially hundreds of people affected by Glenn Mulcaire.

“If I have unwittingly misled this committee… than that is a matter of regret, of course it is.”

‘Turn the clock back’

In his latest grilling by MPs Yates insisted: “I have never lied and all the information I have provided has been given in good faith.”

He said he was sorry for the damage done by what he recently told the Telegraph was a “pretty crap” decision not to reopen the phone-hacking investigation when he had the chance.

More from Channel 4 News: Police chief Yates 'certain' phone was hacked

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson asked: “Why as an experienced police officer do you find it surprising that people that may have committed criminal offences don’t necessarily want to co-operate with police?”

He replied: “It’s very clear that… if there’s a level of co-operation provided by the persons from whom you are seeking information, you have to be absolutely certain they’re obstructing you…

“It is the law about how you can go about getting that material.”

I think some of the decisions I’ve taken – if I knew then what I know now – then it would have been different. And that is damaging. Asst Commissioner John Yates

He revealed that he believed that he too had been a phone-hack victim and admitted he would “turn the clock back” on the whole affair if he could.

“I think some of the decisions I’ve taken – if I knew then what I know now – then it would have been different. And that is damaging.

“I have not considered my resignation. I passionately believe in doing the right thing – and the right thing in this case was to hold my hands up…. but that does not make it a resignation matter.”

Committee chairman Keith Vaz concluded that his latest evidence had been “unconvincing”.

Calls for Yates to quit

Home Secretary Theresa May has voiced her continued support for Mr Yates, saying: “He’s doing a very good job… I have confidence in John Yates.”

Her words were echoed by Met Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, who said: “John has taken on some of the Met’s most difficult roles and has an excellent record in some very challenging areas.

Bluntly I find his position quite simply untenable. Lord Ashdown

“He never shies away from those difficult cases and in this particular matter, we need to give him credit for his courage and humility in acknowledging that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have taken different decisions.”

But Lord Ashdown, former Lib Dem leader and one of the architects of the Coalition, is leading calls for Yates to resign.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One, he said: “This is a man employed for judgment and it is plain by his own admission that he has made a very serious error of judgment.”

He concluded: “Bluntly I find his position quite simply untenable.”