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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 939-viii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
The New Landscape of Policing
Tuesday 12 July 2011
Sara Thornton and Lord Blair
Evidence heard in Public Questions 713 - 764
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 12 July 2011
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sara Thornton, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Police Best Practice, and Lord Blair, Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, gave evidence.
Q713 Chair: Chief Constable, Lord Blair, thank you for coming. May I open this session of the inquiry that the Committee is conducting into the new landscape of policing and welcome you, Chief Constable and Lord Blair, to this session? We are looking at the Government’s proposals as far as the new landscape is concerned and we have called you, Chief Constable, today because of the good practice of Thames Valley Police. In fact, I met the Prime Minister, one of your local MPs, last Thursday and I told him that you were coming to give evidence and he responded by saying, and this is a direct quote, "I love Sara Thornton". Why does your local MP feel such affection towards the Thames Valley Police?
Mr Winnick: Is that another scandal?
Sara Thornton: I think the reason why the Prime Minister would have made those comments is because I brief him, along with all the MPs in the Thames Valley, about what we are doing. In particular, the biggest challenge for all chiefs at the moment is to think over the next three or four years about how we will deliver levels of service and protection to the public that we serve with about 20% less resources. I am quite clear that that is the most strategic challenge that I have as Chief Constable. Because it is so significant, we have spent an awful lot of time thinking about how we might do that. The gap over the four years for Thames Valley is about £53 million. As you will have heard from other colleagues, we are about midway between some of the forces that have massive gaps and some forces that have smaller gaps. We have been working on a productivity strategy for several years and are very clear about managing that in the best possible way.
I think what the Prime Minister is referring to is some of the changes that we have made to the way we organise ourselves. Because my absolute desire over those four years is to make sure-in terms of visible policing-that we do not cut the number of officers who do response patrol and neighbourhood policing, and on our current plans we are not going to cut them. We have done an awful lot to avoid cutting those numbers.
Q714 Chair: We will come on to that in a second because one of your other local MPs is Nicola Blackwood and she will have some questions for you on that. But as far as the new landscape is concerned, the Committee is a little concerned that there perhaps is not the kind of detail that one would have expected by now as far as the National Crime Agency is concerned. The Government has obviously made an ambitious plan to change the landscape of policing, but we are not absolutely clear how the NCA will relate to local police forces, for example.
Sara Thornton: I think it is very much early stages. As you know, the plan was published by the Home Office last month and the post of head of the NCA was advertised last month. It seems to me that it is a key appointment to get somebody in place as soon as possible.
In terms of the relationship between the NCA and forces, as I understand it the Home Office envisage quite a different relationship. SOCA have worked well on individual operations but very much as partners, and the proposals at the moment are that the NCA will have much more of a tasking responsibility with local forces. I don’t think that is necessarily anything to be concerned about. It strikes me that in counterterrorism we have very developed coordination approaches that work well, and I think we need to develop those sort of coordination approaches so that we can really tackle organised crime in the way that it needs to be tackled.
Q715 Chair: Lord Blair, as far as the new landscape is concerned, do you think that counterterrorism should be part of the NCA or is this something that should remain with the Met?
Lord Blair: Well, Chair, I do not wish to be evasive in front of the Committee but I think that is very much a matter that past Commissioners should not really comment on. I have a view that the Met leading worked very well while I was there, but I think it is a matter for the current post holders.
Q716 Chair: In terms of the other parts of the new landscape, are you satisfied with what is going to go into the National Crime Agency? Are you allowed to have a view on what other organisations should go in there, or are you permanently in purdah?
Lord Blair: No, I am not in purdah, otherwise I would not be here. It would be rather boring for us all, wouldn’t it, really? But as far as I am concerned, the NCA is an open question because it is the same problem that Government has tried to address so far three times. After the 1962 Royal Commission there was no central organisation. By the 1970s and 1980s there were regional crime squads, then the National Crime Squad, then the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, now a National Crime Agency. The problem is that you have three things that those agencies are supposed to do, regional, national and international, and each one has only done one or one and a half of those. Somewhere there is a gap, and that is a very difficult gap to fill.
Q717 Nicola Blackwood: In a recent letter that you sent to me, as well as to the Prime Minister, you mentioned that the new structure of Thames Valley Police was helping you focus better on local policing. This was in particular the removal of the basic command units. Could you tell us how that was working in practice?
Sara Thornton: When we looked at the structure and the need to take out a lot of money, one of the very obvious things to do was to look at the management layers that we had. We set up a review but I was pretty convinced early on that the way to save significant money was to take out that BCU level. What we have now in the Thames Valley is 15 local police areas that are coterminous with the Community Safety Partnership, so either at district council level or unitary council level, and they report directly to the Assistant Chief Constables at headquarters. That has enabled us to take away the management layer there was at the BCUs in terms of senior officers, but in terms of the sorts of functions they did, whether that was human resources, finance, intelligence, operational planning, we have brought those all into shared services, which is again a much cheaper way to do things. By changing the organisation, we have saved money.
But I would also argue it is not just about saving money. What we are able to do is intensely focus on local policing, which is what most of the public are concerned about most of the time. Now, I will always argue that organised crime and terrorism are key challenges, but most of the public are really focused on local policing. We have those 15 local police areas working directly to headquarters and I think that is a lot better. We actually implemented at the beginning of April and I have been seeking feedback from colleagues-and some good feedback in terms of fewer meetings, less process and a sense of being freed up. But also, from my perspective, it is much better because our daily management meeting, which we have at 9.00am every morning, is done by phone conference, and if people have something happen-a big incident or a serious crime-then they call in. We have a telephone conference every morning so at headquarters we have a real grip on the critical incidents that are happening over the force area.
Q718 Nicola Blackwood: But that is a particular focus, as I understand it, within Thames Valley Police, which has been a reduction of bureaucracy within the police force, just not imposed from outside but also from within. As I understand it, you are working on a reduction of guidelines for ACPO as well. Could you tell the Committee a little bit about that as well?
Sara Thornton: About a year ago ACPO decided that there really was too great an accumulation of national practice, guidance, doctrine, whatever you wanted to call it. In January I was appointed as the Vice President of ACPO and the President, Sir Hugh Orde, asked me to lead the task of trying to reduce the amount of guidance. It is no secret that we have over 600 items of national guidance, and I have some colleagues from the Home Office, the Independent Police Complaints Committee, the Association of Police Authorities and the Inspectorate who are sitting with me on a steering group, with a plan-in simple terms-to reorder, rationalise and consolidate that doctrine over the course of the year.
There will be two sorts of doctrine in future. There will be core doctrine, which includes those kind of cross-cutting issues, so what is our practice on intelligence, on investigation, on information management? Let’s just talk about that once and let’s not repeat the same information in 10, 20 or 30 different documents. Then we will have very specific practice for things like dealing with public order, dealing with terrorism. What I keep saying to my colleagues is that the landscape has changed. The bar for national practice is going to be so much higher in the future. It is not that this is a good idea, let’s tell everybody about it; it is very much about whether we have to have national practice. Do we all have to be consistent and interoperable in these areas? There is a much higher bar.
Chair: That is very helpful.
Q719 Steve McCabe: Good morning, Chief Constable. The Home Secretary is obviously quite impressed with the work that you are doing as well and she said that you were on target to produce your core practice document by the end of this year and reduce the various guidance documents by March of next year. Is that timetable one you are likely to be able to achieve?
Sara Thornton: That is my timetable. One of the advantages of having Home Office representation on my steering group is that they report back to the Home Office. I did say-I think in the first meeting-that my idea was to have about 100 items maximum at the end, and that got converted into the Home Secretary announcing that. I have a target by default there, but there is a huge amount of work to be done.
Q720 Steve McCabe: Can I just ask what the difference is between essential guidance and nonessential guidance?
Sara Thornton: We have set some criteria for areas of high risk, so we ask whether we really need this in terms of cross-force border collaboration. Is it an area where our reputation demands that we get it right? There is a set list of criteria. If you look at the areas we have identified it is the areas you would probably anticipate a high risk. For example, an area where I do not want to have national practice-and I am desperately trying to hold the line-is neighbourhood policing. My view is that the chief officers do not need to authorise approved practice nationally for neighbourhood policing because that needs to be left locally. But for something like firearms or public order or terrorism, I think it makes a whole lot of sense to have national authorised practice.
Q721 Mr Winnick: The number of people in the room shows the amount of interest in the work that you are undertaking, Chief Constable. A review of policing was carried out at the request of the present Home Secretary and one of the recommendations is that there should be a professional body for policing. Do you go along with that?
Sara Thornton: I think Peter Neyroud’s central recommendation about a professional body is definitely the right way to go. I cannot think of a reason to disagree with it. In ACPO’s response to that report, we have been very careful to say that while we think that it is very important that we work together, we think that the new professional body should be intensely democratic-that is the phrase we use. It needs to include the whole of the service, all ranks, police staff and police officers.
Where we have a slight concern is that the assumption is that somehow the Chief Constables’ Council could be part of such a democratic body. I am not sure it could be because there are some decisions on which 44 chiefs who have legal direction and control responsibilities come together to agree common ways. A couple of examples would be the command protocols we have for dealing with terrorism incidents or, indeed, the way we have all agreed to deal with the threat from marauding gunmen. I would contend that that sort of decision could not be taken by a professional body. It has to be a decision made by 44 Chief Constables, with the legal responsibility they have, agreeing to do the same thing in the national interest.
Q722 Mr Winnick: The view that this could be a sort of revamped ACPO, what do you say to that?
Sara Thornton: The body?
Mr Winnick: Yes.
Sara Thornton: I think the phrase "revamped ACPO" is a very bad phrase to use if you want this professional body to be supported by the whole of the organisation. I said at the ACPO conference last week that I thought the phrase that ACPO would be the head and the heart of the new professional body was probably ill-advised. In my view, the heart of policing is the people who go and work 24/7 in all weathers doing difficult jobs, and not chief officers necessarily.
Q723 Dr Huppert: You will be aware that I and others on this Committee have been quite critical of ACPO in the past as a limited company that is not subject to Freedom of Information and sets a lot of policy without being democratically accountable. I am glad to hear that there is some understanding of that. But you still talk about there being a Chief Constables’ Council and while I can see absolutely why you need a way to talk to each other, how will we ensure that that does not just become another policy-making body that is taking powers to itself that really should be set elsewhere in a much more public way?
Sara Thornton: I will just say a couple of things. ACPO is a company limited by guarantee. We do now subject ourselves to Freedom of Information and, as you know, Sir Hugh has been on record saying we need to move beyond that. We are not the only organisation; the Chief Fire Officers are also in the same situation, as is the Association of Police Authorities. It was a device to sort out a very practical issue about renting premises and employing staff. I understand concerns and I think that the professional body would be much more transparent. The phrase "intensely democratic" springs to mind. It would include everybody. There would be a proper board of governors and proper governance. In terms of developing guidance and practice, which I would see the professional body dealing with, then I think it would be very different. But I go back to my answer to Mr Winnick, which was that in the national interest there are some things on which 44 Chief Constables can come together and agree very practical, sensible approaches, and I do not think that could be part of a professional body. We are all then individually accountable to the law for decisions that we make.
Q724 Michael Ellis: I just want to ask you, Chief Constable, about IT now and particularly the Home Secretary’s announcement that a company will be created to be responsible for police IT in local forces going forward. What impact do you think that will have on local forces? Government has not had a particularly good record over the last decade or more with IT. What impact do you think this new idea of the Home Secretary’s will have?
Sara Thornton: As I understand it, about £1.2 billion a year is spent across all forces on IT so it is a considerable amount of spend. A lot of people think it probably could have been spent more wisely. It is very early days, but the suggestion is that a company should be set up. It is hazy what it would look like, but my understanding is that if the company is set up correctly, it would be able to go to market in a very different way than is currently the case. It would be able to rapidly find out what forces’ user requirements were and then go with that requirement to the market. If it was set up as a company, it could then be exempt from EU rules about procurement, which could make the whole process much speedier because it would be acting like a commercial company. I think that is the proposal. It has the potential to make a huge difference because our frustrations are often very lengthy procurement processes to get something that, when we get it, was not really what we wanted. I do think there is some potential in this idea.
Q725 Chair: Are you concerned that Lord Wasserman is going to be put in charge of the shadow company? Having served for so long within the Home Office dealing with IT, he has now been asked by the Home Secretary to chair the shadow board. Is that a concern to you?
Sara Thornton: I don’t particularly want to be drawn on criticising an appointment like that, but I think what I do know of Lord Wasserman-and I vaguely remember him from years ago-he did have a huge amount of experience within the Home Office in the IT world and has been over in the United States and working in the private sector and has come back. Clearly, the Home Secretary thinks he has the right background for the post.
Q726 Chair: But is this going to be a company that is going to be partly owned by the Government? Because the Home Secretary indicated that the Home Office might buy shares in this company.
Sara Thornton: My understanding, as I say, and I heard Lord Wasserman speak about this yesterday, the idea-
Q727 Chair: But where did you hear him speak? Because he will not speak to us.
Sara Thornton: I saw him speak in another location in London. No, it was not secret. It seems to me that the ideas are developing. What he was talking about was police forces having a share in this company and he was talking about the potential for the private sector to have a share in this company. The lawyers in the room got interested in that idea. I have not heard that the Home Office were going to have a share in this company because my understanding from what he said was that he thinks that this has the best chance of working because the Home Office will not be involved. That was one of the arguments he made.
Q728 Michael Ellis: I think it is fair to point out that Lord Wasserman is a special adviser and there is a convention that they do not give evidence to Select Committees, isn’t there?
Chair: Unless they are called Alastair Campbell.
Q729 Lorraine Fullbrook: Chief Constable, can I ask is your police authority in the Thames Valley one of the authorities that Lord Blair’s company, BlueLight Global Solutions, is bidding for to become a transformation partner?
Sara Thornton: No.
Q730 Chair: That brings us on to Lord Blair. Thank you. We did not want you to feel that you had come and we did not have any questions for you. Mr Michael has some questions, or do you want to respond to Lorraine Fullbrook?
Lord Blair: I think it would just be very helpful if I was able just to draw the attention of the Committee to the declaration of interests that I put in front of you, that I am chair of a company involved in that tender exercise and that bid.
Chair: I think Mr Michael will declare his interest.
Q731 Alun Michael: I was going to say we did not do declarations at the beginning. My son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority. The term that is being used is transformational partner, which I think is the way that you have described what BlueLight Global Solutions offers. As a term of jargon describing the relationship it is fine but what does it actually mean in practice? What will it look like from the point of view of police officers, the general public?
Lord Blair: Well, let me just give you the way that I see it, which is that if you are faced, as the Chief Constable has said, with 20%--and sometimes greater-cuts over the foreseeable future, there are only two ways forward: either you reduce the service standard, because 20% is far too much to salami slice, as it is put; or you transform the organisation. The way we see it, and we have been doing a lot of thinking about this for a number of years and months, is that when the Home Secretary came into office she asked the wrong question of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. She asked how do you define back office, middle office and frontline? The right question is this one: what policing functions are so critical to the relationship between the citizen and the state or so sensitive or so concerned with risk that they must be under the direct employment of the Chief Constable? As soon as you ask that question you remove all the issues about officer numbers and you start to say how policing could be best delivered.
Q732 Alun Michael: Just to go back on those words again, you are defining, therefore, the relationship between the police and the public and their responsibilities as being the defining line between what needs to be inhouse and what does not?
Lord Blair: Everything has to be publicly accountable. I am sorry to use a term that is getting rather confusing, but this turns the Chief Constable into a commissioner of policing services, some of which are direct-i.e. they are warranted officers working direct to him or her-and some of which are supplied by the private sector.
Q733 Alun Michael: Sure, but can you help us in understanding your view of where that line is drawn?
Lord Blair: Well, the line is actually what I have just said. You talk about those issues that are so crucial and critical to the relationship between the citizen and the state, and I think the Chief Constable has talked about neighbourhood policing and response policing. Those are exactly those sorts of things. Or they are so sensitive, and that is counterterrorism and organised crime, or they concern risk, and that is things like firearms. Those have to be directly employed, but we believe that the average force in the UK will spend £600 million in the next 10 years on activities that are routine and do not require police powers to do, and the private sector can do those things. It can do them better, it can do them more cheaply, as long as you get rid of the shibboleth that officer numbers is what matters. What matters is the visibility of the officers who are directly connected to the public.
Q734 Alun Michael: I understand that and I also understand the distinction between the Home Secretary’s question and the one that you are saying is the right question to ask. Isn’t it the case, though, that a lot of the relationship and issues of confidence between police and the community depend on routine contact and not just on contact that is to do with specific investigations or activities? How do you deal with that?
Lord Blair: No, if we are talking about patrol then I do believe that that is a matter that is entirely appropriate in the purely public sphere. But already we have control rooms that are not police officers. What the private sector can bring to that is the kind of technology that will track calls, track callers, track community concerns, deliver a better service than the police can do for less money than the police can do. If we take custody, for instance, a lot of custody provision already is provided by private security.
Q735 Alun Michael: Would you agree as well that a lot of the task of crime prevention and crime reduction depends on a close partnership between the police and other organisations, the local authority in particular but a whole range of other organisations as well? If you have a slimmed-down direct police service, how does that fit with widening and improving the standards of those partnerships?
Lord Blair: Those partnerships exist as they exist at the moment largely with senior and middleranking officers, although obviously there are the very local partnerships with a police sergeant and so on. I do not think that alters that at all. All of this is saying why doesn’t the police service do what an ordinary company would do, which is to reduce its overheads and do things more cheaply? Because once you are rid of the idea that the crucial matter is officer numbers-as opposed to officer numbers in contact with the public, which is a much, much more interesting idea-then suddenly the policing landscape changes. If we want to deliver a better service for less money, then this is the right way forward.
Q736 Alun Michael: Just one further point, you said there are police officers in contact with the public. But one of the difficulties that came out of looking at the Home Secretary’s question is that some police officers are doing crucial work but are not in contact with the public. It may be a lot of the things like internetrelated crime and so on and so forth. Is contact with the public the crucial line?
Lord Blair: The people who are doing the internet investigation are skilled investigators who will undoubtedly be public employees. If one just goes back to something like the dreadful murder of Joanna Yeates in Avon and Somerset, that stopped that police force almost dead in its tracks. You had police officers at high rates of pay crawling through woods. Question: why would you do that?
Q737 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask, Lord Blair, how much do you charge police authorities for your services?
Lord Blair: At the moment, Ms Fullbrook, we are in a consultancy that is bidding in a proper tender and everything about that would be commercial. I am not going to answer that because it is commercial and in confidence. It is just a straight forward matter that we are part of a consortium that is bidding for a tender and will bid for other tenders.
Q738 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you offer different packages to police authorities?
Lord Blair: Well, this is just a straightforward exercise in which people with a policing background are providing domain expertise to the private sector, who are bidding for a tender that has been publicly let.
Q739 Lorraine Fullbrook: I am concerned because this is actually taxpayers’ money that will be paying your company. Your expertise will be taken on by police authorities who seem not to have your expertise. I just wondered how much the taxpayer is going to be paying for your services.
Lord Blair: If as a result of the tender we were to be successful, and the taxpayer saved millions and millions of pounds, then that is a reasonable commercial proposition.
Q740 Chair: Thank you, Lord Blair. Since you are here, and although I did not give you notice of the fact that I was going to ask you these questions, as you know the Committee is conducting an inquiry into phone hacking. You were the Commissioner at the time that the first inquiry was commissioned. Is it correct that you actually were hacked, that your phone was hacked?
Lord Blair: Not as far as I am aware. What I am aware of is that my mobile and home telephone number were within the files that have been examined. I have no evidence and nor as I am aware does Operation Weeting have any evidence to suggest that those phones were hacked.
Q741 Chair: You have asked whether you were hacked?
Lord Blair: I have absolutely asked.
Q742 Chair: You have had an answer?
Lord Blair: I have had an answer.
Q743 Chair: On the question of the first inquiry, we will be hearing from Mr Hayman and Mr Clarke and Assistant Commissioner Yates. You commissioned that inquiry and you appointed Mr Hayman originally to head that inquiry?
Lord Blair: I think it would be a slight misapprehension to think that I commissioned it. I was the Commissioner. This word is being used quite a lot. I do not think I can help the Committee very much. I can remember being told of an inquiry in 2006 that concerned members of the Royal Family and concerned an offence that to our knowledge had not previously been seen, which we now refer to as hacking of voicemails, and because I had to deal with the Royal household I needed to know that that had happened.
Chair: Of course.
Lord Blair: I was told that some people had been charged and I remember the conviction, but it was not a major issue at the time and never during my period of office, which ended in 2008, did it become a major issue.
Q744 Chair: But at the end of the inquiry-because the inquiry came to an end, and two people were prosecuted and sent to jail-did somebody come to you, one of your senior officers, and say, "We are done. That is the end of it. Everything is concluded"?
Lord Blair: I do not want to sound too dismissive of this, but this was a tiny, fragmentary event in the events that were taking place across London at that time. This was in the aftermath of 2005; this was in the aftermath of Operation Overt. The reason that it was given to Mr Hayman was because in one of the reorganisations I had been responsible for we kept royalty protection with the counterterrorism command because we wanted to keep the firearms, the armed people, together.
Q745 Chair: Yes, but as far as you are concerned, you had no concerns over that first inquiry? You did not inquire into how it was conducted; you just accepted it as one of the items on your radar?
Lord Blair: Yes, absolutely.
Q746 Chair: No one said to you that it should have been conducted in a different way?
Lord Blair: No.
Q747 Mr Winnick: Lord Blair, I accept entirely that you are not here to go into all aspects of phone hacking, but you accept that as the head of the Metropolitan Police at the time you did have some responsibility?
Lord Blair: It goes with the territory that I have accountability. As the Commissioner you have a-
Chair: Sorry, could you speak up a bit?
Lord Blair: Yes. As Commissioner, you have full accountability. What you cannot be is responsible for every single item of criminal investigation in the Metropolitan Police. This was not seen at the time as a particularly significant inquiry.
Q748 Mr Winnick: Well, that is the unfortunate part. If it had been, perhaps it would not by any means have escalated to the present scandalous situation. We have evidence, certainly from one of my parliamentary colleagues, Chris Bryant, that he was in touch with the Metropolitan Police as far back as 2004. Then it escalated further, as the Chair has just said, leading to prison sentences. What surprises me, Lord Blair, is that the attitude that you are now taking is, if not a dismissive attitude, that it was just one of those minor events of many, many events, as you yourself have said, and at the time when you were the head of the Metropolitan Police there was no need for you to worry about-
Chair: Thank you, Mr Winnick.
Lord Blair: I can only answer the situation as we then saw it. If one looks at the commentary in the newspapers or on Radio 4 this morning, as you go through the timeline it is obvious that it was not at that stage seen by the top of the office as being terribly significant.
Q749 Mr Winnick: By you?
Lord Blair: By me. I have been responsible for a vast number of things, but I did not know and I would not have expected to know details about that inquiry.
Chair: Thank you. Could I say to colleagues we have other witnesses, quite a lot of other witnesses, on this so if we could confine ourselves to one question each.
Q750 Michael Ellis: Can I just follow on from Mr Winnick’s comments? Lord Blair, you are clearly seeking to distance yourself from the matter, but is it not right that as Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis you had liaison with the Royal household and it was your responsibility to liaise with the Royal Family? Therefore, this was not a routine matter, not just one of thousands of cases being dealt with by the Metropolitan Police at this time. This involved members of the Royal Family and, therefore, was something specifically for your attention, wasn’t it?
Lord Blair: Yes, it was and as far as I was concerned it was dealt with and it was dealt with, on the advice I was given, effectively. We had arrests, we had charges, and that was the end of the matter. All of us, if we knew there were boxes and boxes and boxes of evidence, as we now know, might have taken some different decisions, but this was quite straightforward.
Q751 Steve McCabe: I just wondered whether it is normal for an Assistant Commissioner of specialist operations to investigate what is a relatively minor matter in the chronology of events.
Lord Blair: It would not have been investigated by an Assistant Commissioner. The Assistant Commissioner is just a person on my management board in whose territory, under whose operational command, this is happening. I would not have expected, to be honest, the Assistant Commissioner to know very much about it either.
Chair: Lorraine, quick answers, quick questions.
Q752 Lorraine Fullbrook: Lord Blair, during your time as Commissioner how many of your police officers took money for information from news outlets?
Lord Blair: I would be delighted if I could answer that. I do not know.
Q753 Lorraine Fullbrook: You do not know?
Lord Blair: I do not know. What I am interested in is the indication that has come out again in the press that it was less than five. I am no longer in that position. I think it would be fair to say, Ms Fullbrook-
Q754 Lorraine Fullbrook: During your time as Commissioner?
Lord Blair: In my time I do not have that information, but all I can say is I have a very long track record in combating corruption in the police service. Had I suspected or that we had any evidence that suggested that was happening then, in the phrase that is being used at the moment, no stone would have been unturned.
Q755 Lorraine Fullbrook: You do not believe any corruption was taking place while you were Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police?
Lord Blair: I didn’t say that. I did not say. In fact, I suspected strongly there was corruption, which is why we have an anti-corruption command, which I led as Deputy Commissioner.
Q756 Chair: You do not know of any payments that were made, is that what you are saying?
Lord Blair: I do not know of any payments that were made.
Q757 Dr Huppert: Lord Blair, it seems that during your time as Commissioner there were officers taking illegal payments, there are allegations that senior officers were being blackmailed by the people they were supposed to be investigating, as well as a failure to actually look at this investigation. I am afraid there is the whole stench of corruption around this. We know that it had been said publicly by Rebekah Wade that police officers were being paid. You were in charge of this. I appreciate that the investigation itself was something that somebody else was dealing with, but do you have any reflections at all on the high levels of senior corruption that existed?
Lord Blair: Well, I have to say you are putting allegations to me that are currently under investigation and I shall await with interest what answers we find. But if we are talking about five people out of 53,000, then that is an issue that-we had a full-scale anticorruption command dealing with corruption, which I was heavily involved in the instigation of. I was absolutely determined, as I know my successor is, to stamp out corruption.
Chair: Yes, thank you. We know he is.
Q758 Mark Reckless: Lord Blair, you said things would have been different if you had known that you had these boxes of evidence, but surely you did know that there were bags of evidence, 11,000 pages. Why didn’t anyone look at it?
Lord Blair: I am sorry, Mr Reckless, if you are asking what the role of the Commissioner is, then the Commissioner would not know that there were 11,000 pages of evidence in a particular inquiry. That is not how the job is. You would not be able to do the job on that basis.
Q759 Mark Reckless: But can you tell us if any of your officers reviewed these 11,000 pages at the time?
Lord Blair: I cannot, which is why you are going to interview the people who can.
Chair: Thank you for reminding me. Nicola Blackwood, final question, please.
Lord Blair: From my constituency MP.
Q760 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, your constituency MP. Can I ask you, Lord Blair, were you aware of the Information Commissioner’s report, What Price Privacy?, that came out on 10 May 2006?
Lord Blair: I am not sure I was.
Q761 Nicola Blackwood: It said in its executive summary that investigations by the ICO and the police uncovered evidence of a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information and, in particular, said that among the buyers were many journalists looking for a story and stated that in one major case investigated by the ICO the evidence included records of information supplied to 305 named journalists working for a range of newspapers. In the context of that, I just wonder why evidence that there was phone hacking going on at a News International newspaper was not considered more of a priority investigation.
Lord Blair: I hear exactly what is being said but we are now dealing with the perfect glare of hindsight. All I am going to say is, as I said before and I am sure others will repeat, you have to see this in the context of how you do a pretty extraordinary job in very demanding circumstances.
Chair: Sorry, no, Ms Blackwood, we have to go on to the next witness.
Q762 Mr Clappison: Lord Blair, history does tell us the material facts did take place when you were the Commissioner. We hear what you say about hindsight and what was known at the time and no doubt we will take some detailed evidence as to what those working under you did know at the time. Looking back on it, now that we are beginning to see the whole range of the extent of the hacking that was taking place among not just celebrities and politicians but members of the public and victims of crime as well, do you feel any responsibility for what has emerged or not?
Lord Blair: I feel, as I have said, as the Commissioner you are accountable for what the Metropolitan Police does and does not do, so of course I am fully accountable. Were mistakes made? Apparently they were and I am accountable for that. Could I have possibly known? No, I do not think I could because that is not-you have to understand, even when we are concentrating on things like preventing planes blowing up over the Atlantic, this is a very large organisation in which the tasks are divided up into different levels.
Q763 Mr Clappison: What do you think the mistakes were? You just said mistakes were made. What do you think they were?
Chair: Could we have them as briefly as possible?
Lord Blair: I agree. All I can say is that if material was available at the time that showed what is now being described as industrial level hacking, then it would have been appropriate to have gone further than to just deal with two people.
Q764 Chair: What you are telling this Committee is you did not know?
Lord Blair: I did not know and I would not necessarily expect it to be known too far up the organisation.
Chair: I see. Thank you very much. Chief Constable, Lord Blair, thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. We are most grateful.