Thursday, March 01, 2012

John Yates Champagne Charlie

Leveson grills the 'champagne coppers'

Michael Deacon watches the latest events at the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking and media ethics.
By Michael Deacon
01 Mar 2012

Ever wonder why you hardly ever see bobbies on the beat any more? The reason’s quite simple: they’re all too busy chomping lobster in celebrity restaurants. Or so you might have concluded from listening to the ex-Met policemen who appeared at the Leveson Inquiry today.

John Yates, the former counter-terror chief, seems to have dined out more often than Michael Winner. Robert Jay QC took him through the many glamorous dinners listed in his diary while he was Assistant Commissioner. The Ivy, Scott’s, Scalini, Racine… All with his friends in journalism, most prominently Neil Wallis, then a senior editor at the News of the World. As in, the newspaper that the Met had been investigating – with strikingly little success – over phone hacking. Not that there was anything untoward about these fancy dinners, Mr Yates took pains to make clear: when he was with Wallis they tended just to talk about football. Harmless laddish fun. Work didn't really come up.

Mr Yates wasn’t actually present at the inquiry – he was speaking via video link from Bahrain. He is not there, as you might have assumed, to complete a Michelin Guide to the Persian Gulf’s finest restaurants, but to oversee reform of the country’s police force. Sitting in a black swivel chair, staring out at the courtroom from a giant screen, he looked like a Bond villain about to announce his dastardly plan to destroy us all with a missile launched from his volcano lair.

Mr Yates is not, of course, a cackling villain hell-bent on our annihilation, although even if he were I don’t think we’d need to worry unduly about his chances of succeeding. He spent much of the time squirming clammily, like an Edwardian youth accused of scrumping apples. “I know you’re cross, Mr Jay, but…”

His most embarrassing moment came when it was revealed that the News of the World had ordered a female journalist to get a scoop out of him by “calling in all those bottles of champagne”. Mr Yates defended himself hotly. “That’s just a turn or phrase,” he protested, three times. Had he ever drunk champagne with that journalist? Mr Yates spoke carefully. “There may have been the odd occasion when a bottle was shared between several people…”

Next in for questioning – this time in person – was Andy Hayman, who led the original investigation into hacking in 2006. Last summer, when Mr Hayman appeared before a select committee on hacking, one MP called him “a dodgy geezer”. Perhaps she was alluding to his broad Cockney accent and wideboy jocularity (“OK, beat me up for being upfront and honest!”).

Today, though, we met a different Hayman. This one was quiet, earnest, bespectacled, and above all deferential. His evidence was “sir” this, “sir” that, as if he were a humble gamekeeper doffing his cap to the squire. “Thank you, sir… With respect, sir… My instinctive answer, sir… I can’t remember, sir…”

All three of the ex-Met policemen questioned – the other was Peter Clarke, formerly Deputy Assistant Commissioner – agreed that while the original investigation was taking place they’d been so caught up with foiling terrorists that hacking seemed relatively trivial. “I feel terrible for the victims of phone hacking,” piped up ’Umble Andy ’Ayman, “but I’d rather be facing questions about that than about loss of life.”

Terrorists must be kicking themselves. “I told you we should have sent them some champagne!” Telegraph

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Leveson inquiry: John Yates's Michelin guide to counter-terrorism

It seemed that the Met's ex-assistant commissioner would risk his cholesterol count anywhere in the interests of law and order
Michael White
1 March 2012

Almost three hours into his testimony-by-satellite to Lord Justice Leveson's phone-hacking inquiry, the former Scotland Yard troubleshooter John Yates said rather plaintively: "In fairness to me." Quite so, the judge assured him, but there was really no need. From his bolthole in Bahrain, where he is now helping improve local police efficiency, Yates had been very fair to himself all day.

The Met police's ex-assistant commissioner, who resigned over the affair last year, was one of three smart London police chiefs, all prematurely retired through professional mishap, who shared their thoughts with the inquiry.

At issue was why they had all happily embraced News International's "rogue reporter" defence before, during and since the Guardian first alleged that hacking had existed at the News of the World on an industrial scale. What's more, they'd had the evidence since 2006, long before they loaned Rebekah Brooks a Met horse.

Ex-counter-terrorism chief, Peter Clarke, said he wouldn't have done anything different in terms of allocating resources between fighting al-Qaida and protecting celebs' privacy. After all, nobody died and they had foiled 70 murderous plots. Andy Hayman, Clarke's ex-boss, newly-bespectacled and less cocky than when he clashed with the Commons home affairs committee last year, said much the same, though he could see a lot of "perception" problems, now that Leveson or his QC, Robert Jay, pointed them out.

But in the battle for headlines it was Yates who won or rather lost. Unlike one fuddy-duddy colleague who saw the media as the enemy and kept telling him to cool it ("that was his style") there seemed to be no restaurant or wine bar where ex-assistant commissioner Yates would not risk his liver or cholesterol count in the interests of law and order. It read like the Michelin Guide to Counter-Terrorism. How does he survive in Bahrain?

Hayman, who eventually left the force over expense claims, fought him to a close draw. In February 2007 he chalked up a £566 lunch bill (including £181.50 on booze) for nine at Shepherd's, an expense account joint in Westminster lobbyist territory, to mark an admired colleague's promotion. Around 10 the same evening, the amiable Hayman splashed out £47 for a bottle of champagne on his Met credit card.

Did he share it with a contact from the Crime Reporters Association? With Lucy Panton, crime correspondent of the News of the World, perhaps, asked Jay ? Or with her then-boss, Brooks? Hayman couldn't remember, but he was adamant that such contacts, in keeping the public onside and alert to the terrorist threat, had been "worth the investment of time".

Yates was only able to cap that by virtue of a longer list of exotic restaurants visited. Very expensive restaurants, said Jay of the £100-a-head luvvies favourite, the Ivy. "I think they're all expensive in London," replied Yates sorrowfully. Sometimes he dined in company with his old friend Neil "Wolfman" Wallis, then No 2 at the NoW, later a paid Yard adviser, together with a chap called Nick Candy whom he described as "a friend in property." The Candy brothers are in property in the same way that the king of Saudi Arabia is in petrol stations. Nick usually picked up the bill. The trio all insisted that being wined and dined by the hacks (as hacks do everywhere) had no impact on their decision not to widen the 2006 investigation into royal hacking on the basis of what turned out to be 419 names on the private detective's files.

Yet here was Jay digging up an email from one of Panton's NoW colleagues asking her for a line from Yates - "time to call in all those bottles of champagne," the colleague quipped. I may have shared the occasional glass of bubbly, Yates conceded, but only with several other people. You half-expected him to add "deserving widows and asylum seekers". Leveson is clearly taken with the argument that phone hacking was a lesser priority during the scariest years of al-Qaida plotting. But he can't understand why the Guardian's challenge in 2009 ("just an article in a newspaper," said Yates, though it ended his career) was so lightly and quickly dismissed, not in eight hours, it emerged, but in six.

If they lacked the resources to bring a wider case, the least the Yard could have done, Jay suggested at one stage, was call in News International chiefs and give them a bollocking.

Instead they didn't even check that suspected hacking victims like John Prescott were notified. Was it that Prescott, unlike some Labour colleagues, could not have been squared? Perish the thought.

Though no one said so, on cash-for-honours the Met arrested Tony Blair's staff and Tory MP Damian Green (on leaks) on less evidence than they had in their NoW file. Moral? Lunch. Gruniad


Anonymous said...

Samour, half the price and equally as good.

Himself said...

I don't know about you, but he don't strike me as a bloke that does things by half.

Not on other people's Guilders at least.

Anonymous said...


I'd rather die in obscurity thanks...

Himself said...

Ah, such popularity.