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UK police watchdog criticizes links with News of the World

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
News of the World closed last summer amid public outcry over allegations of widespread phone hacking by employees.
News of the World closed last summer amid public outcry over allegations of widespread phone hacking by employees.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Metropolitan Police says it is under scrutiny and will take account of reviews
  • Watchdog: Senior Met officers showed poor judgment in dealing with an ex-newspaper executive
  • No corruption was uncovered, but policies were breached, the watchdog finds
  • Neil Wallis was a former deputy editor of the News of the World

London (CNN) -- A critical report Thursday into links between top officers at London's Metropolitan Police Service and a former deputy editor of the News of the World found professional boundaries were blurred and poor judgment shown.

The report by the UK police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), examined dealings between senior police personnel and Neil Wallis, who set up his own media consultancy firm, Chamy Media, after leaving the newspaper.

The firm was employed by the head of communications for the Metropolitan Police, known as the Met, to help handle media work in 2009.

Although no corruption was uncovered, the IPCC found "policies were breached" and that the Met's former director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio, should face a gross misconduct case over the award of the contract to Chamy Media.

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Fedorcio resigned last month when the force opened disciplinary proceedings against him, meaning no further action could be taken.

"Despite the growing phone hacking scandal, which must have exercised the MPS at a senior level and which was beginning to damage the reputation of the Metropolitan Police in late 2009, senior people appear to have been oblivious to the perception of conflict," said IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass.

"It is clear to me that professional boundaries became blurred, imprudent decisions taken and poor judgment shown by senior police personnel."

Wallis's former paper, the News of the World, was shuttered last summer amid public outcry over allegations of widespread phone hacking by employees at the Sunday tabloid, which was part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media empire.

The IPCC also looked at then-Assistant Commissioner John Yates' alleged involvement in securing a job with the the police force for Wallis' daughter.

Its investigation concluded that although Yates' actions did not amount to misconduct, he showed poor judgment in sending on the daughter's resume to human resources personnel.

Wallis was arrested last summer over the phone-hacking investigation. He has not been charged.

A day after Wallis' arrest, Yates resigned from his role. The scandal also contributed to the resignation of his boss, Met chief Paul Stephenson.

Yates was the officer who decided in 2009 that there was no need to open a new police investigation into phone hacking despite some 11,000 pages of evidence sitting at Scotland Yard.

In response to the IPCC report on Yates, the Metropolitan Police said the force had been "the subject of much external scrutiny in recent months" and that it would take into account the IPCC report and other recommendations in a review of its practices.

The government set up a public inquiry into press conduct, the Leveson Inquiry, in the wake of the News of the World scandal and a parliamentary committee has also been questioning witnesses, including Rupert Murdoch and his son James.

In the IPCC statement, Glass said the Leveson Inquiry was "painting an uncomfortable picture of the relationship between the biggest police force in Britain and sections of the media.

"This culture has had an impact on public confidence, although I also observe that since these cases were referred, none of the senior personnel referred to in these reports are still serving."

Glass was also critical of Fedorcio's decision to resign from the Metropolitan Police.

"The IPCC cannot prevent a member of police staff leaving before facing misconduct proceedings," she said. "But I can and do observe that such a practice can be hugely damaging to public confidence."

The Metropolitan Police defended Fedorcio's right to resign, saying in a statement that he had the same right as any other employee to resign while subject to a disciplinary investigation. Fedorcio had "made a very significant contribution" during his 14 years as communications director, the statement said.

Three police investigations are currently examining allegations of phone hacking, e-mail hacking and corrupt payments to police at the News of the World and other papers owned by News International, the UK arm of News Corp.

James Murdoch resigned as chairman of News International in February. He also stood down as chairman of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which owns Sky News, part of the News Corp. empire, earlier this month.

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