Sketch: Gaping MPs meet the Met's 'dodgy geezer'

Met police officers past and present faced incredulity from open-mouthed MPs
Met police officers past and present faced incredulity from open-mouthed MPs

After three-and-a-half incredulous hours of questioning, the Met’s finest left MPs' jaws on the floor.

By Alex Stevenson

The hostility was almost palpable in the stuffy committee room air. John Yates, the assistant commissioner of the Met tasked with protecting us from terrorists, was physically isolated. His long empty table the only part of the packed room where there was any room at all. In addition to the MPs on the committee, a second row of MPs on the sidelines was busy eyeballing Yates. Lip-curling Tom Watson, disbelieving Chris Bryant, laconic David Davis: it would be hard to do anything calmly with this trio watching and waiting for any mistake.

As they leered on, bearded Lib Dem MP Dr Julian Huppert and committee chair Keith Vaz conducted a marvellously intimidating set-piece. Huppert, raising a bit of procedural mumbo-jumbo, requested a clarification for what happens to those who mislead MPs when giving select committee evidence. The penalty, I thought Vaz was going to say, is DEATH! No. Actually, it was "contempt of parliament". Yates fingered his collar nervously.

His evidence was one long car crash. Yates' conduct in eight fateful hours in 2009, when he decided not to bother reopening the phone-hacking files, was only regrettable in hindsight, he made clear. He was playing a politician's game, trying to avoid an overt apology by expressing "regret". "Please do not take that as an admission that I in any way take responsibility," he said hurriedly at one stage. "In hindsight, had I known what I should have known, it's a poor decision." It was a trick of phrasing, done with all the finesse of a blundering copper. MPs were utterly unconvinced.

When he tried to argue that there was nothing more the Met could do when News International lawyers started blocking, the committee was incensed. Their questions were straightforward enough. Michael Ellis, cutting to the heart of the issue, asked: "You had thousands of pages of documents." He boomed: "Why - did - you - not - look at them?"

"Do you find it surprising," Labour young 'un Bridget Phillipson asked slowly, "that people involved in a criminal offence didn't want to cooperate with you?" It was one of many occasions when the entire room, except the person being questioned, collapsed into laughter.

After an hour of this pummelling the intensity proved too much. Even being told by Vaz that he would be "released" - an intimidating choice of words, if ever there was one - did not stiffen his resolve.

Slowly Yates crumbled, his resistance collapsing. By the end of the session he was a shadow of his former self. "Regrets are always a good start," he observed miserably, when asked for suggestions on where to go from here. Only on one point did he stand firm: he would not resign. "I passionately believe in doing the right thing," he insisted. "I hold my hands up" when it comes to regretting what had passed, but "that does not in my view making it a resignation matter".

Vaz finished by summing up by putting words in Yates' mouth with an audacity most journalists would find astonishing. Just to be clear, he added, you are apologising to victims, to the committee - and, he might have added, to the entire world?

There was no energy left in Yates' resistance, no more fight. "That's right," he said quietly. Maybe he just wanted to be 'released'.

Peter Clarke, the former deputy assistance commissioner who led the day-to-day work of the 2006 phone-hacking inquiry, offered a more stolid, robust response. He said he was distracted by minor issues like the assassination of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, the Glasgow terror attack and the transatlantic bombing plot. "I had a reputation as a fairly dogged investigator," he said ruggedly. But he could not quite shrug off suggestions that, as Labour MP Steve McCabe put it, he had ignored a "rich seam for any able-minded investigator". Still, Clarke looked rather pleased with himself when he sat down. Vaz had only said he was "puzzled" by his evidence which, in the context, was the equivalent of getting off fairly lightly.

Yates had given us the 'don'ts' of dealing with parliamentary select committee. Clarke had given us the 'dos'. Now Clarke's superior in 2006, former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, was to offer us something unrepeatable.

The verdict of Tory Lorraine Fullbrook, who perfected the looking-over-the-top-of-the-glasses look, was that Hayman was a "dodgy geezer". In ordinary circumstances it would be a little presumptuous to describe him thus, just because of his cockney accent and jaunty, down-the-pub demeanour. Not today. Nicola Blackwood was staggered. "I feel a little bit like I've fallen through the rabbit hole," she said midway through his extraordinary answers.

This bonkers bobby, it turned out, didn't have a problem with taking on a job with News International - he's now a columnist with the Times. Journalism, he said, waxing lyrical, was a "boyhood dream". "It was a choice between being a journalist and a cop," he said, in full-on This Is Your Life mode. "It turns out both are funny choices." Chris Bryant, who has campaigned against this character for years, laughed openly.

Keith Vaz wanted to know whether he ought to consider resigning. "Do you not think I should have that as a private conversation with them?" Hayman shot back, unexpectedly defiant. A pause. Silence. "I'm sorry?" Vaz asked. "If I get suspended or dismissed, I hope I get grounds for that," Hayman added bullishly. "Because I haven't done anything wrong!"

He admitted he had enjoyed dinners with News International staff despite conducting an investigation into their behaviour. Or at least he thought he did. He wasn't quite sure when the dinners took place. "It could look bad," he admitted, before being interrupted by Blackwood and Huppert. "Pardon?" he asked. "It does look bad," they told him, like teenage girls telling a wannabe boyfriend that yes, he really is ugly. Vaz summed up. "We all think it looks bad," he said, helpfully.

Did Hayman get the message? "Absolutely, yeah," the 'dodgy geezer' replied. But he seemed that people were taking his openness the wrong way. "Don't beat me up for being upfront with it!" This was said vigorously, with the offended air of a Rolex watch salesman accused of selling duds.

"We are astonished, Mr Hayman," Vaz observed. But more astonishment was to follow. Was there a hint that he doth protest too much? "Oh!" he shouted alarmingly, when asked what he thought of the last week's revelations. "This is a horror story, just appalling!"

Strange, then, that he had previously mocked John Prescott's complaints about phone-hacking. Vaz pointed out that he had previously said he'd eat his words if Prescott's claims were proven. "Shall we pass you a piece of paper?" Vaz asked mildly.

Later, when Fullbrook asked him whether he'd ever taken any money from police officers, Hayman really lost it. "Good God!" he yelled, appalled. "I'm not letting her get away with it! I can't believe you asked that!"

"I normally sum up people's evidence," Vaz said, after the farce had finished, "but on this occasion I find your evidence speaks for itself."

It was the most preposterous evidence session given by a witness that those present could recall. This wasn't a minor issue, either, but evidence on the scandal de jour from a key figure. Instead of coming across as a professional and astute policeman, Hayman appeared like a Del Boy.

Blackwood put it another way. "Much of the evidence you're saying would sound more familiar from the mouth of a tabloid journalist than a police officer," she observed acidly. No coincidence that she made that particular comparison, that's for sure.

That left silver-haired Sue Akers, the police officer in charge of the current investigation into phone-hacking, who had waited nearly three hours to say her piece. She played her part to the letter, in complete contrast with the shambles which preceded her. "I hope I won't have to come back again in five years to explain why I failed," she observed at the end of the marathon session.

If her conduct is as different behind closed doors as it was to Hayman's today, she should be alright.


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