‘A question of judgement’: Yates of the Yard in the Leveson dock

By Ian Dunt

John Yates endured another bruising interrogation over his phone-hacking decision-making today, when he appeared for a marathon session at the Leveson inquiry.

The former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner was repeatedly asked why he had taken only eight hours to decide not to re-open an investigation into the allegations, despite newspaper reports suggesting it was widespread at the News of the World.

"I understand why challenges to your decision-making may be seen by you as challenges to your integrity," Lord Justice Leveson told Mr Yates, who gave evidence via video-link from Bahrain, where he is training police.

"Did it occur to you that the reputational risk to the Met police was such that you had to be seen to be 120% clear there was nothing in the original investigation?"

Mr Yates' eight-hour review, which followed a Guardian article in 2009, has been widely criticised for the way it ignored several bags of evidence confiscated from private detective Glenn Mulcaire three years earlier.

The Met has since insisted it did not have the resources to devote to the operation, given the threat of international terrorism at the time. But Mr Yates told the inquiry that there was in any event no new evidence in 2009 to warrant re-opening the investigation.

"It's pretty clear you came to rapid conclusion there was nothing in this," inquiry counsel Robert Jay said.

"In less time than the eight hours which have been suggested – possibly a maximum of six hours – you had this all done and dusted."

Mr Yates replied: "It was fairly straightforward. You talk with the taint of what's happened since and I accept that, but in July 2009 that's what I was asked to do.

"Such cases always involve difficult choices. We are paid to make difficult decisions."

Mr Jay told the former Met boss, known to sections of the press as 'Yates of the Yard', that he should have said the decision was due to resource concerns, not lack of evidence.

"I don't accept that," Mr Yates replied.

"You've got to let me finish this point. This is important. You're judging me in 2012 on what was said in 2009.

"Yes, Mulcaire must have targeted many people, but I took the view that more evidence against Mulcaire would take us nowhere at all. He'd already stood trial."

Mr Jay asked Mr Yates about a section of a briefing note he had commissioned, delivered a few days after his decision not to reopen the inquiry, which mentioned the infamous 'for Neville' email proving beyond doubt that phone-hacking was carried out by more than one reporter at the News of the World.

"Maybe the reason it didn't hit home was you already made your decision and when you got to read this briefing note it was of little interest to you," Mr Jay suggested.

Asked how he himself had concluded he was a victim of phone-hacking, Mr Yates said he kept having to change the pin on his mobile phone to access his answering machine messages.

At that point several officials in the court room, including Mr Jay, began to laugh.

"The irony of this has not been lost on many in this room," Mr Jay said.

"You're applying a different evidential standard to yourself than others."

Ex-assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, described by some as the worst select committee witness in recent memory, also appeared this afternoon.

Mr Hayman was branded a "dodgy geezer" by MPs when he appeared before their committee and was roundly criticised for eating dinner with News International journalists while overseeing an investigation into their practises.

A third officer, ex-deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, gave evidence this morning.

All three men have been cleared of any wrong doing by the police watchdog, although Mr Yates had to step down when the phone-hacking row was at its peak.