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Saturday, August 27, 2005

EXCLUSIVE: Has Met spin breached police media policy?

Press misinformation "potential misconduct" - Met PR chief Hell Is Other People has discovered that off-the-record briefings, and other statements made by Metropolitan Police officers on their killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, may breach the police's own policies on dealing with the press. According to written evidence submitted by the Met's own PR chief, officers making such statements will have needed top-level authorisation - or face misconduct charges. Since the killing on 22 July, the Met has pursued a vigorous news management strategy and made a number of significant public claims about the circumstances of the shooting, which have been subsequently contradicted by police evidence submitted to the IPCC investigation of the killing. In the hours and days immediately following the killing, Commissioner Sir Ian Blair claimed that de Menezes had been targeted in connection with the Met's investigation into the failed bomb attacks in London on 21 July. Last weekend the Sunday Telegraph reported that Met officers had fed false information about de Menezes' clothing and conduct to the press, which had resulted in widespread media coverage supporting the police's decision to kill the unarmed man. Two weeks ago, police told The Observer that CCTV cameras at the scene were not working, yet this claim was also subsequently contradicted. Last Monday, the police issued a statement, based on a mistaken timeline, which appeared to contradict remarks made by members of the de Menezes family. The statements come amid an aggressive Met PR strategy following the killing, in which Sir Ian has provided a series of high-profile press statements and interviews. Dick Fedorcio, Director of Public Affairs at the Metropolitan Police Service, presented written evidence to the Morris Inquiry into professional standards at the Met last year. He told the Inquiry that "each high profile internal investigation or resulting court case has a bespoke media strategy." "In many high profile cases an ACPO officer will chair a 'Gold Group' which will oversee the media strategy and authorise any media releases or responses," he added. In the absence of such a group, the Director or Deputy Director of Professional Standards (DPS) would approve such statements. Unauthorised contact with the media could not be ruled out, but on this Fedorcio was clear: "Such matters are treated as potential misconduct and are investigated by officers from the DPS...The sanction if such cases are proven is a matter for either police misconduct boards or the police staff equivalent...If I had reason to believe that any member of DPA (Directorate of Public Affairs) staff was involved in the unauthorised disclosure of information to the media the DPS would be asked to investigate it as a potential misconduct matter." Fedorcio's submissions to Morris also included ACPO and Metropolitan Police Service policy on dealing with the media. The Met's Media Relations Policy, which Fedorcio introduced in 2000, makes it clear that off-the-record briefings should only take place under strict approval from the appropriate level: "Officers must stick to the facts of the case and not speculate or let their own personal views or prejudices influence the discussions...It will be for the OCU commanders and heads of branches to decide at what levels...such discretion may be exercised. If there is any doubt about speaking off the record, advice must be sought from the DPA or enquiries referred direct to them." Finally, the ACPO Media Advisory Group has issued extensive notes for the guidance of officers nationally on dealing with the media. Section 6 includes explicit guidance on media relations in cases of "deaths arising from a siege or firearms operation." At a time when police unions have demanded a Home Office probe into leaks from the IPCC, the documents raise serious questions, not about the killing itself, but about the conduct of Sir Ian Blair and other officers since 22 July:

  • Who is in charge of the media relations strategy for the de Menezes case? Is it Fedorcio? Has a Gold Group been assigned? Is the DPS involved?
  • Were all statements to the press, including the off the record briefings revealed by the Sunday Telegraph, authorised?
  • If any unauthorised comment was made, will the officers or staff involved face misconduct charges?
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