Tuesday, March 13, 2012

#Leveson Inquiry: Dick Fedorcio Denies Favours Claim

Scotland Yard's communications chief today denied a suggestion that he arranged for Rebekah Brooks to be loaned a police horse in return for securing work experience for his son.
In September 2007 Mrs Brooks, then editor of The Sun, rang Metropolitan Police head of public affairs Dick Fedorcio to inquire about looking after a retired horse, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard.

At around the same time Mr Fedorcio's son Alex did a work experience placement at The Sun lasting four weeks.

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Leveson Inquiry, asked: "Was it the question - put bluntly - of favours being called in here?"

Mr Fedorcio replied: "I don't believe it was at all, not as far as I was concerned.

"The arrangement at that stage in 2007, I was not involved in. That was a matter between my son and The Sun direct."

The inquiry heard that the police communications chief felt that lending Mrs Brooks the animal might result in positive media coverage for the Met about the care of retired police horses.

He also told the hearing that Mrs Brooks appeared "non-plussed" when police told her in January 2003 they had information suggesting that an allegedly corrupt private detective agency was paying one of her journalists at the News of the World.

Mr Fedorcio has been on extended leave from Scotland Yard since August pending an investigation into the awarding of a contract to Neil Wallis, former executive editor of the News of the World.

Mr Wallis, who was arrested on suspicion of phone-hacking last July but has not been charged, was paid £24,000 by the Met for communications advice between October 2009 and September 2010.

The inquiry heard that Mr Fedorcio invited people from leading PR firms Bell Pottinger and Hanover to submit rival bids for the contract that was awarded to Mr Wallis.

Chairman Lord Justice Leveson suggested that the Met head of public affairs chose these companies because he knew they would be more expensive than the former News of the World executive, adding: "The point is, this is set up to get a result."

Mr Fedorcio denied this, but confirmed that he initially wanted to award the contract to Mr Wallis without any competition.

Mr Wallis offered his services as a PR consultant to the Met over lunch with Mr Fedorcio in August 2009, the inquiry heard.

The Scotland Yard communications chief, whose deputy was on long-term sick leave at the time, discussed the possibility of hiring the ex-tabloid executive with then-assistant commissioner John Yates.

Mr Yates said Mr Wallis gave him "categorical assurances" that there was nothing about the News of the World phone-hacking case that could emerge later to embarrass the Metropolitan Police if he was given the job.

Mr Fedorcio told the inquiry he only became aware that Mr Wallis was of interest to Scotland Yard over phone-hacking on the day of his arrest on July 14 last year.

Mr Yates has told the inquiry he was "good friends" with Mr Wallis, and attended football matches and dined out with him.

Asked if he was surprised by the extent of out-of-hours meetings between Mr Wallis and Mr Yates, Mr Fedorcio said: "It was a revelation to me."

The hearing was told that Mr Fedorcio let News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton use his office computer and personal email account to file a story about controversial former Met commander Ali Dizaei, who was jailed for corruption in 2010.

The communications chief said in a written statement: "To help her, and as she was under pressure, I offered to let her type the story, which she did from notes that she arrived with, in an email on the standalone computer in my office.

"She accepted and wrote the story and sent it. I was present in the office throughout this time, and therefore got advance sight of a story about an MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) officer."

Mr Fedorcio said he was nearby while Ms Panton was using his computer and she did not have access to any of his files or documents.

However, he admitted: "I would have considered doing it for anybody who was in that set of circumstances. But I accept it may have been an error of judgment."

Ms Panton, who is married to a Scotland Yard detective, was arrested in December on suspicion of making corrupt payments to police officers. She was later bailed and has not been charged.

The Leveson Inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, will hear from national newspaper crime reporters tomorrow.