Bellingcat

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Hackgate - "Snakes And Ladders" At The Met

The latest from my regular contributor.

At her final appearance before the HASC - Home Affairs Select Committee - (4th September 2012), Sue Akers was asked how the three main Hackgate investigations were organised and what was the chain of command:
- Q54 Michael Ellis: "What about the rank of the officers involved? Do you have a number of officers of senior rank or are most of them detective constables and sergeants? Can you say something about that?"
- Sue Akers: "Yes, I can. I have a detective superintendent in charge of each strand, so there are three of those, one dealing with the phone hacking, one dealing with corrupt payments and one dealing with the Tuleta offences. They each have a detective chief inspector and a small number of detective inspectors." [The witness later clarified: Operation Tuleta does not have a DCI - only Weeting and Elveden]  The rest are sergeants, constables and a fair number of police staff... I have a detective chief superintendent who oversees or hovers above all three of the detective superintendents."
- Q55 Michael Ellis: "So he is your deputy, is he, a detective chief superintendent?"
- Sue Akers: "He is my deputy."
As well as these details of her team subordinates, HASC showed an understandable interest in MET arrangements for replacing Akers when she retired in October 2012:
- Q82 Chair: "Who will take over? Who will take your job?"
- Sue Akers: "Another ACPO officer has been identified and he will-"
- Chair: "Sorry, who is that?"
- Sue Akers: "DAC Steve Kavanagh."
- Q83 Chair: "Where is he at the moment?"
- Sue Akers: "At the moment he is in territorial policing but will-"
- Chair: "So he is at the Met at the moment, is he?"
- Sue Akers: "Yes, but he will be moving to a position where he is able to oversee...we will be moving towards case building and trials, and there will be no need for the amount of scrutiny and oversight that I have had to put in"
Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry (p3 6th February 2012), she was also asked about chain of command upwards:
- MR JAY:  "Owing to the size of these operations -- and you're going to tell us in a minute the number of staff who are dedicated to each of them -- your role is one of oversight."
- A.  "Yes."
- Q.  "And you report to the Deputy Commissioner?"
- A.  "My -- who I report who has changed.  I started by reporting to the Assistant Commissioner.  Then, when we had a change at the top, I reported to the Acting Deputy Commissioner, and then another Deputy Commissioner and now an Assistant Commissioner again."
 - Q.  "Of course"
Robert Jay's understated response "Of course" quietly underlined the seismic changes at the top of the MET as a result of the phone hacking scandal.  Chief of these were the resignations of the Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates.  In addition to high profile resignations, the MET has undergone senior management restructuring too during this period. Small wonder then that HASC showed concern:
- Q81 Chair: "You have a huge amount of expertise in this. Who is going to take over? We clearly do not want somebody absolutely new who does not know what is going on."
From this evidence above, the chain of command was fairly clear.  For the three main Operations (Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta), there are a number of constables, sergeants, detective inspectors, detective chief inspectors and detective superintendents. Then at senior level, a designated Detective Chief Superintendent oversees all three investigations.  He reports to a Deputy Assistant Commissioner, who in turn reports to an Assistant Commissioner.

So who are these three key senior officers?  And what IS their familiarity with Hackgate?

THE DETECTIVE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT - GORDON BRIGGS

The first conviction of Hackgate was on 10th January 2013.  Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, a serving MET police officer in Counter Terrorism Specialist Operations (SO15) was found guilty of misconduct in public office (see here for background).  BRIGGS was the public face of the MET response to Casburn's guilty verdict.  He faced a throng of print press, broadcast news, and freelance photographers. (video).  From the Guardian
Det Chief Supt Gordon Briggs, who oversees Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta, said: "It is a great disappointment that a detective chief inspector in the counterterrorism command should have abused her position in this way. There's no place for corrupt officers or staff in the Metropolitan police service... In this case DCI Casburn approached the News of the World, the very newspaper being investigated, to make money.
January 25th 2012, BRIGGS wrote to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (CMS) as deputy to Sue Akers. He politely and firmly declined to provide CMS Chair, John Whittingdale, with required information as "To disclose the names of such individuals would require us to disclose private information concerning third parties without their consent."  Whittingdale had requested the names of all MPs and peers thought to have been hacked by the News of the World. (here)  The impasse was later resolved by CMS member Tom Watson MP negotiating with Sue Akers for the numbers of MPs and peers, without disclosure of individual names.

Further back in September 2010 (and coincidentally at the same time as Casburn's leak) NOTW was making news for other reasons:  "Two people have been found guilty of trying to sell an 11-month-old girl as a slave. A 48-year-old man and 29-year-old woman, from north-east London, were exposed offering the child in return for £35,000 in a News of the World sting...with an undercover reporter from the paper."  On their conviction BRIGGS, then heading MET child abuse investigations (here) said
This was an appalling case where individuals have attempted to sell a vulnerable child for their own personal gain and with no consideration whatsoever for her safety and future. We thank the News of the World for bringing this case to our attention and we are indebted to our partners in Newham social services who joined us in a fast-moving operation to recover the victim and remove her to safety.
Even further back, in 2004, BRIGGS attended senior Management Board meetings in his then capacity as Staff Officer to MET Deputy Commissioner/Acting Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. Also present was Commander Andre Baker (see here).

THE DEPUTY ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER - STEVE KAVANAGH 

September 2010 was an challenging month for Steve KAVANAGH at the MET. On September 1st, the New York Times published its exposé on phone hacking - triggering yet more criticism of MET refusal to re-open the investigation. 6th September, under intense public pressure, John Yates, Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations (ACSO) launched a scoping investigation into the New York Times claims. It was designated as Operation Varec. "John Yates (JY) explained that he wished to maintain the lead for phone hacking within SO (Specialist Operations)." Yates would therefore command 'Gold Group' oversight for Varec. Designated lead at "Silver Group' level for Varec was Commander Steve KAVANAGH.

The first Gold Group operations meeting was the next day, September 10th 2010.  It was some of the information discussed at this meeting which Casburn subsequently leaked to News of the World. Casburn was Detective Chief Inspector in SO15 (Counter Terrorism, Specialist Operations) - Counter Terrorism Command was headed by Steve KAVANAGH (see here).  A week later on September 17th, another substantive Varec Gold Group meeting was called, and later the same day, the MET were alerted to a potential terrorist plot just prior to the Pope's visit to London (p12 here):
At 0317 Commander Steven Kavanagh (a rank equivalent to Assistant Chief Constable in other police forces) was briefed. He reviewed and approved the plans for arrest... At 0340 the options were reviewed at a Gold Group meeting chaired by Assistant Commissioner for Special Operations (ACSO) John Yates.  As ACSO, Mr Yates is responsible for SO15...
In January 2011 Operation Weeting began.  The investigation was taken out of Yates' command, arguably to distance it from criticism and placed instead in the Special Crime Directorate under Sue Akers. 

KAVANAGH'S  hard work paid off as in March 2011 he climbed the ladder and gained promotion to Deputy Assistant Commissioner (here and p3 organisation chart):
...with John Yates, Acting Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Catherine Crawford, MPA Chief Executive, acting as advisers to the panel... Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates, said: 'I´m extremely pleased that two such strong candidates have been successful at the board.' 
One of DAC KAVANAGH'S first duties was to deputise for Yates at a House of Commons Select Committee.  (column 8)

By July 2010 however, the MET was suffering severe reputational damage over its handling of the NOTW scandal. On July 17th Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson stepped down, the following day John Yates resigned too.  DAC KAVANAGH soon faced an even bigger challenge - coordinating the MET's operational response to the London summer riots.  Meanwhile, Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta gathered pace under Sue Akers.

THE ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER - MARK ROWLEY

Police in-house magazine 'The Job' saw a need to help the confused. (p6 The Job April 2012)

Over the past year, there’s been a lot of reorganisation at the top of the Met. We have a new Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, and two new Assistant Commissioners. It can be hard to keep track, so here's a chart of who's doing what.....
Akers is shown directly reporting to Assistant Commissioner Mark ROWLEY, Specialist Crime and Operations.  ROWLEY was appointed MET Assistant Commissioner in December 2011.  Prior to this, ROWLEY was Chief Constable of Surrey Police.  Before leaving Surrey, ROWLEY had had to admit on behalf of Surrey Police to the Home Affairs Select Committee that Surrey Police had known about the NOTW hacking of Milly Dowler's phone when it had happened in 2002. (Daily Mail) He was appointed Chief Constable of Surrey Police in 2008, succeeding Bob Quick.  ROWLEY'S Deputy Chief Constable was Craig Denholm.  At time of writing, Denholm is still being investigated for his alleged failure to act on his knowledge of the Dowler hacking for almost a decade.(Guardian)

The resulting IPCC Report is due shortly, though may be in redacted form so as not to prejudice ongoing trials.  Interestingly, ROWLEY had first joined Surrey Police in 2002 as Chief Superintendent, and subsequently was Senior Investigating Officer for 5 years of Operation Ruby - the investigation into the murder of Milly Dowler. It is not known whether or not Denholm informed ROWLEY on his knowledge of the Dowler hacking.

[UPDATE: Brown Moses added this pertinent 2011 observation in the Guardian from 2011]
If hacking's the problem, the Met has hired the right man... The last Met commissioner headed for the exit. Still, others survive and thrive. And that includes Mark Rowley, former chief constable of Surrey, now reborn as an assistant commissioner at the Met. Rowley headed Surrey's investigation into the murder of Milly Dowler [He took overall command for the investigation in 2006]. The News of the World first 'fessed up to hacking Milly's phone that same year. What happened next? Not much. Rowley quite reasonably told MPs no hacking investigation occurred because the murder itself was a priority. Still, it does have the potential to embarrass. Because if you looked at his official biog in July, it revealed that as a detective superintendent at the National Criminal Intelligence Service, he "led on the national deployment of covert techniques to combat organised crime such as telephone interception". Appraised of the facts, he would have realised that what the News of the World was doing wasn't legal. By the time of his move to the Met last month, his Surrey biog had been redrafted. By then, there was no reference to his telephony expertise at all.
(Hugh Muir, Guardian)

It must be difficult for the MET, from its small pool of senior officers, to identify an investigation command structure which might offer a clean break from any Hackgate baggage.  Which is why it is surprising to see yet another shift since Akers' retirement.  Tracing labyrinthine MET re-structurings is tortuous,but Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta -together with DAC KAVANAGH - seem to have migrated back to Special Operations reporting to Yates' successor Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick.  (Dec 2012 organisation chart here)

Past criticisms of the original phone hacking investigation questioned the wisdom of homing it with counter-terrorism, royal protection and so on.  Given the controversial and compromised history of Specialist Operations re the 2006 Goodman/Mulcaire Operation Caryatid, failures to notify victims, Yates "crap" cursory re-visit of 2009, Operation Varec leaks to the press etc  it's curious to find these high profile investigations right back where they started.


Related Articles
Hackgate - April Casburn's Conviction - Myths And Misconceptions
Hackgate - Varec Revisited - Dissent In The Ranks
Hackgate - Sue Akers' Swansong
Hackgate - "Newsdesk Here, Kelvin Speaking..."
Hackgate - Andre Baker - A Hackgate Footnote?
Hackgate - Ten To Watch For
Hackgate - Dear Surrey Police


You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com

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