The resignation of Paul Stephenson, the boss of the Met Police, opens up the question of police corruption in the criminal journalism affair. We already know from Rebekah Brooks and other sources that police officers were taking money for information. With Stephenson unable to hang on to his job after taking freebies and hiring a journalist under suspicion at the pleasant rate of £1,000 a day there must now be a full scale investigation into the extent of police corruption.
It is not likely to be only the News of the World handing cash to the plod. We need to uncover all of the crooked dealings and cleanse the police as well as the press.
Now John Yates has gone as well. Unsurprising after his discomfort at the Select Committee last week and his invitation to return tomorrow. Apparently the London Police Authority were about to suspend him pending an investigation. What they must ensure is that the police who were actually taking money from the press are identified, prosecuted and disciplined.
No police service is ever completely free of corruption, but chances to root out entrenched graft do not come very often. This is one of those occasions and it must be pursued all the way.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has said that she is asking HM Inspectorate of Police (HMIC) to investigate the possibility of corrupt relationships between police officers and the press in the light of revelations about payments for information and the sale of sensitive security data about the royal family and their friends.
The HMIC might seem a logical place to go. After all it needs to be somebody outside of the Met Police and it really ought to be done by an organisation that understands policing. The problem is that the people who work in the inspectorate are retired police officers, police who are on detachment from the own force to gain career development experience or provide some specific skill for a special job or, worst of all, people who got themselves into a bit of a mess in their police job and they have been shunted off to the Inspectorate as an easier way of handling them than any other that is available.
All the instincts of the HMIC will be to get a nice tidy report together, after a very long enquiry, that will be just about good enough to avoid criticism and boring enough to put the nasty matter to bed with as few casualties as possible. Apart from the fact that they are police who will instinctively try to look after their own, the people at the HMIC lack any motivation at all. They are, with only one or two exceptions, either at the end of their careers due to age and they are looking forward to a very comfortable retirement or their career has stalled anyway.
To get to the bottom of police/press corruption it will be necessary to set up a judicial enquiry with the power to subpoena witnesses and require them to answer questions under oath. Under our present system, it will be necessary for such an enquiry to be headed by a judge, but it is essential that the judge takes advice from people with extensive experience of policing and journalism, but without connections current to the police service or the UK media. Much though it would go against the grain, the best way of doing this would be to buy in expertise from the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe.
It is slowly dawning on many people that matters have now gone way beyond hacking of celebrity phones. Some of the rot at the heart of our society is starting to be exposed. To avoid a major constitutional crisis which threatens the stability of government at a time when our economy is on its knees, there must be serious action to root out the disease and apply a radical cure.