Former counter-terrorism chief John Yates says Virgin ‘highly likely’ to have been source of information published by Mail on Sunday
Britain’s former head of counter-terrorism says he believes his personal data was leaked from within Virgin airlines, in a potential breach of national security.
John Yates told the Guardian that details about his flights and airmiles, which formed the basis of a Mail on Sunday article in September 2010, were “highly likely” to have involved leaks from within the airline.
Last week the Guardian revealed that details of the flights of celebrities were leaked to a paparazzi agency, and that a Virgin airlines employee had resigned.
Yates told the Guardian: “It seems highly likely that the story in the MoS was based upon leaked data from Virgin Atlantic.”
The former counter-terrorism chief said he had instructed his lawyers to press Virgin Atlantic for answers.
The Mail on Sunday denies that the story resulted from a leak from Virgin Atlantic, with a spokesperson saying it had come from a “police source” and was in the public interest.
Although Yates’s allegations have not been independently verified, they add a level of seriousness to the scandal because he believes the leak of his and his family’s data came at a time when he was serving at Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism.
At the time senior police officers travelling in an official capacity were entitled to business class travel.
The story, published in September 2010, said that Yates had used airmiles clocked up during official business to cut the cost of travel for family members. The paper said up to 10 flights had been subsidised this way. An inquiry cleared Yates of wrongdoing.
While details of Yates’s business trips were available to the pubic, only a handful of people, including his family members, would have known about the trips taken by his children and wife.
Yates was a member of a privileged Virgin programme, “u” or “unique” class, for regular business and Upper Class service passengers who held the airline’s gold card.
Virgin were also the Met’s preferred airline for several years after fighting hard to win their business.
Virgin Atlantic is under mounting pressure to answer accusations that a senior employee passed private flight details for almost 70 celebrities – including Princess Beatrice and Madonna’s children – to a global paparazzi agency.
Yates resigned from the Met over the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011. He had insisted there was no need to reopen the Scotland Yard inquiry into the hacking of private voicemails by the News of the World.
He said he accepts that some will see an irony in him now complaining that his own privacy and that of his family was violated by a leak of personal data.
Yates explained why it was a serious issue: “This story was published at an extremely sensitive time in both my personal and professional life. As it transpires, the allegations contained in the article were without foundation.
“After an inquiry I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the policy on using airmiles for private use amended to permit such use. However, as the then UK lead for counter-terrorism I was very concerned that sensitive personal details about myself and my family had found their way into the media.”
Yates apologised after the newspaper article to the home secretary, the mayor of London and senior Yard colleagues.
Yates added: “The article in question caused great distress to my family and was also very damaging to my professional reputation. I intend to instruct lawyers in order to investigate matters further.”
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said: “The Mail on Sunday stands by its story which revealed how John Yates, then assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, used business airmiles for his family, contrary to the Metropolitan police’s regulations.
“This was confirmed at the time by the Metropolitan police’s press spokesman. No part of the story published by The Mail on Sunday was based on information from Virgin Atlantic. It came from police sources and was both accurate and in the public interest.”
After the first revelations last week, Virgin said: “The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation.
“The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected.”
Virgin declined, however, to comment on Yates’s specific allegations.
In Guardian interview, London mayor makes bid for oversight of education during hoped-for second term
Boris Johnson wants to take on strategic oversight of schools if re-elected as London mayor, claiming only a systemic fight against educational underachievement can tackle the social exclusion that he believes lay behind last summer’s riots.
Johnson, who has already launched an inquiry into the state of the capital’s education, told the Guardian on Friday that he believed some schools in London were “chillingly bad”, adding that it was unacceptable to have 55% of young black men unemployed.
But the mayor went further than before by making a pitch to be given more power over local authorities to tackle illiteracy and innumeracy, arguing that education was the best antidote to the “nihilism” and exclusion revealed by the riots. Several London boroughs already face growing interventionism from central government as part of Michael Gove’s education reforms.
Johnson said: “The biggest shock for me from the riots was the sheer sense of nihilism – perhaps I should not have been shocked, but in my view literacy and numeracy are the best places to start. In seven particular boroughs in London one in four children are leaving functionally illiterate. In a few schools it is nearer 50%. We have to intervene at an earlier stage, and I think the mayor can help.”
Johnson’s aides argue that his battle to reduce joblessness in the capital, and prevent new jobs from going only to highly motivated foreigners, will be hampered if he has no role over standards or in planning the extra 100,000 school places needed in London.
In the interview, he was also unapologetic about the way he campaigned for a cut in the 50p top rate of income tax in this week’s budget, even though post-budget polls show the cut is opposed by Londoners by a margin of 55% to 35%.
He said: “I have always argued that London has got to be tax-competitive. I think it is crazy to go on endlessly with a tax rate that is amongst the highest in the G20.”
However, he did not defend George Osborne’s so-called “granny tax”, saying: “I am not the chancellor of the exchequer. I did not write the budget.”
He instead repeatedly referred to his decision to make the freedom pass available for 24 hours a day to Londoners from the age of 60, saying: “It is worth several hundred pounds a year and the single biggest reason for older people to be grateful to this administration.”
He said: “It may be some aspects of the budget are not going down very well. I am not convinced that I will be necessarily associated with those measures. It is not my blooming budget and it is not necessarily one that I would have written. There is plenty we can do in London to help the poorest and the needy.”
Labour will try to pin the blame for the “granny tax” on Johnson, saying he was the leading advocate of the cut in the top rate of tax, and therefore must be responsible for the decision to fund it through freezing pensioner allowances. There are 1.2 million people in London aged over 60, and traditionally they have been inclined to vote Conservative.
Elsewhere in the interview Johnson claimed that:
• The “implosion of [Rupert] Murdoch’s power has been the single biggest political event of the past three years”, and more significant than the general election.
• The frugality of his first term as London mayor on average saved Londoners £400 in lower council tax bills.
• His superior ability to lobby the cabinet means he is better placed than his Labour rival Ken Livingstone over the next four years to extract vital cash from the Treasury for transport and housing.
• The government has now recognised his case for extra airport runway capacity in the south-east, but “contrary to popular belief I am not the slightest bit wedded to some remote archipelago in the Thames estuary”.
Johnson insisted that he was in a tough, tense fight with Livingstone, even though polls this week showed he had stretched his lead to eight points, defying a wider Conservative party poll deficit in the capital.
Johnson’s decision to set his strategic sights on education as a key goal for his second term is seen by aides as a logical extension of his existing role on skills, training and employment in the capital. He is said to have been struck by evidence suggesting more than two-thirds of children involved in the August disturbances had special educational needs and a third were excluded from school.
He insists he is not involved in a power grab against the education secretary, Michael Gove, or seeking to reintroduce the Inner London Education Authority, abolished by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
He said of the riots: “There were people who joined in out of a sheer sense of collective intoxification – a kind of madness that gripped a lot of people. But there were people who feel that there is not enough in society for them and were just shockingly nihilistic. We need to know what is going on in these people’s lives and why they can feel such a sense of exclusion.
“There are too many people who feel there is no future for them in this city. I want to try to deal with these kids at an earlier age and trying to crack illiteracy – that is at the heart of this. It is crucial that we invest in literacy.
“There are one in four kids reaching the age of 11 who are unable to read properly. That is the best place to start. If you believe the figures, 55% of young black men are unemployed in London. There are some boroughs like Hackney that are very good at tackling this problem in schools, and are really on the case, but there are others that are chillingly bad.”
Elsewhere in the interview he defended his progressive record, saying: “I think most right-thinking liberal people will see this as an administration that has been more open, transparent, and progressive than anyone predicted.” He promised to find £150m for safer cycling, build a further 55,000 affordable houses and create 200,000 jobs, adding that he would continue to campaign for a living wage.
Johnson also defended his decision in 2010 to dismiss the claims of widespread phone hacking at News International as a load of codswallop and a put-up job by the Labour party. “I said what I did on the basis of the advice I was being given by John Yates [former Met assistant commissioner] about the true state of affairs. No one knew about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked. Nobody knew that kind of thing had gone on. I was informed ‘there was nothing new here to be seen, move on, no new evidence’ and that is why I said what I said. Clearly that was not a view vindicated by events.
“Given what we now know about media practice, the whole thing has to be pursued to the crack of doom, all collars must be felt, and the stables have got to be cleaned out.”
Johnson refused to resile from his broader defence of the role of Rupert Murdoch in liberating newspapers from the print unions’ grip. He said: “I don’t regard him as quite the satanic influence that some do and if you look at the newspaper industry he did a great deal to set it free, and that is a point you don’t often hear these days.”
But he said the single biggest change in the British political landscape in the last two to three years “was not really the general election. It was the implosion of Murdoch as a power. That is over and that, I have to say it, is incredible. It is the most spectacular change, and given what is coming out it is patently for the good. If it is true, and it seems to be undeniable, that there was a culture of bribing police officers, bribing health workers and systematic intrusion of people’s lives then I think it is great that is all exposed.”
Next witnesses also include crime reporters, HMIC head Sir Denis O’Connor and Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick
The head of Scotland Yard’s communications department, Dick Fedorcio, is to appear at the Leveson inquiry next week along with half a dozen crime reporters from national newspapers.
He will appear at the inquiry on Tuesday and is expected to be asked about his relationship with senior staff at the News of the World and the circumstances in which the paper’s former deputy editor Neil Wallis landed a two day a week consultancy contract with the Metropolitan Police PR department worth £24,000 a year.
Fedorcio has been on extended leave pending the results of an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the Wallis consultancy arrangement. Wallis, who was covering for Fedorcio’s number two, was arrested last July over alleged phone hacking at the now defunct tabloid.
Last week, it emerged that Dick Fedorcio enjoyed a close relationship with Wallis and had several dinner meetings with him and other senior officers between 2006 and 2010. Some of these were described as private arrangements made with the former assistant commissioner John Yates.
Fedorcio is also expected to be asked about the press strategy he devised for the Met during his tenure at the Yard and whether he encouraged officers to engage in off-the-record briefings.
Over the past week at Leveson it has emerged that there were serious divisions at senior level at the Met over the issue of socialising with journalists. Some senior officers, such as Yates, believed it was a good relationship-building exercise, while others were critical of the practice.
Two days of next week will be taken up with the testimony of journalists who are at the frontline of crime reporting including crime editors and correspondents from the Guardian, the Times, the Independent and the Sunday Times.
The most closely scrutinised will be Mike Sullivan from the Sun, who is due to appear on Thursday. Sullivan has separately been arrested as part of the Met’s ongoing Operation Elveden probe into the alleged bribery of public officials by journalists at News International.
Jeff Edwards, chairman of the Crime Reporters’ Association, who has covered crime for more than 40 years included a long stint at the Daily Mirror, will appear on Wednesday as will Sandra Laville of the Guardian, Paul Peachey of the Independent and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas of the Sunday Times. Stephen Wright from the Daily Mail will give evidence on Thursday.
Also on next week is Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who is scheduled to appear on Monday along with Met police officer Cressida Dick, who was appointed assistant commissioner (specialist operations) following the resignation of John Yates.
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Former anti-terror chief says uproar stymied Damian Green leak case and claims John Yates resisted phone records scrutiny
Robert Quick, formerly Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer, has alleged that his senior Scotland Yard colleagues buckled under Conservative party pressure and withdrew their support for the investigation of a Tory frontbench spokesman who had received leaks which endangered national security.
Quick told the Leveson inquiry on Wednesday that the arrest in 2008 of the Conservative immigration spokesman, Damian Green, sparked outrage from senior Tories and Conservative-leaning papers. Quick said the furore led the then acting Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, to ask him to halt the criminal investigation.
Quick alleged that Green had not just received the leaks but encouraged a civil servant to pass on information that might have endangered national security.
He said his investigation began after a complaint from the government that material had been stolen from the safe of the then home secretary’s private office. Green, who is now an immigration minister, was arrested in November 2008 by Scotland Yard.
The arrest and search of Green’s House of Commons office was condemned by David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, and London mayor Boris Johnson, who is now in control of setting the Met budget and strategic priorities, as well as having the power to fire the commissioner.
Christopher Galley, a civil servant, was also arrested. The Crown Prosecution Service decided in April 2009 not to prosecute Green or Galley.
Quick said that Galley phoned Green after being released and was told he should “plead not guilty and ‘do not mention David Davis'”, the senior Tory whom Galley had first contacted offering to leak information to embarrass the Labour government.
Quick said he had thoroughly checked the law at every stage and had the support of Stephenson before the arrest. But after the Tory explosion of anger, the acting commissioner withdrew his support, Quick claimed.
The row erupted weeks after London’s Tory mayor had in effect fired Sir Ian Blair as Met commissioner.
Quick told the inquiry that Stephenson “looked anxious” and claimed he had written his resignation letter after Tory criticism of Green’s arrest. The Met claims that Stephenson, who went on to be appointed commissioner, had in fact written a statement saying he would leave the force in April when his contract expired.
Quick agreed with Leveson’s suggestion that dropping the inquiry would give the appearance at least of caving in to political pressure.
The officer said Stephenson asked him to stop the inquiry: “I expressed the view that I did not think it justifiable or ethical to stop the investigation purely on the basis of a controversy that appeared not to be driven by the public, but by those who may have a vested interest in deterring the police from undertaking such investigation.”
Quick claimed Tory-supporting papers smeared him, he suspects with help from a senior police insider. He said he had been forced to move his children out of his home amid security fears after the Mail on Sunday published details about a wedding car business run by his wife, Judith, and staffed by former police officers.
Stephenson and Dick Fedorcio, head of press at Scotland Yard, had failed to try to intervene to stop the paper publishing the story, Quick claimed.
Quick apologised in December 2008 after claiming the Tories and their supporters were “mobilised … in a wholly corrupt way” against his investigation into Green’s relationship with the Home Office civil servant.
Counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC said: “It all suggests a campaign from whoever to smear you in relation to the Green inquiry, to use a range of strategies.”
Quick said that during the Green saga he came to believe some press leaks were so well informed that someone senior at Scotland Yard must have been briefing the media to undermine the investigation.
A report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said the use of police resources in the Green investigation was “debatable”, while an internal police review said Green’s arrest was “not proportionate”.
Quick, then head of counter-terrorism and an assistant commissioner, resigned from the Met in April 2009 over a separate mistake, when he was photographed entering No 10 with a briefing note on counter-terrorism on display.
At the Leveson inquiry, he claimed that the former assistant commissioner John Yates had resisted an attempt to examine his phone records over allegations he was leaking information from the cash for honours investigation, saying he was “very well connected”.
Quick, then chief constable of Surrey, said he was called in to review the criminal investigation led by Yates. He gave it a clean bill of health but, in January 2007, Quick was called in again after Britain’s top civil servant, Gus O’Donnell, complained that the police were leaking details to the media. O’Donnell specifically named Yates as the source of the leaks from the investigation into the then Labour government.
Quick alleged that Stephenson, the then Met deputy commissioner, did not implement his recommendation that the phone records of Yates should be examined for evidence of whether he was leaking against the Labour government.
Quick alleged that he clashed with Yates over this suggestion and that Yates told him: “No Bob, I am very well connected.” Quick told Leveson his review found no evidence implicating Yates as the leaker: “I sensed Assistant Commissioner Yates was clearly sensitive – as I think I would be – to an intrusive process like that.”
Last week, Yates in his evidence denied leaking information about the cash for peerages investigation, saying some of the most sensitive information gathered by police is still not known to the public.
Quick said Yates’s media contacts troubled him, especially after he saw him having a drink with a Daily Mail crime journalist, Stephen Wright, whose paper was, he said, trying to “demolish” the then commissioner Sir Ian Blair. Quick said this contact was “extraordinary”.
In 2000, Quick, then part of Scotland Yard’s anti-corruption command, wanted to investigate newspapers after a covert operation revealed corrupt payments to police officers for information.
Quick added that it struck him at the time as possible that newspaper organisations were aware of the reasons for the payments and were themselves complicit in making corrupt payments to police officers.
His report was submitted to his then boss, Andy Hayman, but no action was taken, the inquiry heard.
Quick also said it was clear in 2000 that tabloid journalists, most likely with their bosses’ blessing, were bribing officers: “There were considerable grounds to believe that journalists from tabloid newspapers were corruptors.”
Kit Malthouse voiced concerns to Met that it was devoting too many resources to phone-hacking investigation
London mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy complained to Scotland Yard several times that it was devoting too many resources to the News of the World phone-hacking investigation, according to evidence submitted to the Leveson inquiry.
Kit Malthouse, who also chairs the Metropolitan police authority, expressed this view “on several occasions” after a new phone-hacking investigation, Operation Weeting, was set up in January 2011, former Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said in his written statement to the inquiry.
“On several occasions after Operation Weeting had started and I had returned from sick leave, the chair of the MPA, Kit Malthouse, expressed a view that we should not be devoting this level of resources to the phone-hacking inquiry as a consequence of a largely political and media-driven ‘level of hysteria’,” Stephenson wrote.
Speaking about Malthouse’s comments at the Leveson inquiry on Monday, he said: “The reality was that this was wrong but that was a fairly widely held view.”
Stephenson, who took charge of the Met in May 2009, said it suffered from a “closed mindset” at the time and worked on the “flawed assumption” that the original investigation in 2006 was “successful”.
“There was a feeling, around 2009, that the Met was more and more convinced that the original operation was a success in its totality. What we didn’t do is actually go back and challenge the reasons for those decisions in 2006,” he added.
“We got ourselves almost hooked on a defensive strategy that we would not expend significant resources without new or additional evidence.”
Lord Justice Leveson put it to Stephenson that “the very defensive mindset” the former commissioner described “might be a very, very good example of the relationship and culture between the press and the police”.
He said the natural position of the force was to “fight back” because the allegations had been made by the press.
Stephenson admitted at the Leveson inquiry on Monday morning that he had not read the Guardian article in 2009 featuring new revelations about the extent of phone hacking by the News of the World.
Stephenson told Leveson he heard about the article on Radio 4 while driving to Manchester for a police conference and considered it was just another “piece of noise” and not a priority for him.
He asked the deputy assistant commissioner, John Yates, to investigate and was happy when he reported back later the same day to say that there was nothing of substance in the article.
“It was not a priority for me as a commissioner, it remained one of the many, many pieces of noise that was being dealt with,” said Stephenson.
He later admitted that he could not see what the point of the Guardian’s campaign was following a meeting with the editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger. He was being briefed by Met officers that no new investigation was warranted. “I just did not get the difference [between what the Guardian was alleging and what Stephenson had been told by Yates],” he said.
Leveson put it to Stephenson that this was a cursory “back of the envelope” decision and that Yates could have come back to him to say more time was needed to review the situation. Leveson said it was not “a white heat moment” that required a decision that day.
Stephenson said he occasionally had meetings with Yates after this when it was apparent the phone-hacking story “wasn’t going away, particularly after the New York Times article in September 2010″.
This article contained fresh allegations by a former News of the World reporter, the late Sean Hoare, that Andy Coulson had been aware of phone hacking when he edited the paper. But Stephenson said he was happy with the briefing he got from Yates right up to December 2010 when he became ill.
The inquiry heard how the Met launched a new phone-hacking investigation, Operation Weeting, in January 2011 when Stephenson was on leave of absence because of his health.
He said Operation Weeting was established because the police had been given fresh information by News International. Leveson said it was “because nobody had yet gone back to see what you already had in your locker”.
Stephenson denied that it was inappropriate that Yates was asked to look at the Guardian article, given his friendship with Coulson’s former deputy Neil Wallis.
Last week the Leveson inquiry heard how Yates and Wallis regularly dined together and how the former newspaper executive ended up with a consultancy working with Scotland Yard’s PR department.
Asked by Leveson were there no other staff available to review the Guardian article, Stephenson said Yates “would have felt that he was more than equipped to deal with it”.
The inquiry also heard how Stephenson had seven meetings with Wallis – two in 2008, three in 2009 and twice in 2010.
He said he had nothing to do with the decision to hire the media consultancy set up by Wallis but admitted that it had “played very, very badly”.
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