Lewis Whyld/PA John Yates

Yates repeated his claim that in 2009 he believed phone hacking did not extend beyond a 'rogue reporter' at the News of the World

Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA

The officer leading the 2009 investigation into phone hacking has denied having inappropriate links with the News of the World.

He also repeated his view that at the time he believed that hacking was the work of one "rogue reporter" at the tabloid.

John Yates resigned as assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police (MPS) in July after coming under criticism for links to News of the World executive Neil Wallis, who was arrested the Leveson Inquiry via videolink from Bahrain, where he is overseeing reform of the police force, Yates confirmed that he attended several dinners and "two or three football matches" with Wallis.

"I've always been completely honest to say he is a good friend – or was a good friend – I've not seen him for nigh on a year," Yates told the inquiry into press standards, which is currently focusing on the relationship between the press and police.

Conversations about what they did in their respective roles at the tabloid and in the MPS were "in the margins" during social occasions, Yates told the court.

Diary records show several dinners and that Wallis visited Yates at Scotland Yard on 7 September 2009.

A later entry lists a meeting with the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who uncovered the extent of hacking by the News of the World, at Scotland Yard on 30 November 2009.

Asked why the meeting was given "30 minutes only", Yates said it was common for him to have short meetings due to a busy diary.

"Nick was quite a challenging individual for us to deal with," he said.

Yates was asked about a News of the World email stating that former crime editor Lucy Panton, who was arrested by police investigating corrupt police payments, "needed a splash" and that it was "time to call in all those bottles of champagne".

Asked if he had drunk champagne with Panton, with whom he attended the "expensive" Ivy Club and who he saw "two or three tmes a year", Yates said: "There may have been the odd occasion when the bottle was shared with several people," adding that it was a turn of phrase and denied being too close to journalists at the newspaper.

Tim Godwin, the deputy commissioner, had repeatedly advised Yates to reduce contact with the media, the former assistant commissioner confirmed.

"I had a very broad spectrum of meetings with the media," he told the inquiry.

On his relationship with the media he said: "They are not the enemy, they are occasionally critical friends and sometimes a lot worse."

Looking at the list of hospitality accepted by Yates, counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay asked if it was inappropriate for him to have a relationship with News International as it was being investigated.

"The matter was concluded then," Yates replied, stating that "there was no new evidence until January 2011".

Yates, who was grilled on several occasions by MPs sitting on commons select committees last year, again repeated his claim that in 2009 he believed hacking at the News of the World was the work of one "rogue reporter".

He was asked to explain why there was not a more wide-ranging investigation at the time, particularly after an article published by the Guardian on 9 July 2009 suggested hacking went way beyond the rogue reporter theory, possibly high up in the organisation.

"The main sting of this was that there were other journalists involved," Jay summarised.

Yates said that this "was a newspaper article" that "didn't present evidence" and that his review of the investigation took place in a "dispassionate and evidence-based way".

Lord Justice Leveson said that there were "pretty big players were expressing concern".

Yates accepted that in July 2009 there was "nothing to suggest" that Wallis, who was then deputy editor, "was involved in any way whatsoever".

Jay told him: "You should have left this for another assistant commissioner to do."

Yates blamed an "indexing issue" as to why John Prescott was not found to be a victim of phone hacking.

Leveson said he was "disturbed" that Yates did not know about the hacking of the then deputy prime minister's phone.

"I didn't know Prescott's phone was hacked until late 2010", he said even though he looked at the case question "scores of times".

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