Charles Shoebridge v Metropolitan Police, 2005


a.  Sky News

Charles Shoebridge left the Metropolitan Police in July 2000.  He began work as a freelance contributor for the BBC in the areas of security, terrorism, intelligence and crime in March 2001, on the occasion of Television Centre being bombed by the Real IRA.  In May 2001 he began working for Sky News in a similar capacity, making some forty appearances.  In October 2001, this work suddenly ceased.

In April 2002 Mr Shoebridge learned from a
Sky News producer that the reason for this was Sky's crime correspondent Martin Brunt having been told by Scotland Yard that Mr Shoebridge should no longer be employed by Sky.  This message had apparently been passed by Mr Brunt to Simon Cole, Sky News managing editor, who then sent an email to all Sky staff instructing that Mr Shoebridge, should, indeed, no longer be used.  When Mr Shoebridge expressed surprise that the editorial content of a supposedly independent news organisation could be influenced in this way, he was told that Sky was reliant upon the Metropolitan Police for tip-offs and exclusive stories.

In August 2002 Mr Shoebridge telephoned
Sky News to establish the truth of the matter and spoke with Mike Wilson, the deputy head of home news.  Mr Wilson confirmed that senior management at Sky News, by which he meant one of three people, had circulated an email ordering the restriction on Mr Shoebridge's use, but without giving any reasons for doing so.  Without Mr Shoebridge mentioning Mr Cole's name, Mr Wilson stated that the restriction was hindering his own work as a news gatherer, and suggested to Mr Shoebridge that Mr Cole be approached to have it lifted.

On the same day, Mr Shoebridge telephoned Simon Cole himself.  Mr Cole stated that he did not think there had been an email restricting Mr Shoebridge's use and, if there had been, he had not written it.  He said "If we were going to do that, we'd never put it on the record anyway, because it's not right."  Mr Cole said however that "certain elements within Scotland Yard" had been briefing against Mr Shoebridge, and claimed that
Sky producers therefore may have taken it upon themselves not to use him.

Throughout 2002 Mr Shoebridge did not appear on
Sky News, despite other news organisations making extensive use of him.  In 2003 and 2004 he did make, however, a small number of contributions.  These were either for the Littlejohn Show, which was run separately from Sky News, or were live items immediately broadcast from a location, such as Windsor Castle, where Mr Shoebridge was already working for other news organisations at the time.  Being live, Sky's management were unable to prevent these broadcasts.  On numerous further occasions, Mr Shoebridge was asked by Sky News producers and presenters for a contribution which, shortly after, was either cancelled or not broadcast. 

In August 2004 Mr Shoebridge again spoke by telephone with Simon Cole, to inform him he was to be a witness in Tribunal proceedings.  Mr Cole confirmed that "certainly the police made approaches to us" about Mr Shoebridge.  On this occasion however he denied that
Sky News had taken Mr Shoebridge off air as a result.  Mr Cole now said that Mr Shoebridge was not employed by Sky because of Mr Shoebridge's work for the ITV News Channel.  He did not account for his different explanation of two years previously, nor why other experts who appeared on other channels also regularly appeared on Sky News.  When told that evidence suggested that it was he himself who had sent the email preventing Mr Shoebridge's use, Mr Cole admitted that, even though two years earlier he had denied it, in reality he may have done.  Speaking of the Tribunal case, he said "Well, it's obviously going to be highly embarrassing for me".  He added that he would seek legal advice "because not only my reputation, but also the reputation of the channel is at stake here."

On 4 March 2005, ten days before the liability hearing in this case began, Mr Shoebridge received from Mr Cole's solicitor a statement in Mr Cole's name.  In the statement Mr Cole denied he had sent the email instructing
Sky staff not to use Mr Shoebridge.  It was now also claimed, for the first time, that Sky News had stopped using Mr Shoebridge because he had not been a good contributor and because he had, apparently, been unpopular with Sky staff, one of whom had, according now to Mr Cole, regarded him as "a creep".

At the hearing which began on 14 March 2005 Mr Cole, under oath, repeated this account.  Mr Shoebridge however produced as evidence tape recordings of his two previous conversations with Mr Cole, both of which contradicted this.  During the hearing it also became apparent that the person who had, according to Mr Cole, described Mr Shoebridge as a creep was
Sky News' most junior member of staff, who had only joined Sky ten days before Mr Shoebridge had last worked there.  Mr Cole admitted to the hearing that he may, after all, have sent the email instructing staff not to employ Mr Shoebridge.  He stated he had done so however only because of what his staff had told him when, after Mr Shoebridge's call to him in August 2002, he had, according to his evidence, asked his staff why Mr Shoebridge was not being used.  Under cross examination, Mr Cole contradicted this, agreeing that this call had not come until many months after the email had been circulated and Mr Shoebridge's Sky News work had already ceased.  Mr Cole's evidence under oath as to the reason why the email was circulated and Mr Shoebridge's employment by Sky News was stopped could not have been true.  Indeed, the reasons that Mr Cole gave under oath at the Tribunal hearing in 2005 were not mentioned at all in his lengthy and somewhat acrimonious conversation with Mr Shoebridge in 2004, or in that of 2002. 

Martin Brunt,
Sky News crime correspondent, earlier told the hearing that, at some point in late 2001, someone at Scotland Yard had made negative remarks to him about Mr Shoebridge.  Mr Brunt could not remember what these remarks were, or who had made them, but confirmed that he had relayed them to Mr Cole.  Mr Brunt stated it was fairly common for serving officers to criticise Sky's crime experts but that, even though he had contact with Metropolitan Police officials approximately one hundred times per year, in four years he had only heard the one negative comment about Mr Shoebridge.  Mr Brunt confirmed that he had known Bob Cox, Scotland Yard's chief press officer, for many years, but could not now state whether or not the negative remark had come from him.

The Tribunal, ruling in favour of Mr Shoebridge, found that his employment by
Sky News had effectively ceased because an email instruction to this effect had been sent, and that the instruction had been sent because of of the Scotland Yard intervention.  Whoever had made the intervention had been in such a senior position as to be perceived by Sky News to be speaking on behalf of Scotland Yard.

b.  Independent on Sunday

On 21 December 2001 Mr Shoebridge was telephoned by Severin Carrell, a correspondent with the
Independent on Sunday newspaper.  Mr Carrell said he had received from Scotland Yard information that suggested Mr Shoebridge not to have the necessary credentials to speak about issues of terrorism and security.  The purpose of Mr Carrell's call was, in his words, to check Mr Shoebridge out, and, if appropriate, run a story exposing him.  Mr Carrell had been supplied by Scotland Yard with details of Mr Shoebridge's police career, but from which, unknown to Mr Carrell, had been excised any reference at all to Mr Shoebridge's counter-terrorism work.

Mr Shoebridge was able to dispel Mr Carrell's suspicions, and no adverse story resulted.   In 2004, in connection with his claim regarding Scotland Yard's intervention at
Sky News, Mr Shoebridge obtained a court order requiring Mr Carrell to supply a copy of the tape recording he had made of his conversation with Mr Shoebridge.  Mr Shoebridge also obtained information held about himself in Scotland Yard's computer systems.  From the content and wording of these records it was clear that Mr Carrell's misleading information had come from the Scotland Yard Press Office.  Contrary to Scotland Yard's own standing instructions regarding media contacts however, no record of the relevant contact with Mr Carrell had been made.

Giving evidence under oath in March 2005, Bob Cox, head of the Scotland Yard Press Office, stated that at the relevant time he had received a request from Mr Carrell for details of Mr Shoebridge's police career, knowing that Mr Carrell intended to write about Mr Shoebridge's credentials.  Mr Cox said that he had intended to supply these 'on the record', including mention of Mr Shoebridge's counter terrorism work.  He subsequently decided, according to his evidence, to gave Mr Carrell no information about Mr Shoebridge at all.  Mr Cox could not explain how Mr Carrell had been given the contents of his Press Office's records about Mr Shoebridge.  Nor did he claim any security or other proper justification for having disclosed only part of Mr Shoebridge's career details.  In his sworn statement, Mr Cox also stated that he had not known that Mr Shoebridge was a former police officer at the time of Mr Carrell's request, despite Mr Shoebridge having regularly commentated on police issues in the national media.  Under oath Mr Cox contradicted this, admitting that he had known Mr Shoebridge's status at the time of the major terrorist attacks of September 2001.

The Tribunal, finding that the misleading information had been passed to Mr Carrell by Scotland Yard's Press Office, ruled "that the information given to Mr Carrell should not have been disclosed to him, and that no entry was made on the log of that disclosure when it should have been, and that the information that was given was selective."

c.  Independent Television News (ITN)

On 19 November 2003 Mr Shoebridge was working at ITN when, shortly after he had made an appearance on the main ITV lunchtime news, he was told by Martha Collins, an ITN producer, that someone called Bob had called from Scotland Yard to suggest that in the future Mr Shoebridge not be used.  Ms Collins stated that the caller also offered to "help out" ITN, by supplying prior notice of the Prime Minister's Parliamentary questions (PMQs).  Ms Collins did not pass this on to her management, and ITN continued to make extensive use of Mr Shoebridge in both an on and off screen capacity.

Mr Shoebridge obtained itemised details of the calls made from Scotland Yard telephones at the time of the call.  These showed that at the relevant time on 19 November a short call had indeed been made to Ms Collins'
ITN extension from a Scotland Yard extension.  In response to Mr Shoebridge's enquiry about the call, a Scotland Yard representative wrote to him "I am unable to identify the person who made the call to ITN as detailed in the call list.  This person cannot be traced.  I can however confirm that the telephone number is that of Bob Cox from the Press Office."  Mr Cox is, in fact, Scotland Yard's Chief Press Officer.

Ms Collins attended the Tribunal hearing in March 2005, accompanied by her managing editor Robin Elias.  Giving evidence under oath, she stated that although she had received the call from Scotland Yard, she could not recall it being suggested that Mr Shoebridge not be used, nor any mention being made of PMQs.  Mr Shoebridge, however, was able to produce as evidence emails Ms Collins had sent in January and August 2004, in which she had confirmed the content of the Scotland Yard call precisely as Mr Shoebridge had claimed. 

Mr Cox told the Tribunal that he had no recollection of making the call in question.  Conceding that offering prior notice of PMQs to
ITN would constitute a serious disciplinary offence, Mr Cox admitted that, despite knowing of this allegation for many months, he had neither conducted or requested any investigation into who had made the call from his phone.  In evidence, Mr Cox conceded that it was very unlikely that somebody else could have used his phone, and that, indeed, he himself may have made the call.  He denied however having mentioned PMQs, and stated he would have no access to, or knowledge of, PMQs in any case. 

In the course of the Tribunal hearing, Mr Shoebridge obtained disclosure of a letter Mr Cox had written to a Scotland Yard legal representative, outlining the details of Mr Shoebridge's career he intended to supply 'on the record' to the
Independent on Sunday (see above).  At the end of the letter, Mr Cox wrote "I am of the view that if an MP asked a similar question the above answer would be the minimum that would be given in reply." 

The Tribunal, ruling for Mr Shoebridge, found that Mr Cox did telephone Ms Collins at
ITN on the occasion in question.  Discounting Ms Collins' oral evidence in favour of her emails, the Tribunal found that Ms Collins' evidence suggested that Mr Cox did offer advance notice of PMQs, "possibly as an inducement to Ms Collins" not to use Mr Shoebridge.

It subsequently emerged that Parliamentary questions are dealt with by Scotland Yard's Government Affairs Unit.  This unit shares Scotland Yard's thirteenth floor with Mr Cox's Press Office.

It is also noteworthy that, in the twelve month period before Ms Collins was asked to give evidence against the Metropolitan Police, Mr Shoebridge was employed by
ITN on more than one hundred occasions.  Since the Tribunal hearing and finding, Mr Shoebridge has been employed by ITN not once.