A Guardian journalist has been questioned by police officers investigating alleged leaks of information from Operation Weeting, the police team pursuing phone hacking at the News of the World.
Amelia Hill, a reporter behind several of the Guardian's key phone-hacking revelations, was questioned under caution several days ago in a case that has raised concerns about attempts to criminalise contact between journalists and off-the-record sources.
A spokesperson for the Guardian said in a statement: "We can confirm Amelia Hill has been questioned in connection with an investigation into alleged leaks." Hill is one of several journalists at the Guardian who have been writing about developments in the phone-hacking scandal.
The newspaper argued that the case could have lasting repercussions for the way journalists deal with police officers. The statement added: "On a broader point, journalists would no doubt be concerned if the police sought to criminalise conversations between off-record sources and reporters."
Two separate internal inquiries began this month examining whether police officers should be prevented freely from speaking to the media, as the Met tries to contend with allegations that officers were embroiled in close or even corrupt relationships with the News of the World. Emails from News International allegedly imply that journalists on the paper bought copies of Buckingham Palace's private phone directory from a royal protection officer.
An inquiry by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is examining "alleged corruption and abuse of power" in police relationships with the media, while Elizabeth Filkin, the former parliamentary commissioner for standards, intends to draw up a framework for how police officers handle their relationships with reporters.
The inquiries are both considering whether communication between police officers should be officially monitored and recorded by a press officer.
Three years ago, a case against Sally Murrer, a reporter on the Milton Keynes Citizen, and a former Thames Valley police detective Mark Kearney was thrown out. Kearney had been accused of leaking information to her.
The committee of the Crime Reporters Association will raise serious concerns on Wednesday over the climate of fear and suspicion pervading relations between the police and journalists. The committee of the CRA, an affiliation of crime reporters from the national media, television and radio, has been invited to put its points to Elizabeth Filkin, the former parliamentary commissioner for standards, who is carrying out a review of the way Scotland Yard deals with the media on behalf of the Met commissioner. They will also meet the Met deputy assistant commissioner, Mark Simmonds, and senior members of the directorate of public affairs.
The CRA will raise concerns over the plans to clamp down on journalists talking freely with their police sources, which is a reversal of guidelines that were issued by the former commissioner Sir John Stevens during his reign at the Yard. Stevens said the Met had to be bold and allow senior police to talk openly with journalists. The committee will raise its concerns over the questioning under caution of a Guardian journalist and potential for future criminalisation of any relationships between reporters and their sources.
Filkin is carrying out one of two major inquiries into relations between the media and the police in the aftermath of the revelations about the News of the World and phone hacking. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is also carrying out an investigation and considering the option that all police officers who talk to the media should be accompanied by a press officer – a suggestion that has been condemned by Index on Censorship and Gavin Millar QC, who represented Murrer.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010