Hamill’s Beat - Why do the police need such costly PR advice?

Lord Peter Mandelson appearing on the BBC current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show in July 2010. (2607BM01)
Lord Peter Mandelson appearing on the BBC current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show in July 2010. (2607BM01)

Why on earth did the police in London think it was sensible to pay a tabloid journalist £1,000 a day for public relations advice? What advice could he give that some of their 69 staff press officers couldn’t give?

Why is it that over the last 30 years or so, many organisations from governments and political parties down, developed such an unhealthy regard for the dark arts of spin and spin doctoring?

Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (2607BM03)

Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (2607BM03)

Surely Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have to get a chunk of the blame for their concept of the New Labour Party. Their notion of a political party was a triumph of spin over substance. They seemed to be successful for a while and so many organisations followed them. The police, anxious to be seen to move with the times, have always been particular suckers for fashionable management and corporate theories.

I just might have some idea what I’m talking about here. I used to think being a senior press officer for the police in Derry was a bit like doing PR for the White Star Line in April 1912 except that there was a difference. We always recognised that our particular ship was likely to sink at some stage. This wasn’t because of any failing by individual members of the crew. In fact most of them were outstandingly professional but through no fault of their own their ‘ship’ wasn’t built to last.

Partition had ensured it couldn’t be. Many recognised that reality. In a deeply divided society it was ultimately unsustainable for a police force heavily representative of one side of the community to be responsible for policing the other side. Patten’s reforms had to happen at some stage.

The point about this is that being a press officer for the police in Derry and across three northern counties was at least as great a challenge as any press officer for the London Met is ever likely to face. Despite all the problems we remained forthright, open and honest in dealings with the media.

These are the key elements of the relationship between the police and the press. With much experience in this area, I have absolutely no idea why the London Met thought they needed to pay £1,000 a day for specialist advice. They just have to conduct investigations diligently, behave with integrity and be as open as possible about it, consistent with legitimate investigative constraints.

It’s hardly rocket science. Dear Chief Constable Baggott, can I have £1,000 please?

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal on Tuesday