As the dawn raids on journalists continue, why are police giving them the Sweeney treatment?

Police rummage through underwear drawers.

Forrmer News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis has taken the arrest of former Times journalist Patrick Foster as an opportunity to ponder the unprecedented and undeniably heavy-handed series of police raids on journalists over the last year.

Foster, 28, was arrested on suspicion of computer-hacking police on Wednesday morning. He was dragged from his bed at 7am and driven off in an unmarked car as his “terrified pyjama-clad girlfriend” looked on. If police had simply googled his name or had a browse through the evidence relating to him in the Leveson Inquiry they could have found out exactly what he is accused of doing.

As a junior reporter on The Times, he guessed the email password of anonymous blogger Nightjack in order to unmask him for a story in 2009. He immediately reported this to his superiors and while everyone seems to have been clear that it was dubious ethically – no-one apparently clocked on to the fact that he had broken a pretty obscure law.

What Foster did was naïve and stupid, and there was clearly a catastrophic failure to give him support and guidance on the part of his superiors at The Times, but it really is baffling to understand why – three years on – the Met Police felt the need to give him The Sweeney treatment.

Without naming names, Wallis goes on to recount in his blog post for the Huffington Post some of the other victims of the current police purge on British journalism. Without excusing bad behaviour, let’s not forget that these journalists are accused of using unscrupulous methods to reveal the truth to their readers. It’s not about personal enrichment and they haven’t physically harmed anyone.

Wallis notes Rebekah and Charlie Brooks were taken away from their newborn baby at 6am in the morning and not allowed to return until late that night.

There have been several suicide attempts, with one journalist attempting to jump off a bridge and another turning up for a police interview with bandaged arms from an attempt to slash their wrists - Wallis reports.

The teenage daughters of one senior executive were apparently ordered out of their beds and told to stand apart while police searched their underwear drawers.

One shocked parent had to watch as their children vomited in fear as strangers marched through their home, Wallis notes.

The wife of another journalist who was sick with cancer was ordered from her bed so officers could search under her mattress.

Wallis writes: “One of the journalists arrested in the early days of Operation Elveden, for example, has still not been charged many months on from his original arrest. His police bail has twice been extended and he has been warned that if he is eventually charged the earliest a court can hear the case is late 2013, possibly 2014.

“That mirrors my personal circumstances. Arrested by a dawn knock on 14 July 2011, I am still under investigation, have already been bailed three times, am due to return bail again next month September 2012, but have been given no inkling whatsoever of what happens then. If I am charged, my lawyers warn it could be at least another year before any trial.

“Like a number of others, I lost my job upon arrest and have been unemployed since. Like others, I see little prospect of that changing. Even if I am cleared, isn’t my career in ruins? The strain is significant.”

This article first appeared in Press Gazette.

Behind bars. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.