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Metgate: from a clamour to an inquiry

The crucial New York Times allegation can now be addressed.

When the New York Times broke the significant "MetGate" allegation of an improper relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International, commentators and politicians went in two directions.

Some, confusing a demand for an investigation or an inquiry with a call for an arrest, a prosecution, or a conviction, just repeated a mantra about the need for new or fresh evidence.

However, this was misconceived.

What is needed for an investigation or an inquiry is not new evidence (even though it was clear that there was plenty of new and old documentary and witness evidence to be dealt with properly).

All that is required is that such an allegation be serious, that it be consistent with the available facts, and that the public interest demand that the allegation be properly addressed.

The New York Times allegation met all these criteria.

It would be for the investigation or inquiry then to assess any relevant evidence, not those clamouring for such an exercise to take place.

Now we have a seemingly reopened investigation by the Metropolitan Police and a welcome inquiry by the home affairs select committee.

Already, significant evidence is coming to light for the both investigation and the inquiry to consider.

A judicial inquiry would have been preferable, with evidence given on oath and the power to compel attendance and disclosure of documents.

In practical political terms, however, that may have been the counsel of perfection.

With a reopened investigation and the select committee inquiry, combined with information that may come to light from various civil and criminal trials, there will probably be a steady stream of new information on the MetGate affair.

It is fortunate that this story was not closed down by knee-jerk calls for "new" evidence before anything could be done to address the MetGate allegation.

As it is, it may well be that the MetGate story is at the end of its beginning.

The serious allegation of an improper relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International is now likely to be addressed.

The need for public confidence in the relationship between the police and the mainstream media requires nothing less.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. His Jack of Kent blog was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He will now be blogging regularly for the New Statesman on legal and policy matters.