A former Metropolitan assistant commissioner who did not reveal that the-then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, had been a victim of phone hacking has described the incident as "deeply regrettable".
Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, John Yates, who resigned in the wake of the hacking scandal, claimed he always had a "good relationship" with the media, and defended his links to News of the World journalists and executives but admitted it was clear there had not always been a "healthy relationship" between police and the press.
As Lord Leveson said he was "disturbed" that his investigations into phone hacking did not reveal that Prescott had been a victim, Yates agreed it was a "deeply regrettable" episode.
Yates, who was giving evidence via video-link from Bahrain, answered questions about his relationship with News of the World crime editor Lucy Panton and an episode with regards to an email from her editor which said an "exclusive splash line" was needed: "Think John Yates could be crucial here... time to call in all those bottles of champagne."
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Leveson Inquiry, said the email suggested that Ms Panton had "plied" Mr Yates with champagne and the favour was to be returned.
Mr Yates replied: "I hadn't been plied with champagne by Lucy Panton, and I think it's an unfortunate emphasis you're putting on it."
But Yates said it was a turn of phrase, although he may have shared champagne with Panton and others. Panton, who is married to a Scotland Yard detective, was arrested in December on suspicion of making corrupt payments to police officers. She was later bailed and has not been charged.
The former assistant commissioner said that meals he enjoyed with former News of the World executive Neil Wallis were social occasions where the two had talked about social events and football rather than work.
"It was far more about domestic life, family life, football. There is a life outside the Met and I'm sure there was a life outside News International for him."
Yates said there "must have been" some conversation about work "in the margins" but his "professionalism and sound judgement" had meant he kept proper boundaries.
He claimed: "He's a good friend. He certainly was a good friend," Yates told the inquiry.
But asked about his meetings with Neil Wallis in 2009, after more news emerged in the Guardian about phone hacking he said police had not decided to make more inquiries based on the evidence.
“In July 2009 there was nothing to suggest Mr Wallis was involved in any way whatsoever. It didn’t appear to be a problem then," he told the inquiry. "This did not present itself as a hugely serious thing in 2009."
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