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The Mail on Sunday: 7 May 2006
Telecom giant’s lavish hospitality dubbed ‘blatant corporate payola’
O2 gave Freebies to 15 Police and Fire Chiefs
By Christopher Leake and Andrew WiIks
The Mail on Sunday can today reveal the extraordinary extent of the campaign launched by mobile phone giant 02 to lavish hospitality on police and fire chiefs whose forces have awarded it huge contracts.
At least 15 senior police and fire officers have enjoyed VIP trips to top soccer and rugby matches, golf days, the London Eye and gala dinners in what one critic called ‘blatant corporate payola’.
The ‘freebies’ offered by [now] Spanish-owned 02 were first uncovered by The Mail on Sunday in February when we revealed how Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair watched an England-Wales rugby international as a VIP guest of the company which sponsors the England team. Sir Ian’s judgment was called into question for being wined and dined by 02, which has contracts with police forces, including the Met, worth £2.Sbillion. Tom Carroll, Cambridgeshire’s chief fire officer and former president of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, and Andy Trotter, Deputy Chief Constable of British Transport Police, also attended the game. Three months earlier, 02 had been confirmed as preferred bidder for a new £500 million secure communications system for England’s fire services. And British Transport Police had placed numerous orders for 02’s Airwave digital system. Now documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show how 02 lavished the nation’s emergency services bosses with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of invitations to major sporting events. Tory MP Mike Penning, a former fireman who first raised the issue, said last night: ’Common sense should have told these senior officers that if 02 had such huge contracts with them, they shouldn’t be seen at sporting events because this would naturally cause great suspicion. ‘This is blatant corporate payola of the worst possible kind. Public servants like these senior police and fire officers should make sure there is not a whiff of suspicion. That’s the least the public can expect.’ 02’s lavish treatment of emergency services chiefs began after the Home Office’s Police Information Technology Office signed a 19-year, £2.9billion contract with BT in February 2000, before 02 split from BT. Individual police forces then signed up.
Among the recipients was a senior officer from Avon and Somerset Police, whose 02 deal was signed in February 2001.
Former Assistant Chief Constable Martin Richards attended the England-All Blacks match and a charity dinner hosted by 02 in December 2003.
Mr Richards is now the Chief Constable of Wiltshire which signed in May 2001.
He continues to enjoy 02 hospitality. In February this year he was among dignitaries for the England-Wales match.
A spokesman for 02, which was taken over by Spain’s Telefonica in a £17.7billion deal earlier this year, said last night:
‘We do offer hospitality to our customers and that is perfectly normal business practice. We often offer our staff tickets as well. We like to spread it around.
‘Corporate hospitality is about getting close to your customers and we believe in keeping close ties. We do not believe we have won contracts because of this and we do not try to buy contracts with favours. It would naturally cause suspicion.’
Named, the officers who accepted gifts from O2
Phil Wells, head of finance for Bedfordshire Police: He was 02’s guest at an Arsenal match.
Airwave liaison officer Peter Clarke, of City of London Police, was given tickets for the Arsenal-Manchester United game in January. He says he passed the tickets to another officer.
Former Gwent Chief Constable Keith Turner enjoyed 02’s hospitality on three separate occasions – a meal in London in March 2003, a dinner in Cambridge in June 2003 and a golf and dinner event in September 2003.
Gwent’s current Chief Constable Michael Tonge attended a dinner in July 2005.
In August 2004, Kent Police’s Airwave team were treated to lunch and a trip on the London Eye.
In March 2003 Sussex Assistant Chief Constable Tony Toynton received an England rugby shirt from 02.
Two months later, Nigel Howard from the force’s Information Services department won a rugby fleece in an 02 draw.
Mr Howard’s colleague Peter Suter received a dinner and two lunches.
Last year, Mr Toynton was an 02 guest at two gala dinners.
PC Keith Bowen, of Hampshire Police went to a ‘golf day and meal’ in April 2004 and September 2005.
Other emergency services chiefs who have enjoyed 02’s hospitality include:
Lancashire’s Chief Fire Officer Peter Holland has accepted 02’s hospitality on three occasions – lunch and international rugby at Twickenham in March 2004, February 2005 and February this year.
In Shropshire, an unnamed divisional fire officer attended a charity golf day in April 2004, to which 02 donated £25.
02 also gave a pair of England-Wales rugby tickets worth £76, which were raffled for charity.
North Yorkshire’s Chief Fire Officer Eric Clarke, who has since left the service, attended an Arsenal football match in October 2004 courtesy of 02.
Hiding behind a barn, TETRA at Lambleys Barn, Lancing, West Sussex.