00jul24boris7.JPGMayor of London Boris Johnson defended the Met Police officer criticised for not ordering an investigation into the News of the World phone hacking in 2009.

Asst Commissioner John Yates was labelled a "lame duck" by London Assembly member Brian Coleman during Mayor's Question Time this morning, but Mr Johnson defended him.

Mr Yates is under pressure to stand down after it emerged that the initial investigation into the scandal was flawed.

But Mr Johnson said: "I have to take a judgment on the case and I believe that John Yates is doing a very important and effective job in leading the struggle against terror in the city and, in my view, it is vital that he is allowed to continue to do that.

"I think John Yates has been the first to put his hand up and say that there were failings in his handling of it and it's regrettable that it was not pursued more vigorously then."

Mr Johnson was himself a victim of phone hacking, although he said he was reluctant to pursue the case through the courts because he didn't want his private life on display, but he understood the anger felt by the victims of the News of the World scandal.

Dee Doocey, the Lib Dem City Hall spokeswoman on policing, said Mr Yates had to go.

She said: "John Yates has failed literally hundreds of victims of phone hacking. While he remains in post as assistant commissioner of the Met, its reputation will not recover.

"He must take responsibility for this pitiful review and accept that he has lost all credibility. It is time for him to go."

borislcci3.jpg.jpgThe phone hacking debate dominated proceedings at City Hall, but the Mayor was also quizzed about Transport for London fare rises next year and his plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.

It was pointed out to him by Liberal Democrat AM Mike Tuffrey that the usual formula of inflation plus two per cent would, if applied now, lead to a seven per cent rise in fares.

Mr Tuffrey argued the fares could be frozen since more revenue was being collected now thanks to record levels of usage on public transport.

In what was a politically charged exchange, Mr Johnson said he would not give promises not to raise fares as an election ploy. He is due to stand for re-election next May.

He said: "The priority is to maintain investment in London Transport's infrastructure, the investment in buses, Crossrail and Tube upgrades.

"The key thing I will bear in mind is can we continue to deliver improvements to London Transport.

"It's vital for me that our fares are as competitive as possible. There are lots of benefits for London that are not available for people outside London. We are doing things that people appreciate, such as concessions for young people and people looking for work."

Mr Johnson denied that he was using the money to fund his "big ticket" ideas like the Thames cable car, and gave short shrift to the idea that he should publish the proposed fare rises six weeks in advance to give Londoners the chance to comment on them.

He said: "I won't play politics with fares. Thanks for the suggestion, but there is already an interval between the announcement and fares going up.

"When my predecessor [Ken Livingstone] was elected fares went up 36 per cent in three years.

"We need consistency and clarity to keep making improvements to London Transport."

Mr Johnson also insisted his controversial idea to build an airport in the Thames Estuary was viable. A feasibility study is due to be published in the autumn, and Assembly members were keen for him to find a way to reduce the flight congestion currently affecting London.

Other proposals include adding a second runway at Gatwick or expanding other regional airports, although the third runway mooted for Heathrow is not an option.

"It's sensible to look at all alternatives around London," said the Mayor.

"A third runway at Heathrow would not be enough to compete in the long term with our European rivals. Then there are political difficulties around Gatwick and other airports.

"But it would be really wrong to exclude the potential for economic growth in the Thames Estuary and that's where I would encourage the Government to be looking."


Friends of the North Kent Marshes said:

Still flogging the same dead horse then Boris!
Alongside the RSPB and a broad coalition of millions, we are wholly opposed to the construction of an airport anywhere in the Thames Estuary because of the immense damage it would cause to the area's internationally important wildlife and the wider environment. The whole issue was exhaustively investigated between 2002 and 2005 in the Government's Aviation White Paper. ALL the key players, including the aviation industry, contributed. The idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary was conclusively ruled out and upheld by the High Court. In addition to the unprecedented environmental damage and the resulting massive legal implications, the investigation found that an estuary airport did not make sense economically, would not meet the requirements of the aviation industry and presented a significantly higher risk of 'bird strike' than at any other major airport in the UK. It would potentially be the single biggest piece of environmental vandalism ever perpetrated in the UK.