London: Britain’s Top Cops Becomes Latest Casualty Of Phone Hacking Scandal: UPDATED

18 Jul

Britain's Top Cop Quits Amid Hacking Claims

Britain’s Top Cop Quits Amid Hacking Claims

Britain’s top police officer has become the latest casualty of the phone hacking scandal after quitting over criticism of his links to a former News Of The World deputy editor.

Sir Paul Stephenson announced his shock resignation as head of Scotland Yard following concerns about his relationship with Neil Wallis, who was arrested last week.

There had also been questions about why the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had accepted free hospitality at a luxury health spa.

Sir Paul’s decision to step down was met with a combination of tributes and calls for further action as the hacking scandal widens.

In a statement , he said he was resigning with his integrity intact – but admitted his links to Mr Wallis could hamper Scotland Yard’s investigation into phone hacking, as well as preparations for the Olympics.

Sir Paul had been criticised after Mr Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News Of The World (NOTW), was hired by the Met in a public relations role.

 He said: “The heroism and bravery of Met officers… is in danger of being eclipsed by the ongoing debate about relationships between senior officers and the media.

“That can never be right. If I stayed I know the inquiry outcomes would reaffirm my personal integrity.

“Therefore, although I have received continued personal support from both the Home Secretary and the mayor, I have with great sadness informed both of my intention to resign.”

He stressed he had no reason to suspect Mr Wallis had any knowledge of phone hacking: “I have heard suggestions that we must have suspected the alleged involvement of Mr Wallis in phone hacking.

“Let me say unequivocally that I did not and had no reason to have done so.”

He also denied there had been any wrongdoing relating to his use of the Champney’s health farm, where Mr Wallis had been working in a PR role .

Sir Paul had also faced criticism over the original investigation into phone hacking in 2006, but said he had no involvement in that probe – and had no reason to suspect the scale of the allegations would widen to include the likes of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

His resignation came just hours after Rebekah Brooks was detained in connection with phone hacking and corruption allegations. She has since been released on bail.

In another developments, Ed Miliband is calling for new media ownership rules to limit the power of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson told Sky News he had accepted Sir Paul’s resignation with “great sadness and reluctance” and said there was “no question about his personal integrity.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said he respected and understood the decision, but he urged the Met to focus on ensuring investigations into phone hacking and corrupt payments to officers proceeded “with all speed, with full public confidence and with all the necessary leadership”.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was “very shocked” by the resignation.

Sir Paul is expected to be quizzed by the committee on Tuesday.

It is thought his deputy, Tim Godwin, will head the Met until a formal replacement is confirmed.

NEWS UPDATE:

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, leaves in a car from New Scotland Yard in central London. Stephenson today resigned without warning, as the Metropolitan police force became drawn ever closer into the phone hacking and corruption probes at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, leaves in a car from …

Britain's top police officer resigned Sunday and Rupert Murdoch's former aide Rebekah Brooks, pictured on July 1, was arrested as the phone hacking scandal finally tore into the heart of the British establishment

Britain’s top police officer resigned Sunday and Rupert Murdoch’s former aide Rebekah …

The country’s top police officer resigned Sunday and Rupert Murdoch’s former aide Rebekah Brooks was arrested as the phone hacking scandal finally tore into the heart of the British establishment.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said he was quitting due to speculation about his links to Murdoch’s empire and the force’s botched investigation into hacking at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

His shock announcement came just hours after police arrested Brooks — who resigned on Friday as head of News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper arm — on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing police.

“I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level,” Stephenson said in a hastily arranged televised statement.

Prime Minister David Cameron called it “a very sad occasion for him”, adding “I wish him well for the future.”

However, the police chief took a sideswipe at Cameron and his government during his resignation speech despite Home Secretary Theresa May’s insistence that she was “sincerely sorry” to see him go.

Stephenson was linked to former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis in reports Sunday which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis was a PR consultant.

The force, which reopened the investigation into hacking in January, six years after it first broke, is already facing questions about why it hired Wallis as an advisor two months after he quit the tabloid.

Wallis was arrested last week.

“Let me state clearly, I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact,” Stephenson added. “I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity.”

Cameron meanwhile faced questions about his decision to invite his former media chief Andy Coulson, another ex-News of the World editor, to his country residence in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.

Cameron hired Coulson, who was arrested and bailed by police earlier this month, after the former editor had quit the tabloid over the scandal.

Stephenson highlighted this act when defending his force’s decision to employ Wallis.

“Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation,” he said.

The scandal first emerged when two people were convicted over phone hacking at the News of the World in 2006, but did not explode until July 4 when it emerged that one of the victims was a murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.

The flame-haired Brooks, one of Murdoch’s closest lieutenants, was editor of the News of the World at the time that Dowler’s voicemail messages were hacked and deleted.

Murdoch closed the paper last Sunday, starting a week of chaos in which he had to abandon his bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and accept the resignations on Friday of both Brooks and Dow Jones chief Les Hinton, who had worked with him for 52 years.

Confirming Brooks’ arrest on Sunday, her spokesman David Wilson said her detention “came as a surprise” after she attended an appointment at a London police station.

He warned it could affect her planned testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday over the spiralling scandal alongside Murdoch and his son James, the chairman of News International.

“At the moment today’s events do somewhat change potentially her ability to attend the hearing. There will be discussions between her lawyers and the select committee over the next 24 to 36 hours,” Wilson told AFP.

“The fact that she has been arrested clearly has implications and so it is by no means a certainty that she will be able to attend, despite wishing to,” he added.

He said senior officers had told Brooks earlier in the week that she would not be arrested.

Scotland Yard confirmed that a 43-year-old woman “was arrested by appointment at a London police station by officers” on Sunday and was in custody.

It said she was held “in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking”.

Brooks, 43, is the 10th person and most senior Murdoch aide to be arrested over the scandal so far. At a previous hearing in 2003 she admitted the paper had made payments to police.

NEWS UPDATE:

Play Video

Video: Top Cop Yates Quits Over Phone Hacking 

One of the Metropolitan Police’s most senior officers, John Yates, has resigned over the phone-hacking scandal the day after his boss also stood down – as the police watchdog confirmed it is investigating four officers.

The assistant commissioner came under increasing pressure over his failure to fully look at fresh claims that the News Of The World (NOTW) illegally accessed voicemails.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) deputy chair Deborah Glass said that they had received referrals from the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) about the conduct of four current and former senior police officers.

These involve commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who had overall responsibility for the investigation into phone hacking, and John Yates.

Mr Yates was referred for his 2009 review into the original phone hacking investigation as well as his overall role in relation to the investigation.

He was also referred for alleged “inappropriate involvement” in helping the daughter of a friend get a job.

Sky’s home affairs correspondent Mark White said he had heard from sources that she was Neil Wallis’ daughter, although the IPCC and Met Police would not confirm this.

Mr Wallis was the deputy editor of the NOTW who was later employed by the police as a public relations adviser.

Sir Paul Stephenson quit on Sunday following criticism of the Met’s decision to employ Neil Wallis.

Last week, Mr Wallis was arrested and then bailed by police investigating phone hacking claims.

There had also been questions about why Sir Paul had accepted free hospitality at a luxury health spa. 

He insisted he had done nothing wrong and that his integrity remained intact.

Ms Glass insisted the IPCC would “follow evidence without fear or favour” and warned that people should not rush to a judgement before the investigation had been carried out.

Mr Yates admitted last week that he had not gone through bin bags full of evidence when deciding to whether to reopen the phone hacking investigation.

In a statement, he said he made the decision to stand down “with regret”.

He said that the “threats we face in the modern world” meant that he would never forgive himself if he was unable to focus on his role in charge of counter-terrorism.

But he insisted he has acted with integrity.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to John Yates, and called him a “well-respected detective”.

David Cameron added: “What matters now is that we ensure swift and effective continuity at the Metropolitan Police Service.”

In Parliament, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the resignations raised “serious questions for the Home Secretary and Prime Minister”.

Ms Cooper said that David Cameron’s judgement had been called into question because of his appointment of the former NOTW editor Andy Coulson – who worked as Mr Cameron’s Director of Communications.

Home Secretary Theresa May defended Mr Cameron and said he would be in the House of Commons to answer questions on Wednesday. 

He is cutting short a trip to Africa and will return home on Tuesday evening.

The Commons summer recess has been delayed so that the phone-hacking scandal can be discussed.

The Home Secretary said: “I want to put on record my gratitude to John Yates for the work that he has done, while I have been Home Secretary, to develop and improve counter-terrorism policing in London and indeed across the UK.”

Theresa May announced that she has asked the IPCC if they have sufficient resources to carry out their work, and said that more will be made available if they are needed. 

She also said that she has asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which independently assesses police forces, to investigate the relationship between the Metropolitan police and the media so changes can be made in the future.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also spoke up for the Prime Minister. 

Mr Clegg said people should have perspective on the issue: “I do not think this is about the Prime Minister’s position. 

“The issue about the police is people’s fears that a criminal investigation may have been compromised,” he said. 

Mr Yates resigned after being told he would be suspended as his conduct was being referred to the IPCC, the MPA confirmed.

One MPA member Christopher Boothman said Mr Yates’ position had become untenable in the wake of Sir Paul’s resignation.

Also, Mr Yates has been recalled by a Commons committee investigating phone hacking so MPs can “clarify” the evidence he gave them last week.

He expressed regret at his decision in 2009 not to reopen the 2006 phone-hacking investigation when he appeared before the Home Affairs select committee last Tuesday.

The officer assessed the first inquiry into the practice for several hours two years ago but ruled there was nothing further worth acting upon.

In 2009, he also served on the committee that vetted Mr Wallis for the media adviser contract.

In recent weeks, there have been allegations that almost 4,000 people may have had their phone hacked, including Milly Dowler and the families of 7/7 terror victims, as well as the relatives of dead soldiers.

Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP told Mr Yates last week that his evidence was “unconvincing” and warned him it was “not the end of the matter”.

Mr Yates suggested the NOTW “failed to cooperate” with police until the start of this year and laid the blame at the paper’s door.

The senior policeman told reporters he had done “nothing wrong” as he walked into New Scotland Yard earlier on Monday.

Asked whether his position was untenable, he said: “Give me a break.”

 In the interim, Mr Yates will be replaced as the Met’s head of counter-terrorism by assistant commissioner Cressida Dick.

She is highly regarded at Scotland Yard but controversial for her command role in the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said it was right for both Sir Paul and Mr Yates to stand down.

He said: “I believe that both decisions are regrettable but I would say that in both cases the right call has been made.

“There is absolutely nothing that has been proven against the probity or the professionalism of either man.

“But in both cases we have to recognise that the nexus of questions about the relationship between the Met and the News Of The World was likely to be distracting to both officers in the run-up to the Olympic Games.”

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: