Spotlight shifts to Cameron and Yates of the Yard after bitter parting shot from Met Police chief over hacking scandal
Prime Minister Cameron and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates are both now in the firing line
David Cameron was today facing renewed pressure over the phone-hacking scandal as the spotlight shifts onto him following the sensational resignation of Britain’s top policeman.
The Prime Minister, who has cut short a four-day trade trip to South Africa, and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates are both now in the firing line.
Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson fell on his sword last night over links with former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, who was arrested last week, as well as concerns that he accepted free hospitality at a luxury health spa.
In his resignation letter he took a parting shot at Mr Cameron over the employment of former editor Andy Coulson while this morning London Mayor Boris Johnson said Mr Yates was likely to be discussed at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority today.
He admitted his links to the journalist could hamper Operation Weeting, Scotland Yard’s investigation into phone-hacking, now the largest police inquiry in the country.
Scroll down for Sir Paul’s statement in full and a video report.
But making the bombshell announcement, Sir Paul suggested his decision to employ Mr Wallis as an adviser was less controversial than the Prime Minister’s hiring Mr Coulson as his media chief.
‘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 declared.
London Mayor Boris Johnson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning denied that he had sacked Sir Paul.
He said: ‘I was very hacked off to discover there had been this relationship with Neil Wallis. I was very, very angry that I hadn’t been told about this.’
Asked about the implications for Assistant Commissioner John Yates he said: ‘The professional standards committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority is meeting this morning and I’m sure that questions surrounding other officers will be discussed.
‘I think John Yates has done a very, very good job on counter terrorism. I think he is a very, very fine officer in that respect.
‘Clearly, there are now questions about his relationship with Wallis and I’m sure the MPA is going to be having a look at it.’
Metropolitan Police Authority chairman Kit Malthouse said there had been a meeting with Mr Johnson when it emerged Mr Wallis had been employed at Scotland Yard.
‘There was obviously a meeting on the day of the revelation of Neil Wallis’s employment at the Yard, he told BBC Breakfast.
‘I think a well-documented meeting with the Mayor at which views were exchanged, and out of that meeting came a reference to Lord Leveson’s inquiry to look at this issue specifically.’
Home Secretary Theresa May insisted that Sir Paul had not been forced to quit but raised concerns about Scotland Yard’s involvement with Mr Wallis, former deputy editor at the News of the World.
The Home Secretary told Today programme: ‘I think the Met is different from government. The Metropolitan Police are in charge, and responsible for, investigating alleged wrongdoings at the News of the World.
‘I think it is important to keep a line between the investigators and the investigated.
‘I had concerns, which I made clear to Sir Paul last week when I was alerted to the fact that this contract to Neil Wallis had been let, about that relationship.
‘I have been clear throughout all of this, as has the Prime Minister, that the police must investigate all allegations and take all evidence and take it as far as it goes.
‘It is their job to do that, and to do that properly.
‘But if the Metropolitan Police find at any stage that they have a potential conflict of interest, I think it is right for them to be transparent about that and that’s why I think it would have been right for us to have been told about the issue in relation to Neil Wallis at an earlier stage.’
Labour leader Ed Miliband will call for Parliament to sit on Wednesday and delay the summer recess.
‘Rebekah Brooks has been arrested, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has resigned, tomorrow we will have some of the most important Select Committee hearings in modern times and the Prime Minister has decided to leave the country, not to return until after Parliament breaks up for summer.
‘In these circumstances the right and responsible thing for the Government to do must be to extend the parliamentary session for at least 24 hours so the House of Commons meets on Wednesday.
‘It would give MPs the chance to debate the issues arising from the Select Committee hearings and ensure the Prime Minister answers the many unanswered questions that he faces.
‘Unless the Government agrees to Parliament meeting on Wednesday, MPs cannot do their jobs properly and the Prime Minister has no chance of sorting out this crisis.’
Sir Paul’s departure leaves the Metropolitan Police facing its greatest crisis for decades and marks a dramatic escalation in the scandal that has paralysed politics, the media and the police.
It came just hours after Mrs Brooks, until Friday the most powerful woman in British newspapers, was arrested on suspicion of phone-hacking and corruption.
‘I was at the Yard yesterday afternoon discussing this and other matters with the Commissioner and other officers.
‘But in the end, I think the decision was (Sir) Paul’s alone, he has done what to many people looks like a rather old-fashioned thing to do – he has taken the fall to protect the reputation of the organisation that he leads and also to preserve his own integrity.http://www.veteranstoday.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=122537&action=edit
‘He had become the story, he absolutely did not want that to happen and he has done the honourable thing.’
The pressure on Sir Paul increased yesterday as it emerged he accepted £12,000 of free hospitality at a luxury health spa that employed Mr Wallis as a PR expert. The spa is run by Stephen Purdew, a friend of former News International chief Rebekah Brooks. Sir Paul has not denied the claims.
In another day of extraordinary developments:
- News International executives – including James Murdoch, son of the firm’s owner Rupert – were said to be under investigation over the alleged cover-up of ‘industrial scale’ phone-hacking
- Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt became the first senior politician to say the Murdoch empire is not ‘fit and proper’ to own broadcasters
- Mr Cameron cut back a tour of Africa this week to deal with the scandal
- Labour leader Ed Miliband called for new media ownership rules to limit Rupert Murdoch’s ‘dangerous’ and ‘unhealthy’ influence
The Met Commissioner had been increasingly under fire for hiring Mr Wallis as a PR consultant before his arrest for alleged mobile phone interceptions.
To add to the turmoil at Scotland Yard, senior MPs openly questioned the timing of yesterday’s arrest of Mrs Brooks, editor of the News of the World when murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone messages are alleged to have been hacked.
It came just before she was due to appear before MPs investigating the scandal.
Last night, Sir Paul admitted he had not told Mr Cameron about his hiring of Mr Wallis to avoid ‘compromising’ him.
He said he had decided to resign ‘as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International’.
‘I have heard suggestions that we must have suspected the alleged involvement of Mr Wallis in phone-hacking,’
‘I wish we had judged some matters in this affair differently. I didn’t and that’s it’
Sir Paul said. ‘Let me say unequivocally that I did not and had no reason to have done so. I do not occupy a position in the world of journalism; I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging, nor of its apparent reach into senior levels.’
Sir Paul insisted his integrity was intact despite the revelations about his acceptance of thousands of pounds’ worth of free accommodation at a luxury health spa.
The news of Sir Paul’s resignation was broken to the Prime Minister by the Home Secretary in a phone call to his plane, en route to Africa for a three-day visit.
Downing Street sources said Sir Paul had been placed under no pressure to resign and his decision had come as a surprise.
‘No one has suggested that the running of government was somehow compromised by Andy Coulson’s employment. That unfortunately cannot be said of the police, who are actually in charge of investigating what happened at the News of the World.
‘There have been freebies that weren’t declared and a complete lack of transparency about the whole business.’
How a £12,000 stay at Champneys spa ended career of the Yard chief
by Rebecca Camber
Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation came after it emerged that he had accepted a £12,000 stay at a luxury health spa at a time when it was being promoted by a phone hacking suspect.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s judgment was already under the spotlight over his decision to hire the tabloid’s former deputy editor Neil ‘Wolfman’ Wallis as his PR adviser.
But in a devastating development which effectively ended his career, it emerged yesterday that he and his wife Linda spent five weeks at Champneys in Tring, Hertfordshire, while he recovered after having a pre-cancerous tumour removed from his leg.
At the time Champneys was being promoted by Wallis, who was arrested last Thursday by the Met’s phone hacking inquiry.
As he faced a growing clamour to resign, Champneys managing director Stephen Purdew, a personal family friend of Sir Paul, tried to defend him saying the health farm’s then PR Wallis had nothing to do with the freebie.
But the Met boss knew he faced uncomfortable questions in the weeks ahead about his conduct as he was due to be grilled by the Home Affairs Select Committee chaired by Keith Vaz.
In an increasingly murky and tangled web, the Mail can reveal that Keith Vaz is close friends with Mr Purdew and attended his wedding in 2009 – along with Rebekah Brooks and her husband, who are also close friends of the hotelier – raising suspicions that he would go soft on the embattled commissioner. Mr Purdew is godfather to one of Mr Vaz’s children.
Recently the 19-year-old son of the health spa boss spent ten days doing work experience in the Labour MP’s office, organising a Commons children’s Christmas party last year at which Samantha Cameron was the guest of honour.
The economics and politics student has also previously worked for Tony Blair. Mr Purdew, who has known Mr Vaz for 25 years, denied offering Sir Paul any hospitality or favours yesterday and said the issue was merely a ‘distraction’.
But his support came too late to save the Commissioner who had faced criticism from all sides as the Theresa May prepared to issue a statement to the Commons setting out her ‘concerns’ about the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and Chamy Media, Wallis’s PR firm.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman went on the offensive, saying: ‘Sir Paul has got questions to answer undoubtedly but I think that what everyone is discovering, the police included, is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.’
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also refused to give his backing to the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner John Yates.
‘I’m not going to judge them until they have answered the questions which are being put to them,’ he said.
‘When the public starts losing faith in the police it’s altogether much more serious and we really are in some trouble,’ he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson also piled on the pressure, saying he would write to Lord Justice Leveson to request he consider the contract between Chamy Media and the Metropolitan Police as part of his hacking inquiry.
Last night Mr Purdew told the Mail of the guilt he feels over the resignation of his friend.
‘His stay at Champneys had absolutely nothing to do with Wallis,’ he said. ‘It was all done entirely through me because he is my friend.’
He said the fact Wallis was working as a consultant for Champneys at the same time was coincidental.
‘I’m very upset, I feel to blame,’ Mr Purdew said. ‘I was just trying to get him better. He kept saying he wanted to pay for the stay. To question his integrity over this is wrong.
‘It was a relaxed situation and it was my fault on the remuneration side. I feel it’s my fault that it’s ended like this.’
Scotland Yard also denied that Wallis arranged the freebie. The force said Sir Paul was unaware who the health spa’s PR consultant was until yesterday’s revelation.
But Sir Paul was also being asked to explain why he did not disclose to the Prime Minister or Home Secretary that Wallis was paid £24,000 by the Met to work as a two-day-a-month PR consultant.
His contract was canceled less than six months before the launch of the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking.
It emerged that Sir Paul shared 18 dinners with News International executives – eight of them with Mr Wallis – while his officers were investigating the media giant. He also had social drinks on up to four occasions over the past two years with Wallis.
It is also understood that during a 12-year friendship, the Met’s assistant commissioner, John Yates, enjoyed dozens of social drinks with Wallis, including several occasions over the past two years when the officer was involved in reviewing the phone-hacking investigation.
Sir Paul Stephenson’s Statement in Full
‘I have this afternoon informed the Home Secretary and the Mayor of my intention to resign as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service.
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 and in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis who as you know was arrested in connection with Operation Weeting last week.
‘Firstly, I want to say what an enormous privilege it has been for me to lead this great organisation that is the Met. The recent example of the heroism and bravery of Met officers in chasing armed suspects, involving the shooting of one of my officers, is typical; but is in danger of being eclipsed by the ongoing debate about relationships between senior officers and the media. This can never be right.
‘Crime levels in the Met are at a ten year low. You have seen the Met at its glorious and unobtrusive best on the occasion of the royal wedding; the professional and restrained approach to unexpected levels of violence in recent student demonstrations; the vital ongoing work to secure the safety of the capital from terrorism; the reductions in homicide; and continuing increased levels of confidence as the jewel in our crown of Safer Neighbourhoods Teams serve the needs of Londoners.
‘I am deeply proud of the achievements of the Met since I became Commissioner.
‘Let me turn to phone hacking and my relationship with Neil Wallis. I want to put the record straight.
‘I met Mr Wallis in 2006. The purpose of that meeting was, as with other journalists, to represent the context of policing and to better inform the public debate carried out through the media on policing issues.
‘I had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the original investigation into phone hacking in 2006 that successfully led to the conviction and imprisonment of two men. I had no reason to believe this was anything other than a successful investigation. I was unaware that there were any other documents in our possession of the nature that have now emerged.
‘I have acknowledged the statement by John Yates that if he had known then what he knows now he would have made different decisions.
‘My relationship with Mr Wallis continued over the following years and the frequency of our meetings is a matter of public record. The record clearly accords with my description of the relationship as one maintained for professional purposes and an acquaintance.
‘In 2009 the Met entered into a contractual arrangement with Neil Wallis, terminating in 2010. I played no role in the letting or management of that contract.
‘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. I do not occupy a position in the world of journalism; I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging; nor of its apparent reach into senior levels.
‘I saw senior figures from News International providing evidence that the misbehaviour was confined to a rogue few and not known about at the top.
‘One can only wonder about the motives of those within the newspaper industry or beyond, who now claim that they did know but kept quiet.
‘Though mine and the Met’s current severe discomfort is a consequence of those few that did speak out, I am grateful to them for doing so, giving us the opportunity to right the wrong done to victims – and here I think most of those especially vulnerable people who deserved so much better from us all.
‘Now let me turn to the suspicion that the contractual relationship with Mr Wallis was somehow kept secret. The contracting of Mr Wallis only became of relevance when his name became linked with the new investigation into phone hacking. I recognise that the interests of transparency might have made earlier disclosure of this information desirable. However my priority, despite the embarrassment it might cause, has been to maintain the integrity of Operation Weeting. To make it public would have immediately tainted him and potentially compromised any future Operation Weeting action.
‘Now let me turn to the reported displeasure of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary of the relationship with Mr Wallis.
‘The reasons for not having told them are two fold. Firstly, I repeat my earlier comments of having at the time no reason for considering the contractual relationship to be a matter of concern. 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.
‘Secondly, once Mr Wallis’s name did become associated with Operation Weeting, I did not want to compromise the Prime Minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson. I am aware of the many political exchanges in relation to Mr Coulson’s previous employment – I believe it would have been extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the Prime Minister, or by association the Home Secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard. Similarly, the Mayor. Because of the individuals involved, their positions and relationships, these were I believe unique circumstances.
‘Consequently, we informed the Chair of the MPA, Mr Malthouse, of the Met’s contractual arrangements with Mr Wallis on the morning of the latter’s arrest. It is our practice not to release the names of suspects under arrest, making it difficult to make public details of the arrangements prior to Mr Wallis’s release the same day. The timing of the MPA Committee that I appeared before at 2pm that day was most unfortunate.
‘Now let me briefly deal with the recent story in relation to my use of Champneys facilities. There has been no impropriety and I am extremely happy with what I did and the reasons for it – to do everything possible to return to running the Met full time, significantly ahead of medical, family and friends’ advice. The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing.
‘I thought it necessary to provide this lengthy and detailed account of my position on aspects of the current media questions and speculation concerning my conduct. I do this to provide the backcloth to the main purpose of this statement.
‘There are a great number of things I value as part of my professional life – very high in this list are my reputation for judgement and integrity.
‘On judgement: running a large and overwhelmingly successful organisation like the Met must be dependent to a great extent on others providing the right information and assurances. I could reiterate that I had no reason to doubt the original investigation into phone hacking or be aware of the documents and information in our possession and only recently provided by News International. I could point to the many other successes of the Met. I could point to the long history of how and why the relationship between the Met and media has developed a way of doing business that has brought real benefits but perhaps runs the risk of misinterpretation or worse. In this particular regard it is clear to me that the current furore marks a point in time, a need to learn and change.
‘However, as Commissioner I carry ultimate responsibility for the position we find ourselves in. With hindsight, I wish we had judged some matters involved in this affair differently. I didn’t and that’s it.
‘I do not believe this on its own would be a matter for me to consider my position as Commissioner.
‘However, the issue of my integrity is different. Let me state clearly, I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact.
‘I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity.
‘Nevertheless, I must accept that the intense media coverage, questions, commentary and indeed allegations, as demonstrated by this weekend’s attempt to misrepresent my arrangements for my recovery from illness, not only provide excessive distraction both for myself and colleagues, but are likely to continue for some time. In particular the Public Inquiry must take time, with even the first part scheduled not to report within a year. A year in which the Met must face not only the enormous challenges that are the staple diet of this incredible organisation, but also the Olympics.
‘This is not a 12 months that can afford any doubts about the Commissioner of the Met, I have seen at first hand the distractions for this organisation when the story becomes about the leaders as opposed to what we do as a service. I was always clear that I would never allow that. We the Met cannot afford this – not this year.
‘If I stayed I know that the Inquiry outcomes would reaffirm my personal integrity. But time is short before we face the enormous challenge of policing the Olympics – this is not the time for ongoing speculation about the security of the position of the Commissioner. Even a small chance that that there could be a change of leadership must be avoided.
‘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. This will allow time for the appointment of my successor and for that person to take a firm hold of the helm of this great organisation and steer it through the great challenges and necessary change ahead, unencumbered by the current controversy.
‘I will miss many things, but most of all it will be the overwhelming majority of honest, hard working professionals who it has been such a great pleasure to lead.’