Britain’s most senior police officer has become the most significant casualty of the phone-hacking scandal, resigning from his post following allegations of inappropriate links with a News of the World executive.
Sir Paul Stephenson joined a growing list of victims of the controversy including ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson, News Corp veteran Les Hinton, former News International chief executive Ms Brooks and the 168-year-old News of the World.
Announcing his resignation yesterday, Sir Paul said: “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.”
David Cameron said he respected and understood Sir Paul’s decision, while Home Secretary Theresa May was “sincerely sorry” that he had resigned.
Sir Paul insisted his integrity was intact despite pressure on him intensifying over the weekend after it emerged he accepted thousands of pounds-worth of free accommodation at a luxury health spa.
The Sunday Times revealed Sir Paul and his wife spent 20 nights at Champneys -worth around £20,000 – as he recuperated from hospital treatment to remove a benign tumour earlier this year.
The paper claimed the revelation was “particularly embarrassing” because the Chapneys PR man was Neil Wallis, the former News of the World deputy editor arrested over phone-hacking allegations last week.
The commissioner had already been under fire for hiring Wallis as a PR consultant before he was arrested for alleged mobile phone interception.
But, issuing his statement at Scotland Yard, he said: “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.”
Sir Paul, who is due to appear in front of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow to face questioning over the Met’s handling of the hacking investigation, said that when he met Wallis in 2006 he had no knowledge of the original investigation into News of the World hacking that was taking place at the time.
“I have heard suggestions that we must have suspected the alleged involvement of Mr Wallis in phone hacking,” he 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.”
May will today make a statement to the Commons about the relationship between the Met and Chamy Media, Wallis’s PR firm.
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, 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,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“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.
“He had become the story, he absolutely did not want that to happen and he has done the honourable thing.”