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.
Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson made the shock announcement on a day of high drama that also saw the tabloid’s former editor Rebekah Brooks bailed by police after spending 12 hours in custody.
Sir Paul 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, 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 said she 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 Commissioner had already been under fire for hiring Mr Wallis as a PR consultant before the former tabloid executive was arrested for alleged mobile phone interception.
Mrs May will make a statement to the Commons about the relationship between the Met and Chamy Media, Mr Wallis’s PR firm.
A spokesman for Ms Brooks said Scotland Yard’s decision to arrest her on Sunday was “quite a surprise”. The 43-year-old was held on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption after keeping an appointment at an unnamed London police station. She was released late on Sunday night after spending 12 hours in custody and must represent herself to police in late October.
Ms Brooks is due to face members of the the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday to be quizzed about the scandal alongside News International owner Rupert Murdoch and his son James. It is still unclear to what extent she will be able to answer MPs questions if she does indeed appear due to the active criminal proceedings.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Tom Watson, a Labour MP sitting on the committee, has written to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) asking officers to investigate payments allegedly made by News International to cover up the hacking scandal. The SFO said it will study his letter when it arrives.
By The Press Association