The News of the World phone-hacking scandal claimed the job of a second senior officer at Scotland Yard in two days, as the London force’s top anti-terrorism officer resigned over ties with the shuttered News Corp. tabloid.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates announced his resignation yesterday, a day after Commissioner Paul Stephenson stepped down. The announcements came after Neil Wallis, a former editor at the tabloid who also acted as a consultant for the police, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept phone calls.
The resignations deprived the force of two top officers a year before London hosts the Olympic Games and revealed the extent of links between police and press. Stephenson met with reporters from News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers 18 times, including 15 lunches and dinners, from 2006 through 2010, according to figures e-mailed by the police.
“It must be eye-opening to the public how close a relationship there was,” Mark Lewis, a lawyer for hacking victims including the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, said in a phone interview yesterday. “I don’t think anyone could have imagined that the relationship went so far as to result in social activities, eating meals and drinking wine.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said yesterday in a statement that it has been asked to probe the conduct of Stephenson, Yates and two unnamed “former senior officers” over their roles in the investigation.
The IPCC said today that Dick Fedorcio, the MPS’s director of public affairs, was also referred for an investigation because of his relationship with Wallis. Yates, Stephenson and Fedorcio are scheduled to address a Parliamentary hearing today.
Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested two days ago, told lawmakers at a 2003 committee hearing that “we have paid the police for information in the past.” She denied authorizing the payments herself. Brooks stepped down July 15 as chief executive officer of News International, which publishes News Corp. (NWSA)’s U.K. newspapers.
Brooks and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, along with his son James Murdoch, the company’s deputy chief operating officer, are scheduled to testify before a separate Parliamentary committee on phone hacking today.
Yates quit following calls for his resignation from politicians including former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. London Mayor Boris Johnson said that in both the Stephenson and the Yates case “the right call” was made, though neither man is suspected of wrongdoing.
A News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 for intercepting phone messages left for members of Prince Charles’s staff. At the time, police said there were no grounds to arrest anyone else in relation to phone-hacking at the tabloid. Yates reviewed the case in 2009 and ruled out the need for further inquiry.
Since then, dozens of victims of phone-hacking have been identified, including the actress Sienna Miller, sports commentator Andy Gray and Dowler. Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers last week that police are now looking through 11,000 pages of evidence containing 3,870 names, including about 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers.
‘Great Personal Regret’
“It is a matter of great personal regret that those potentially affected by phone-hacking were not dealt with appropriately,” Yates said yesterday after he resigned.
Yates told a committee of lawmakers in March that he may have met Wallis, the former News of the World editor, for lunch or dinner in February, the month after police began the latest inquiry into phone-hacking. A separate probe is under way into whether police officers were paid by the press for information.
Stephenson said on July 17 that he was resigning “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.”
Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May sought to reassure the public by promising continuity in the force in tackling counter-terrorism in the capital and the U.K.
May said she hopes Stephenson will “leave his post as swiftly as possible.” His deputy, Tim Godwin, will take over as acting commissioner. Johnson said Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, the first woman to hold that rank, will take Yates’s post in charge of anti-terror policing.
“If police officers haven’t done a proper job, and they obviously haven’t, they need to go, however close it is to the Olympics,” John Cryer, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, said in an interview. “It’s a point of principle.”
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