U.K. Police Chief Says Didn’t Suspect Wallis of Phone Hacking

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, who announced his resignation two days ago, said he had “no reason” to suspect a former News of the World journalist of phone-hacking when he worked for the police.

Neil Wallis, an editor at the paper, was arrested last week as part of the U.K. police inquiry into the interception of phone calls by journalists at the now-shuttered News Corp. (NWSA) Sunday tabloid. Wallis worked as a paid communications consultant for the force in 2009 and 2010.

“It was only several weeks ago that I became aware Wallis may be a suspect, and it was only early last week I was told he may be arrested,” Stephenson told Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee today. At the time of his employment, “I had no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking. I had no reason to doubt his integrity.”

The police are under pressure to explain their links with News Corp. journalists and their failure to further probe phone- hacking by the News of the World following the jailing in 2007 of the paper’s royal reporter, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, for intercepting phone messages left for members of Prince Charles’s staff.

The investigation was opened again in January. Dozens of victims of phone-hacking have been identified, including actress Sienna Miller and sports commentator Andy Gray. Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers last week that police are looking through 11,000 pages of evidence containing 3,870 names, including about 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers.

Champneys Health Resort

Stephenson, who remains in his post until a successor is hired, said he decided to resign when a newspaper reported that Wallis was a media consultant for the Champneys health resort when he stayed there this year following surgery on his leg.

Stephenson, who accepted meals and accommodation from the managing director of the chain, said it was “damnably unlucky’’ Wallis was connected to the facility.

“I know of no one that knew of Mr. Wallis’s connection to Champneys,’’ Stephenson said. “The owner of Champneys is a family friend.’’

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates over their role in the phone hacking probe. Yates also stepped down yesterday.

The police said today that the commission is also examining the relationship between Dick Fedorcio, the force’s director of public affairs, and News International Ltd., the News Corp. unit which publishes the group’s U.K. newspapers.

Former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, along with his son James Murdoch, the company’s deputy chief operating officer, are also scheduled to testify before a separate Parliamentary committee on phone hacking today.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net; Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net; Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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