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, a former editor at the paper, was arrested last week as part of an inquiry into the interception of phone calls by journalists at the now-shuttered News Corp. tabloid. Wallis worked for the police as a communications consultant in 2009 and 2010. Stephenson said 10 out of the 45 press officers at the Met once worked at News Corp. U.K. publications.
“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.
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.”
Police Complaints Commission
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.
Also appearing before the committee, Yates defended his decision in 2009 not to start a new probe into phone hacking following an article in Guardian newspaper.
“This wasn’t a body being found, this was an article in a newspaper,” Yates said. He told the committee that it appeared that News International Ltd., News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper unit, had tried to “deliberately’’ cover up, the phone-hacking scandal.
Yates also faced questions about his ties to Wallis and told the committee he was a “friend” and they met two or three times a year.
‘Simply’ a ‘Postbox’
Before Wallis was hired, Yates asked him whether there was anything related to phone-hacking that would “embarrass” the police. Yates also said he’d acted as a “postbox” to pass on Wallis’s daughter’s resume to the police’s human resources department before she was hired by the force.
“I just passed on a CV and an e-mail,’’ Yates told the committee. “It happens all the time. I simply acted as a postbox.”
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.
Fedorcio told the committee that Wallis was hired after submitting the cheapest of three quotes to obtain the contract. He said he’d never discussed phone-hacking with Wallis.
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.
The Met said today that another former News of the World employee, Alex Marunchak, carried out work as a Ukrainian language interpreter for the police on at least seven occasions between 1996 and 2000, and it is “likely” he did additional work before then.
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