U.K. Police Chief Quits on News Corp. Links ‘Accusations’

Sir Paul Stephenson
Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, leaves in a car from New Scotland Yard in London, on July 17, 2011. Stephenson resigned without warning, as the Metropolitan police force became drawn ever closer into the phone hacking and corruption probes at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

U.K. Metropolitan Police Chief Paul Stephenson resigned over “accusations” about his force’s links to a former News Corp. journalist arrested in connection with a probe into phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid.

Stephenson said in a statement today that he informed the Palace, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Theresa May of his decision to step down. The resignation followed the arrest of Rebekah Brooks, the former top editor of the paper, by several hours.

“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,” Stephenson said. News International publishes News Corp.’s British titles.

Wallis, a former editor at News International’s News of the World Sunday paper, was arrested July 14 on suspicion of conspiring to intercept phone calls. He had also worked as a paid communications consultant for the police in 2009 and 2010, the police said on the day of his arrest.

The scandal has forced News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch this month to close the 168-year old tabloid, cancel a bid to take control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, and accept the resignations of Brooks and Les Hinton, chairman of News International in the years the alleged hacking occurred.

Cameron, Coulson

For part of the time Wallis worked at News of the World, he served as a deputy to the paper’s then editor, Andy Coulson. Coulson, who was also arrested this month, later served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications before resigning because of the scandal in January.

Stephenson said in the statement that he didn’t advise Cameron in advance that Wallis was going to be arrested to avoid any conflict of interest.

“I did not want to compromise the Prime Minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr. Coulson,” Stephenson said. He said it would have been “extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the Prime Minister, or by association the Home Secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard.”

Cameron, in a statement, said he wished Stephenson well, and said the police should “do everything possible to ensure the investigations into phone hacking and alleged police corruption proceed with all speed, with full public confidence and with all the necessary leadership and resources to bring them to an effective conclusion.”

Champneys Stay

Stephenson’s resignation will take effect once a successor has been found. It also follows a report in today’s Sunday Times that Wallis was a media consultant for the Champneys health resort when Stephenson stayed there earlier this year following surgery on his leg.

“The accommodation and meals were arranged and provided by Stephen Purdew, MD of Champneys, who is a personal family friend who has no connection with, or links to” Stephenson’s professional life, the Met said earlier in a statement. “The commissioner only learnt who the PR consultant for Champneys was following a media enquiry.”

Olympic Games

Stephenson said that if he stayed, the outcome of a public inquiry into the News Corp. phone hacking would probably “reaffirm my personal integrity.” He said he chose to step down to avoid conflicts with preparations for security at the Olympic Games in London next year.

Stephenson persuaded Johnson to let someone else take charge of Scotland Yard “so that the focus can return to policing and bringing down crime” in the run-up to the Olympics, the mayor said in a statement. “If there has been any wrongdoing by members of the Metropolitan Police it is vital that this should now be exposed and cleared up in the inquiries under way.”

May praised Stephenson’s three-year tenure as head of the force.

Stephenson “has led the force through difficult times and, although current circumstances show there are still serious issues to be addressed I believe the force is stronger operationally today than it was when he took over,” May said in a statement.

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