Paul Stephenson, who announced his plan to quit as London’s police chief two days ago, said he hadn’t intended any attack on Prime Minister David Cameron in his resignation statement.
“I was taking no side-swipe at him,” Stephenson told Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee today. “I agree with the prime minister when he says this was entirely different.”
Stephenson quit as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police over the force’s decision to hire Neil Wallis as a public-relations adviser. Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World, was arrested last week in the probe into phone-hacking at the News Corp. newspaper. Stephenson defended the move, pointing out that Cameron had hired Wallis’s former boss at the paper, Andy Coulson, to be his press chief.
Asked why he hadn’t warned the government the police were about to arrest Wallis, with the attendant bad publicity for the force, Stephenson said that because of Cameron’s closeness to Coulson, a “senior official” in the prime minister’s office “guided us that actually we should not compromise the prime minister, and it seems to me to be entirely sensible.”
John Yates, the assistant police commissioner who resigned yesterday, later contradicted Stephenson telling the same committee that he approached Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn in September 2010 offering to give the prime minister a briefing on the “nuances” of police terminology used to describe the phone-hacking investigation.
“The offer was properly and understandably rejected,” Yates said.
In an e-mail exchange with Llewellyn at the time, Yates said he was “happy to have a conversation in the margins around the other matters that have caught my attention this week” as part of another briefing, Cameron’s office said in e-mail.
Llewellyn replied that “I don’t think it would really be appropriate for the PM, or anyone else at No. 10, to discuss this issue with you,” according to a copy of the exchange.
Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said earlier he’s not calling for Cameron to resign over his decision to employ Coulson, who was also arrested this month in the probe.
“I’m not saying that at the moment, because you shouldn’t be over the top in these things,” Miliband said on ITV’s “Lorraine” program today. “I think he’s got to answer some basic questions, though.”
Coulson was Cameron’s head of communications from 2007, when Cameron was Conservative Party leader in opposition, until January of this year, when he quit. Coulson had resigned from the News of the World at the start of 2007 after one of his reporters was jailed for phone-hacking. He has always denied any knowledge of illegal activities at the paper.
“Lots of people were warning him saying this isn’t a good idea, there are really some substantial allegations about Andy Coulson,” Miliband said. He said Cameron also had to answer questions about his relationship with other News Corp. executives, including Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as chief executive officer of its News International unit last week.
Cameron will make a statement to Parliament tomorrow about the phone-hacking scandal and the government’s plans for a judicial inquiry, after cutting short a visit to Africa.