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U.K. Senior Police Cleared in Botched Phone-Hacking Probe

Britain’s police watchdog cleared former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson and his deputy John Yates in relation to a botched phone-hacking investigation of News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid.

While police made mistakes such as ending the probe too soon in 2009 and failing to notify victims, the senior officers acknowledged the errors by resigning last month, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said today in a statement on its website. Yates will remain under investigation for his alleged role in securing a job for the daughter of a former editor at the now-defunct newspaper, Neil Wallis, the IPCC said.

“The role of the Metropolitan Police in its response to allegations of phone hacking by News of the World has rightly come under huge public scrutiny,” IPCC Deputy Chairwoman Deborah Glass said in the statement. “There can be no doubt about the damaging effect of the perceived inadequate response.”

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 celebrities and politicians.

“It is difficult to see what further investigation would achieve,” the IPCC said of Yates, who closed the earlier probe. “We would agree that he made a poor decision in 2009. He himself has acknowledged that, given what is now known, he made a poor decision for which he has now taken responsibility.”

Widespread Hacking

In 2009, after the Guardian newspaper reported that the News of the World had settled a phone-hacking case out of court, Yates conducted a review and announced there were no grounds for a further inquiry. The police were forced to open a new probe in January after evidence of widespread hacking at the News of the World emerged in civil lawsuits.

Yates told a parliamentary committee last month that News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, had covered up phone hacking and failed to turn over enough evidence during the earlier probe.

Wallis, who worked for the police as a communications consultant in 2009 and 2010, was arrested last month as part of the new phone-hacking inquiry. Stephenson has said 10 out of the 45 press officers at the Met once worked at News Corp. U.K. publications.

‘Peripheral Involvement’

“I am pleased that the IPCC have accepted that no investigation into me is required in relation to my involvement in the phone hacking matters,” Yates said in an e-mailed statement. “However, I am disappointed with the IPCC’s decision to investigate my peripheral involvement in recruitment process of Neil Wallis’s daughter.”

Stephenson said in an e-mailed statement that he had expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“I regret resources have had to be expended on this matter,” Stephenson said.

The watchdog also cleared Stephenson in relation to his acceptance of hospitality from a family friend at a luxury medical facility while he was on sick leave.

“The public will make its own judgments about whether any senior public official should accept hospitality to this extent from anyone,” the IPCC said in the statement.

The watchdog also cleared Peter Clarke, who was responsible for the original investigation, saying he had explained why the probe was closed with resources spread thin covering suspected terror plots.

“He has explained the parameters of the investigation, as well as the reasons why the huge volume of material seized at the time was not subject to analysis,” the IPCC said of Clarke.

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