Met assistant commissioner resigns over hacking scandal

 

Britain's Metropolitan police assistant commissioner John Yates has today resigned over the phone hacking controversy.

The resignation was announced in a Metropolitan Police statement. Mr Yates decided in 2009 not to reopen investigations into alleged phone hacking by journalists at the now defunct News of the World newspaper, saying there was reason to do so.

However, a new inquiry set up in January this year found police had 11,000 pages of evidence which had not been thoroughly examined by detectives.

Metropolitan Police chief Paul Stephenson quit yesterday over his links to Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid, the News of the World. The London police force had hired Mr Wallis as a public relations consultant.

London mayor Boris Johnson said the two resignations were regrettable but the right course. "There is absolutely nothing proven against the probity or the professionalism of either man," he told reporters.

"But in both cases we have to recognise that the nexus of questions about the relationship between the Met and the News of the World was likely to be distracting to both officers in the run-up to the [2012] Olympic Games."

The resignations came as Prime Minister David Cameron further curtailed a trade trip to Africa. He will return to Britain late tomorrow to address a crisis that has raised questions over his judgment, his spokesman said today.

Mr Cameron, who had already cut the visit in half to just over two days, has shaved a further seven hours off the time he will be away, flying home from Nigeria tomorrow after visiting South Africa today.

Parliament will meet on Wednesday in an emergency session, delaying its summer recess, to discuss the latest developments in the phone hacking crisis that centres on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp .

Mr Cameron will be out of the country tomorrow when Mr Murdoch appears before a parliamentary committee to face questions on the issue. The prime minister has been criticised for appointing Andy Coulson, a former editor of the scandal-hit News of the World, as his communications chief.

Mr Murdoch, his son James and close aide Rebekah Brooks are due to appear before the parliamentary committee, as is former Met assistant commissioner Mr Yates, who has been recalled to give evidence.

Earlier today, Mr Cameron today backed calls for a Commons debate on the phone hacking controversy as he sought to distance himself from the resignation of the country's most senior policeman, .

He backed Labour leader Ed Miliband's call for the House of Commons to sit for an extra day this week to debate the scandal. "It may well be right to have parliament meet on Wednesday so that I can make a further statement," Mr Cameron told reporters in Pretoria at a press conference.

He said he wanted to set out more details of the judicial inquiry he has set up, and that questions arising from committee hearings tomorrow could be addressed.

Mr Cameron hired one of the newspaper's former editors, Andy Coulson, as his communications chief after he resigned in 2007 over the hacking of phones of members of the royal family.

Speaking today, the prime minister said the London force's role in the phone-hacking scandal was quite different from that of the government

Asked at a news conference to explain the difference between Mr Stephenson hiring Mr Wallis and the prime minister hiring Mr Coulson, Mr Cameron said: "I don't believe the two situations are the same in any shape or form.

"There is a contrast with the situation at the Metropolitan Police, where clearly the issues have been around whether or not the investigation is being pursued properly.

"In terms of Andy Coulson, no one has argued that the work he did in government in any way was inappropriate or bad. He worked well in government, he then left government." Mr Coulson left his job as Mr Cameron's media chief in January, raising questions about the prime minister's judgement in hiring him in the first place.

Two top Murdoch executives have quit and the Australian-born media baron has shuttered his News of the World tabloid that was at the heart of the phone hacking, and abandoned a $12 billion deal to buy up British satellite broadcaster BSkyB .

The snowballing scandal took a toll on News Corp's Australian shares which fell 7.6 per cent to as low as A$13.65, their lowest since July 2009, and a 7.4 discount to News Corp's last US close, implying $3 billion of market capitalisation would be wiped out when US trade resumes.

In Britain, detectives arrested Ms Brooks, former head of News Corp's British newspaper arm, on suspicion of intercepting communications and corruption.

Ms Brooks, who once edited the News of the World, was released on bail at midnight, about 12 hours after she went to a London police station to be arrested, her spokesman said. Ms Brooks has denied any wrongdoing.

She will still attend the parliamentary committee meeting tomorrow and is willing to answer questions, her lawyer said. Her arrest has caused "enormous reputational damage", and the police will need to explain their reasoning for the arrest, he said in a televised press conference.

The News of the World, which published its final edition a week ago, is alleged to have hacked up to 4,000 phones including that of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, sparking the furore that forced Mr Murdoch to close the paper and drop his bid to buy all of highly profitable BSkyB.

Mr Stephenson, London's police commissioner, quit yesterday in the face of allegations that police officers had accepted money from the tabloid and had not done enough to investigate hacking charges that surfaced as far back as 2005.

The trigger for his resignation was revelations he had stayed at a luxury spa at which Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, was a public relations adviser. Mr Wallis, also employed by police as a consultant, was arrested last week in connection with the phone-hacking scandal.

"I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice [of phone hacking]," Mr Stephenson said in a televised statement.

He added that he had not told Mr Cameron about Mr Wallis's employment as a consultant for fear of compromising the prime minister because of Mr Cameron's relationship with Mr Coulson.

Mr Coulson, who resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 following the jailing of a reporter for phone hacking, later served as Mr Cameron's press secretary, but resigned after police reopened the phone-hacking inquiry earlier this year.

"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," Mr Stephenson said.

Mr Coulson was arrested in connection with the phone-hacking inquiry on July 8th. Ms Brooks quit on Friday as chief executive of News International, News Corp's British unit, but has denied she knew of the alleged widespread nature of the phone hacking.

The scandal has raised concerns not only about unethical media practices but about the influence Mr Murdoch has wielded over British political leaders and allegations of cosy relationships between some of his journalists and police.

Mr Cameron has come under fire for his friendship with Ms Brooks and for employing Mr Coulson as his press secretary.

Mr Murdoch, who some media commentators say at first misjudged the strength of public anger, published apologies in several British newspapers at the weekend.

He lost another loyal executive on Friday when Les Hinton, another former head of his UK newspaper business, resigned as chief executive of Murdoch's Dow Jones which publishes The Wall Street Journal.

Reuters