Cameron feeling the heat as flames of scandal burn closer
Published 18/07/2011 | 05:00
THE dramatic resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson last night as Metropolitan Police Commissioner puts growing pressure on David Cameron over his own personal links to the phone hacking scandal.
An clearly angry Sir Paul said he was stepping down after criticism over his decision to employ Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the 'News of the World' arrested on suspicion of phone hacking, as his personal adviser.
In an emotional statement yesterday evening he insisted he did not want to "compromise" Mr Cameron, but pointedly said Mr Wallis had not been associated with phone hacking at the time of his employment in October 2009.
He said that by contrast Andy Coulson, David Cameron's director of communications, had been forced to step down as editor of the 'News of the World' as the full scale of phone hacking at the tabloid began to emerge.
Sir Paul said: "Let me turn to the reported displeasure of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary of the relationship with Mr Wallis.
Firstly, I repeat my earlier comments of having at the time no reason for considering the contractual relationship to be a matter of concern.
"Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from 'News of the World' or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation. "
Sir Paul said that while he was resigning with his personal integrity intact he was concerned his relationship with Mr Wallis was proving an unwelcome "distraction" to the "enormous challenge" of policing London in the run up to the Olympics.
He said: "The heroism and bravery of Met officers... is in danger of being eclipsed by the ongoing debate about relationships between senior officers and the media. That can never be right. If I stayed I know the inquiry outcomes would reaffirm my personal integrity. Therefore, although I have received continued personal support from both the Home Secretary and the Mayor, I have with great sadness informed both of my intention to resign."
He said that he had no involvement in the original phone hacking investigation in 2006. "I had no reason to believe this was anything other than a successful investigation. I was unaware that there were any other documents in possession of the nature that have now emerged."
Sir Paul met Mr Wallis later that year and and employed him as a PR adviser between October 2009 and September 2010.
Sir Paul said he had kept his connection to Mr Wallis secret from Mr Cameron, Theresa May, the Home secretary, and Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, to avoid exposing them to criticism.
He added that he had been unable to divulge the relationship earlier because it would have affected the integrity of the police's current investigation into phone hacking.
Last night Labour attempted to put more pressure on Mr Cameron over the phone hacking scandal, which now appears that it could engulf his premiership.
A senior Labour source said: "We have made clear that David Cameron has some serious questions to answer about what he knew and when he knew it regarding Andy Coulson and his links with known criminals.
"It is now even more imperative that Mr Cameron answers questions about his relationship with Mr Coulson. He must also answer questions about his private dinners with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
"The ministerial code demands the highest standads of transparency. Mr Cameron must now meet these standards."
Sir Paul's position had come under scrutiny when his connection with Mr Wallis first emerged last Thursday. Yesterday there was further embarrassment when a newspaper disclosed that he had accepted up to £12,000 in luxury hospitality from one of country's leading health spas Champneys when he was recovering from an operation. Sir Paul and his wife had spent 20 nights with full board at the spa. The revelation was embarrassing because its PR representative was Mr Wallis.
In a 15 minute statement, broadcast live from the press room in New Scotland Yard, Sir Paul insisted there was "no impropriety" in relation to his use of the spa.
He said: "There has been no impropriety and I am extremely happy with what I did and the reasons for it -- to do everything possible to return to running the Met full time, significantly ahead of medical, family and friends' advice.
"The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing."
Home Secretary Theresa May is to make a statement to the Commons later today about the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and Chamy Media, Mr Wallis's PR firm Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, paid tribute to Sir Paul. He said:
"I have absolutely no reason to doubt the complete integrity of Sir Paul," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)