Wednesday 28 June 2017

Video: Sad, but I felt I had to quit: Met Commissioner

The Met's Sir Paul Stephenson said today that he resigned to prevent continuing damaging speculation over his role in the phone-hacking scandal in the run-up to the London Olympics next year.

Appearing before the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Sir Paul said that he was saddened to have to leave but he took the decision to go because they were in "extraordinary times".

"We have got a very short period of run-up to the Olympics," he said.

"It seems to me - and it was a very sad decision for me - but in the run-up to the Olympics if there are going to be continuing speculation around the position of the commissioner and stories continue to distract, then if I was going to do something then I had to do it speedily."

Appearing in full uniform, Sir Paul said he had received the full support of Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson before resigning.

Sir Paul said he realised he would have to go when it emerged that former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis had links to health spa Champneys, where he had received free accommodation and board following an operation to remove a tumour.

"When I became aware that Mr Wallis was in some way connected with Champneys I thought that was a very difficult story.

"I think it was very unfortunate for me. I had no knowledge previously. I think that, together with everything else, I thought this is going to be a significant story, and if I am going to be a leader and do the right thing by my organisation I better do something quickly."

Sir Paul said Mrs May had been "shocked" by the resignation, while Mr Johnson accepted it "very reluctantly".

"I would describe him as almost emotional. He was very cross. He did not want it to happen," he added.

The commissioner added: "It was against the advice of many colleagues, and indeed my wife."

Sir Paul denied he had been "impugning" David Cameron in his resignation statement, when he suggested his employment of Mr Wallis as a media adviser was less controversial than former News of the World editor Andy Coulson's appointment as Downing street communications chief.

"I was taking no such swipe at the Prime Minister," Sir Paul said. "I do agree with the Prime Minister when he says this was entirely different."

He went on: "What I was trying to get across was simply this: When Mr Coulson resigned he resigned ... to be the leader and to take responsibility. By definition he associated his name with hacking. That is simply and blindingly obvious."

Sir Paul pointed out that by contrast Mr Wallis had not left his job in connection with hacking.

"I had no reason to doubt Mr Wallis's integrity. I had no reason to associate him with hacking," he said.

Pressed on whether he had chosen to attack Mr Cameron in his resignation speech, Sir Paul said: "I cannot control the way the media spin things or interpret things.

"I'm just saying here and now that I made no personal attack on the Prime Minister."

He was asked why he had not disclosed that Mr Wallis worked for the Met as a PR consultant.

"Why did I not tell the Prime Minister before Wallis' name was connected with phone hacking? I would have no reason to," he said.

"I had no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking, I had no reason to doubt his impropriety, nothing had come to my attention, I had no knowledge of the previous inquiry and I had no reason to inquire of the previous inquiry.

"And I'd been given assurances by a senior grade chief constable that actually there was nothing new.

"So I had no reason to disclose a very minor contract, that was very part-time, of someone working for my DPA (Directorate of Public Affairs) and giving me occasional advice."

He added: "When he did come into the frame or at least became a name, all I was saying in my resignation speech was it seemed to me to be eminently sensible not to impugn the character of the Prime Minister but to actually consider is it right to allow anyone to ask any questions later because I'd given him operational information that someone could suggest that, because of his relationship with Coulson and Coulson's relationship with Wallis, that somehow that could open up some charge of impropriety."

And he said: "Actually a senior official at Number 10 guided us that actually we should not compromise the Prime Minister, and it seems to me to be entirely sensible."

Sir Paul said he was made aware Mr Wallis was a suspect only "several weeks ago", adding: "It was only early last week I was told Wallis may be arrested, it was only Thursday morning I was told he's been arrested that day."

Sir Paul added: "I am very aware of the political exchanges on the employment of Mr Coulson. Why would I want to risk anyone being accused of any compromise?

"Even though I would not suggest for a moment the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary would say anything, but why would I risk that compromise?

"It is very sensible not to compromise people and not to leave people open to any suggestion of compromise when they don't need to be."

He said that even when the Information Commissioner produced a report on the undercover market in confidential police information in 2006, he had not regarded the issue as a priority.

"There was no reason for that to be on my desk," he said.

"Even with that report there was no reason above the Night Stalker, who hadn't been caught for many years, the counter- terrorism operations, the murder of Stephen Lawrence - major, major cases - they were priorities for me, phone-hacking was not."

Sir Paul said that at the time of his stay at Champneys, there was no reason why he or anyone else in at Scotland Yard would have known that Mr Wallis was working for the health spa.

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