LONDON (Reuters) - Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson, resigned on Sunday over allegations that the police mishandled investigations of phone-hacking by the News of the World newspaper and took money from journalists.
“I have this afternoon informed the Palace, the Home Secretary and the mayor of my intention to resign as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service,” he said in a pre-prepared statement read to television news channels.
London’s conservative mayor Boris Johnson has been sharply critical of the police handling of the affair and Teresa May, the home secretary (interior minister) had been expected to discuss the crisis with Stephenson this week.
The outgoing commissioner, whose force is in charge of providing protection to the royal family, said he had no knowledge of the extent of phone hacking allegations at the now defunct News of the World newspaper, owned by News International, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp global media empire.
Stephenson said he had quit following 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.
Stephenson was already under fire after his force said Wallis was hired as a communications consultant by the police, who were at the time investigating allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World. Wallis has since been arrested in connection with that police investigation.
“I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level and in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis,” Stephenson said.
The police have said Stephenson did not know of Wallis’ connection to the spa, and that his stay was paid for by the spa’s managing director, a family friend with no links to his professional life.
News of the World is alleged to have hacked the phones of up to 4,000 people, including a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. Previous police investigations into phone hacking at the paper had concluded it was the work of one rogue journalist.
“I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice (phone hacking) and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging; nor of its apparent reach into senior levels,” Stephenson said.
“I saw senior figures from News International providing evidence that the misbehaviour was confined to a rogue few and not known about at the top,” he added.
London’s mayor and other senior figures praised his work, and said his decision to step down ahead of the big task of securing the London Olympics next year was a wise one.
“Time is short before we face the enormous challenge of policing the Olympics - this is not the time for ongoing speculation about the security of the position of the commissioner. Even a small chance that there could be a change of leadership must be avoided,” Stephenson said.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Jon Boyle