Monday, July 18, 2011

Pressure on senior Met officer over phone-hacking probe

The future of Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates has been called into question as the phone-hacking scandal fall-out continues.

He checked the credentials of Neil Wallis before the Met employed the ex-News of the World executive, who has been questioned over hacking claims.

The Met Police Authority is considering Mr Yates's future and London's mayor said he had "questions to answer".

It comes after Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resigned on Sunday.

The resignation of Sir Paul, the most senior policeman in Britain, came after he was criticised for hiring Mr Wallis as an adviser.

Mr Wallis, a former NoW deputy editor, was arrested and released on bail on Thursday on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he was very angry he had not been told that Mr Wallis had worked for Scotland Yard.

Referring to Sir Paul's decision to resign, he said: "The whole thing added up to a problem - a problem of perceptions that was just going to go on and on. And he [Sir Paul] felt, as a guy who really loves ... takes huge pride in his job, who has done a great deal of good, that he didn't want to be endlessly sitting there answering inquiries, answering questions about phone hacking."

And the mayor said Mr Yates had "questions to answer" about his relationship with Mr Wallis.

The Metropolitan Police Authority's (MPA) professional standards committee has confirmed it will be discussing Mr Yates's future at its meeting on Monday.

The MPA, which has the power to investigate a senior officer, is examining his links with Mr Wallis. It is expected to make a statement on Mr Yates later.

'Untenable' position

Meanwhile, Keith Vaz, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said Mr Yates had been recalled to give evidence before MPs on Tuesday.

Mr Yates has been heavily criticised for refusing to re-open the phone hacking investigation in 2009.

Mr Yates expressed regret at that decision when he appeared before the home affairs select committee last Tuesday.

However, he insisted that he had always told the truth to MPs investigating the issue and suggested that the News of the World "failed to co-operate" with police until the start of this year.

MPA member Christopher Boothman said Mr Yates's position had become "untenable" after Sir Paul's resignation.

But the BBC's Danny Shaw said sources close to Mr Yates say he has no intention of resigning.

In the outgoing Met chief's resignation statement, Sir Paul suggested that the prime minister's relationship with ex-NoW editor Andy Coulson, his former Downing Street director of communications, had caused him difficulties. Mr Coulson, who resigned from the No 10 job and earlier as NoW editor over the scandal, was subsequently arrested and bailed over his alleged involvement in paying police officers and phone hacking.

The Met Police chief also drew comparisons between the hiring of two former NoW executives - Mr Coulson by the prime minister and Mr Wallis by Scotland Yard.

In his statement, Sir Paul said: "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."

He went on: "Once Mr Wallis's name did become associated with Operation Weeting, 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.

"I am aware of the many political exchanges in relation to Mr Coulson's previous employment - I believe it would have been extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the prime minister, or by association the home secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard. Similarly, the mayor.

"Because of the individuals involved, their positions and relationships, these were I believe unique circumstances."
Threat to No 10

Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that if Sir Paul felt that the "compromised relationship" between the prime minister and Mr Coulson "prevented him from telling the home secretary what was happening" and discussing operational matters with the home secretary, it meant the Met commissioner had been put in "an extremely difficult situation".

Home Secretary Theresa May is set to make a statement to the House of Commons later over the links between the Met Police and News International, publisher of the NoW.

Earlier, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that both she and the prime minister had been clear that "the Metropolitan Police must investigate all allegations and investigate all evidence and take it as far as it goes"."If the Metropolitan Police found, at any stage, that they have a potential conflict of interest, I think it's right for them to be transparent about that," she said.

BBC Radio 4's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Sir Paul seemed to seek to push the focus back onto Downing Street by highlighting the prime minister's decision to recruit Mr Coulson - a move that had infuriated No 10.

He said it was Mr Cameron's links to Mr Coulson which still threatened to cause the most damage to the prime minister over the hacking scandal.

Our correspondent said it was clear there was immense political pressure on Sir Paul after London's mayor told him that his confidence in him had been severely shaken.

Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive who had been editor of the News of the World when some alleged hacking took place, was arrested and released on bail on Sunday as part of the investigation.

Her solicitor, Stephen Parkinson, later issued a statement which criticised the Met Police saying that, despite a nine-hour interview, officers had put no allegations to his client and showed her no documents connecting her with any crime.

He said: "They will, in due course, have to give an account of their actions and, in particular, their decision to arrest her with the enormous reputational damage that this has involved."

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