|(Top) Prime Minister David Cameron at a question-and- answer session in Johannesburg on Monday; former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police John Yates announces his resignation in London. (AFP, AP)
London, July 18: The resignation last night of the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, was followed swiftly today by that of one of Scotland Yards most senior officers, John Yates, the assistant commissioner charged with keeping London safe as its head of anti-terrorism.
Yates was forced to step down after it became clear he was the officer who had taken a decision in 2009 not to reopen an earlier investigation into the phone hacking allegations against the News of the World.
He did so after only a one-day review although the police by then were in possession of a huge amount of evidence.
Accosted by reporters today, Yates insisted he had done nothing wrong, urging them: Give me a break.
Dee Doocey, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on policing at the Greater London Assembly, attacked Yates for spending just eight hours reviewing 11,000 pages of evidence within which were buried details of the most heinous crimes. Literally hundreds of victims of phone hacking were failed and his resignation is long overdue. He made a monumental error of judgment which rendered his position untenable. We now need to restore public trust in the Met.
Todays headline in the Daily Mail — Meltdown at the Met — just about sums up the chaos in possibly the most famous police force in the world: Scotland Yard.
Stephenson fell on his sword last night after it was revealed he had taken a £12,000 freebie from Champneys, a luxury health spa. For the head of Scotland Yard to accept free hospitality was unwise enough but Stephenson was seriously embarrassed when it emerged that Champneys was being promoted by a public relations man, Neil Wallis, who had been deputy editor under Andy Coulson at the News of the World.
While Wallis was taken on by the Met as a PR consultant and paid £24,000 for two days work a month, his former boss, Andy Coulson, was hired by Cameron to be his chief press officer even though he had resigned as editor when the phone hacking allegations came to light.
The interconnecting links also involved the former News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks, who played host to the Prime Minister and his wife, Samantha, at her home in Oxfordshire, last Christmas.
The story gets even murkier because the business secretary Vince Cable was relieved of part of the portfolio responsible for overseeing the bid for BSkyB by Rupert Murdochs News Corporation, which owns News International of which Brooks was the chief executive until her resignation last week.
There have been stories suggesting Coulson was recommended to Cameron by Brooks. Cable had his wings clipped after he told two Daily Telegraph under cover reporters that he had declared war on Murdoch.
The action against Cable was taken by the Prime Minister at about the time when he was enjoying Brooks hospitality.
In Britain, as in India, politicians and senior journalists do have close links but for many years now the former have gone out of their way to court Murdoch and his senior executives because they control four of the most powerful newspapers in the country — The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World (now closed). In addition, Murdoch, who owns 39 per cent of BSkyB, wanted to buy the remaining 61 per cent.
Tomorrow, Brooks, who was arrested yesterday and questioned by police investigating the phone hacking allegations with fresh zeal, will appear before a Commons select committee. So will Murdoch and his son, James, who is no longer the automatic choice to succeed his 80-year-old father as chairman of News Corp. But the affair is starting to damage the Prime Minister, whose judgement in appointing Coulson in the first place is being questioned.
In his resignation statement last night, Stephenson, the most senior policeman in the country, aimed a barb at Cameron. Stephenson explained why he had not taken Cameron into confidence by telling the Prime Minister Scotland Yard had appointed Coulsons former deputy as a PR consultant.
Now let me turn to the reported displeasure of the Prime Minister and the home secretary of the relationship with Mr (Neil) Wallis, said Stephenson. 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 said.
Secondly, once Mr Walliss 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.
He dripped poison on Cameron: I am aware of the many political exchanges in relation to Mr Coulsons 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.
Cameron, who was on his way to Africa last night when Stephenson announced his resignation, is returning in time for an emergency Commons session on Wednesday. He cannot be pleased that calls are being also for him to resign over the Coulson appointment.