Leveson Inquiry: Ex-Met chief defends health spa break

The former Met Police Commissioner said the treatment represented his ''best chance at getting back to work as early as possible''

An ex-Metropolitan Police chief has defended accepting a free stay at a health spa saying he was desperate to recover from a serious operation.

Sir Paul Stephenson quit after criticism over a free stay at Champneys while it was promoted by former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis.

But he said he did not realise Mr Wallis' role until later.

He told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards he felt under "significant pressure" to return to work.

Sir Paul resigned as commissioner last July after facing criticism for hiring Mr Wallis as a PR consultant.

Mr Wallis had also been working as a public relations consultant for Champneys when Sir Paul accepted free accommodation worth thousands of pounds from the owner, Steven Purdue, a close friend of his daughter's father-in-law.

'Sense of duty'

Sir Paul, who was absent from work from January to April 2011 after undergoing surgery remove a pre-cancerous tumour from his femur, said he had been reluctant to accept the offer but felt it would help his rehabilitation.

"I felt under significant personal pressure to return to work as soon as possible," he said.

"And my very clear view was if I didn't get back within that time, then I wouldn't go back at all... I do not think the leader of the Met can be absent for longer than that."

Start Quote

I'd say for every journalist I've ever met, they'd be delighted if I were indiscreet; my job was to ensure I wasn't”

End Quote Sir Paul Stephenson

He said it was not until July 16 2011, the day before he resigned, that he learned that Champneys was promoted by a PR company for which Mr Wallis was working.

Britain's former top policeman also told the inquiry he might not have resigned had it not been for his ill-health.

He said he stood down out of a "sense of duty and honour" because he feared he might be less able to respond to the pressures on him.

Sir Paul said nobody he consulted agreed with his decision including Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Story leaks

Earlier, the inquiry heard Sir Paul believed contact between some senior colleagues and the written media was "closer than he would have liked".

He declined to name individuals, but said there were some who gossiped and leaked stories.

Elizabeth Filkin: "Many police officers and staff were highly shocked by the amount of hospitality senior people appeared to be receiving"

"I'm referring to a very small number of the management board, who on occasion either gossiped or leaked about stories from within the Met that were deeply unhelpful and added to a continuing dialogue of disharmony within the Met. That was hugely distracting."

The inquiry also heard about a long list of lunches, dinners and drinks Sir Paul had had with newspaper journalists and editors, including all but the Daily Express and the Star.

He said he did not favour particular papers, adding: "I'd say for every journalist I've ever met, they'd be delighted if I were indiscreet; my job was to ensure I wasn't."

Asked about the police investigation into phone hacking, he said the Met developed a fixed and defensive mindset around hacking in 2009.

An original investigation, which began in 2006, had led to the News of the World's royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed.

However, the Met was heavily criticised for limiting the scope of the investigation despite evidence from Mulcaire's notebooks suggesting there could be thousands of hacking victims.

Sir Paul said: "What we didn't do is go back and challenge the reasons for those decisions in 2006. Had that taken place we might have been in a better place,"

He said he did not read the 9 July 2009 Guardian story, which claimed his force's original hacking probe was inadequate, but told then-assistant commissioner John Yates to look into the allegations.

"It was just yet another headline - I don't mean to say it dismissively - some noise about an event that I expected someone to pick up and deal with."

Resignation call

Meanwhile, shadow home affairs minister Chris Bryant has called for the resignation of deputy mayor of London responsible for policing, Kit Malthouse, after the inquiry heard he had called for the hacking investigation to be scaled back.

Sir Paul said Mr Malthouse "expressed a view that we should not be devoting this level of resources to the phone-hacking inquiry as a consequence of a largely political and media-driven 'level of hysteria'".

Mr Bryant said: "This amounts to a clear political intervention designed to intimidate the Met into dropping an investigation."

A spokesman for Mr Malthouse said it was "entirely proper" for him to question the reasoning behind the allocation of resources.

Later, the author of a recent report into relations between the Met Police and the media said there was feeling that some senior officers were "filling their boots" with hospitality.

Elizabeth Filkin, a former parliamentary standards commissioner, advised officers to avoid "flirting" and accepting alcohol from journalists.

She told the inquiry it was "not a proper thing" for public servants to be seen to be receiving "a lot of hospitality from particular individuals or businesses".

Roger Baker from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary - responsible for the inspection of police forces - also gave evidence.

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