UK Politics

Ex-Met Police chief denies 'swipe' at prime minister

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Media captionSir Paul Stephenson on his resignation: "It was my decision and my decision only"

Former Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has denied taking a "swipe" at the prime minister in his resignation statement.

He said he agreed with David Cameron that the hiring of former News International executive Neil Wallis by the Met was "entirely different" from Mr Cameron's hiring Andy Coulson.

"I made no personal attack on the prime minister," he told MPs.

Sir Paul was giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The MPs also questioned ex-Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who called for News International - at the centre of the phone-hacking scandal - to face up to its responsibilities, and head of press at the Met Dick Fedorcio.

Sir Paul said in his statement on Sunday: "Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from the News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone-hacking investigation."

Mr Wallis was the News of the World's deputy editor at the time when Andy Coulson was the paper's editor. He was arrested on 14 July on suspicion of conspiracy to unlawfully intercept communications.

Mr Coulson went on to become David Cameron's spokesman but resigned, saying phone-hacking allegations were making it difficult to concentrate on the job.

Sir Paul denied he had been "impugning" Mr Cameron in the statement.

"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 said Mr Coulson resigned because his name was associated with hacking, whereas Mr Wallis had not left his job over hacking.

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

'Serious criminal offences'

Sir Paul said he asked Mr Yates to take "another look" at the phone-hacking case after Guardian reports of new evidence, to see whether there was any reason for the police to do anything else but added: "I would not have expected material to be reviewed".

Meanwhile, former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord MacDonald, who was asked to review files from law firm Harbottle and Lewis which he later advised News Corporation to hand over to police, said they contained "evidence of serious criminal offences".

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Media captionJohn Yates: "I was a post-box for a CV from Mr Wallis' daughter"

He said the News Corporation board was "shocked and stunned" but accepted his advice immediately.

He handed the the file, containing "nine or 10 e-mails" to police leading Operation Elveden, which is investigating alleged corrupt payments to police officers, on 20 June this year.

He told the hearing: "I have to tell you that the material I saw was so blindingly obvious that anyone trying to argue that it shouldn't be given to the police would have had a very tough task."

During Sir Paul's evidence, it also emerged that 10 members of the Met's Directorate of Public Affairs had worked at News International in the past.

Sir Paul said he had resigned because there were "significant stories about me" and he did not want "the story to be about me, the leader, as opposed to what the people who work for me".

"It was my decision and my decision only... and went against the advice of many colleagues and my wife," he told MPs.

'Due diligence'

The Met's public affairs director, Mr Fedorcio, was asked questions about Neil Wallis, whom he took on as a PR consultant in 2009 after he submitted "by far the cheapest" bid for the contract.

He told the committee Mr Wallis was not a friend but he had known him professionally since 1997 when Mr Wallis was working at the Sun.

His role was to help out with corporate policy matters while Mr Fedorcio's deputy was off sick and Mr Fedorcio said they never discussed phone hacking.

Hours before Mr Fedorcio was due to give evidence, it emerged he was to be investigated by police watchdog the IPCC over his links with News International.

Later Mr Yates repeated that in hindsight, he would not have made the same decision as he did in 2009 not to reopen the original phone-hacking investigation.

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Media captionDick Fedorcio: "With hindsight, lots of things would have been done differently"

He stressed he had been asked to look at whether there was anything new in allegations made by the Guardian in 2009 adding: "There wasn't."

He added: "We also must remember it's not the police that have failed, it's News International that have failed to provide us with the evidence."

"I do think it's time for others to face up to their responsibility," he added, before naming News International.

He said he had not acted with "due diligence" when Mr Wallis was given the Met contract, and had only sought "assurances" that there was not anything being chased by the Guardian that was going to embarrass "him, me, the commissioner or the Metropolitan Police Service".

He said he accepted he was a friend of Mr Wallis but said they were not "bosom buddies living in each other's houses".

'Entirely sensible'

Asked about securing a job at the Met for Mr Wallis's daughter, he said: "I simply acted as a postbox for an application."

He denied having secured a job for her - saying he sent one e-mail on her behalf and he gave only an "equivocal interest" in whether she was employed.

At the hearing Sir Paul suggested he had not told the prime minister about the Met employing Neil Wallis when his name became linked to phone-hacking allegations.

He said he had had to consider whether he wanted to share operational information that might "open up some charge of impropriety" because of Mr Cameron's connection with Mr Coulson.

He added: "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."

John Yates later told the committee he had offered to talk Number 10 through the processes that detectives were following over hacking.

He added: "That offer was properly and understandably rejected."

Downing Street has since released e-mails between Mr Yates and Mr Llewellyn - Mr Yates does not mention phone hacking but refers to "other matters that have caught my attention this week".

In them, Mr Llewellyn asks Mr Yates not to raise the issue with the PM, adding: "We will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject."

Ms Cooper said the remarks were "astonishing".

"This shows that David Cameron's misjudgement in appointing Andy Coulson created serious problems at the heart of the government, forcing senior Downing Street officials and the head of the Metropolitan Police to keep important information from the elected prime minister, because of concerns that he was or could become compromised."

But Immigration minister Damien Green said if there was a police investigation going on it was not appropriate for politicians to get involved. He said Mr Llewellyn had "got it exactly right".

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