LONDON — Britain’s roiling phone-hacking scandal continues to reverberate deep inside this nation’s power structure, with the head of Scotland Yard, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigning Sunday only hours after Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s British operations, was arrested.
In a stoic appearance before the news media, Stephenson — Britain’s most senior police official — said he was offering his resignation in light of “ongoing speculation and accusations” relating to his force’s links to senior members of News International, the British division of Murdoch’s News Corp.
Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch's former British chief executive, said she was "assisting the police with their inquiries" after being arrested Sunday in the British phone hacking and police bribery scandal. (July 17)
A looks at some of those involved in the phone-hacking scandal.
News of the World scandal
The pace of the scandal’s spread raised immediate questions about how high the fallout could go, with Prime Minister David Cameron and Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, also in the line of fire for, at the very least, possible lapses in judgment.
Cameron, who is traveling in South Africa, said Monday that he wanted Parliament to delay its summer recess so that he can address lawmakers about the scandal on Wednesday. Both Rupert and James Murdoch have agreed to appear before Parliament on Tuesday, when they are likely to be grilled by lawmakers.
Stephenson’s resignation came amid massive criticism of his storied police force’s handling of the scandal, in which employees at the now-shuttered News of the World allegedly hacked the phones of thousands of British citizens — from crime victims to members of the royal family — and bribed police officers for information. Police missteps included the hiring of Neil Wallis, a former top editor at News of the World, as a special adviser to Scotland Yard despite widespread reports of illegal news-gathering at the tabloid during his tenure. Wallis was arrested Thursday.
Reports also surfaced this weekend that Stephenson had accepted a free medical stay at a luxury spa being promoted by Wallis, though Stephenson pointedly insisted Sunday that the former editor had not arranged his visit there.
Stephenson’s departure after 21
2 years in the job caught many here by surprise. The chief maintained on Sunday that his “integrity” remains intact, but he said the focus on him and other high-ranking officers at the Metropolitan Police, more commonly known as Scotland Yard, had become a major distraction at a time when the 51,000-strong force is gearing up for one of its largest special operations ever — the 2012 Olympics in London.
“This is not a 12 months that can afford any doubts about the commissioner of the Met,” Stephenson said. “I have seen at first hand the distractions for this organization when the story becomes about the leaders as opposed to what we do as a service. I was always clear that I would never allow that. We the Met cannot afford this — not this year.”
Protecting prime minister?
In explaining why Scotland Yard had not earlier disclosed to No. 10 Downing Street that Wallis was both a suspect and had been on the force’s payroll, Stephenson appeared to suggest that the information was withheld in part to shield the prime minister. Wallis had what Stephenson called a “close relationship” with Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former communications director and also a former editor at News of the World.