x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

London's police chief quits over phone-hacking scandal

Sir Paul Stephenson denies any wrongdoing as his resignation follows arrest of the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.

Rebekah Brooks, right,, with Rupert Murdoch, was the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper arm and previously served as editor of News of the World. Ian Nicholson / AP Photo
Rebekah Brooks, right,, with Rupert Murdoch, was the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper arm and previously served as editor of News of the World. Ian Nicholson / AP Photo

LONDON // London's police chief resigned yesterday over his links to a former News of the World editor who was arrested in the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal last week.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had been criticised for hiring Neil Wallis, a former News of the World executive editor, as a part-time public relations consultant in 2009.

The resignation of Sir Paul, who denies any wrongdoing, came after London police yesterday arrested Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch's former British chief executive, bringing the UK investigation into Mr Murdoch's inner circle for the first time.

Ms Brooks, 43, was arrested at a London police station at noon. Ms Brooks, the former editor of Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, is being questioned on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications - phone hacking - and on suspicion of corruption, which relates to bribing police for information. A statement released on Ms Brooks's behalf said she "voluntarily attended a London police station to assist with their ongoing investigation".

Yesterday's arrest comes just days before Ms Brooks, Mr Murdoch and his son James are due to be grilled by a UK parliamentary committee investigating the hacking. The arrest throws Ms Brooks's appearance before parliament's culture, media and sport committee into question; she would not have to answer questions that could prejudice a criminal investigation.

Ms Brooks's spokesman, David Wilson, said yesterday's appointment with police was prearranged on Friday but said she was not aware she was going to be arrested.

"Obviously this complicates matter greatly," Mr Wilson said. "Her legal team will have to have discussions with the committee to see whether it would still be appropriate for her to attend."

Ms Brooks, one of Mr Murdoch's most loyal lieutenants, stepped down on Friday as head of his British newspaper arm, News International. She was editor of the now-closed News of the World between 2000 and 2003 when some of the phone hacking took place, but has always said she did not know that hacking was going on.

At an appearance before legislators in 2003, Ms Brooks admitted that News International had paid police for information - an admission of possible illegal activity that went largely unchallenged at the time.

Police have already arrested nine other people connected to Mr Murdoch's British media empire over allegations that the News of the World hacked into the phone voice mails of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, rival journalists and even murder victims. No one has yet been charged.

The arrest also piles more pressure on the prime minister, David Cameron, a friend and neighbour of Ms Brooks who has met with her many times and invited her to stay at his official country retreat.

Mr Cameron is already under fire for hiring Andy Coulson, who resigned as News of the World editor after two employees were jailed for corruption in 2007, as his communications chief. Mr Coulson resigned from Downing Street in January after police reopened their hacking investigation. He was arrested last week and questioned before being released on bail.

Ms Brooks's arrest is another blow for Mr Murdoch, who is struggling to tame a scandal that has already destroyed one of his British newspapers, cost the jobs of two of his senior executives and sank his dream of taking full control of a lucrative satellite broadcaster, British Sky Broadcasting.

Yesterday, Mr Murdoch took out a second newspaper advertisement promising that News Corp would make amends for the phone-hacking scandal. The ad in several UK Sunday newspapers, titled "Putting right what's gone wrong", said News Corp would assist the British police investigations into phone hacking and police bribery. It vowed there would be "be no place to hide" for wrongdoers.

That follows a full-page Mr Murdoch ad in Saturday's UK papers declaring, "We are sorry."

Last week Mr Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World after it was accused of eavesdropping on mobile phones for years.

Mr Murdoch also abandoned his BSkyB takeover bid, and two of his senior executives resigned - Ms Brooks and the Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton.