Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has resigned following ongoing controversy about the relationship between senior Met officers and News International and the failure of the original police investigation into phone hacking.
Earlier this week the Met faced criticism over the hiring of former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis. On Thursday Sir Paul wrote to Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority Kit Malthouse to confirm that the ended in September 2010.
Today Sir Paul said he had “played no role in the letting or management of that contract.”
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has already referred the contract to Lord Justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry into phone hacking “because the public needs to be reassured that this was not inappropriate.’
By Sunday a number of media outlets were questioning the appropriateness of Sir Paul staying at the Champneys health spa as part of his recovery from a major operation after it emerged that Mr Wallis was working for a contractor of the resort.
Responding to the reports earlier on Sunday, Scotland Yard said “The accommodation and meals were arranged and provided by Stephen Purdew, MD of Champneys, who is a personal family friend [of Sir Paul’s] who has no connection with, or links to, his professional life.”
In his resignation statement Sir Paul reiterated there had been “no impropriety” in his stay at the resort which he had declared.
Of his stay, Sir Paul said: “There has been no impropriety and I am extremely happy with what I did and the reasons for it – to do everything possible to return to running the Met full time, significantly ahead of medical, family and friends’ advice. The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing.”
However the Commissioner said the Met’s hard work was “in danger of being eclipsed by the ongoing debate about relationships between senior officers and the media.”
Earlier this week City Hall Liberal Democrats called for Met officers to ‘record all meetings and hospitality (including receptions, lunches and dinners) with journalists or media executives.”
A letter from Baroness Dee Doocey also called for all “hospitality of a value above £25 accepted by senior officers… to be recorded in a register, updated every month and publicly accessible via the internet.”
Sir Paul was appointed in January 2009 after a power struggle between Mayor of London Boris Johnson and then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith over the appointment of a successor to Sir Ian Blair who resigned in October 2008.
Speaking after the Commissioner’s statement, Mayor Johnson said he had accepted his resignation “with great sadness and reluctance” and described Sir Paul as “a fine, passionate and committed public servant who has done a huge amount of good for our city.”
Praising Sir Paul’s record, Mayor Johnson said the Commissioner had “helped to bring crime down by nine per cent in three years. He has put more officers on the beat, protected safer neighbourhood teams and increased patrols by a million a year on the streets of London.”
“If there has been any wrongdoing by members of the Metropolitan Police it is vital that this should now be exposed and cleared up in the inquiries under way.
“But it is my strong belief that Sir Paul and the overwhelming majority of police officers have dedicated their careers to the public good and for that we owe him and them our thanks.”
Mr Malthouse said the resignation was “very sad” and described Sir Paul as an “honourable public servant” who had served the capital well and been brought down by “innuendo”.
Malthouse promised there would be “an orderly handover” between Sir Paul and his successor.
Jenny Jones, a Green Party London Assembly and MPA member, said Sir Paul had been “looking out of his depth” in an increasingly political situation.
Ms Jones added: “His resigning was the decent thing to do, but I do worry that he is planning to stay on until his successor is found.”
Ken Livingstone, Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate, has called on the Mayor to “get his house in order and end the culture of crisis that has led to a revolving door at New Scotland Yard.”
Livingstone added: “Sir Paul Stephenson is the Police Commissioner Boris Johnson wanted – his appointment flows directly from Johnson’s high-profile ousting of the previous Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. That fact binds Johnson very closely in to decisions taken by senior figures at the Met.”
The former Mayor has also called for Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin to “immediately become the Acting Police Commissioner to take London through the 2012 Games so that there is no vacuum between now and 2012.”
Labour’s lead member on the MPA, London Assembly member Joanne McCartney, said: “This was obviously a very hard and very personal decision for the commissioner. As he has stated, he had become the story, distracting from the day to day running of the police and putting the public’s confidence in them at risk.
“The questions around the Met’s relationships with News International and the way they have handled the hacking investigation have not gone away. We still need answers to these important questions.”
In the coming days Labour are expected to draw a link between the Mayor’s decision to stop chairing the MPA – a role he promised to undertake in his 2008 election manifesto – and the Met’s increasing woes.
Speaking in her capacity as Deputy Chair of the London Assembly, Baroness Doocey said: “It is to Sir Paul’s credit that he has put the future of the force before personal considerations, an example others would do well to emulate.
“We should remember that it is a principle of British justice that you are innocent until proven guilty and we must act on the basis of evidence not suspicion alone.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Sir Paul Stephenson has had a long and distinguished career in the police, and I would like to thank him for his service over many, many years. Under his leadership the Metropolitan Police made good progress in fighting crime, continued its vital work in combating terrorism, and scored notable successes such as the policing of the Royal Wedding.
“What matters most of all now is that the Metropolitan Police and the Metropolitan Police Authority do everything possible to ensure the investigations into phone hacking and alleged police corruption proceed with all speed, with full public confidence and with all the necessary leadership and resources to bring them to an effective conclusion.”
On Wednesday Members of the London Assembly called for greater powers to scrutinise and hold the Met to account as part of planned reforms to policing in the capital.