Labour has called on London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing to resign or be sacked after he was accused of interfering in the ongoing investigation over phone hacking at the News of the World.
“On several occasions after Operation Weeting had started and I had returned from sick leave, the Chair of the MPA, Kit 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”.
“Whilst understanding his desire to maximise the resources devoted to current issues of crime and public safety, I pointed out that the disclosure requirements arising from the civil cases left us with little choice but to invest significant resources in servicing this matter.
“Additionally the nature of some of the revelations of media behaviour, particularly towards vulnerable members of the public, made a reopening of the investigation inevitable, from an operational viewpoint.”
Sir Paul quit as head of the Met last July after criticism of the Met’s hiring of former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis as a media consultant.
A spokesperson for Mr Malthouse said: “The job of the Chair of the MPA and now, the Deputy Mayor for Policing, is to question and probe the resource allocation decisions of the Commissioner in order to secure an efficient and effective police force for London.
“It was entirely proper, as Paul Stephenson indicated this morning, for Kit Malthouse to probe the reasoning behind the allocation of resources into the phone hacking inquiry. Mr Malthouse has questioned the allocation of resources by the MPS in any number of areas, including knife crime, rape, murder and gangs. His job is to hold the Commissioner to account.
“The Mayor has made it clear that the phone hacking investigation has to be pursued relentlessly and thoroughly.”
However Labour MP Chris Bryant claimed Sir Paul’s evidence “makes it clear that from the highest political level Johnson and Malthouse have intentionally sought to close down the phone-hacking investigation” and said the Deputy Mayor’s claimed actions “amounts to a clear political intervention designed to intimidate the Met into dropping an investigation.”
Mr Bryant said Malthouse “should either resign or Boris Johnson should be forced to sack him.”
In 2010 Mayor Johnson dismissed concerns over the extent of phone hacking as “codswallop” which he said had been “cooked up by the Labour Party”.
The Mayor has since modified his position, stressing that additional revelations mean the police “are now right to be pursing these allegations with the maximum vigour.”
Speaking to the London Assembly in July 2011, the Mayor said : “If you remember the context then, this was at a time when, to the best of my knowledge and to the best of the knowledge of the police and the Crown Prosecuting Service (CPS) there was nothing new in the allegations.
“What I think I was reflecting was my sense of amazement – and this is why I used the word ‘codswallop’ – that the Labour Party seemed to be making such a big thing about this, when they had been in power for a long time, during the period when all this was going on, after the phone hacking thing was exposed and actually did not see fit in that epoch to get quite as indignant as they subsequently became, when the papers concerned switched their support, and they lost the election and so on and so forth.
“I have to say that was how it seemed to me at the time. I will stress that I think it is a fair person who remembers what I said, and will also remember that at the end of my dialogue, as it was with Joanne [McCartney] I said, “Let us be clear, if there are new salient facts that are brought into the public domain about this that actually serve to make a difference to the balance of the evidence, and to convince the police that they really need to take further steps, then I am sure they are doing to do”.
“At that stage I was fully prepared to accept that there could be new facts that would come into the public domain that would force me to change my position. Of course horrible new facts have come into the public domain and I think that the police are now right to be pursing these allegations with the maximum vigour.”
Speaking on ITV last week, the Mayor said: “I think what needs to happen is that I’m afraid this process needs to go on to its conclusion and in so far as there may have been bribery of public officials, that’s very serious and it needs to be chased down and it needs to be stopped.
“But then … I want the caravan to move on. A lot of the police are tying up their time on this. We need them out there.”
Despite his comments on the seriousness of the hacking row, the Mayor’s administration has previously defended hiring out City Hall for the making of a Channel 4 spoof.
Commenting on today’s claims, Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate and former Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Brian Paddick said: “It is quite right for the Mayor’s deputy on policing to question the commissioner as to the level of resources devoted to an investigation.
“However, once the commissioner has answered, for Kit Malthouse to continue pressuring the Met to back away from phone hacking is political interference with the commissioner’s operational independence.”
Minutes of an Metropolitan Police Authority meeting held on June 30th 2011 record members questioning the former Commissioner on comments made before the Home Affairs Select Committee about resource levels.
The document, available on the MPA’s archive site, records the discussion as follows:
“6.33 At a recent meeting of a Home Affairs Select Committee, members stated that the Commissioner had stated that he would rather use the resource being used on the phone hacking review on investigating burglary. Members asked if this was the case and would he now divert some of the resources onto burglary.
“6.34 The Commissioner stated that in terms of resourcing what he was trying to refer to was that the MPS have to manage with infinite resources but it was right and proper for the MPS to investigate phone hacking. He added that in relation to the current resourcing of the phone hacking investigation the MPS would be looking at current recourse levels.”