Sir Paul Stephenson resigns

By Ian Dunt

Sir Paul Stephenson has resigned as Metropolitan police commissioner in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The resignation follows another dramatic day of developments across London, as Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the News of the World, was arrested and questioned by police over allegations of phone-hacking and payments to police.

While news of the arrest spread, Sir Paul endured a day of controversy over his relationship with Neil Wallis, a former executive editor at the News Of The World.

Mr Wallis had previously been linked to the Met via a communications consultancy role he took on after he left the newspaper. It was revealed this morning that he was working in a PR role for a health resort where the Met commissioner had stayed for free after an operation, saving up to £12,000.

"The contracting of Mr Wallis only became of relevance when his name became linked with the new investigation into phone hacking," Sir Paul said in a statement this evening.

"I recognise that the interests of transparency might have made earlier disclosure of this information desirable. However my priority, despite the embarrassment it might cause, has been to maintain the integrity of Operation Weeting [the current police investigation into phone-hacking].

"To make it public would have immediately tainted him and potentially compromised any future Operation Weeting action."

Several senior figures in Westminster, including the Home Office minister and the deputy prime minister, had refused to offer Sir Paul their full support today as the controversy rumbled on.

Home secretary Theresa May was tabled to make a statement on the Met commissioner in the Commons tomorrow – a move that may have forced Sir Paul's hand.

"Once Mr Wallis's name did become associated with Operation Weeting, I did not want to compromise the prime minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson [Andy Coulson – former News Of The World editor and head of communications in Downing Street].

"I am aware of the many political exchanges in relation to Mr Coulson's previous employment – I believe it would have been extraordinarily clumsy of me to have exposed the prime minister, or by association the home secretary, to any accusation, however unfair, as a consequence of them being in possession of operational information in this regard. Similarly, the Mayor.

"Because of the individuals involved, their positions and relationships, these were I believe unique circumstances."

Labour seized on the resignation to turn up the pressure on David Cameron, amid speculation about the impact of the development on the prime minister.

"It is striking that Sir Paul has taken responsibility and answered questions about the appointment of the deputy editor of the News of the World whereas the prime minister still refuses to recognise his misjudgement," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

“It is also a very serious concern that the Met commissioner felt unable to tell the prime minister and the home secretary about this operational issue with Neil Wallis because of the prime minister's relationship with Andy Coulson.

"It appears that their compromised relationship with Andy Coulson has put the commissioner in a very difficult position and made it even harder for the Met to maintain confidence around this difficult issue.”

Sir Paul said that his decision to stay at the Champney resort was due to his relationship with the owner and that it had allowed him to return to week several weeks earlier than expected.

"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 statement said.

"The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing."

In a long and remarkable statement, Sir Paul said that he was resigning because speculation over his integrity made it difficult for the Met to prepare for the 2012 Olympics and other upcoming events.

"With hindsight, I wish we had judged some matters involved in this affair differently. I didn't and that's it," he wrote.

"I do not believe this on its own would be a matter for me to consider my position as commissioner.

"However, the issue of my integrity is different. Let me state clearly, I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact.

"I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity."

The surprise resignation at the top of the police force confirms that the phone-hacking scandal is now affecting several parts of the British political establishment.

The Met has been under intense scrutiny over its failure to thoroughly analyse an evidence trove obtained from Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator convicted of phone-hacking during the original investigation.

The police failed to identify the tens of thousands of names in his files or contact the people involved.

A review several years later by assistant commission John Yates then failed to re-open the case following a Guardian expose.