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Blighty's top cop quits over phone-hacking scandal

'Severe discomfort' as Rebekah Brooks cuffed by police

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The phone-hacking scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch's media empire and the Metropolitan police intensified yesterday when Scotland Yard arrested ex-News International boss Rebekah Brooks and the head of the Metropolitan Police - Britain's most senior policeman - resigned after it was revealed he had hired a News of the World executive as a PR consultant.

Brooks was held in police custody for 12 hours on Sunday on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and on suspicion of corruption allegations relating to illegal police payments. The former NotW editor, who only confirmed she had quit News International on Friday, was released at midnight.

Hours after Brooks was arrested, Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resigned from his post.

In a lengthy statement, the commissioner said he wanted to "put the record straight" about his relationship with Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World - the now closed NI tabloid at the centre of the phone-tapping storm.

As we reported last week, Wallis's company Chamy Media was hired by the Met to offer up PR services to Scotland Yard between October 2009 and September 2010.

Wallis has been among the individuals recently under the custody of the Met in connection with voicemail interception allegations.

Following his arrest, immediate questions arose about Wallis's relationship with Scotland Yard. His company's appointment followed Assistant Commissioner John Yates's decision not to re-open the Met's original investigation into phone-hacking claims in 2009.

Stephenson said yesterday that he "played no role in the letting or management of that [Chamy Media] contract".

He added that Scotland Yard had no knowledge at the time that Wallis had any alleged involvement in phone-hacking.

"Let me say unequivocally that I did not and had no reason to have done so. I do not occupy a position in the world of journalism; I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging, nor of its apparent reach into senior levels.

"I saw senior figures from News International providing evidence that the misbehaviour was confined to a rogue few and not known about at the top."

Stephenson said that he did not disclose details of Wallis's PR contract with the Met police sooner due to concerns that it would affect the "integrity" of the current phone-hacking investigation, dubbed Operation Weeting.

He also singled out David Cameron's relationship with one-time News of the World editor and former official spokesman to the Prime Minister Andy Coulson, who was arrested by the police earlier this month.

"Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone-hacking investigation," said Stephenson.

"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.

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

Stephenson insisted his "integrity" was intact but added he was stepping down due to the "excessive distraction" his presence at the helm was causing to the effective running of the Met, which faces a huge logistical challenge in London next year when the Olympics comes to town.

Meanwhile, Brooks isn't the only high-profile management casualty of the scandal that has engulfed Murdoch's multi-billion dollar News Corp business.

On Friday it was confirmed that Les Hinton, Murdoch's right-hand man for 52 years, had also resigned.

Hinton was most recently the CEO of News Corp's Dow Jones company, which publishes the Wall Street Journal newspaper in the US, where claims about alleged phone-hacking into victims of 9/11 carried out by individuals at the News of the World have led to a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"On this difficult day we should appreciate that his extraordinary work has provided a platform for the future success of Dow Jones. And his great contribution to News Corporation over more than five decades has enhanced innumerable lives, whether those of employees hired by him or of readers better informed because of him. News Corporation is not Rupert Murdoch," said Murdoch in a statement.

Hinton was executive chairman of News International during the period when the phone-hacking allegations were said to have taken place.

"That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp and apologise to those hurt by the actions of News of the World,” said Hinton.

He reaffirmed the company's claim, before new evidence came to light, that one rogue reporter was to blame for the original phone-tapping allegations at News International.

"If others had evidence that wrongdoing went further, I was not told about it."

Murdoch, his son James, and Brooks are all expected to face MPs tomorrow afternoon during a public inquiry into the phone-hacking saga. It is unclear how much Brooks will be able to say to the select committee, given her recent arrest. ®

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