Integrity me feckin arse!
How Sir Paul Stephenson's £12,000 spa break triggered downfall
Former Metropolitan police chief says he had no reason to suspect adviser of involvement in phone hacking
Sir Paul Stephenson was brought in as a safe pair of hands in December 2009 with the remit of placing the Metropolitan police back on a stable footing following the turbulent reign of Sir Ian Blair.
However, the confidence of senior politicians began to drain away in recent days after the phone-hacking crisis enveloped both News International and the Met.
Just hours before Stephenson's resignation, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told the BBC that a growing public perception of police corruption was deeply concerning.
"I think when the public starts losing faith in the police, it's altogether much more serious and you know you really are in some trouble."
Announcing his resignation, Stephenson admitted he was doing so because of the speculation relating to the Met's links with News International, but also "in particular in relation to Mr Neil Wallis", the former News International executive who was arrested last Thursday, and who it then emerged had worked for the Met.
The Guardian was also preparing to publish a story about how Scotland Yard chiefs invited Wallis to apply for a senior communications post with the force, a decision which Stephenson was aware of.
Stephenson dated his relationship to Wallis back to 2006, a meeting that took place in the context of the latter's work as a journalist.
From October 2009 to September 2010, Wallis's part-time work at the Met involved strategic communications, advising the commissioner and the assistant commissioner, John Yates, as the force said there was no need to reopen the criminal investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World.
The Guardian understands Wallis was approached to apply for the two-day-a-month contract with the Met after discussions which involved the most senior figures in the force. He was the lowest bidder after a tender process and was paid more than £1,000 a day, earning £24,000.
Stephenson said that he had no role in the management of Wallis's contract.
His relationship with Wallis had always been "one maintained for professional purposes and an acquaintance".
He went on: "I have heard suggestions that we must have suspected the alleged involvement of Mr Wallis 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."
Stephenson insisted the contract only became of relevance when Wallis's name became linked with the new investigation into phone hacking, although he admitted that "the interests of transparency might have made earlier disclosure of this information desirable".
But it was with a flash of anger that he addressed the question of his acceptance of around £12,000-worth of hospitality at a health spa for which Wallis worked as a PR consultant. Yesterday's Sunday Times had revealed Stephenson stayed at Champneys in Tring, Hertfordshire, as he recovered from a serious illness.
"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," he said. "The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing."
Wallis had served as deputy to the then NoW editor Andy Coulson during a period when it is alleged there was wide-scale phone hacking at the paper and among private investigators it employed.
Police sources said that the decision to employ Wallis is regretted now, but they insist he had nothing to do with the Met's handling of the phone-hacking controversy. Their account of the appointment is that in 2009, the Met's deputy PR chief was diagnosed with a serious illness, and there was a need for someone to be brought in temporarily. A number of PR firms were "sounded out" about the role, including Wallis's company, Chamy media. A source with knowledge of the Yard's thinking at the time said part of Wallis's attraction was his connection to Coulson, who was a top aide to David Cameron, then in opposition and expected to become prime minister.
Part of the Met's thinking was that Wallis's past connections would help the force's relationship with Cameron: "One [Wallis] is a lot cheaper and gives you direct access into No 10," the source added.
The contract was terminated in September 2010 after new allegations in the media about the extent of hacking at NoW.
It also emerged that Charlie Brooks, the husband of the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, claims to run an alternative treatment therapy centre at Champneys.
Stephenson is a career policeman who was brought up in the Lancashire town of Bacup. He had once wanted to become a shoe salesman, but joined Lancashire constabulary in 1975, following in the footsteps of his elder brother.
His first real test after taking the Met hotseat came within months. The Met was criticised for its handling of the G20 summit protests in London, when thousands of demonstrators clashed with officers.
The most vociferous criticism came after a 47-year-old newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, collapsed and died on the fringes of the demonstrations after a confrontation with police officers.
There were also reports that Stephenson, who received a knighthood in the Queen's birthday honours list last June, offered to stand down after a Rolls-Royce carrying the Prince of Wales and Camilla was mobbed during the riots. Guardian