London’s departing police chief revealed Tuesday that 10 of the 45 press officers in his department used to work for News International, but he denied there are any improper links between the force and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Paul Stephenson was giving evidence to a committee of lawmakers investigating wrongdoing at the now-shuttered tabloid News of the World, and allegations of bribery and collusion between Murdoch employees and the police.
“I understand that there are 10 members of the (Department of Public Affairs) staff who have worked in News International in the past, in some cases journalists, in some cases undertaking work experience with the organisation,” he said.
Mr. Stephenson denied wrongdoing, or knowing the newspaper was engaged in phone hacking, but acknowledged that in retrospect he was embarrassed the force had hired a former News of the World editor as a PR consultant.
After being asked about his relationship with Neil Wallis, a former executive editor who was arrested last week, Mr. Stephenson said he had “no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking” when he was hired for the part-time job in 2009.
He said now that the scale of phone hacking at the paper has emerged, it’s “embarrassing” that Mr. Wallis worked for the police.
Mr. Stephenson announced his resignation Sunday, saying allegations about his contacts with Mr. Murdoch’s News International were a distraction from his job.
He was followed out the door by assistant commissioner John Yates, who will also give evidence Tuesday, before a hotly anticipated appearance by Mr. Murdoch, his son James and the media mogul’s former U.K. newspaper chief, Rebekah Brooks,
Murdoch’s car mobbed
Mr. Murdoch’s car was mobbed by photographers as he arrived for a grilling from U.K. lawmakers about the phone hacking scandal that has swept from his media empire through the London police and even to the prime minister’s office.
The elder Murdoch’s Range Rover was surrounded as he arrived at the Houses of Parliament three hours early, and it quickly drove off. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had come back and gone through another entrance.
Politicians will be seeking more details about the scale of criminality at Mr. Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid, while the Murdochs will try to avoid incriminating themselves or doing more harm to their business without misleading Parliament, which is a crime.
Lawmakers are also holding a separate hearing to question London police about reports that officers took bribes from journalists to provide inside information for tabloid scoops and to ask why the force decided to shut down an earlier phone hacking probe after charging only two people.
Detectives reopened the case earlier this year and are looking at a potential 3,700 victims.
London’s Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it had asked watchdog to investigate its head of public affairs over the scandal, the fifth senior police official being investigated. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will look at Dick Fedorcio’s role in hiring a former News of the World executive as an adviser to the police.
Mr. Fedorcio also was to be questioned by lawmakers Tuesday, along with Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Yates.
It was the appearance by the Murdochs and Ms. Brooks that was drawing huge public interest.
Members of the public and journalists lined up hours ahead of time in hope of a spot in the small committee room, which holds about 40 people. More will be able to watch in an overspill room, and Britain’s TV news channels are anticipating high ratings for the appearance.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Africa and is expected to return to Britain for an emergency session Wednesday of Parliament on the scandal.
Former NoTW reporter found dead
A former News of the World reporter, Sean Hoare, who helped blow the whistle on the scandal, was found dead Monday in his home. Police said the death was “unexplained” but is not being treated as suspicious. A post-mortem was being conducted Tuesday. Mr. Hoare was in his late forties.
Ms. Brooks’ spokesman, David Wilson, said police had been handed a bag containing a laptop and papers that belong to her husband, former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks. Mr. Wilson said the bag did not contain anything related to the phone hacking scandal and he expected police to return it soon.
The bag was found dumped in an underground parking lot near the couple’s home on Monday, but it was unclear how exactly it got there. Mr. Wilson said Tuesday that a friend of Mr. Brooks had meant to drop the bag off, but he would say only he left it in the “wrong place.”