Second British cop quits as PM pressed over hacking

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's phone-hacking scandal claimed the scalp of a second top policeman Monday as Prime Minister David Cameron called an emergency parliament session on a row that has tarnished his own position.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who refused to reopen an investigation into the now-defunct News of the World tabloid in 2009, resigned a day after the departure of John Stephenson, the chief of London's Metropolitan Police.

Yates had expressed regret last week over his earlier decision that the inquiry into the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper did not need to be revived, but pinned the blame on Murdoch's empire for failing to cooperate.

"Assistant Commissioner John Yates has this afternoon indicated his intention to resign to the chair of the MPA (Metropolitan Police Authority)," said a Scotland Yard statement. "This has been accepted."

Yates was one of the Met's most senior officers and had responsibility for special operations.

As the scandal kept scything through the heart of the British establishment, Cameron was forced to defend his own position after Stephenson took a swipe at his own decision to hire a former News of the World editor as his spokesman.

Stephenson quit on Sunday over the force's hiring of Neil Wallis -- who was deputy to Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson at the tabloid -- and over a spa break he accepted from a firm where Wallis was a consultant.

"I don't believe the two situations are the same in any way, shape or form," Cameron told a joint news conference in Pretoria with South African President Jacob Zuma when asked about the troubles at Scotland Yard.

Coulson resigned from Downing Street in January and was arrested on July 8.

Cameron had already cut short his trip to Africa from four days to two, and after demands from the opposition Labour Party he said that he now wanted to delay parliament's summer break for a day to give a statement to MPs.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband piled pressure on Cameron -- who has also faced criticism for his social contacts with Murdoch aides -- by calling on the Conservative premier to apologise for hiring Coulson.

"It is his failure to do that that now draws the sharp contrast between his actions and the honourable actions of Sir Paul Stephenson who resigned over the hiring of Mr Coulson's deputy," he said.

Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper arm and editor of the News of the World when it allegedly hacked a teenage murder victim's phone, was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of hacking and bribing police.

Her lawyer Stephen Parkinson said she was "not guilty of any criminal offence" and said Scotland Yard would have to account for the "enormous reputational damage" to the 43-year-old.

He said she still planned to testify alongside the Australian-born Murdoch and his son James, who is chairman of his father's British newspaper operation News International, before a committee of British lawmakers on Tuesday.

At a previous hearing in 2003 the flame-haired Brooks, the 10th person and most senior Murdoch aide to be arrested over the scandal, admitted the paper had made payments to police.

An original police investigation into the tabloid in 2006 led to the jailing of its former royal editor and a private investigator, but it later emerged that thousands more celebrities, royals and even crime victims also had their voicemails targeted by alleged "industrial-scale" hacking.

Despite allegations that the Sunday paper had also paid police for information, Yates refused to reopen the investigation, but Scotland Yard finally decided to revive the probe in January this year.

The chairman of a British parliamentary committee which grilled Yates last week told him his evidence had been "unconvincing".

Senior police officers have since faced criticism for having a series of dinners with top News of the World executives.

Murdoch's US-based News Corp. is in crisis, having also had to abandon its bid for full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and accept the resignations on Friday of Dow Jones chief Les Hinton, who had worked with him for 52 years.

Shares in News Corp. plummeted 5.82 percent in Australian trade on Monday.

© 2011 AFP

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