Top-cop Sir Paul latest victim of phone-hacking scandal

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Britain's top-cop Sir Paul Stephenson is the latest casualty of the phone-hacking scandal tearing at the heart of British establishment.

Stephenson came to power in 2008, boldly warning colleagues: "It is time we all shut up and get on with our jobs", but went out with a whimper following reports he stayed at a luxury spa resort with links to Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Sir Paul, dressed in the Metropolitan force's black uniform, spoke with a faltering voice to defend his integrity and to explain that his departure was essential in allowing the force to prepare for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Stephenson's two years at the top of the Met, also known as Scotland Yard, have been beset by difficulties only thought possible in his worst nightmares.

The man whose first dream was to become a shoe-salesman eventually followed in his brother's footsteps and joined the Lancashire Constabulary in 1975, before wracking up an impeccable record of service.

The 57-year-old impressed during a stint in Northern Ireland and accumulated a wealth of experience in fighting corruption, serious crime and terrorism before taking the top post temporarily in 2008, permanently in 2009.

The first cloud on the horizon arrived when an officer was filmed tackling newsagent Ian Tomlinson, who had the misfortune to wander in front of a police line during G20 protests in London in April 2009.

Tomlinson died soon afterwards and officer Simon Harwood will stand trial in October accused of manslaughter.

Another bout of demonstrations, this time by students, led to Stephenson's next embarrassment in November 2010.

Caught by surprise at the scale and nature of the protests, police were soon overwhelmed leaving students free to invade the building which houses the headquarters of the ruling Conservative party.

Stung by its humiliation, Scotland Yard turned the capital into a fortified camp for the next set of student demonstrations, leading to accusations by schoolchildren that their human rights had been infringed.

Despite the crackdown, police failed to prevent a mob of protesters attacking the Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla.

The vehicle was on its way to a charity function when it was set upon by demonstrators wielding paint and dustbin lids, leading to severe denting and a smashed window.

The picture of a horrified Camilla hit the front pages of newspapers worldwide, but Stephenson resisted calls to quit.

Instead, the chief took several months off while he recuperated from a series of operations to remove a pre-cancerous growth on his leg.

The commissioner returned straight into a firestorm with officers furious over job cuts brought about by budgetary demands and the government demanding explanations over police handling of the original investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Added to criticism of the probe, which was closed in 2009, Stephenson was forced to defend allegations that journalists from the News International title had paid officers for stories.

Stephenson, who was knighted by the queen in 2008, was personally blamed over the force's employment of Neil Wallis as a media advisor.

Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World, was arrested last week over claims he conspired to intercept communications.

Wallis was also working for the luxury hotel which hosted the police chief for five weeks during his convalescence.

The press also questioned why the outgoing boss had shared 18 dinners with News International bosses between 2006 and 2010.

"My integrity is completely intact," protested Stephenson as he announced his decision to leave his station as Britain's top policeman.

© 2011 AFP

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