London

Phone hacking: Sir Paul Stephenson defends NoW lunches

The Metropolitan Police commissioner has defended a dinner with a News of the World executive during the force's first phone-hacking inquiry.

Sir Paul Stephenson met the paper's executive editor Neil Wallis on 1 September 2006, the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) was told.

Sir Paul said he had "no involvement" with the inquiry at the time.

MPA member Caroline Pidgeon said it was "extraordinary" Sir Paul was "wined and dined" when he had 69 press officers.

She said any of them could have met with Mr Wallis, who was arrested on Thursday as part of a new police investigation, and who was hired as a consultant by the Met from October 2009 to September 2010.

'Satisfied with integrity'

Appearing before an emergency MPA session, Sir Paul was asked about 24 meetings - three-quarters of which were lunches or meals - he had had with representatives from the News of the World.

Sir Paul said it was important to have "appropriate relationships" with the media in order to promote the work of the Met.

But he insisted: "I do not believe on any occasion I have acted inappropriately.

"I am very satisfied with my own integrity but I do accept, in matters such as this we need to acknowledge... that perceptions can be different from the reality."

Ms Pidgeon said it had taken "months and months" of Freedom of Information requests to discover the number of meetings between officers and reporters.

"It seems to me extraordinary and questionable whether it's appropriate for senior officers to have these dinners."

She added: "You have to be whiter than white, and it does not look good that you've had dinners or lunches with News International when an investigation's under way."

'Full picture needed'

London's mayor, Boris Johnson, has held "a very frank discussion" with Sir Paul about the employment of Mr Wallis as a consultant, at a cost of £24,000.

Mr Johnson's spokesperson said the forthcoming public inquiry into phone-hacking would examine the arrangement, "not least because the public needs to be reassured that this was not inappropriate".

The Met originally began an inquiry into phone hacking in 2005 after the News of the World published stories about Prince William's health.

Two people - the newspaper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire - were jailed as a result of the inquiry.

The force oversaw a review in 2009 following allegations that reporters paid private investigators to hack into thousands of phones.

It decided not to press any charges - but a fresh probe has now begun after claims that hacking was widespread.

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