Analysis: Met police resignations

In less than 24 hours, the Met has lost two of its most senior officers. First to go was the commissioner himself, Sir Paul Stephenson. Next up, despite starting the day resolutely determined to hang on, was John Yates, the head of counter-terrorism.

In the two weeks since it emerged that Milly Dowler's mobile was hacked, the almost relentless pressure has turned a terrible affair into potentially the biggest scandal to engulf the Metropolitan Police in decades.

Sir Paul took the top job in British policing knowing full well that his predecessor, Sir Ian Blair, had come to be seen as damaged goods.

The plain-talking Lancastrian wanted his officers to regard him as a copper first, rather than a politician.

But although Sir Paul has carried the can, an awful lot of its contents is still being spilt as he leaves New Scotland Yard.

And that's why his resignation statement requires very careful reading.

Sir Paul says he quit because of the speculation and accusations relating to the Met's links with senior News International figures and, critically, the decision to give a PR contract to former News of the World executive Neil Wallis.

The public had been completely in the dark about Mr Wallis's temporary employment as a consultant until his arrest last week by detectives from Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking investigation.

Mr Wallis's arrest forced the Met to answer more questions about its relationship with News International.

Eight meetings

Scotland Yard has told the BBC that Sir Paul had eight meetings with senior figures from the News of the World between January 2006 and this year - and a further two including News International figures.

The list does not include other social events where News of the World figures may have been present.

In his resignation statement, Sir Paul said he met Mr Wallis in 2006 as part of his duties to properly inform journalists about police work.

"My relationship with Mr Wallis continued over the following years," he said. "The record clearly accords with my description of the relationship as one maintained for professional purposes and an acquaintance."

Sir Paul has admitted the Met's "severe discomfort" - but critics say they only have themselves to blame. In short, they argue, their judgement has been completely lacking.

Pressure on Yates

And it's these questions of judgement that were ultimately behind the pressure on Assistant Commissioner John Yates to also go.

John Yates last week admitted his "extreme regret" that he did not re-open the hacking probe two years ago. He may have survived that firestorm if it had not been for the detailed facts behind Mr Wallis's appointment.

Mr Yates had to carry out "due diligence" on the contract to Mr Wallis's firm - meaning he had to check that everything was above-board and correct.

Crucially, Mr Wallis had never been linked to phone hacking during the original investigation. Only the Operation Weeting team know the reasons for the arrest but it came after News International had handed over fresh information to the detectives.

And it is against that backdrop that the Met Police Authority wanted to suspend the senior officer, even if it meant removing the UK's top counter-terrorism policeman from post.

So, in the space of two weeks, the scandal has moved from public revulsion over the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's phone to a situation where public trust in police chiefs has been seriously questioned.

Sir Paul's resignation statement included a parting shot to government, noting a key difference between Scotland Yard and Downing Street's relationships with former News of the World figures.

His force, he said, had employed Neil Wallis when it had no knowledge of the former journalist's alleged involvement in hacking.

On the other hand, said Sir Paul, Andy Coulson became the prime minister's spokesman after having already left the News of the World following the conviction of his royal editor.

That distinction has been seized on by the opposition, who have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of failing - since Mr Coulson's arrest - to face up to his error in having employed him.

Mr Cameron, in South Africa, hit back hard saying that he has taken robust action by launching an inquiry into hacking and relations with the press. His line is that he has been completely transparent from day one.

The Metropolitan Police's critics say the force's relationship with the News of the World has left a lot to be desired.

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