An official at Number 10 advised the Metropolitan Police against informing the prime minister that the former deputy editor of the News of the World, Neil Wallis, had been connected with allegations over phone hacking, it has emerged.
Wallis formerly worked under Andy Coulson at the News of the World, while Coulson was the paper's editor. Wallis later became a part-time PR consultant with the Metropolitan police, earning £1,000 a day, two days a month.
The outgoing Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, made the revelation during his appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee this lunchtime.
However Sir Paul insisted that here was no conflict of interest in his decision not to inform the prime minister. He told MPs, "You might not like the answer, but it's in line with advice from a senior official, I just would not want to open up the prime minister ... to any allegations ... that they might be compromised. The reason why I wouldn't tell the mayor is exactly the same reason."
""Why did I not tell the prime minister before Wallis' name was connected with phone hacking? I would have no reason to," Sir Paul said. I had no reason to. I had no knowledge of the previous inquiry, and had been given assurances by a Chief Constable that there was nothing new."
Sir Paul also said, "I do not believe that the prime minister would be compromised. All I was trying to do was guide him."
He later clarified his position, saying: "I did not say that a senior official told me, it is my understanding that is consistent with the advice from a senior official."
Sir Paul said he didn't know who the official was, but suggested that Former Assistant Commissioner John Yates might know who that official was.
Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as the head of London's police force on Sunday, because of revelations that he had been given free lodgings at the luxury resort Champney's, while recovering from an illness. Neil Wallis also worked for the resort.
He told MPs that he wasn't aware that Wallis had been connected to the resort, saying it was "damnably unlucky that it seems Wallis was connected with this".
Sir Paul is the first in a series of high-profile witnesses before Commons committees this afternoon, all appearing in connection with alleged phone hacking and police corruption. Former Assistant Commissioner John Yates - who resigned yesterday - will appear shortly.
During Tuesday's lunchtime evidence Sir Paul was asked why he did not question the decision by the Met to hire Wallis, given his connections to News International. He was reminded by a report by the Information Commissioner's Office, which suggested that the News of the World had been involved in more than 200 cases of phone hacking.
He said: "That report mentioned News of the World and other newspapers. When I became Commissioner I looked at the risks ... and I have to say, and of course it's regrettable with hindsight... there was no reason for that to be on my desk, even with that report."
At the start of the hearing, committee chairman Keith Vaz, highlighted Sir Paul's resignation statement, in which he said:
Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation.
Vaz suggested that this constituted as swipe at the prime minister. Sir Paul replied: "I was taking no such swipe at the prime minister. I do agree with the PM when he says this is entirely different."
When asked to clarify this, Sir Paul said: "When Mr Coulson resigned ... by definition he associated his name with hacking. That is simply and blindingly obvious. I had no reason to doubt Mr Wallis' integrity. That is the difference. I was just trying to give an example that Mr Wallis' name never came into hacking."
Sir Paul insisted at the time he took up the post of Commissioner that he saw no reason to doubt the original police investigation into phone hacking, a probe now known to have been deeply flawed. Sir Paul said it was "very regrettable" that the information now known about phone hacking wasn't discovered in the original investigation.
He signed off saying: "I sincerely regret that Mr. Yates has gone. I think the work he has done, particularly in counter-terrorism in this country, has been splendid, and I think we're the poorer for his passing."
|@ LouiseMensch : I can say that very many people wanted to end the session right there, and Mr. Murdoch personally insisted on answering my questions.|
Check out our bloggers' reactions to the hearings.
|@ SkyNewsBreak : Protester has been suspended from the Labour Party following attack on Rupert Murdoch|
"For those people who watched the broadcast they would have seen me ask about the culture in the newsroom with some incredulity that it was all the news desk apparently, it was boys behaving badly without editors knowing because I know that on difficult stories, editors always ask you where did the story come from? They might not ask you the source but they always ask you to stand it up, particularly if it’s got legal ramifications and the news desk is part and parcel of the operations, the heartbeat of a newspaper and for an editor simply not to know what was going on I still find very difficult to believe."
She says she believes the committee covered a lot of group. "It was a good day for parliament."
He says: "We don't want a press where dubious and illegal things go on with the complicity of the police."
"The thing which immediately was clear was that predictions in both the cases of Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks that somehow they would be restrained from answering and might sort of try and plead the fifth that did not take place. Obviously there are ongoing police investigations and potential criminal proceedings but none the less they did appear to want to try to be as helpful as they could...
"I mean Rupert Murdoch perhaps understandably said the News of the World was only a very small part of the global enterprise he runs, but none the less I think some members found it very difficult to believe that he was completely unaware of some of the activities which were being exposed and indeed the illegal activities and subsequent convictions."
The news that Neil Wallis was informally advising Andy Coulson without the knowledge of any of the other senior figures in the Tory party is a reminder of just how dysfunctional the Tory party machine was pre-election. It is also an indication of the license that Coulson was afforded. The Tories cannot say if anyone else offered Coulson this kind of ‘informal advice’.
The culture committee chair tells the BBC: "I think there will need to be a full investigation as to how this happened."
Brooks finishes her evidence session, asks to come back when she is free from "legal constraints".
"I have never been horse-riding with the prime minister", she adds: "The truth is that he is a neighbour and a friend but I deem the relationship to be wholly appropriate and at no time have I ever had any conversation with the prime minister that you in the room would disapprove of."
She adds that Andy Coulson's appointment was George Osborne's idea, not hers, and she did not discuss Coulson's suitability with David Cameron. "The idea came from George Osborne."
Brooks says she hasn't been to Number 10 whilst David Cameron was PM. But she's seen Cam numerous times.
"I was not aware Neville Thurlbeck [lead reporter] was a police informant."
"Who do I trust? The whole newsroom and the whole basis of the newsroom is based on trust."
"It would not have been the case that someone said 'oh yes, that came from an illegal voicemail interception',... at the time it wasn't a practice that was condoned or sanctioned at the news of the world under my editorship."
She says there would have been questions asked about every article in the paper: "There would have been a process around every story"
Now Therese Coffey is asking questions.
|@ EMMAGKELLER : Ladbrokes now 2/1 that Cameron will be replaced as Tory leader before next general election.|
|@ Ed_Miliband : Dramatic Day.Now David Cameron has a duty to uphold dignity of the PMs Office by answering fully the Qs he faces about this scandal #hacking|
More on Milly Dowler: "I don't know anyone who would think it was a right or honourable thing to do, now or at any time."
Brooks said she first heard that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked when the story broke in the media. "My instant reaction was one of shock and disgust that a family that had suffered so much already, that these allegations had added to their suffering."
From Number 10:
There have been some questions about whether the Conservative Party employed Neil Wallis. We have double checked our records and are able to confirm that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.
It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of any advice.
We can confirm that apart from Andy Coulson, neither David Cameron nor any senior member of the campaign team were aware of this until this week.
Brooks asked why News International was paying Glenn Mulcaire's legal fees and Andrew Sheridan's legal fees.
Brooks says Mulcaire's legal fees were paid because he was a co-defendant in a civil case.
On Coulson she says: "When (he) left the NOTW he had an agreement that all matters relating to this his legal fees would be paid."
|@ annajleach : there it is RT @kevinmarks: here's the voicemail quote from p279 of @piersmorgan's book that @LouiseMensch mentioned: http://bit.ly/nuyJPO|
|@ KateEMcCann : "every single one of them will be offered a job" < Brooks about former #NOTW staff, good news @dpcoverdale|
Brooks deals with the phrase "more to come" which she used when breaking the news of the closure of the NOTW to explain the decision.
The journalists were "very sad and baffled" by the decision, she said. "Once you have broken the trust with the readers there's not much going back."
Brooks: "I've never paid a policeman myself... I've never knowingly sanctioned the payment of a policeman myself."
In my experience the evidence police give to newspapers is free of charge.
Brooks asked whether it's credible that, as Paul Dacre said, the Daily Mail has never run a story based on phone hacking or blagging.
She said she didn't see the evidence but News International one of the only companies to openly welcome the PM's inquiry.
|@ paulwaugh : Brooks says NoTW managing editor Kuttner "may hv discussed payments to me..I can't remember"|
|@ arusbridger : Here's the list on page 10. NotW 5th on the list. Guardian not there. http://t.co/FWRGGQJ|
|@ Herring1967 : I think most political stories would get more coverage and attention if there were pies in them|