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Leveson Inquiry: Neil Wallis Gives Second Round Of Evidence To Media Probe

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Ex-News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis
Ex-News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis

Former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis has defended his "symbiotic" relationships to senior Metropolitan police officers as just "how journalism works".

Giving evidence for the second time to the Leveson media inquiry, Walis described his long-standing relationships with Met commissioners and said as an editor he was able to influence the Met's agenda.

But Wallis said he did not give officers "advice" but simply "opinions", and denied he had influence on top appointments inside the force.

Three senior figures in the Metropolitan Police have resigned over their links to Wallis, who has been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and assistant commissioner John Yates stood down last July, and the force's communications chief Dick Fedorcio quit last week.

They all faced criticism over the decision to hire Wallis to provide PR advice for the Met on a £24,000 contract lasting from October 2009 to September 2010.

In his evidence, including a written statement, Wallis described in detail his close "symbiotic" relationships with former commissioners Sir Paul Condon, Lord Stevens and Sir Paul Stephenson.

Stephenson had played down his relationship with Wallis in his own evidence to the inquiry, describing him as a "light acquaintance", but Wallis went further and said he gave "his view" on how he should present himself when going for the top job in the force.

Wallis also said he had a good relationship with Lord John Stevens, both before and after he was commissioner of the Met, but said that he had no influence on whether or not he got the job.

"I find it terribly flattering that you could think I could appoint the commissioner of the Metropolitan police," he said at the inquiry. "When he got [the job] I thought 'happy days'," Wallis said.

Wallis said that building sources, discussing stories and developing contacts was a key aspect of any journalist's work. He compared himself to Guardian journalist Nick Davies and his sources for stories about phone hacking.

"[Davies] didn't meet him last week… That's how journalism works," Wallis said. "Journalism is about contacts".

By contrast Wallis also discussed his poor relationship with Lord Stevens' successor Sir Ian Blair, who did not court the same tabloid relationships.

"He was a man who took a different view from John Stevens," he said. "He wasn't interested in the views of the tabloid or the mid-market press… A very cerebral man."

In particular Sir Ian Blair did not like the fact that while he was commissioner Wallis published a ghost-written column, under Stevens' byline, titled "The Chief". "Mischief is a significant component of newspapers, particularly tabloid newspapers," Wallis said, when asked if he was being "deliberately provocative" by publishing the column.

Wallis also said that in a key agenda-setting interview after the 7/7 bombings, Blair described the shooting of Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station as a "Houston, we have a problem" moment.

That phrase became the headline for the piece when it appeared in the News of the World.

"You'd have to be a blind man living on an island not to know Ian Blair's relationship with the media had been a disaster," Wallis said.

Wallis first gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson in December. He worked at the Daily Star, The Sun and the People before being appointed deputy editor of the News of the World in 2003.

He became the News of the World's executive editor in 2008 and retired from the paper in July 2009.

Wallis was arrested last July as part of the Met's phone hacking investigation, known as Operation Weeting. He was bailed and has not been charged.

Earlier at the inquiry former Suffolk chief detective Stewart Gull, who led the hunt for the 2006 'Suffolk Strangler' who killed five prostitutes near Ipswich, told the inquiry that newspapers hindered his investigation.

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