Britain’s senior-most police officer, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned on late Sunday as a result of allegations over Scotland Yard’s links to the Rupert Murdoch newspaper at the centre of the phone-hacking scandal.
Earlier on Sunday, Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, was arrested by police investigating allegations of phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World, two days after she resigned as chief executive of the British arm of Murdoch’s News International.
In a statement, Stephenson said: “I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level.”News of the World is alleged to have hacked into the phones of up to 4,000 people, including families of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, a murdered teenager, and victims of the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The police have been accused of a lack of transparency in investigating the hacking allegations and also for taking money from Murdoch’s newspaper.
The media scandal has spread quickly to the political establishment and police, with senior figures asked to explain why they accepted hospitality and “free” benefits from Murdoch associates.
The Telegraph on Sunday reported that Stephenson and his wife enjoyed a free stay in January at a luxury spa promoted by the company of Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor at the News of the World.
According to the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, the commissioner accepted the 12,000-pound stay at the Champneys spa near London to recover from a thigh fracture.
Wallis, who was arrested last week, also worked as a media consultant for the Metropolitan Police.
The placement of former Murdoch employees in police and government jobs is one of the issues critics have seized on.
Stephenson said, “I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact … I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity.”
However, he said that “I must accept that the intense media coverage, questions, commentary and indeed allegations … not only provide excessive distraction both for myself and colleagues, but are likely to continue for some time.”
He also said the speculation would impact the “enormous challenge of policing the Olympics,” which London will host in 2012.
Pressure has also increased on Prime Minister David Cameron after he disclosed that he had 26 official meetings with Rupert Murdoch, his son James and other top executives of News International during his 15 months in office.
Cameron’s personal judgement has come into question because he hired a former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his head of communications after Coulson had been forced to resign from the paper over the phone-hacking affair.
Coulson then resigned in January as Cameron’s press secretary after the scandal re-emerged.