LONDON, Jul 18 – Rupert Murdoch’s former aide Rebekah Brooks was bailed on Monday, hours after Britain’s top police officer resigned as the phone hacking scandal finally tore into the heart of the British establishment.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said he was quitting due to speculation about his links to Murdoch’s empire and the force’s botched investigation into hacking at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
His shock announcement came just hours after police arrested Brooks – who resigned on Friday as head of News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper arm – on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing police.
“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,” Stephenson said in a hastily arranged televised statement.
Prime Minister David Cameron called it “a very sad occasion for him,” adding “I wish him well for the future.”
However, the police chief took a sideswipe at Cameron and his government during his resignation speech despite Home Secretary Theresa May’s insistence that she was “sincerely sorry” to see him go.
Stephenson was linked to former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis in reports on Sunday which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis was a PR consultant.
The force, which reopened the investigation into hacking in January, six years after it first broke, is already facing questions about why it hired Wallis as an advisor two months after he quit the tabloid.
Wallis was arrested last week.
“Let me state clearly, I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact,” Stephenson said. “I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity.”
May was due to address parliament later on Monday over Scotland Yard’s employment of Wallis.
Cameron meanwhile faced questions about his decision to invite his former media chief Andy Coulson, another ex-News of the World editor, to his country residence in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.
Cameron hired Coulson, who was arrested and bailed by police earlier this month, after the former editor had resigned from the tabloid over the scandal.
Stephenson highlighted this act when defending his force’s decision to employ Wallis.
“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,” he said.
The scandal first emerged when two people were convicted over phone hacking at the News of the World in 2006, but did not explode until July 4 when it emerged that one of the victims was a murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.
The flame-haired Brooks, one of Murdoch’s closest lieutenants, was editor of the News of the World at the time that Dowler’s voicemail messages were hacked and deleted.
Murdoch closed the paper last Sunday, starting a week of chaos in which he had to abandon his bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and accept the resignations on Friday of both Brooks and Dow Jones chief Les Hinton, who had worked with him for 52 years.
Brooks’ spokesman David Wilson confirmed the former editor had been released at around midnight (2300 GMT) following 12 hours of questioning by police and had been instructed to report back to a London police station in late October.
Wilson warned the arrest could affect her planned testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday over the spiralling scandal alongside Murdoch and his son James, the chairman of News International.
“At the moment today’s events do somewhat change potentially her ability to attend the hearing. There will be discussions between her lawyers and the select committee over the next 24 to 36 hours,” Wilson told AFP.
“The fact that she has been arrested clearly has implications and so it is by no means a certainty that she will be able to attend, despite wishing to,” he added.
He said senior officers had told Brooks earlier in the week that she would not be arrested.
Scotland Yard confirmed that a 43-year-old woman “was arrested by appointment at a London police station by officers” on Sunday.
It said she was quizzed “in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking”.
Brooks, 43, is the 10th person and most senior Murdoch aide to be arrested over the scandal so far. At a previous hearing in 2003 she admitted the paper had made payments to police.