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19 July 2011

Home affairs committee: live blog

Minute-by-minute coverage of Sir Paul Stephenson, Dick Fedorcio, and John Yates' appearance in front

By Samira Shackle

Press refresh or F5 for updates.

14.46pm: To close, he says that it was not a police failing, but a failing of News International. He says he has stood up and been accountable, and it is now time for others to do the same. “Who?” “I think that’s very clear — News International.”

14.45pm: Yates says he knew nothing about Brooks’ arrest before the day.

14.43pm: Sir Paul said that the PM has hired someone from NotW, so why shouldn’t the Met – does Yates agree? He says it doesn’t give a complete assurance, but he had no reason to think it should be different for them.

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14.38pm: The Murdochs are appearing in front of the culture and media committee. My colleague Duncan Robinson will be covering that.

14.33pm: He is being asked again about his accusation that News International hindered the investigation. Does he accept that wrong-doers do not always co-operate? This is almost exactly the same question he was asked last week.

14.27pm: Yates says he has accepted that the Met’s approach to the victims of phone-hacking has not been satisfactory. Once again, he defends his decision not to repon the hacking case in 2009, saying the he had been told that the original evidence had been inspected by counsel. He says the review was prompted by an article in a newspaper, so it’s not as if a body had been found. Newspapers run interesting stories all the time, but police don’t launch investigations because of them.

14.23pm: Yates says that he met Andy Coulson but didn’t discuss phone-hacking with him.

14.17pm: Just as the buck was passed to him, now Yates passes the buck again, repeating last week’s accusation that News International embarked on a deliberate campaign to mislead police. This will be put to the Murdochs and Rebekah Brook at the culture and media committee shortly.

14.14pm: Wasn’t it odd that he didn’t ask Wallis about phone-hacking at the time when he was deupty editor at NotW, since the story was already in the public domain? Yates says that Wallis is an innocent man and was never a suspect. He says “I accept that it looks odd now, but he was never a suspect”.

14.11pm: Vaz follows up on Stephenson’s comments earlier and asks which officials were trying to “protect the prime minister” from certain information — namely, theemployment of Mr Wallis. Yates says in 2010 there was an offer to brief Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewlyn, to explain what a “scoping exercise” was following a New York Times article. The offer was rejected, he says.

14.07pm: Both Fedorcio and Stephenson repeatedly passed the buck by saying that questions over Wallis’ appointment should be referred to Yates. To start off, he says it is “slightly over-egging the pudding” to suggest he had carried out “due diligence” — he just sought categorical assurances from Wallis that there was nothing in his professional history that would embarrass the force.

On accusations of nepotism — getting Wallis’ daughter a job at the Met — he says he “acted as a postbox” and forwarded her CV to HR.

14.03pm: “I’m not sure we’re any clearer at the end of this session than we were when we started,” says Vaz. This is all gearing up for lots of questions for Yates, who has now come before MPs.

13.59pm: Fedorcio says the first time he became aware of phone-hacking was when he came back from leave in August 2006. The only dinner he attended with Andy Hayman and News International was before this, in April 2006, while the hacking investigation was happening. He says he had no knowledge at the time of the investigation — it would have been inappropriate for him to know at the time as he is not briefed on operational matters.

13.55pm: Despite the scrutiny, you really can’t believe who recommended Wallis? MPs say. Fedorcio confirms that he cannot remember, but says it was “certainly not” Rebekah Brooks or anyone else at News International. MP points out that he can’t be sure of this since he doesn’t remember. This is reminiscent of the hostile tone adopted last week — MPs are clearly getting frustrated.

13.53pm: “You thought it was a good idea for Mr Yates to do due diligence on a new employee who worked for News of the World because he had been investigating News of the World employees?” Blackwood sounds incredulous.

Fedorcio is flailing as Blackwood asks about how much he knew about Yates’ relationship with Wallis. He repeats that he had no reason to doubt his integrity. “It’s not about his integrity,” she says. In hindsight, did he do the right thing? He says he certainly wouldn’t appoint him knowing what he knows now.

Relentless questioning on this topic highlights cosy relationships at the top. Yates and Wallis were close friends since 1998.

13.49pm: Blackwood questions the fact that Fedorcio allowed Yates to carry out due diligence on Wallis even though he knew that the two men were personal friends. Fedorcio says “I trust the integrity of Mr Yates” and asserts that he had no reason to doubt this. He adds that he specifically asked Yates about it because of his involvement with the phone-hacking case.

13.45pm: Wallis was employed to help with “corporate policy matters” — not “operational activity” says Fedorcio. He says he “never” discussed the phone-hacking scandal with Wallis. “Never?” asks an MP. “No, never”.

He says he never said he didn’t know it was going on — just that he never discussed it with Wallis.

13.43pm: Fedorcio is being questioned about the assurances that Yates gave him about Wallis — namely that there was nothing in his past that would cause embarrassment. Did it not occur to him to ask Wallis himself about what went on at the paper while he was there? Fedorcio says Yates asking Wallis once was quite enough

13.41pm: Fedorcio says he had known Wallis as a colleague since 1997, but did not socialise with him outside work.

13.38pm: Why was Wallis employed? Fedorcio says that his deputy was seriously ill and needed assistance because he was under great pressure. He says he needed someone with the right background, experience and knowledge. Vaz interrupts Fedorcio’s lengthy explanation of the type of contract required to ask “Why him?” given that NotW was investigated in 2006.

13.37pm: Fedorcio says he wants to be “open and helpful” but has not had time to take legal advice since being referred to the IPPC. Vaz says all the committee’s witnesses have been referred to the IPCC, and it didn’t hold back Sir Paul Stephenson.

13.35pm: On behalf of the committee, Vaz thanks Stephenson for his courtesy and wishes him the best for the future. Dick Fedorcio, director of public affairs at the Met, is now giving evidence.

13.32pm: Where does this leave the Met, asks Keith Vaz. Sir Paul says he regrets that Yates has gone, but he is confident the Met will recover. These events have “certainly not been helpful”. The Met needs to handle the media differently. He has explained why he has resigned, and does not need to add to his public speech, but would like to put on record that he is not leaving because he was pushed, or because of lack of support from top politicians.

13.31pm: Stephenson says he doesn’t know anything more about the death of Sean Hoare than what is in the public domain.

13.24pm: Finally, Stephenson is asked the name of the official at No 10 who advised him not to tell Cameron about Wallis. He says that he doesn’t know and the committee will have to ask Yates. It is significant that someone at No 10 knew about Wallis.

13.19pm: Nicola Blackwood wants to clarify that the nature of evidence available was not made known to him by his officers. Stephenson says it was not.

13.12pm: MP asks: There was a mass of material which we now know was not reviewed at that time. Does that surprise you?

Stephenson repeats that there was no reason to suspect that the original investigation was not successful, so it is not a surprise. It is a matter for Yates.

13.08pm: “Do we accept that the Hayman/Clarke investigation was not as thorough as it could have been?” Stephenson says that Clarke ran it, and is a man of great integrity. He doesn’t say the same of Andy Hayman. Whether the investigation was adequate is a matter for the judicial review.

13.03pm: Nicola Blackwood asks whether “some of the relationships were clouded by friendship”, having said that Yates thought Wallis was a great guy despite perceptions of him in the newsroom. Stephenson says he has no reason to believe that, and that he cannot make a comment on it. The committee should ask Yates.

12.57pm: Sir Paul told the Guardian in February 2010 that their coverageof phone-hacking was inappropriate. Did Wallis advise on this? Stephenson says he never spoke to Wallis about phone-hacking.

12.51pm: He is being asked whether it is realistic to think that Coulson didn’t know about Wallis’ job. Isn’t it odd a deputy editor and an editor of the same publication ended up working for the PM and the commisioner of the Met? Stephenson has interjected to say that it’s a distortion to say that Wallis worked for him.

He says he cannot recall meeting Coulson before David Cameron became prime ministe, and never met Coulson and Wallis together.

12.47pm: James Clappison asks why Stephenson told the Guardian their coverage of the phone-hacking issue was exaggerated. He says he relied on assurances from Yates.

12.44pm: It is pointed out to him that he has 18 dinners with News of the World and seven or eight with Wallis over a five year period. Why was it necessary to have that much wining and dining with the News of the World, and did he have similar arrangements with other newspapers?

Stephenson says there needs to be greater transparency and that police need to change the way they do things: not just transparency, but the ethical underpinnings of how they do things with the media. He says that 17 per cent of his contacts were with NotW, who represent 16 per cent of press readership. He says that News International has 42 per cent of the market readership, and it was “not my decision” to make them so dominant.

12.40pm: Stephenson is being pressed on why no-one at the Met knew about Wallis’ connection with Champneys. He says he is confident that no-one knew about it, as Wallis did not declare it. This includes John Yates, despite the fact that he is a personal friend of Wallis’.

12.37pm: Phone-hacking was not my priority, says Sir Paul — high profile cases like the “Night Stalker” took precedence, and there was no reason to believe that phone-hacking hadn’t been a successful operation.

Laughs at an embarrassing slip of the tongue by Stephenson: “When I took over as prime minister…”

12.32pm: Again, Stephenson is being asked about the fact that he said he would not discuss Wallis with the PM because of his close ties to Coulson. He repeats that he did not want to risk any allegation that the PM could be compromised. He says that he did not tell the Mayor that Brooks was going to be arrested, either — for exactly the same reason. If Labour wanted extra ammunition from Stephenson about Cameron’s judgement, they are not getting it.

12.29pm: Bridget Phillipson is asking whether his resignation could have been avoided if the Met had told the Home Office earlier about Wallis’ work for them. Stephenson says he prioritises the integrity of the force over his personal embarrassment.

12.25pm: Stephenson says he knew that Rebekah Brooks would be arrested one or two days before she was. “I can’t remember exactly”.

12.21pm: MPs are not letting Stephenson off the hook about those Cameron comments. He is asked: what about the suggestion that Cameron was somehow compromised? Why did Stephenson not disclose Wallis’ employment? Stephenson says he had no reason to reveal such a minor employment. He says he did not want to cast doubt on the PM’s character with his comments, but didn’t want to open up the charge of impropriety — a sensible perspective. He says that believes this was on the advice of someone at Number 10.

12.16pm: Vaz asks Stephenson to clarify his comparison between his employment of Wallis, and David Cameron’s employment of Andy Coulson. Was he taking a swipe at the PM? Stephenson blames media speculation and says: “I was taking no such swipe at the prime minister”. He says that he made no personal attack, agrees with the PM that the two appointments were completely different, and cannot control what the media says.

12.12pm: Vaz asks Stephenson why he resigned, since he says he did nothing wrong. Stephenson said he never wanted the story to be about him, and with the Olympics so close it would not be responsible to continue in his post amid continuing speculation. Vaz says that leaving did not seem to be on his mind last week — what changed? Stephenson says that he is unapologetic about the Champneys story,but discovering that there was a link between Neil Wallis and Champneys led to his resignation.

12.11pm: The committee has now kicked off, a little late. Keith Vaz has started by thanking Sir Paul Stephenson for his consistent co-operation with parliement. Perhaps the tone today will be less hostile than it was at last week’s hearing.

11.36am: Hello and welcome to the live-blog. Stay tuned for live coverage from 12pm. In the meantime, here is the running order for this committee:

12pm: Sir Paul Stephenson, the outgoing commissioner of the Metropolitan police, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.

12.45pm: Dick Fedorcio, director of public affairs at the Met, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.

1.15pm: John Yates, who resigned yesterday as assistant commissioner at the Met, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.

The Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks will be grilled by the culture committee at 2.30pm and 3.30pm respectively. The home affairs committee will then resume with the following witnesses:

5.30pm: Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.

6pm: Keir Starmer, the current director of public prosecutions, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.

6.20pm: Mark Lewis, the solicitor representing the Dowler family, gives evidence to the home affairs committee.