John Yates Resigns; Boris Johnson On The Defensive

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 82 months ago
John Yates Resigns; Boris Johnson On The Defensive

Phone hacking: it's never going to end, is it? Less than 24 hours after Sir Paul Stephenson quit as Met Commissioner (read more about his resignation and the background to the Met's involvement in the hacking scandal in our post from last night), Assistant Commissioner John Yates has also stepped down.

If you're struggling to keep up (and we wouldn't blame you), he's the man who conducted two reviews of the phone hacking evidence, in 2009 and 2010, and managed to find nothing new at all in all those notebooks that Operation Weeting are now finding loads of new stuff in. But what appears to have brought him down is his links to Neil Wallis, former executive editor at the News of the World, who was employed by the Met as a PR advisor between October 2009 and September 2010. Turns out it was Yates's job to perform due diligence and he didn't come up with any issues about hiring a man from a paper his force had been investigating. We don't think we're going out on a limb when we say 'checking stuff' possibly isn't John Yates's strong point.

Boris Johnson dropped an - accidental? - bombshell on Radio 4 Today earlier when he said the Professional Conduct Committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority were meeting this morning to review the latest allegations. They decided to suspend him for the duration of an investigation and so, despite insisting all day he would not go, Yates decided to go. Cressida Dick - infamously in charge of the operation that resulted in Jean Charles de Menezes's death - will take over his position. Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin becomes Acting Commissioner while a permanent replacement for Stephenson is found, and former Merseyside Chief Constable Bernard Hogan Howe steps into Godwin's old role.

Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: to lose one senior Met officer may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. And so Boris Johnson had the unenviable task of conducting a press conference immediately after the resignation was confirmed. No wonder he was tetchy and flapping, at one point struggling to recall Neil Wallis's name.

The Mayor called both resignations "regrettable, but in both cases, right", before paying tribute to the work of both Stephenson and Yates. He then came under stern questioning from assembled journalists. He was asked whether he displayed sufficient leadership over the issue, and never quite managed to answer questions about whether he took action based on information that was being released by the Guardian and from his own insight and experience as a hacking victim.

Johnson also continued to insist he has "absolutely no reason" to think there was anything inappropriate about the relationship between the Met and News of the World staff, despite the reams of recent revelations. He had to be asked twice about his previous flippant attitudes towards the hacking affair, eventually admitting

I used that colourful language [codswallop] because, based on the information I was getting from the police, Labour was ramping up the pressure on Andy Coulson in number 10, and Rupert Murdoch, because they were now out of power. They'd lost the support of the Sun, they were bitter and vengeful and OK, I misunderstood the severity of the accusations but that was because no-one had briefed me about what was in the rubbish sacks... I was listening to what [Yates] was saying on counter terrorism and I was more interested in what he was saying on that... It's not my role to say 'go back and look at that'.

And yet, as the Mayor also stated clearly during the press conference, he is the democratically accountable authority for policing in London, why shouldn't he have said 'go back and look at that'? When Kit Malthouse declared, two years ago, that he and Boris had their "hand on the tiller" of the Met, isn't this the precise kind of "distraction" they should have been steering away from?

Photo by daejn from the Londonist Flickr pool

Last Updated 18 July 2011