Scotland Yard’s two top police commanders have quit their posts as a result of a spreading phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom, according to reports in the Associated Press and UK-based media.
UK Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resigned Sunday evening, while Assistant Commissioner John Yates quit Monday afternoon.
Cayman Islands residents will be familiar with Mr. Yates as the police commander who oversaw a two-year, $10 million corruption investigation into the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service known as Operation Tempura. Mr. Yates was instrumental in the hiring of the probe’s Senior Investigating Officer Martin Bridger, an audit later found.
Operation Tempura and subsequent spin off investigations have never led to the conviction of anyone for anything. A former member of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly and a suspended deputy police commissioner were brought up on charges in connection with Tempura, but both were acquitted at trial.
Mr. Yates was the police official who decided in 2009 not to reopen a police inquiry into the UK phone hacking and alleged police bribery by journalists with the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World. Mr. Yates said at the time he did not believe there was any new evidence to consider in the case. He acknowledged in a hearing before Parliament last week the decision was a mistake.
The former assistant commissioner was also involved in checking the credentials of ex-News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis prior to Mr. Wallis coming to work for the UK Met.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Yates’s resignation came after he was told he would be suspended pending an inquiry into his relationship with Mr. Wallis.
Mr. Wallis was arrested last week over the phone-hacking allegations. According to reports in the British press, Mr. Wallis was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.
Sir Paul Stephenson resigned after he faced criticism for the recruitment of Mr. Wallis as a public relations consultant.
UK Met police reopened the investigation into the phone hacking earlier this year. They’ve said recently that officers have collected the names of 3,700 potential victims.
Phone hacking is generally the practice of breaking into someone’s voice mail account. The hacking depends on the caller being able to access their cell phone voice mail from another phone.
For many years, mobile phones came with default four-digit pin numbers for individuals seeking to search through the messages. In practice, customers rarely changed the basic pass codes which were numbers like 1-2-3-4 or 0-0-0-0. The simple codes allow someone to ring the person’s cell phone number and get messages left on it. If two people called the number at the same time, or if the person just didn’t pick up, the caller would go to voice mail where they entered the code and picked up any messages.
UK Met police are under pressure now to explain why the first phone hacking probe in 2009 failed to find enough evidence to prosecute anyone other than a News of the World reporter and a private investigator.
Sir Paul, in a statement Monday, said he had nothing to do with the earlier phone hacking investigation or Mr. Wallis. He said he was resigning to help the UK Met prepare and focus on the 2012 Olympic games without the scandal hanging over the department.
Former Assistant Commissioner Yates came to Cayman several times in 2008 as the Operation Tempura corruption probe progressed.
In June 2008, he said he was “personally” maintaining oversight of that investigation – which at the time was looking into whether three former top RCIPS officials had committed misconduct in a public office.
As the case progressed, the investigators said to be under Mr. Yates’s oversight were later alleged to have engaged in “the gravest abuse of process” while arresting a Cayman Islands Grand Court judge. The chief investigating officer involved in the Cayman corruption probe, Martin Bridger, left the Islands after being removed from his position in April 2009. A chief legal adviser to the Tempura team was later disbarred in the UK.
Former Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan Duguay, in a review of the financing for the Operation Tempura case, said he never managed to track down precisely who was responsible for the investigation.
Mr. Duguay pointed out in his 2009 report that responsibility for the oversight management of Operation Tempura was passed back and forth to several government entities within the civil service, starting with the RCIPS, then the governor’s office, then the Portfolio of the Civil Service, onto the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, and finally returned to the RCIPS.
The services of the UK Met police officers, including Mr. Bridger, were acquired without any competitive bidding process and auditors found that there was no formal agreement or contract regarding the deployment of Met resources to Cayman. Those services were obtained, the audit stated, via an “e-mail arrangement with John Yates (the assistant commissioner of the UK Met police force).”
The Operation Tempura audit identifies several instances where management of the investigation seemed uncertain. For example, Mr. Duguay said a one-page summary presented at a meeting of the Strategic Oversight Group overseeing the investigation in November 2007 served as the “terms of reference” for the oversight group.
But two of the six attendees at that meeting disputed that the committee had adopted or even discussed those terms of reference.
Mr. Duguay was unable to determine with certainty what responsibilities of the Strategic Oversight Group had.
“As a result, we conclude that there was no clear oversight of financial management and ensuring value for money for the two investigations,” Mr. Duguay wrote.