Ex-Met chiefs cleared of misconduct

The Scotland Yard chiefs who quit over the phone-hacking scandal have been cleared of misconduct.

Allegations against former Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and his ex-assistant John Yates were thrown out today by the police watchdog.

Andy Hayman and Peter Clarke will also escape further investigation despite the "damaging effect of the perceived inadequate response" to criminal activities at the News of the World, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.

Sir Paul and Mr Yates - who both resigned last month as police were engulfed by allegations of payments from journalists to officers and criticism over the force's hiring of hacking suspect Neil Wallis as a PR consultant - welcomed the watchdog's announcement.

Sir Paul said the ruling was "as I would have expected it to be" as he added that he regretted that resources "have had to be expended on this matter".

He criticised the IPCC for saying the public would make its own judgments about him accepting free hospitality while on sick leave.

"The IPCC's comments about my acceptance of assistance from a friend through my family, unconnected to my professional life, of services from Champneys' Medical Services, which they chose to examine under their powers without any external referral, does in my view fall a little short of full and proper context," Sir Paul added.

"However, this is a matter for their judgment."

An independent investigation into allegations that Mr Yates secured a Scotland Yard job for the daughter of Mr Wallis will continue.

Mr Yates said: "I strongly deny any wrongdoing and I am completely confident that I will be exonerated.

"I have been entirely open about this matter and I will co-operate fully with the investigation which I hope will be conducted swiftly."

The officers were cleared as the crisis was reignited by fresh evidence claiming phone hacking was "widely discussed" at the now axed tabloid under Andy Coulson's editorship.

Sir Paul, Mr Clarke, a former deputy assistant commissioner, Mr Yates and Mr Hayman, both former assistant commissioners, were cleared of wrongdoing on deadline day for applications for the next commissioner.

Ms Glass said there can be no doubt about the damaging impact on public confidence surrounding the inquiry.

"But while there can be little doubt of the effect on the public's mind about the series of revelations regarding connections between senior police officers and News International, the IPCC must identify what is, and what is not, conduct that needs to be investigated," she said.

A clear line must be drawn between what is a recordable conduct matter and public concerns that will be addressed by the public inquiry, she added.

"In relation to Sir Paul Stephenson, his conduct was referred by the MPA because of his responsibility for the alleged failings of John Yates.

"But while he is in principle answerable for decisions made on his watch as Commissioner for the Metropolis, I do not think he committed a misconduct offence because one of his officers may have carried out a poor investigation."

Ms Glass said she had considered Sir Paul's acceptance of hospitality from a family friend at Champneys' luxury spa while he was on sick leave.

"The public will make its own judgments about whether any senior public official should accept hospitality to this extent from anyone - or indeed about a policy which regards hospitality as acceptable merely because it is disclosed," she said.

The announcement came as the Prime Minister was forced to repeat his claim that he would have "taken different decisions" over the appointment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications.

David Cameron was speaking after papers published by the Commons culture, media and sport committee included a claim that phone hacking frequently came up at the paper's editorial meetings until Mr Coulson banned any further mention of the subject.

The documents also disclose that hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid out to former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire after they were prosecuted for illegally accessing voicemails.

Labour MP Tom Watson described the latest claims as "devastating" and said they suggested previous evidence given by Mr Coulson to the committee was "at best misleading and probably deceptive".

Speaking during a visit to Cheshire to promote new enterprise zones, the PM was asked again today whether the appointment of Mr Coulson had raised questions over his judgment.

He said: "Clearly, if I had known then all the things I know now, then obviously I would have taken different decisions.

"And the important thing to remember is that Andy Coulson doesn't work for the Government any more and, of course, when he was working for the Government, no one made complaints about the work that he did.

"But let's let the police and the other investigations go to work."

Asked if it was time for him to apologise, the Prime Minister responded: "Well, I did actually say sorry in the House of Commons, very clearly. I said I was sorry for the trouble this had caused because of what had happened."