Met chief's spa stay 'not a jolly'

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The Independent Online

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson had a five-week stay at the luxury Champneys health resort at a time when the former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis - now on bail over the phone-hacking scandal - was a PR consultant for the resort.

Scotland Yard said yesterday that it was arranged by the Champneys managing director, who is a personal friend of Sir Paul, and paid for by the Yard. Sir Paul had not known that Mr Wallis was working for Champneys at the time. He is already under fire for employing Mr Wallis, who is on bail on suspicion of intercepting mobile phones, as a PR consultant for the force.

The Met acknowledged that the commissioner stayed at the health farm in Tring, Hertfordshire, while he recovered from a fractured leg caused by an operation to remove a pre-cancerous tumour. But it said the stay was arranged and provided by Champneys managing director Stephen Purdew, a personal family friend of Sir Paul.

A statement issued by Scotland Yard said: "Following his operations the Commissioner stayed, with his wife, at Champneys Medical from Monday to Friday over a period of five weeks earlier this year where he underwent an extensive programme of hydro- and physiotherapy.

"This enabled him to return to work six weeks earlier than anticipated.

"As with many officers, the Met paid the intensive physiotherapy costs.

"The accommodation and meals were arranged and provided by Stephen Purdew, MD of Champneys, who is a personal family friend who has no connection with, or links to, his professional life."

The force said Sir Paul was unaware who the health spa's PR consultant was until yesterday's revelation.

It added that the free stay was recorded in the senior officer's gifts and hospitality register, which will be published shortly, when he returned to his post.

Mr Purdew last night said he was "outraged" by suggestions the stay was arranged by Wallis.

He said: "He (Sir Paul) came here to recover from cancer and a broken leg, to say it was a gift or a jolly is outrageous. It is a bloody disgrace.

"He was here for about a month. He was seriously ill so he stayed with me and this has backfired terribly."

He said the fact Wallis was working as a consultant for Champneys at the same time was coincidental.

"Neil Wallis, by coincidence, did some work for us. I have known Sir Paul Stephenson for 20-odd years and this is totally unrelated.

"Neil Wallis does not work for us any more. It was a company he was working for, Outside Organisation, that did and this is a diversion. I didn't even know Neil Wallis had done any work for us."

Wallis's solicitor Phil Smith, of Tuckers Solicitors, also refuted the reports.

He said: "There is no connection whatsoever between any stay Sir Paul Stephenson may have had at Champneys and Neil Wallis.

"Neither Neil Wallis nor anyone connected to him had any involvement whatsoever in any visit or stay by Sir Paul Stephenson at Champneys."

Scotland Yard disclosed on Thursday Wallis's PR firm, Chamy Media, was employed in 2009 and last year to "provide strategic communication advice and support".

It emerged that Wallis had been paid £24,000 by the Met to work as a two-day-a-month PR and that his contract was cancelled less than six months before the launch of the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has written to Lord Justice Leveson to request he consider the contract between Chamy Media and the Metropolitan Police as part of his hacking inquiry.

Home Secretary Theresa May will make a statement to the Commons tomorrow to set out her "concerns" about the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and Chamy Media.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire told Sky News' Murnaghan: "I think there are questions of the Metropolitan Police's relationship with Chamy Media and also with Mr Wallis.

"The Home Secretary wrote to Paul Stephenson to gain further information around that at the end of last week, the Metropolitan Police have replied to that.

"The Home Secretary does have some concerns still in relation to the Metropolitan Police's relationship with Chamy Media and will be making a statement to Parliament tomorrow around that to set out the issues."

Asked whether the Government had confidence in Sir Paul, he replied: "We think he's been doing a very good job, we think he continues to do a good job."