Phone-hacking inquiry 'drains police resources'

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The Independent Online

Britain's top police officer said yesterday he would prefer his detectives to be investigating robberies than pursuing allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.

Sir Paul Stephenson told MPs that he accepted the Metropolitan Police had to "get it right" when it came to its investigation of claims of widespread voicemail interception at the Sunday newspaper, but hinted that Operation Weeting, the new investigation into phone hacking, drained resources.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Sir Paul said a "significant number" of the 45 officers working on Weeting – one of the biggest non-murder inquiries in recent police history – were dedicated to answering requests for information in damages claims being brought by alleged victims of hacking. Sir Paul said: "Would I wish those very experienced detectives were actually investigating robberies? Of course I would, but nevertheless it's our responsibility, we've got to carry it out and we've got to get it right."

The Met was heavily criticised for its original investigation into the phone-hacking scandal at the NOTW in 2005-06 after it emerged that officers had restricted their inquiries to a single journalist and failed to interview any executives at the paper.

Meanwhile, the Press Association news agency said it was giving its "full support" to its royal correspondent after she became the fifth person to be arrested by Weeting officers. Laura Elston, 34, was released on police bail on Monday night after being detained on suspicion of intercepting phone messages. Jonathan Grun, the PA editor, said: "Laura Elston is a journalist of integrity who has worked for us for over 10 years with great distinction."