U.K. hacking scandal claims 3rd senior police figure

LONDON -- Scotland Yard's communications chief resigned Thursday, the third senior police figure to part with his job over the force's failure to come to grips with Britain's phone hacking scandal.

Dick Fedorcio stepped down after the police force decided he would face disciplinary proceedings over a contract awarded to a former executive at Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid. The Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that Fedorcio had to answer questions over the decision to hire Neil Wallis, the former News of the World executive later arrested on suspicion of breaking into voice mails.

New allegations of police impropriety emerged late Thursday when a British news station reported that a leaked document shows corrupt police officers helped private investigators working for organized crime gangs access and delete sensitive police intelligence records.

Channel 4 News reported that it has seen a confidential Serious Organized Crime Agency report delivered to the Home Office in 2008 that describes activities of private investigators which threaten to "undermine the criminal justice system."

The broadcaster said Thursday the report found incidents of unauthorized access to details of criminal investigations, confidential locations of witnesses under police protection and attempts to determine informants' identities.

Channel 4 News said the report has been passed to the Leveson inquiry into police corruption and media ethics. A spokesman for the inquiry declined to comment and it was not immediately possible to verify the contents of the report.

The Serious Organized Crime Agency said the report is confidential and that it could not comment on "inappropriately obtained reports."

While private investigators are not regulated, Britain's Home Office -- when asked to comment on the report -- noted that private investigators are subject to laws on intercepting communications "like everyone else."

The new allegations of corruption come as the Leveson inquiry is examining practices of the British media, concentrating on phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World.

Links between senior members of the News of the World and Scotland Yard have come under particularly close scrutiny because both organizations insisted for years that there was no evidence of widespread phone hacking at the tabloid.

Those assurances fell apart after it emerged that journalists at the paper routinely broke into the phones of celebrities and other public figures to score scoops or get leverage. Three parallel police inquiries, a cascade of lawsuits, and the judge-led Leveson inquiry have since lifted the lid on a host of illegal practices, from large-scale bribery to computer hacking.

The scandal's fallout has shaken Britain's media establishment. The News of the World has been shut, the country's press watchdog has been scrapped, and dozens of journalists, executives, and public officials have either resigned, been suspended or been arrested over their role in the scandal.

Among them are former Scotland Yard chief Paul Stephenson and ex-Assistant Commissioner John Yates, both of whom resigned in July. Fedorcio's decision was announced Thursday. He had been on extended leave since August.