British hacking probe extends beyond Murdoch papers

LONDON — More newspapers became embroiled in Britain’s phone-hacking scandal Thursday as the deputy prime minister said the crisis was a chance to clean up “murky” ties between politicians, police and the media.

By (AFP)

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Published: Fri 22 Jul 2011, 10:03 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 10:12 PM

After hacking allegations forced Rupert Murdoch to close his News of the World tabloid, it emerged that police have asked for files from a regulator which exposed the use of private investigators by rival papers.

Prime Minister David Cameron is also facing the worst crisis since he took office last year, amid questions over talks he had on Murdoch’s failed bid for pay-TV giant BSkyB and his employment of an ex-Murdoch editor as his media chief.

Deputy premier Nick Clegg said a forthcoming judge-led public inquiry into the scandal was a “once in a generation opportunity to really clean up the murky practices and dodgy relationships” at the heart of the British establishment.

But the Liberal Democrat leader said Cameron, a Conservative, had been “very categorical that no inappropriate discussions took place” with Murdoch’s aides over the bid for full control of BSkyB, which collapsed earlier this month.

Opponents have seized on Cameron’s comments in parliament on Wednesday as an admission that he did have conversations of some kind with Murdoch’s lieutenants over the deal.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s son James was accused Thursday of misleading British MPs this week when he said he did not know when authorising a settlement that phone hacking at News of the World went beyond one reporter.

Colin Myler, the newspaper’s former editor and Tom Crone, who resigned last week as legal manager for the Murdoch media empire’s British publishing arm News International, issued a statement saying they had warned him there was evidence when he authorised a key payout to a victim.

Murdoch said in a statement: “I stand by my testimony to the Select Committee.”

Other media groups are now in the spotlight after Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office said police had requested files from a 2006 inquiry into the use of private investigators by newspapers.

That inquiry found that the Daily Mail made 952 requests to private detectives for confidential details; The People made 802 requests, the Daily Mirror 681 and The Mail on Sunday 266. The News of the World was in fifth place with 228.

“The information was handed over to the police three months ago. It was at their request,” a spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office told AFP.

Scotland Yard said it would not discuss specific lines of inquiry.

There was no immediate comment from the papers involved.

On Tuesday a lawmaker at the hearing which quizzed Murdoch claimed former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan had admitted to phone-hacking. Morgan, now a CNN presenter, has strongly rejected the allegation and demanded an apology.

The News of the World’s former royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 for phone hacking but despite mounting evidence the practice was widespread, London police did not reopen their investigation until January.

Police have since arrested, questioned and then released 10 people over the affair.

They include Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor who quit in 2007 and months later become Cameron’s communications chief. Coulson resigned from Cameron’s Downing Street office in January.

Cameron told an emergency parliamentary session on Wednesday that “with 20-20 hindsight” he would not have hired Coulson.

But there was more trouble Thursday amid reports that Coulson did not have the highest level of security vetting before taking up his Downing Street job, raising questions about whether there were doubts over his appointment.

Coulson’s former deputy at the News of the World, Neil Wallis, was previously the editor of The People, one of the papers named in the report on the use of investigators.

Wallis was arrested earlier this month but in another twist it emerged that he had been employed by the police in 2009-10 — a revelation which forced Scotland Yard chief Paul Stephenson and top police officer John Yates to resign.

It then emerged that he had also advised Coulson in the run-up to elections in May last year.

Meanwhile News International said on Wednesday it would stop paying Mulcaire’s legal fees. He told reporters he was not commenting on the scandal immediately, but warned: “This may change.”

Another former News of the World executive, Greg Miskiw, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper he would fly back from Florida to answer detectives’ questions.

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