British PM announces inquiry into tabloid scandal

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday he would establish a full public inquiry led by a judge into the News of the World scandal as one of his former aides faced arrest over phone hacking.

In a hastily arranged press conference a day after Rupert Murdoch stunningly killed off the Sunday newspaper, Cameron said he took "full responsibility" for hiring former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his media chief.

Cameron also said he would have accepted the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, the embattled head of Murdoch's British newspaper wing, over the allegations that the tabloid hacked the voicemails of murder victims and celebrities.

"It's right and proper to establish a full, public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. A judge needs to be in charge so there's no question that it is totally independent and things are done properly," Cameron told reporters in Downing Street.

"These are the questions that need answering: Why did the first police investigation fail so abysmally? What exactly was going on at the News of the World? And what was going on at other newspapers?"

He said a second inquiry, into the way in which the press in Britain is regulated in the future, could begin straight away.

"This second inquiry should look at the culture, the practices and the ethics of the British press. In particular, they should look at how our newspapers are regulated and make recommendations for the future," he said.

Cameron faced a barrage of questions about his decision to hire Coulson in 2007, months after Coulson had resigned as editor of News of the World following the jailing of its royal reporter and a private investigator over hacking.

"He resigned from the News of the World because of the things that happened on his watch. I decided to give him a second chance -- and no one has ever raised serious concerns about how he did his job for me," Cameron said.

"But the second chance didn't work out and he had to resign all over again. The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for it."

He added that it had been reported that Brooks had offered her resignation "and in this situation, I would have taken it."

The Times, a News of the World stablemate, reported that Coulson attended a central London police station early Friday, but other reports said he had an appointment with detectives later in the day.

Coulson has denied having any knowledge of the hacking.

Murdoch sensationally killed off the 168-year-old News of the World on Thursday amid public outrage over the allegations that it had hacked the phones of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers.

The shock move was widely seen as a way to quell the scandal and save his bid for control of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB, on which the British government is due to decide.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said in a speech on Friday that Cameron had to apologise for hiring Coulson.

"Putting it right for the Prime Minister means starting by admitting the appalling error of judgment he made in hiring Andy Coulson, apologising for bringing him in to the centre of the government machine, coming clean about what conversations he had with Andy Coulson, before and after his appointment, about phone hacking," he said in a speech in London on Friday.

Police interviewed Coulson as a witness last year after a journalist said Coulson had encouraged him to hack voicemails. Coulson quit in January amid renewed pressure over the scandal.

Rupert Murdoch's son James announced on Thursday that The News of the World, Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper, will print its last edition this weekend.

Two hundred staff will lose their jobs. The BBC quoted sources as saying Murdoch would replace it with a Sunday version of The Sun, his daily tabloid, which is Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

Britain's press on Friday mourned the passing of their scandal-hit comrade despite its misdeeds.

"Yesterday a little bit of England died, and it is a moment to mourn," the Times said in its editorial. "At their best they produced great stories, and sometimes exposed great wrongs."

The Daily Mail ran with the headline "The Paper that Died of Shame", and bemoaned the "downfall of a fine British institution" while the Daily Telegraph opted for "Goodbye, cruel World" on its front page.

Murdoch's Australian arm Friday distanced itself from the News Of The World scandal, warning "unethical and immoral" conduct would not be tolerated.

© 2011 AFP

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