British PM calls emergency parliament session over hacking

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday bowed to opposition pressure and called an emergency session of parliament as the spiralling phone-hacking scandal claimed the scalp of Britain's top policeman.

As the former head of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire, Rebekah Brooks, was bailed by police, Cameron defended himself against pressure for hiring another ex-Murdoch employee, Andy Coulson, as his press chief.

Scotland Yard Chief Paul Stephenson resigned on Sunday over the force's hiring of Coulson's former deputy at the shuttered News of the World tabloid, but took a parting swipe at the premier's own ties to Coulson.

"I don't believe the two situations are the same in any way shape or form," Cameron told a joint news conference in Pretoria with South African President Jacob Zuma when asked about Stephenson's comments.

Cameron had already cut short a trip to Africa from four days to two, and after demands from the main opposition Labour party he announced that he would now delay parliament's summer break for a day to deal with the crisis.

"I am asking for parliament to sit an extra day on Wednesday so I can make a new statement adding to the details of the judicial inquiry and answer questions that come up from today's announcements or indeed tomorrow's announcements," he said.

On Tuesday the Australian-born Murdoch, his son James, who is chairman of his father's British newspaper operation News International, and Brooks are scheduled to give evidence before a committee of British lawmakers.

Brooks, who resigned as chief executive of News International on Friday, was arrested and questioned by police for 12 hours on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing police on Sunday before being bailed until October.

Her spokesman David Wilson confirmed that Brooks, who edited the News of the World when it was accused of hacking a murdered girl's voicemails in 2002, would be attending the session.

"She consulted with her lawyer this morning... and it was decided that she will appear tomorrow," Wilson told AFP.

At a previous hearing in 2003 the flame-haired Brooks, the 10th person and most senior Murdoch aide to be arrested over the scandal, admitted the paper had made payments to police.

With the scandal coming to the door of Scotland Yard, Stephenson resigned but defended his "integrity" and pointedly compared the Coulson issue with the force's employment of Neil Wallis, a former executive editor at the tabloid.

Stephenson added that he had not made Wallis' employment public because he did not want to "compromise" the prime minister. Wallis was himself arrested last week.

The Met chief was felled by reports Sunday which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis was a PR consultant.

But Cameron said there was no suggestion that while in government the work of Coulson, who quit Downing Street in January and was arrested on July 8, "was in any way was inappropriate or bad".

"There is a contrast, I would say, with the situation at the Metropolitan Police Service, where clearly at the Metropolitan Police the issues have been around whether or not the investigation is being pursued properly," he added.

"And that is why I think Sir Paul reached a different conclusion."

Another top Scotland Yard officer, John Yates, who decided in 2009 not to reopen the investigation into the News of the World, faced calls for his resignation on Monday from the civilian body that oversees the force.

Murdoch's US-based News Corp. is in crisis, having also had to abandon its bid for full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and accept the resignations on Friday of Dow Jones chief Les Hinton, who had worked with him for 52 years.

Shares in News Corp. plummeted 5.82 percent in Australian trade on Monday.

© 2011 AFP

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