British PM's ex-aide arrested over tabloid scandal

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Police arrested David Cameron's ex-media chief over Britain's phone hacking scandal on Friday as the prime minister promised urgent inquiries into failures by politicians, police and the press.

Cameron appeared rattled at the toughest press conference of his year in power, but still defended hiring Andy Coulson, the former editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid, which is now to shut.

He admitted the scandal had gone to the heart of the British establishment, saying: "The truth is, we have all been in this together -- the press, politicians and leaders of all parties, and yes, that includes me."

Cameron said he gave Coulson a "second chance" after he quit the News of the World in 2007 when two people were jailed over hacking, but that "didn't work out".

Coulson resigned from Downing Street in January citing pressure over the claims.

"The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for it," Cameron said. He refused to cut Coulson loose, however, saying that he "became a friend and is a friend."

Cameron announced that he now would set up a public inquiry led by a judge into the furore around the News of the World, as well as a second inquiry into the way in which the press in Britain is regulated in the future.

"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.

He also said that after reports that Rebekah Brooks, the embattled head of Murdoch's British newspaper wing, had offered her resignation over the claims, "in this situation, I would have taken it."

But less than an hour after the prime minister spoke, London's Metropolitan Police confirmed that they had arrested the 43-year-old Coulson "in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking."

The corruption allegations refer to alleged improper payments to police officers by the paper when Coulson was editor of Britain's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper from 2003 to 2007.

Coulson was being held in custody at a south London police station, the statement said.

Police said they had also on Friday re-arrested Clive Goodman, the News of the World's former royal editor, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of Princes William and Harry.

Goodman, 53, was apprehended at his house in Surrey, south of London, on corruption charges.

The other man jailed in 2007 was private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

Murdoch caused astonishment on Thursday when he killed off the 168-year-old News of the World after it was dogged by allegations that it hacked the voicemails of a teenage murder victim and the families of dead soldiers.

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

Shares in BSkyB plunged 3.94 percent to 780.5 pence in late morning deals Friday, topping the fallers board on the FTSE 100 index.

The last edition of the unashamedly sensationalist tabloid will be on Sunday, ending a long history of publishing sex scandals but also hard-hitting investigations including into recent Pakistani cricket match-fixing claims.

British newspapers 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".

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

Two hundred News of the World staff will lose their jobs. Murdoch will reportedly replace it with a Sunday edition of The Sun, his daily tabloid, which is Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

© 2011 AFP

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