British hacking probe extends beyond Murdoch papers

21st July 2011, Comments 0 comments

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 and the media.

After hacking allegations at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World closed the tabloid earlier this month, it emerged police have asked for files from a regulator which exposed the use of private investigators by other rival papers.

The scandal has also lapped at the door of Prime Minister David Cameron, who faces questions over discussions he had on Murdoch's failed bid for pay-TV giant BSkyB, and his employment of a former Murdoch editor as his media chief.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy premier in Britain's 15-month-old coalition government, defended Conservative Cameron but said a forthcoming judge-led public inquiry into the scandal should take strong measures.

"We have a once in a generation opportunity to really clean up the murky practices and dodgy relationships taken root at the very heart of the British establishment between the press, politicians and the police," he said.

Speaking at a press conference in London, he said Cameron had been "very categorical that no inappropriate discussions took place" with Murdoch's aides over the BSkyB bid, which collapsed earlier this month amid the furore.

Cameron's opponents have seized on his comments as admitting that he did have conversations of some kind with Murdoch's lieutentants over the controversial deal for full control of Britain's biggest satellite broadcaster.

Public outrage has until now focused on Murdoch, with the ageing tycoon being hit with a foam pie during a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, due to revulsion over claims that the News of the World hacked a murdered girl's voicemails.

But other media groups are now under 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.

The office, an independent body promoting data privacy, alleged that the middle-market Daily Mail made the most requests to private investigators, followed by the Sunday People and the Daily Mirror, published by Trinity Mirror Group.

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

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

The Daily Mail had made 952 requests for confidential information, followed by the Sunday People on 802 requests, the Daily Mirror on 681 and The Mail on Sunday 228. The News of the World was in fifth place with 228.

There was no immediate comment from any of the papers named in the report.

The BBC quoted the Daily Mail as saying the information obtained may have been used for reasons of public interest, and Trinity Mirror as saying its journalists worked within the law and the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.

Former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of members of the royal family.

Despite mounting evidence that the practice was more widespread, police did not reopen the probe until January, searching 11,000 pages of Mulcaire's notes and finding the names of nearly 4,000 potential victims.

Ten people have been arrested since January including Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor who quit in 2007 and months later become Cameron's communications chief. Coulson resigned from Downing Street in January.

Cameron told an emergency parliament session on Wednesday that "with 20-20 hindsight" he would not have hired Coulson.

In addition to the pressure on Cameron, the crisis at Australian-born Murdoch's News Corp. empire has so far prompted the resignation of two of his top aides, two of Britain's top policemen and a string of arrests.

Murdoch told a committee of British lawmakers on Tuesday it was "the most humble day of my life." The 80-year-old left Britain Thursday after an 11-day visit aimed at stemming the crisis.

© 2011 AFP

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