More British papers dragged into hacking row

23rd July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Allegations of phone-hacking spread beyond the felled News of the World to other tabloids on Saturday as media heir James Murdoch faced pressure over the extent of his knowledge of the scandal.

Former journalists at the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror -- the main tabloid competitors to Rupert Murdoch's British stable -- reportedly said the illegally hacking of voicemails was widespread at their papers too.

The scandal has also rocked the British police and even given Prime Minister David Cameron a rough ride, but has so far largely been limited to the News of the World, which Murdoch shut on July 7 amid public outrage.

James Hipwell, a former Daily Mirror financial journalist jailed in 2005 for buying shares before tipping them in the paper, said he heard hacking was being used because he worked next to the showbusiness desk where it was rife.

"You know what people around you are doing," the 45-year-old told The Independent newspaper.

"They would call a celebrity with one phone and when it was answered they would then hang up. By that stage the other phone would be into their (the celebrity's) voicemail and they would key in the code."

"There was a great hilarity about it."

Hipwell worked at the Mirror for two years until 2000 when it under the editorship of Piers Morgan, now a CNN presenter. Hipwell was sacked by the Mirror over the so-called "City Slickers" scandal.

Morgan, who himself is also a former News of the World editor, has denied any knowledge that phone-hacking went on at the paper.

Separately the BBC quoted an unidentified former Sunday Mirror journalist who worked on the paper in the past decade who claimed to have witnessed routine phone hacking in the newsroom.

Trinity Mirror, the group which publishes both papers, said its journalists work within the law and the code of conduct of Britain's self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission.

It said Hipwell's allegations were "totally unsubstantiated."

On Thursday it emerged that police have requested files from a British data protection regulator which published a report showing the non-Murdoch Daily Mail, the Mirror and the Trinity Mirror-published People were the biggest users of private investigators to seek confidential information.

Back at the Murdoch empire, a lawmaker on Friday referred James Murdoch's testimony to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday to the police, while Cameron said he had "questions to answer" after doubts were raised over his evidence.

Appearing with his father before the committee, James Murdoch said that when authorising a payout to a hacking victim, he was unaware of an email suggesting knowledge of hacking at the NotW went wider than one rogue reporter.

But Colin Myler, the last editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, the former News International legal manager, broke ranks on Thursday to say James Murdoch's recollection of events in 2008 was "mistaken".

James Murdoch, 38, the chairman of News International, his father's British newspaper wing, has said he stands by his evidence.

Meanwhile police are to investigate claims of phone hacking in Scotland, which has its own legal system, and whether witnesses lied during a perjury trial last year.

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson -- who went on to become Cameron's media chief before resigning and being arrested this year -- was among those who gave evidence.

Also the Daily Telegraph newspaper said Saturday that British finance minister George Osborne dined with Rupert Murdoch in New York in December, two weeks before Britain's media regulator was originally due to decide on whether to approve Murdoch's bid for full control of pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Murdoch's US-based News Corp. was forced to abandon a bid for full control of the lucrative pay-TV satellite broadcaster earlier this month because of the scandal.

The Treasury refused to discuss who attended, but insisted that BSkyB was not discussed.

In a further twist, the New York Times reported that Kroll, a firm of corporate investigators hired by Britain's Daily Telegraph to probe the leak of a story, said they suspected the involvement of senior News International executive Will Lewis, the former editor of the Telegraph.

The Telegraph had obtained a recording of Business Secretary Vince Cable saying he had "declared war" on Murdoch in December, but it was leaked to BBC reporter Robert Peston, a friend of Lewis, before the paper could run the story.

© 2011 AFP

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