Murdoch summoned by British MPs over hacking

12th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British lawmakers summoned Rupert Murdoch and his top executives for questioning in a dramatic new turn in the phone hacking row Tuesday, as police accused his newspapers of blocking their investigations.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown also piled pressure on Murdoch's media empire, accusing it of hiring "criminals" to obtain his private documents and suggesting it used illegal methods to break the news of his son's illness.

The government meanwhile said it would back a parliamentary motion by the opposition Labour party on Wednesday calling on Murdoch to drop his controversial bid for control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Brown's claims are the first to explicitly drag other newspapers within News International, Murdoch's British newspaper operation, into the long-running scandal which killed off the News of the World tabloid at the weekend.

Murdoch flew to Britain on Sunday to take control of the crisis and on Tuesday he held meetings with News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World editor at the time of some of the hacking, and other key figures.

Lawmakers took advantage of his presence to call on him, his son, News Corp. executive James Murdoch, and Brooks to appear before them to face questions about hacking and allegations that Murdoch papers paid police for information.

News International said it would "cooperate" with the request from the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee to appear next week.

The long-running scandal led to the shock closure of the 168-year-old News of the World last week, and indirectly caused the government to refer News Corp.'s bid for BSkyB to competitition regulators.

But Murdoch is not the only one under pressure.

Senior police officers were grilled by a separate parliamentary committee on Tuesday to explain why their original probe into the News of the World in 2006 failed to unearth all the latest allegations.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who decided not to reopen the investigation in 2009, expressed regret at that decision and apologised to the victims but blamed News International for failing to hand over key evidence.

"The evidence that we should have had in 2005-6 and in 2009 has only recently been supplied by News International," he said, adding that the company had "clearly misled us".

He also revealed that his own phone had been hacked during 2005-06, but strongly denied any suggestion that he decided not to reopen the police probe because he feared his private details would emerge in the press.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said he had found Yates "unconvincing".

A new police investigation was opened in January, and officers are now trawling through 11,000 documents seized from private detective Glen Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 as a result of the original investigation.

Peter Clarke, a former deputy assistant commissioner who oversaw the original probe, also accused News International of withholding evidence.

"This is a major global organisation with access to the best legal advice, in my view deliberately trying to thwart a police investigation," he told the parliamentary committee.

He defended his decision not to sift through the 11,000 documents at the time, saying that in the wake of the July 2005 bombings in London, counter-terrorism had been a priority.

The claims in the documents include last week's allegations that the tabloid hacked the voicemails of a murdered teenager and the relatives of dead soldiers, which unleashed the public outrage that led to the demise of the paper.

In another major twist, Brown accused the Sunday Times, the News of the World's upmarket stablemate, of using con tricks to obtain bank details and legal documents relating to a flat he bought.

"I'm shocked, I'm genuinely shocked to find that this happened because of their links with criminals, known criminals who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators who were working with the Sunday Times," he told the BBC.

He also said he "couldn't think" how The Sun, another Murdoch paper, had obtained information that his son had cystic fibrosis, adding that when the tabloid splashed the news on its front page in 2006 he was left "in tears".

Brown, who was finance minister from 1997 to 2007 and then Labour prime minister until 2010, said it was Brooks who told him about The Sun's story, as she was editor of the tabloid at the time.

A News International source said they were "satisfied that the story about his son came from legitimate sources."

© 2011 AFP

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