British investigator at heart of scandal 'was told to hack'

30th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The investigator at the heart of Britain's phone-hacking scandal said Friday he acted on orders from the News of the World, challenging claims by Rupert Murdoch's empire that he was a rogue operator.

Private detective Glenn Mulcaire broke his silence as a British parliamentary committee said it had ordered Murdoch's son and heir apparent James to give written clarification of answers he gave on the scandal last week.

Meanwhile a protester who splattered Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie when the media mogul was testifying to the same committee pleaded guilty at a court in London to assault and harassment.

And in a new threat to Murdoch's battered empire, police said they would set up a team to look into claims of computer hacking, widening the investigation which has up until now focused primarily on mobile phones.

The controversy has dragged in police and politicians and spread to the United States and Australia.

But increasingly it has returned to the question of how much key figures within News Corp. knew about hacking at the tabloid.

In a statement issued by his lawyers, Mulcaire, who along with former NotW royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed for hacking in 2007, expressed "sincere regret".

But he added that he was "effectively employed" by the paper from 2002.

"As an employee he acted on the instructions of others," the statement said. "Any suggestion that he acted in such matters unilaterally is untrue."

He spoke a day after the mother of a murdered eight-year-old girl said police had confirmed her details were found among his papers. Claims that he hacked the phone of a murdered 13-year-old ignited the scandal earlier this month.

Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World from 2000-2003, and her successor until 2007, Andy Coulson, have both denied authorising any phone hacking or knowing that the practice was being used by their staff.

Brooks and Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief until January this year, have since been arrested.

James and Rupert Murdoch, along with Brooks, who quit as chief executive of News Corp.'s British newspaper wing News International earlier this month, answered questions from parliament's media committee on July 19.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said Friday that he would be writing to James Murdoch about his testimony to the committee and that "the chances are" he would be recalled to clarify his evidence.

Ex-NotW editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone last week said James Murdoch gave misleading evidence about how much he knew about the extent of hacking at the paper when he authorised a payout to a victim in 2008.

It was at that hearing that the 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch was hit in the face with a plateful of shaving foam by comedian Jonathan May-Bowles.

May-Bowles, 26, whose stage name is Jonnie Marbles, pleaded guilty Friday at City of Westminster Magistrates Court to assault and to causing harassment, alarm or distress. A judge told him he faces jail when sentenced on Tuesday.

Leaving court, May-Bowles echoed Australian-born Murdoch's own statement to the committee, telling reporters: "This has been the most humble day of my life."

Elsewhere, Scotland Yard said a team would be set up to look at claims of computer hacking that have emerged since police reopened their probe into phone hacking in January, but which are outside the remit of the present inquiry.

The new investigation, called Operation Tuleta, was considering "a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy... including computer hacking," said a police statement.

The scandal has already forced the resignation of two top police officers and several Murdoch aides.

It claimed another victim Friday when the head of Britain's beleaguered Press Complaints Commission, Peta Buscombe, announced she would not renew her contract when it expires in the New Year.

James Murdoch has also faced calls to quit his chairmanship of pay-TV giant BSkyB. But his position was strengthened Friday when the company posted bumper operating profits of £1.073 billion ($1.74 billion, 1.22 billion euros) in the 12 months to June, up 23 percent on the previous year.

Britain's biggest satellite broadcaster said it also planned a share buyback of £750 million ($1.22 billion, 857 million euros) and dividend of £253 million.

The move was seen as calming the waters after the hacking scandal forced News Corp., which has 39 percent of shares in the broadcaster, to abandon a bid for full control, sparking a share price collapse.

© 2011 AFP

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