Ex-British PM accuses Murdoch papers of using criminals

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British former prime minister Gordon Brown accused Rupert Murdoch's media empire Tuesday of using criminals to obtain his private documents, as lawmakers grilled senior police officers over phone hacking.

Murdoch, his son James and the News of the World's former editor Rebekah Brooks were also asked by MPs to appear before a committee as the scandal that led to the closure of the tabloid showed no signs of abating.

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

He also said he did not understand how The Sun, another Murdoch paper, 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".

"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.

His claims are the first to explicitly drag other newspapers within News International, Murdoch's British newspaper operation, into the long-running scandal over phone hacking at the News of the World.

They come as lawmakers questioned senior police officers about why their original investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World in 2006 failed to unearth the hoard of allegations that have emerged in recent months.

These include last week's claims 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.

A review was launched in July 2009 in response to fresh allegations, led by Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates, but he decided they were not worth probing.

Under fierce grilling by parliament's home affairs committee on Tuesday, Yates 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 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, but Scotland Yard has been criticised for failing to take action earlier, particularly as many of the new claims come from 11,000 documents seized by police in August 2006.

A separate committee asked Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, who is chairman of News International, and Brooks to give evidence, lawmaker Tom Watson said. Officials said no date had been determined.

The scandal that led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World has also sparked renewed opposition to the controversial bid by Murdoch's News Corp. for control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

News Corp. on Monday withdrew concessions it had offered Prime Minister David Cameron's government to assuage competition concerns, prompting ministers to refer the bid to the Competition Commission, potentially delaying it for months.

Murdoch flew to London on Sunday to try to contain the crisis, and to offer his full support to Brooks, who was also editor of the News of the World and the Sun in the 2000s.

Brown, who was finance minister from 1997 to 2007 and then Labour prime minister until 2010, said it was Brooks who told him in 2006 that The Sun was breaking the story about the illness of his then four-month-old son.

He said it left him "in tears. Your son is being broadcast across the media. Sarah (his wife) and I are incredibly upset about it".

He said he "couldn't think" how they would have got the medical records legitimately.

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

Cameron said his "heart goes out" to Brown over the "appalling" revelations.

The original police probe led to the News of the World's then royal editor and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, being jailed in 2007. Many of the recent revelations stem from Mulcaire's files seized during that time.

© 2011 AFP

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