Fresh probe urged into British phone-hacking row

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Former British ministers called Friday for new inquiries into phone-hacking by a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper amid fresh criticism of the tabloid's ex-editor, who is now a top government advisor.

The practices of the News of the World were under fresh scrutiny following a New York Times story about the extent of voicemail hacking that in 2007 led to two journalists being jailed.

Scotland Yard defended its handling of the case Friday, rejecting claims that it had failed to follow up new leads following the two convictions.

But former Labour deputy premier John Prescott said he would seek a judicial review if officers did not reveal whether his phone had been tapped, while another ex-minister suggested that the police's actions could be investigated.

The US report also renewed questions about Andy Coulson, who quit as editor of the News of the World over the row but has always denied knowledge of the hacking. He is now a top advisor to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, a former reporter on the tabloid, Sean Hoare, contradicted Coulson's account, saying: "He was well aware that the practice exists. To deny it is a lie, simply a lie."

Cameron's Downing Street office said Coulson "totally and utterly" denied this allegation, while the News of The World said any claims by "disgruntled" former employees should be treated with "extreme scepticism".

Clive Goodman, the tabloid's then royal editor, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 after the phone messages of aides to Prince William, second in line to the throne, were illegally accessed.

Prominent police, military and sporting figures were also allegedly targeted in what was a major scandal.

In a statement Friday, Scotland Yard said it "rejects the suggestion by The New York Times that police 'failed to follow-up on clear leads' and 'declined to pursue other evidence of criminality by others'" in the phone-hacking probe.

However, it said it was "seeking to clarify some aspects" of the article with The New York Times, without elaborating.

The News of the World -- published by News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corporation -- on Friday said the US newspaper had "failed to provide any new evidence" about the hacking row.

It said a reporter had been suspended pending an investigation into "a serious allegation" about conduct, but rejected suggestions that there either had been or was still a "culture" of hacking at the paper.

Prescott however said he now wanted to "find the truth" about whether his phone had been tapped, adding that he expected to hear from Scotland Yard by September 11 over the issue.

"If they fail to give us that information, which is clearly available but has to be given to us, I will seek a judicial review," he told BBC radio.

Former Labour interior minister Alan Johnson said there might be an argument for a police watchdog to probe the case, and said he would be re-examining documents from the time.

"It is therefore my intention to go back to the Home Office to review the files relating to the phone-tapping allegations," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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