Hacking scandal erodes Rupert Murdoch's influence in British politics

A U.S. senator Tuesday raised concern that victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also were targets for phone hacking by British tabloids.

Reporters at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid are alleged to have hacked into hundreds of mobile-phone voice mails, including those of murder and terror victims, and bribed police for confidential information. The scandal prompted media mogul Rupert Murdoch to close the 168-year-old tabloid.

The hacking allegations are now the subject of one of the most wide-ranging operations under way at Scotland Yard. Investigators said only 170 of the nearly 4,000 people whose cell phones may have been hacked have been notified that they were potential targets of the snooping.

New and alarming charges also came from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said that one of the most prestigious newspapers in the News Corp. group, the Sunday Times, employed "known criminals" to gather personal information on him and his family.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called for U.S. agencies to investigate whether alleged phone hacking at News Corp.'s British newspapers targeted Americans.

In a statement posted on the website of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which he chairs, Rockefeller warned that "the consequences will be severe" if Americans were victims of phone hacking by Murdoch's papers.

According to a report in the Daily Mirror, a competitor to News of the World and other News Corp. publications, an unnamed private investigator and former New York City police officer alleged that reporters at the newspaper offered to pay him to retrieve private phone records of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The private investigator turned down the request, the Mirror said, citing an unnamed source.

The hacking allegations represent an "offensive and serious breach of journalistic ethics," Rockefeller said in his statement.

In London, all three major parties in Parliament joined in support of a sharp rebuke to Murdoch's media empire.

A parliamentary committee said it would call Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, News Corp.'s British subsidiary, to testify next week.

The House of Commons is due to vote today on a motion declaring that "it is in the public interest'' for Murdoch and News Corp. to withdraw their $12 billion bid for the acquisition of the shares in British Sky Broadcasting that he doesn't already own.

The BSkyB motion was pushed by the opposition Labour Party; Conservatives supported it. In all, at least 600 of the 650 members of the house are expected to vote yes.

Though it would have little direct effect, the motion represents a powerful political headwind blowing against the deal and Murdoch. In an effort to save that deal from the scandal's fallout, Murdoch shut down News of the World, the tabloid at the heart of the scandal.

A separate Parliamentary committee investigating years of indecisive police probes into News of the World's rampant phone-hacking operations spent hours Tuesday grilling police officers who led the inquiries for what committee members depicted as their abject failures.

The hearing's most startling revelation came with the disclosure of the sheer scope of the new police investigation. Investigators said they're working through a list of 3,870 names, as well as 5,000 landline telephone numbers and 4,000 cell phone numbers.

Lawmakers grilled John Yates, one of Scotland Yard's most senior officers, as to why he decided not to reopen the investigation into the alleged hacking two years ago, even though the police were sitting on evidence that the practice was more widespread than thought.

At one point, committee member Steve McCabe leaned into his microphone and said, "You just don't seem like the dogged, determined sleuth that we would expect."

Information from Bloomberg News, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

Hacking scandal erodes Rupert Murdoch's influence in British politics 07/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 7:48am]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Times wires.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...