Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Met, Murdoch and Gordon Brown: Phone-hacking row spreads

Monday, 24, Jan 2011 05:35
The row over phone-hacking at the News of the World spread to hit the Murdoch media empire, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution service today.

Hopes that Andy Coulson's dramatic resignation as director of communications at Downing Street would put an end to the row were dashed over the weekend as questions were raised about the way the issue had been dealt with by the establishment.

Sources claimed that Mr Brown had complained of becoming a victim of the practise, which campaigners say was widespread at the News of the World, while he was chancellor.
Phone hacking: A beginner's guide

Mr Brown is said to have asked the Met to look into whether he became a victim of phone-hacking.

The Independent on Sunday reported that his allies believed the practise had been undertaken by other Murdoch owned newspapers, including the Sun and the Sunday Times, and that Mr Brown had been "very worked up" about the issue.

The row has put a spotlight on the Murdoch empire at the worst possible moment, with Rupert Murdoch in London this week and the decision on News Corp's 61% purchase of BSkyB on the horizon.

Labour MP Tom Watson, a former member of the culture, media and sport committee, is reported to have written a letter to Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet secretary, asking about a dinner party the prime minister attended over the Christmas period, where Mr Murdoch's son, James Murdoch, was also present.

The party, reported in the Independent today, was at the home of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, in Oxfordshire. It took place days after business secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his responsibilities over the decision, which was handed to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Downing Street was not returning calls on the subject today. There was no confirmation from No 10 about whether Mr Cameron had discussed the deal with James Murdoch at the party, nor whether he intended to meet Rupert Murdoch this week.

"The idea that the prime minister was secretly wining and dining with two people so close to the bid is highly unusual," Mr Watson wrote.

"In these situations, a minister would be advised to take a civil servant with him. This deal is worth a lot of money for News Corp if they get it and while it is ultimately Jeremy Hunt's decision, the prime minister is key to it too.

"In order to be able to defend the integrity of the decision, a civil servant should have been present."

Chris Huhne became the first member of the government to break ranks over the issue today, after he rejected the News of the World defence that phone hacking had been the work of only Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent jailed several years ago.

"Why would the royal correspondent be interested in hacking the voicemails of [Liberal Democrat deputy leader] Simon Hughes for example?" the energy and climate change secretary said.

"It seemed to me totally implausible that this was limited to one journalist. I was rather surprised the police seem to have accepted that story.

"We know the police were not keen on that subject because when I called for a very clear review of this, police scurried back into Scotland Yard, spent less than a day reviewing it and popped out again in time for the Six O'Clock News to say they had discovered no further evidence."

The way the Met handled the issue is a cause for widespread dismay in political circles.

After dismissing calls to re-open the case when the Guardian reported widespread use of the phone-hacking tactic last year, the Met eventually put together enough evidence to send to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when media attention to the issue failed to subside.

The CPS originally said there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution, but recently decided to re-examine the evidence.

The prime minister's spokesman deflected questions about Downing Street's response to the row today by insisting that it was up to the CPS to take the next step.

Some officials want the investigation to be handed to a different police force or the Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Paul Farrelly, another Labour MP on the culture, media and sport committee, is reported to have written to justice secretary Kenneth Clarke and attorney general Dominic Grieve calling for an independent review.$21386817.htm