July 14, 2024

Cameron Orders Two Inquiries Into Hacking Scandal as Former Aide Is Arrested

Struggling to contain the biggest scandal since he took office more than a year ago, Mr. Cameron announced two separate inquiries into the revelations, saying “no stone will be left unturned.”

In a statement, Scotland Yard said Andy Coulson, Mr. Cameron’s former director of communications, had been interviewed at a police station in south London and was “currently in custody.”

While his arrest had been expected, it brought a new dimension to the scandal, turning it from one of claim and counter-claim to a question of criminal charges.

A police statement said the former editor had been arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications” and “on suspicion of corruption allegations.” It said he had been interviewed by officers investigating illegal payments to corrupt police officers and phone hacking.

The arrest came as Mr. Cameron scrambled desperately to contain the fallout from scandal and focus public attention on measures being taken to investigate it. But it was certain to draw renewed taunts by Mr. Cameron’s critics that he showed flawed judgment in hiring Mr. Coulson in 2007. In the past, the prime minister has always vouched for Mr. Coulson’s integrity and said he believed Mr. Coulson’s assurances that he had done nothing wrong.

The developments followed a decision by Rupert Murdoch’s family on Thursday to close The News of the World — the tabloid newspaper at the center of the scandal over illicit payments to corrupt police officers and the hacking of cellphones belonging to victims of crime and terrorism and possibly families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The decision seemed to be a calculated move to help protect Mr. Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion takeover of the pay-television company British Sky Broadcasting. Mr. Murdoch already owns a controlling 39.1 percent stake in it; the deal would allow him to own it outright.

Members of the British public had until Friday to make their views known to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is to rule on the takeover. The BBC said some 256,000 individuals had lodged objections, many in recent days, and it could take months to sift through them.

Before the phone-hacking crisis exploded this week, Mr. Hunt had been expected to approve the deal, possibly this week. But he indicated on Friday that a decision would take longer.

In a statement, his office said that “given the volume of responses,” it would “take some time” to make a ruling. Mr. Hunt “will also consider all relevant factors” including the impact of the closure of The News of the World, the statement said.

The repercussions from the crisis also seemed to be spreading to the question of media regulation.

At a hastily-convened news conference to unveil his plans for inquiries, Mr. Cameron also proposed an extraordinary tightening of regulations on the behavior of the free-wheeling British press, which prides itself on investigative prowess far beyond the tabloid titillation with which some of its titles are associated.

“I believe we need a new system entirely,” Mr. Cameron declared, saying the current self-regulation of the press by a body called the Press Complaints Commission has “failed.” The scandal has shaken the intertwined worlds of press and politics, laid bare the cozy ties between British leaders and Mr. Murdoch and raised questions about the future of two once high-flying newspaper executives — Mr. Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the current chief executive of Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper operations in Britain who herself had been editor of The News of the World.

At his news conference, Mr. Cameron spoke with a rare candor about the darker practices that have been common in the British press, particularly tabloids like the News of the World, whose power to destroy reputations has spread widespread fear among politicians, celebrities and others in the public eye.

The prime minister said he would ask the inquiry he plans to appoint to make a sweeping review of “the culture, the practices and the ethics” of  the country’s newspapers. But he also acknowledged that politicians have traditionally failed to speak up about press abuses for fear of alienating press barons with the power to wreck their careers  or their parties’ electoral prospects.

John F. Burns reported from London and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Sarah Lyall, Jo Becker, Julia Werdigier and Ravi Somaiya from London, Jeremy Peters, Brian Stelter and Tim Arango from New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4c7bd7038c55d181dbe8c3932ef13458

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