August 19, 2022

Hacking Scandal Draws In British Government

As new and potentially damaging allegations emerged in the scandal,Mr. Cameron went before Parliament and called the phone-hacking “absolutely disgusting.” But he refrained from responding to a taunt by the Labour opposition leader, Ed Miliband, that his relationship with another former News Corporation figure, Andy Coulson, amounted to a “catastrophic error of judgment.”

But, in a departure from previous reluctance by major British parties to challenge Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation — seen as having huge influence here because of its ownership of leading newspapers — Mr. Cameron declared: “We do need to have an inquiry, possibly inquiries, into what has happened.”

A furor has been building in England for months following disclosures that journalists from the News of the World, a mass-circulation Sunday tabloid, hacked into the voicemail messages of celebrities and other prominent people. But, this week, the extent of the alleged hacking has broadened dramatically with reports that the newspaper hacked the cellphone of a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered in 2002, when Ms. Brooks was its editor.

Additionally, Scotland Yard detectives were also investigating whether the phones of some families of victims of the bombings of three London subway trains and a double-decker bus in July 2005 had also been hacked, according to relatives of the dead.

“We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities, we are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into,” Mr. Cameron told Parliament. “It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this House and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens.”

As the catalog of allegations widened on Wednesday, the BBC reported that News International, the News Corporation’s British newspaper division, of which Ms. Brooks is now chief executive, had passed material to the police relating to e-mails that seemed to show that payments made to the police for information had been authorized by Mr. Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World who later became Mr. Cameron’s head of communications.

Mr. Coulson was Ms. Brooks’s deputy at The News of the World in 2002 and later moved into the top editor’s role.

He then joined Mr. Cameron’s staff but resigned in January as questions over the hacking scandal persisted. In his resignation statement, Mr. Coulson reiterated that he had been unaware of the hacking, but said that the scandal had proved too distracting for him to do his job.

During Parliament’s weekly session called Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr. Miliband assailed Mr. Cameron for what he termed a “catastrophic error of judgment by bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of his Downing Street machine.” Mr. Miliband also repeated demands for Ms. Brooks to “consider her position,” in other words, resign. But Mr. Cameron refused to be drawn on either point, prompting Mr. Miliband to say that the British leader “has not shown the leadership necessary” to handle the affair.

Parliament scheduled an extraordinary three-hour debate later on Wednesday to further discuss the matter.

With the scandal broadening this week, switching focus from celebrities to ordinary people seized by tragedy, the allegations seemed to be threatening ever greater financial consequences for News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Ford Motor Company and other companies have suspended advertising in The News of the World while Mr. Miliband renewed demands on Wednesday for the government to delay News Corporation’s proposed acquisition of British Sky Broadcasting, a pay-TV company in which it is already the largest shareholder. Government officials have indicated that they intend to approve the plan, and, in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Cameron insisted that the takeover had been handled according to the correct procedures.

The day before, the prime minister took time out from a visit to British troops in Afghanistan to lament what he called a “truly dreadful situation.” The police, he added, “should investigate this without any fear, without any favor, without any worry about where the evidence should lead them.”

Late Tuesday, The Guardian reported that the police would review every highly publicized murder, kidnapping or assault involving a child since 2001 for evidence of phone hacking. That would include the notorious case of Madeleine McCann, the 3-year-old who disappeared while her family was on vacation in Portugal in 2007.

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Eric Pfanner contributed reporting from Paris.

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