July 14, 2024

Murdoch Tabloids’ Targets Included Downing Street and the Crown

Others on the police payroll have been bribed to use restricted cellphone-tracking technology to pinpoint the location of people sought by the papers in their restless pursuit of scoops, according to two former journalists for the tabloid shut on Sunday, The News of the World.

As Mr. Murdoch assumed command of damage-control efforts at his London headquarters, the day brought a torrent of new revelations, including reports that newsroom malpractice extended to two other newspapers in his British stable — The Sunday Times, an up-market broadsheet, and The Sun, the country’s highest-selling daily tabloid.

Phone-hacking and other illegal or unethical methods have been common at many British newspapers that are not Murdoch-owned. But the focus for now is on News International and its parent company in the United States, the News Corporation, which confronted what many have called an existential threat to the Murdoch empire on Monday by revising its $12 billion takeover bid for Britain’s most lucrative satellite television company, British Sky Broadcasting, in ways that appeared to delay it for at least six months.

Many commentators in Britain said Mr. Murdoch appeared to be playing for time, in the hope that public and political anger over the current scandal will abate, making room for politicians and regulators to judge the takeover on its business merits, and not on the basis of retribution for the hacking scandal.

The revelations about the intrusive activities directed at the queen and Mr. Brown have seized the headlines, driving home the realization that nobody, not even the most powerful and protected people in the land, has been beyond the reach of news organizations caught up in a relentless battle for lurid headlines and mass circulations.

A wide segment of British society, from celebrities to ordinary families wrestling with personal tragedies, has been shown to be potentially vulnerable to the newspapers’ use of cellphone-hacking, identity theft, tracking technology and police bribery — perhaps even clandestine property break-ins, if some reports circulating in recent days are true.

The BBC and The Guardian, in their Monday reports, cited internal e-mails from a News of the World archive in which requests were made for about $1,600 to pay a royal protection officer — one of several hundred Scotland Yard officers eligible to serve in the palace security detail — for classified information about the queen, Prince Charles and other senior members of the royal family in what a Scotland Yard official described as a major security breach. The Guardian article said two officers on the royal detail were involved and that the e-mails from an archive assembled by The News of the World were exchanged by a senior executive and a reporter, neither of whom it identified.

The accounts said the money was used to obtain a copy of a contact book used by the royal protection service — a volume known as the Green Book, according to the BBC — that contained information about the queen, Prince Charles, other senior royals and their friends and contacts. A report in The Evening Standard newspaper said the information included “phone numbers, and tips about the movements and activities” of the queen and her husband, Prince Philip. A Guardian report said the police had informed the palace that the cellphones of Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, may have also been hacked.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was outraged, describing the alleged police involvement in the palace intrusion as “a dereliction of duty” and adding, “We need to get to the bottom of that if it is true.”

Mr. Brown said on his Web site that he was also a target. A person close to Mr. Brown said in an interview that the former prime minister believed that people working for News International, Mr. Murdoch’s British subsidiary, tried to hack into his personal voice mail and obtained other personal information, including financial accounts, tax records and the medical details of his son Fraser, now 5, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

Ravi Somaiya, Don van Natta and Graham Bowley contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/world/europe/12hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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