June 24, 2024

Former Aide to Cameron Is Arrested in Tabloid Scandal

For Mr. Cameron, the day’s events took an ominous turn that suggested he may be embroiled in the scandal for months, or even years, as he struggles on a broader front to make historic cuts in public spending, his government’s primary goal.

He announced plans for two public inquiries, one to investigate the phone hacking and the police failure to effectively investigate it over the past five years, and another into the “culture, practices and ethics” of British newspapers. But as he did, his former media chief at 10 Downing Street, Andy Coulson, previously the editor of The News of the World, the Murdoch paper at the heart of the scandal, was arrested for police questioning.

The day brought further bad news for the Murdoch empire, with the head of the government agency that regulates broadcast media, Ofcom, writing to John Whittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary committee that monitors media matters, to say that the agency intended to review Rupert Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion bid for outright ownership of British Sky Broadcasting.

The deal requires government approval, including whether the company’s executives are “fit and proper” ethically as well as financially to own one of the country’s most powerful media companies. Reflecting criticism that the Cameron government, and Ofcom, have taken too accommodating a view of the Murdoch bid, the agency signaled that it might be prepared, after reviewing the phone hacking scandal, to veto the bid.

The letter said that Ofcom was “very conscious of the level of concern” in the country about the News of the World misdeeds.

The 43-year-old prime minister, in office just a year, appeared to time his remarks at a news conference on Friday in an effort to steal the headlines from the arrest of Mr. Coulson and a former News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, who has already served a jail term for his role in the paper’s hacking of the royal family’s cellphones. But he could not overcome a series of shocking disclosures, including a report in The Guardian that police were investigating reports that an executive with News International, the British arm of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, had tried to delete millions of e-mails from a News of the World archive “in an attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry into the affair.”

Later, Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, told reporters and editors at The News of the World’s headquarters on Friday that the criminal investigation would lead to “a very dark day for this company” and help explain why Murdoch executives decided Thursday to shut the paper down after 168 years as one of Britain’s leading newspapers.

Ms. Brooks, editor of the paper when its employees hacked the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who was abducted and murdered — something she has said she knew nothing about — again rejected demands that she resign, a step that Mr. Cameron, reticent on the matter until Friday, had urged at his new conference.

Ms. Brooks, a friend of Mr. Cameron’s, enraged many of those attending The News of the World meeting, according to some of those who attended, by appearing to equate her plight — still employed, but an object of withering public censure — with those of the paper’s employees who will lose their jobs after it publishes its last edition on Sunday. “This is not exactly the best of times in my life,” she said. “I feel exactly the same as you.”

Ms. Brooks’s discomfort paralleled that of Mr. Cameron. For the second time in three days, after a raucous melee in the House of Commons on Wednesday, he sought to cast himself at his news conference as the man to rescue Britain from a scandal that he described as “simply disgusting” — allegations that The News of the World, Britain’s most widely read Sunday paper, hacked into the voice mail messages not just of Milly Dowler, but of relatives who lost family members in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and others who lost loved ones in the July 2005 terrorist bombings on London’s transit system.

Facing the biggest crisis to hit a British leader since Tony Blair defied public opinion and carried Britain into the Iraq war, Mr. Cameron answered critics — in his own Conservative Party, as well as the Labour opposition — who have questioned his judgment, and even his honesty, in hiring Mr. Coulson to work on his personal staff only months after the former media chief had been forced to resign in the first round of scandal over phone hacking at The News of the World, in 2007. His principal defense was that he acted in the belief that the former editor deserved “a second chance” after his demise at the tabloid, when he told police that he had no knowledge of the tabloid’s phone hacking.

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; Tim Arango from Baghdad; and Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 8, 2011

An earlier version of this article omitted the given name and title of Ed Miliband.

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