Rupert Murdoch, his son James and former aide Rebekah Brooks faced an extraordinary showdown with British MPs yesterday over the phone hacking crisis that has rocked Britain and threatens the media mogul’s empire.
Until recently the three most powerful figures in British media, they will answer questions from a parliamentary committee over the spiraling crisis that has shuttered the News of the World tabloid and forced out two top policemen.
In a further bizarre twist, British police were investigating the unexplained death of whistleblower Sean Hoare, a former reporter at the tabloid who first implicated British Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spokesman in the scandal.
The Murdochs’ British newspaper arm News International was, meanwhile, targeted by the Lulz Security hacker group, which replaced the Sun’s online version with a fake story saying -Australian-born Rupert was dead.
With his News Corp group also facing a probe in the US and shares plummeting, the 80-year-old Murdoch reportedly engaged public relations consultants to train him for yesterday’s session.
Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman John Whittingdale promised “forensic” questioning amid public anger over the hacking of crime victims, celebrities and royals.
The Murdochs and Brooks faced at least two hours of questioning by lawmakers who have demanded they “account for the behavior” of the tainted media giant.
James Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp’s Europe and Asia operation, promised to be the focus of scrutiny over payments he is alleged to have approved to the victims of hacking.
The flame-haired Brooks was also taken to task for her remarks before the same committee in 2003, when she admitted police had been paid for stories.
Brooks was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of hacking and bribing police. She was bailed and her lawyer confirmed that she would attend the session, although it was not clear how much she would be able to answer.
The Murdochs initially refused to appear before the committee, but relented after they were formally summoned.
Two senior police figures were also to face lawmakers’ questions: former Metropolitan Police commissioner Paul Stephenson and former anti-terror chief and Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates, who resigned within 24 hours of each other this week.
Stephenson quit on Sunday amid questions over the force’s links with Neil Wallis, the deputy to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Coulson went on to become Cameron’s communications chief.
Yates, who resigned on Monday, had refused to reopen an investigation into the paper in 2009 and now also faces an investigation into allegations that he got Wallis’ daughter a job at the force.
An initial investigation into the Sunday tabloid resulted in the jailing of the paper’s former royal editor and a private investigator, but the evidence then sat untouched for years.
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