Thu, Aug 18, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Letter lifts lid on phone hack cover-up

BROKEN LEADERS?British Prime Minister David Cameron was again tied to the hacking scandal as the letter alleged that one of his appointees knew about the illegal activities

Reuters, LONDON

Many senior executives at News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World knew about phone hacking at the British tabloid, according to a 2007 letter written by a reporter who contradicts Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch’s denials and drags British Prime Minister David Cameron back into the scandal.

The claims put new pressure on James Murdoch, who runs News Corp’s European operations, and further hurt his chances of succeeding his father as chief executive.

In a letter written four years ago in an appeal against his dismissal from the tabloid, former royal reporter Clive Goodman said the practice of hacking was openly discussed until then-editor Andy Coulson banned any reference to it.

Coulson, who has repeatedly denied all knowledge of the practice, went on to become the official spokesman for Cameron, a move that took the affair into the political arena and forced the government to turn on Rupert Murdoch after years of courting his favor.

“This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial -conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor,” the Goodman letter said, published as part of a parliamentary investigation into hacking. “Other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.”

Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, said he had been told he could keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the newspaper — but was fired nonetheless after being sentenced to prison.

The committee investigating the hacking scandal said on Tuesday it would probably recall the younger Murdoch to give further evidence after receiving the Goodman letter and statements from other parties that contradicted his previous testimony.

“I think it is very likely that we will want to put those points to James Murdoch,” committee head John Whittingdale said, adding that it was unlikely to recall Rupert Murdoch.

Tom Watson, the parliamentarian who has most doggedly pursued the scandal, told Sky News it could be months if not years before the full picture of what had happened at the newspaper emerged.

“If this letter is accurate, the whole foundation of the company’s defense collapses,” he said.

Allegations of widespread hacking at News Corp’s -British -newspaper arm, and in particular reports that journalists had used investigators to hack in to the voicemails of murder victims, sparked an uproar in Britain that dominated global headlines for almost the whole of last month.

It forced the company to close the 168-year-old News of the World, drop its most important acquisition in decades — the US$12 billion purchase of BSkyB — and accept the resignation of two of its most senior newspaper executives.

Two of Britain’s most senior police officers also quit over their failure to properly investigate the scandal and 12 people have been arrested.

“The prime minister took no action and looked the other way amid these allegations that he had brought someone aware of criminal activity into 10 Downing Street,” opposition leader Ed Miliband said in a statement. “Every new bit of evidence shows how catastrophic his judgment was.”

Jonathan Tonge, politics professor at Liverpool University, said Cameron’s credibility had been damaged at a time when he is striving to fix what he calls Britain’s “broken society” following riots and looting in a string of cities last week.

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