News / Europe

British PM Defends Phone-Hacking Links

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, flanked by Finance Minister George Osborne (R), speaks about phone hacking to parliament, July 20, 2011
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, flanked by Finance Minister George Osborne (R), speaks about phone hacking to parliament, July 20, 2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron is fighting for his political reputation after being linked to an explosive media scandal in Britain.  Cameron addressed parliament on Wednesday.

Cameron was defending himself against criticism that he has been too close to former editors at British tabloid News of the World.

Illegal hacking into voicemail

Allegations have been made that journalists at News of the World illegally hacked into the voicemail of thousands of people.

The prime minister appointed a former editor, Andy Coulson, as his press chief. Another former editor, Rebekah Brooks, is said to be a close friend of Cameron. Both Coulson and Brooks have resigned as a result of the hacking scandal and the paper itself has been closed down.

Cameron on Wednesday said when he hired Coulson he had no reason to believe ill of him.

"I have said very clear that, if it turns out that Andy Coulson knew about the hacking at the News of the World, he will not only have lied to me, but he would have lied to the police, to a select committee, to the Press Complaints Commission and of course perjured himself in a court of law," said Prime Minister Cameron.

Coulson left News of the World in 2007 after one of his reporters was jailed for phone hacking. Coulson denied having known about the interceptions. He was hired by Mr. Cameron soon after.

The prime minister said Wednesday that, in hindsight, hiring Coulson was a mistake.

'Catastrophic error of judgment'

Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor party, said Cameron had made a catastrophic error of judgment.

"So that the country can have the leadership that we need, why doesn't he do more why doesn't he do more than give a half-apology and give a full apology now for hiring Mr. Coulson and bringing him into the heart of Downing Street," said Miliband.

The scandal has also revealed alleged links between the British tabloid and the police force. Two senior police officers have resigned.

David Lea, a Western Europe analyst at the London-based consulting firm Control Risks, says the scandal is far from over and may well spread further.

"There have been a few suggestions that 9/11 victims had had their phones hacked and a few suggestions that British celebrities had had their phones hacked while they were in the United States, in one case even a United States-registered mobile phone," said Lea. "It would not at all surprise me if there is a much bigger story linked to the U.S. to come out of this."

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been looking into a report by Britain's Daily Mirror.  It said reporters with the rival News of the World offered to pay a New York police officer for private phone records of some victims of the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks.

In Britain, A criminal investigation into the phone hacking is ongoing. Journalists are alleged to have hacked into the voicemails of a number of celebrities including the British actor Hugh Grant. Victims of crime may also have been hacked, including a teenage girl who was murdered.

Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corporation which owned the now defunct News of the World, flew out of Britain on Wednesday. Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, he apologized for the alleged hacking.

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