News / Europe

British Police: 'Poor Decision' Not to Reopen Phone-Hacking Case

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates appears before a parliamentary hearing into phone-hacking case in London, July 12, 2011
Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates appears before a parliamentary hearing into phone-hacking case in London, July 12, 2011

A British police official says he made a "poor decision" not to reopen an investigation of phone-hacking allegations at the tabloid The News of the World, but accused officials at the newspaper of withholding information.

The assistant commissioner of the London police, John Yates, told a British parliament committee Tuesday that as investigators considered whether to restart their probe of the phone-hacking allegations in 2009, they "simply were not provided" the information they should have been by the newspaper. He resisted suggestions that he should resign, however, for not reopening the investigation police had first started in 2005.

As furor mounted over the phone-hacking scandal, the Conservative government of British Prime Minister David Cameron said it would join the opposition Labor Party in a vote Wednesday calling for media baron Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the now-closed tabloid, to withdraw his bid to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting.

The government's backing for the anti-Murdoch resolution is likely to result in an overwhelming vote for him to abandon his prospective BSkyB takeover as authorities continue to investigate the extent of phone-hacking employed by journalists at Murdoch papers.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused The News of the World, which closed Sunday after 168 years of publishing, and other Murdoch-owned papers of hiring criminals to tap into calls and records of his family and ordinary people to obtain confidential information. Brown also told the BBC that he believes that The Sunday Times, another Murdoch publication, obtained access to his bank account and legal files early in his 2007-2010 tenure as Britain's leader.

Brown's comments came after it was revealed that a third Murdoch newspaper, The Sun, obtained confidential information in 2006 that his infant son, Fraser, had cystic fibrosis. He said he and his wife, Sarah, were left in tears after Rebekah Brooks, then The Sun's editor and now head of News International, called them to say the paper was about to publish a story about their son's illness.

Brown said the Murdoch newspapers "really exploited people," not just him, but "people who were at rock bottom."

British lawmakers have summoned Murdoch, his son, James, and Brooks to testify to answers questions about the phone-hacking and other accusations that the company paid police for access to information. The company said it would cooperate.

News reports also have alleged that Queen Elizabeth was targeted by Murdoch's media companies. Reports Monday said police officers betrayed members of the royal family to the The News of The World. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the reports.

Allegations that journalists at The News of the World hacked into phones of young murder victims, families of dead servicemen and terrorism victims caused Murdoch's News Corporation to close the tabloid.

The scandal also caused Murdoch to withdraw a promise to spin off the Sky News operation so his company could buy British Sky Broadcasting. The deal appeared headed for approval soon, but with Wednesday's parliamentary vote and a review by Britain's business competition authorities, the fate of the $13 billion acquisition is uncertain.

Some legal experts also said it is possible Murdoch's American companies may face criminal charges under the 1977 Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, a U.S. law designed to prosecute executives who bribe foreign officials.

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