2 arrested in hacking probe
LONDON – Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications chief and a former royal reporter were arrested today in a phone hacking and police corruption scandal that has already toppled a major tabloid and rattled the cozy relationship between British politicians and the powerful Murdoch media empire.
The 168-year-old muckraking tabloid News of the World was shut down on Thursday after being engulfed by allegations its journalists paid police for information and hacked into the phone messages of celebrities, young murder victims and even the grieving families of dead soldiers. Its last publication day is Sunday.
The hacking revelations horrified both ordinary Britons and advertisers, who pulled their ads en masse. News International, the British arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., killed the paper in hopes of saving its £12 billion (BDS$47 billion) deal to take over satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting. But the British government today signalled the deal would be delayed as a result of the crisis.
“Given the events of recent days, this will take some time,” Cameron said.
A billion pounds (BDS$3.2 billion) was wiped off the value of BSkyB today, with shares closing down 7.6 per cent in London as investors recoiled at the bad news.
Monitoring situation British broadcast regulator OFCOM – which has a duty to ensure media owners are “fit and proper” – said it was “monitoring the situation closely”.
The police investigation into the phone hacking drew uncomfortably close to the prime minister yesterday with the arrest of Andy Coulson, Cameron’s once-powerful communications chief and a former editor of News of the World.
Coulson, 43, was arrested today morning on suspicion of corruption and “conspiring to intercept communications”. Hours later, he was released on bail until October.
Police also arrested Clive Goodman, the former News of the World royal editor who was jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royal aides. This time the arrest was on suspicion of making illegal payoffs to police for scoops. He was also released on bail.
Detectives searched Coulson’s house in London and Goodman’s home south of the city yesterday, as well as the newsroom of a second tabloid, the Daily Star Sunday. That paper is owned by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell media conglomerate, and Goodman has done work for the paper since his release from jail.
The Daily Star Sunday said detectives spent two hours at its offices and took away a disc containing a record of Goodman’s computer activity. The paper said there was “no suggestion whatsoever” that Goodman acted improperly during his shifts at the Star.
Allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World first surfaced more than five years ago, but the original police investigation – which saw Goodman and another man jailed – has now been criticized as incomplete and compromised by new bribery allegations.
The Metropolitan Police reopened the hacking inquiry earlier this year, and say they were looking at the names of over 4 000 people as possible victims. (AP)