Queues formed hours early outside the London parliamentary building where media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and his son James, will face questions over the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment right up to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Around 40 members of the public lined up outside Portcullis House, a modern office block across the road from the Houses of Parliament, where Murdoch - the chief executive of News Corp - was due to be grilled by MPs on Tuesday.
Cameron cut short a trade trip to Africa and was due to return to the UK later in the day to attend an emergency debate that will take place in parliament on Wednesday, which is delaying its summer recess to address latest developments in the scandal.
London police chief Paul Stephenson and anti-terrorism head John Yates, who have both resigned over their links to a former deputy editor of the News of the World newspaper at the heart of the scandal, also faced questioning on Tuesday by parliament's home affairs committee
The Murdochs' appearance before parliament's media select committee, scheduled to begin at 2.30pm (1:30GMT), was expected to attract a television audience of millions keen to follow the latest twist in the saga.
Murdoch's Range Rover was surrounded as he arrived at the Houses of Parliament three hours before the hearing, and it quickly drove off.
"It seems as if there will be standing-room only, that's not surprising as it's the first time Rupert Murdoch has been before a select committee in his 40 years of building up a media empire," Paul Farrelly, an opposition Labour committee member, said about Tuesday's hearing.
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch's News International British newspaper arm who was arrested and bailed on Sunday on suspicion of phone hacking and police bribery, is also due to face the committee.
News International had long maintained that the practice of intercepting mobile phone voicemails to get stories was the work of a sole "rogue reporter" on the News of the World newspaper.
However, that defence crumbled in the face of a steady drip-feed of claims by celebrities that they were targeted.
The parliamentary hearing follows the resignation on Monday of a second British police chief over the scandal, as well as news of the death of a key whistleblower and former News of the World journalist, Sean Hoare.
It was Hoare who told the New York Times that phone hacking at the tabloid was far more extensive than the paper had acknowledged at the time.
Police said Hoare's death was being treated as "unexplained, but not as suspicious".
|The death of journalist Sean Hoare is being treated as "unexplained, but not as suspicious" [Reuters]
News Corporation board member, Thomas Perkins, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that Murdoch had the full support of the company's board of directors, and denied reports that the board was considering elevating chief operating officer Chase Carey to replace him.
"I can assure you, there has been no discussion at the board level in connection with this current scandal of making any changes. The board supports top management totally,'' Perkins said.
"The board has been misled, as has top management been misled, by very bad people at a very low level in the organisation."
The floodgates surrounding the scandal burst two weeks ago when a lawyer for the family of a murdered teenage schoolgirl claimed the paper had hacked her phone when she was missing, deleting messages and raising false hopes she could be still alive.
The ensuing outrage prompted News Corporation to close the 168-year-old News of the World newspaper, drop a $12 billion plan to take full control of pay TV operator BSkyB, and the arrest of Brooks and other former senior journalists.
Murdoch's 38-year-old son James has long been considered the heir-apparent to his father's media empire. But he is also set to testify before the committee and has said he approved payments to hacking victims when he was chief executive of News Corporation's European and Asian operations.
The Murdochs are due to appear at 2.30pm (13:30GMT), followed an hour later by a separate hearing for Brooks.
Cameron meanwhile has faced questions over his judgment in appointing a former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who has also been arrested in phone-hacking inquiries. Coulson quit as Cameron's spokesman in January when the long-running scandal came back to life.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies