Brown blasts phone-hacking 'criminals'

Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks will be questioned by parliament.

    The News of the World's hacking scandal is alleged to have targeted Britain's royal family [Reuters]

    Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister, has issued furious accusations that Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper business employed criminals to illegally obtain private information about his family and others.

    Brown told the BBC on Tuesday that it appeared the Sunday Times - part of Murdoch's News International group - had obtained confidential information on his bank account, legal files and possibly other material during his tenure as Britain's finance minister.

    "My tax returns went missing at one point, medical records have been broken into. I don't know how all this happened but I do know ... that in two of these instances there is absolute proof that News International was involved in hiring people to get this information," he said in a BBC television interview.

    "And I do know also that the people that they work with are criminals, criminals with records, criminals who sometimes have records of violence as well as records of fraud."

    Murdoch-owned newspapers are also alleged to have targeted Brown's voicemail messages and obtained his family's health records. Brown told the BBC he was devastated in 2006 when News International's Sun newspaper informed him it planned to publish a story that his newborn son had cystic fibrosis, an often fatal disease.

    Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of  The Sun at the time and is now the chief executive of News International, Murdoch and son, James, have agreed to a request from parliament's influential Culture, Media and Sport Committee to come before a panel next Tuesday to answer questions about the phone-hacking scandal.

    "I think in some ways this is the first sensible thing they have done," John Whittingdale, chairman of committee, told BBC television.

    "They are going to take on their critics and account for themselves in parliament and that is what we wanted them to do, and I am very pleased that they have accepted that invitation."

    Police implicated

    Later on Tuesday, a legislative committee is to question senior London police officers about why they did not pursue a phone-hacking investigation at the tabloid News of the World - also part of the News International group - two years ago.

    The newspaper was closed down last week amid a flurry of public indignation over allegations it hacked into phones, including that of a murdered 13-year-old.

    Before Tuesday's hearing, opposition Labour politicians called for the resignation of John Yates, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He decided in 2009 that there was nothing more to investigate at the paper.

    Yates says he relied on advice from colleagues.

    In 2007, a reporter and a private detective working for News of the World were sent to prison for hacking the voicemail messages of royal family employees.

    The scandal rocking Murdoch's media empire continued to widen on Monday, with allegations that his British newspapers bribed royal protection officers to provide personal details about the royals, including Queen Elizabeth and her aides.

    Detectives had approached Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to say they had found evidence which indicated their voicemails might have been hacked, The Guardian newspaper reported.

    Increasing outrage

    The allegations will increase the pressure on Murdoch's global conglomerate, News Corp, from a scandal that seems to deepen by the hour.

    The saga has already disrupted the media mogul's plans to take over highly profitable satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) and slashed billions off News Corp's value.

    A final decision on the multibillion-dollar BSKyB takeover was delayed after Murdoch withdrew a promise to spin off news channel Sky News, inviting the British government to refer the bid to authorities charged with enforcing anti-monopoly laws. That is expected to delay any decision on the deal for months.

    Al Jazeera's Tania Page, reporting from London, said that while Murdoch "may have sacrificed News of the World to save his BSkyB deal, but with public and political pressure mounting, doubts over whether it will go through are increasing day by day."

    The scandal has also highlighted the unparalleled political influence of Murdoch's collection of newspaper titles - and touched David Cameron, the British prime minister, and his former communications chief, Andy Coulson, who was arrested last week in connection with allegations of payments to police when he was editor of the News of the World.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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