Parliament Session Called To Discuss Hacking Scandal

July 18, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

Christopher Furlong
British Prime Minister David Cameron attends a question and answer session Sunday at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Cameron is cutting short a trip to Africa to attend an emergency session of Parliament, being held to discuss the broadening British phone hacking scandal.

Britain's prime minister called Monday for an emergency session of Parliament to discuss the phone-hacking and bribery scandal at the now-defunct News Of The World, as authorities said they may open a wider investigation of the tabloid's owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Prime Minister David Cameron said it "may well be right to have Parliament meet on Wednesday so I can make a further statement."

The scandal, which began with allegations that journalists at the News of the World hacked the cell phones of celebrities and crime victims, has not only brought down the tabloid, which folded last week after 169 years in print, but engulfed Murdoch's entire media empire.

Subsequent allegations surfaced that News of the World paid bribes to police for information.

The scandal has forced the resignation of Paul Stephenson, the head of Scotland Yard and prompted a wave of arrests. Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who made a decision two years ago to not re-open police inquiries into phone hacking, also announced his resignation Monday.

On Sunday, Rebekah Brooks, the British CEO of News Corp. and a former editor at the tabloid, was arrested by police and questioned for several hours. Last week, Andy Coulson, another former editor who worked as Cameron's press secretary until early this year, was also arrested.

On Monday, a lawyer for Brooks, Stephen Parkinson, said she was not guilty of any crime and police would "have to give an account of their actions" considering "the enormous reputational damage" she had suffered.

In the latest twist in the legal saga, Britain's Serious Fraud Office said Monday it was giving "full consideration" to a request from a lawmaker that it open an investigation into News Corp.

"This is a major blow to Rupert Murdoch. He is extremely close to Brooks," said NPR's Philip Reeves, reporting from London.

Cameron, speaking in Pretoria, South Africa, on the first day of a two-day visit to the continent, insisted his government had "taken very decisive action" by setting up a judge-led inquiry into wrongdoing at the newspaper and relations between politicians, the media and police.

"We have helped to ensure a large and properly resourced police investigation that can get to the bottom of what happened, and wrongdoing, and we have pretty much demonstrated complete transparency in terms of media contact," Cameron said.

Stephenson resigned Sunday over his hiring of a former News of the World executive editor, Neil Wallace, who has also been arrested over the scandal. In his resignation speech, Stephenson made pointed reference to Cameron's hiring of Andy Coulson, a former editor of the shuttered tabloid who was arrested earlier this month over hacking.

NPR's Reeves said Stevenson meant to draw "a comparison between his decision to hire Wallace and Cameron's decision to hire Coulson. Stevenson is alleging that he had no knowledge of Wallace's involvement in the hacking affair when he hired him. Cameron on the other hand, did know that Coulson had left the News of the World under a cloud."

Cameron said the situations of the government and the police were "completely different," because allegations of police corruption "have had a direct bearing on public confidence into the police inquiry into the News of the World and indeed into the police themselves."

NPR's Philip Reeves and Larry Miller in London and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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