British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday called for an emergency session of parliament to brief lawmakers on the spreading phone hacking scandal, trying to gain control of a crisis that is threatening Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the upper echelons of London’s police force and the country’s leader himself.
Rupert Murdoch attempts to speak to the media after he held a meeting with the parents and sister of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in London, Friday, July 15, 2011. Murdoch’s loyal lieutenant Rebekah Brooks resigned Friday as chief executive of his embattled British newspapers, becoming the highest-ranking casualty yet in the phone-hacking scandal roiling Britain.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Parliament is due to break for the summer on Tuesday after lawmakers grill Murdoch, his son James and his former British chief executive Rebekah Brooks about the scandal, but Cameron said "it may well be right to have Parliament meet on Wednesday so I can make a further statement."
Cameron was speaking in Pretoria, South Africa, on the first day of a two-day visit to the continent. He had planned a longer trip, but cut it short as his government faces a growing number of questions about its relationship with the Murdoch empire and a scandal that has taken down some of Britain’s most powerful people with breathless speed.
In the latest twist in the legal saga, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, Britain’s anti-fraud agency, said Monday it was giving "full consideration" to a request from a lawmaker that it open an investigation into Murdoch’s News Corp.
The office said any possible probe would be limited to News Corp. activities in Britain, but it added that it is ready to assist authorities in the U.S., where the FBI has already opened an inquiry into whether 9/11 victims or their families were also hacking targets of News Corp. journalists.
Cameron 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.
But he is under pressure after the resignation of London police chief Paul Stephenson and the arrest Sunday of Brooks — a friend of Cameron’s — on suspicion of hacking and police bribery.
News International chief Rebekah Brooks, seen here on July 1, has resigned amid the phone-hacking scandal engulfing the British newspaper group, a News Corp. spokeswoman said.
Brooks was detained and questioned for nine hours on Sunday before being released on bail. On Monday, her lawyer released a defiant statement professing her innocence and claiming police face serious questions about her arrest. He said police would "have to give an account of their actions" considering "the enormous reputational damage" Brooks’ arrest had caused to the ultimate social and political insider.
Stephenson resigned Sunday over his ties to a former News of the World executive editor who has 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.
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."
Other senior police officers are under fire, including Assistant Commissioner John Yates.
Brooks’ arrest was the latest blow for Murdoch, the once all-powerful figure courted by British politicians of all stripes. Now Murdoch is struggling to tame the scandal, which has already destroyed News of the World, cost the jobs of Brooks and Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton and sunk the media baron’s dream of taking full control of a lucrative satellite broadcaster, British Sky Broadcasting.
Murdoch is eager to stop the crisis from spreading to the U.S., where many of his most lucrative assets — including the Fox TV network, 20th Century Fox film studio, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — are based. Sky News reported Monday that News Corp. had appointed a senior lawyer to head an internal probe on phone hacking.
"The former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper operation has been arrested by police investigating allegations of phone hacking and bribery. Rebekah Brooks is the tenth person to be detained in connection with the scandal that’s engulfed the now-defunct News of the World."
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