Cameron promises News of the World phone hack probe

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

avid Cameron has promised to set up a public inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World.

The UK prime minister said claims that the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked, with some messages deleted, were "disgusting".

But he told MPs an inquiry could not take place until police investigations were concluded.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Cameron was "out of touch" and an inquiry should be set up sooner.

The prime minister's spokeswoman told the BBC there could even be two inquiries into phone hacking - one into the police handling of the original investigation in the middle of the last decade, and one into the actions of the media.

Or, alternatively, there could be one all-encompassing inquiry, led by a judge.

News International, the publisher of the News of the World, said it welcomed the idea of a wide-ranging public inquiry into standards in the media.

It is claimed that 13-year-old Milly Dowler's voicemail was hacked by an investigator working for the News of the World after she disappeared near her home in Surrey in 2002 .

This follows allegations that dozens of politicians and celebrities, including actor Hugh Grant and former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, were also targeted.

Amid noisy scenes at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said: "We do need to have an inquiry, possibly inquiries, into what has happened.

"We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities. We are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into.

"It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this House and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens."

But he added that an inquiry could not happen yet, saying: "There's a major police investigation under way. It's one of the biggest police investigations currently under way in our country."

Mr Cameron said he would discuss the issue with Mr Miliband and other party leaders, along with Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the head of the civil service, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Mr Miliband told MPs he was "encouraged" by Mr Cameron's comments but added that it was "possible for the prime minister to start the process now".

He recommended immediately appointing a senior figure, such as a judge, to begin work on looking at "culture and practices" in the newspaper industry.

Mr Miliband also urged Mr Cameron to back his call for Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World at the time of the alleged hacking of Milly's phone, to resign from her current job as chief executive of News International.

The Labour leader also questioned Mr Cameron's decision to hire another former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications, after he resigned from the paper in 2007 over the phone hacking scandal.
'Very dirty smell'

He said: "He's got to accept that he made a catastrophic error of judgement by bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of the Downing Street machine."

The prime minister said that it was important to "let the police do their work" before making claims about Mrs Brooks and other individuals.

Mr Coulson resigned from his government post in January this year, saying the ongoing claims over phone hacking during his time as News of the World editor were making it impossible to do his job.

Meanwhile, News International has passed e-mails to the police which appear to show that payments to police officers were authorised by Mr Coulson during his tenure as News of the World editor, a job in which he succeeded Mrs Brooks.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said this shows the investigation into alleged illicit techniques used by the paper to obtain stories went much wider than an examination of phone hacking.

Mr Coulson resigned when the tabloid's royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was imprisoned for six months on the same charge.

But a Press Complaints Commission investigation in May 2007 found no evidence that Mr Coulson or anyone else at the paper had been aware of Goodman's activities and, that same month, he became Mr Cameron's director of communications.

MPs are holding further discussions on phone hacking, after Commons Speaker John Bercow granted an emergency debate.

Labour's Chris Bryant questioned the role of the Metropolitan Police during the earlier investigation into hacking, and the information officers had given ministers and others.

He said: "I think a lot of lies have been told to a lot of people. When police officers tell lies or, at best, half-truths to politicians... that's a major constitutional issue for us to face."

Mr Bryant added: "What hangs around is a very dirty smell."

As revelations involving the News of the World continue to emerge, families of victims of the 7 July bombings in 2005 have complained that they may have had their phones hacked.

Police investigating hacking claims against the paper have contacted the parents of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Mrs Brooks has said the claims of hacking Milly's phone are "almost too horrific to believe" and pledged the "strongest possible action" if they prove to be true. She has also said it is "inconceivable" that she knew about them during her time as News of the World editor.


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