Rupert Murdoch's media empire was yesterday labelled a "toxic shadow state" as it was accused of launching a campaign of intimidation to blunt MPs' investigations into its alleged law breaking.
Senior MPs last night called for News International (NI) to be investigated by the Commons for potential contempt of Parliament over the claims that members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee were targeted in attempts to dig dirt on their private lives.
The claims were laid out in an incendiary book on the hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch, written by Labour MP Tom Watson and Martin Hickman, a writer for The Independent and i.
It also alleges that Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of NI, was bugged in her own office shortly before her resignation last summer, and that NI intermediaries approached Mr Watson with a "deal" to "give him" former NOTW editor and Downing Street press chief Andy Coulson, but that Ms Brooks was "sacred".
NI, which runs Mr Murdoch's British newspapers, said it had no comment to make on the book.
The book claimed Neville Thurlbeck, right, the former NOTW chief reporter who has been arrested in connection with phone hacking, said: "An edict came down ... and it was find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use." Mr Thurlbeck last night told i the 2009 order originated not from inside the paper but from "elsewhere inside News International".
Mr Watson believed the campaign, which was halted after 10 days, contributed to a decision by the media committee not to demand Ms Brooks to give evidence to it in 2010.
Labelling News Corp a "toxic institution, he added: "The web of influence which News Corporation spun in Britain, which effectively bent politicians, police and many others in public life to its will, amounted to a shadow state."
Chris Bryant last night confirmed that he would be asking Parliament to investigate the claims that NI carried out targeted intimidation. He said "I am certain that the Commons privilege committee will have to decide whether there has been a contempt of Parliament, and if so, what should be done."