Call for BSkyB takeover delay over phone-hacking investigation

The Government has been urged to delay Rupert Murdoch's proposed takeover of BSkyB until police finish their investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World.

The media tycoon's News Corp, ultimate owners of the News of the World, was given the green light last month to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he planned to accept News Corp's offer rather than refer the bid to the Competition Commission.

But a Labour MP said today the deal should not go through while detectives continued to investigate allegations that journalists at News International, Murdoch's newspaper division, illegally intercepted celebrities' and politicians' phone messages.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) told MPs: "In light of the considerable concerns which have arisen because of the ongoing criminal investigations about phone-hacking in the News International stable, is the Secretary of State now minded to postpone any decision on the future of BSkyB until such time as the criminal investigation has been concluded?"

Speaking at Commons question time, Mr Hunt said: "The decision I have to take in respect of the Sky merger is about media plurality. We are in the process of taking that decision."

But he added: "I am very concerned about the news to do with phone-hacking. It is a criminal offence, two people have already gone to prison and three people have been arrested.

"The police must follow their investigations wherever they lead. The public must have confidence that in a free press, the press uses that freedom responsibly."

The Sunday tabloid tried to draw a line under the scandal earlier this month when it published a prominent apology and agreed to pay damages to phone-hacking victims.

The move followed the arrests of three serving and former journalists: James Weatherup, a senior reporter who has also worked as a news editor at the title, chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, 50, and former assistant editor (news) Ian Edmondson, 42.

Scotland Yard has endured repeated criticism over its handling of the original phone-hacking inquiry, which led to the convictions of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007.