David Cameron will today come under intense pressure to give way and order a full public inquiry into telephone hacking by the News of World after the Commons Speaker ordered an emergency debate into the scandal.
The three-hour debate scheduled for this afternoon could also lead to further damaging allegations about hacking at the paper under the protection of Parliamentary privilege.
Last night Labour sources suggested there was evidence that phones belonging to relatives of several other murder victims had been hacked by representatives of the paper.
While the motion to be debated will not be controversial or result in a Parliamentary vote, it will increase political pressure on the Government to pre-announce a public inquiry for when the police investigation and any charges which flow from it are concluded.
Mr Cameron is close to Rebekah Brooks, employed Andy Coulson as his director of communications and will realise how the issue could turn increasingly toxic for the Government.
Yesterday in the House of Lords, the Home Office Minister, Baroness Browning, appeared to soften the Government's position on an inquiry, saying: "If the allegations were found to be true there will need to be new avenues to explore."
The former Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Fowler, who raised the issue, said afterwards: "I've been pressing this for the last six months. I think the Government is edging a little to agreeing with me, I don't understand frankly why they don't [call an independent inquiry]. No one is saying that the independent inquiry should take place at the same time as the criminal proceedings. What I am asking for is a commitment."
The issue is also likely to be raised directly with Mr Cameron at Prime Minister's questions which will be held before the emergency debate.
Last night a senior Labour source said: "What's so amazing is that when they were in opposition the Tories were constantly calling for public inquiries and now when it concerns News International they seem to have gone off the idea."
The Speaker's decision to timetable the emergency debate came after the Labour MP Chris Bryant used a Parliamentary procedure known as Standing Order 24 to request it.
Only 13 such debates have been approved in the last 28 years. Among them were Neil Kinnock on Westland in 1986, Gerald Kaufman on Special Branch activity in 1987, and Andrew Mackay on the miners' strike policing in 1984.
Last night Mr Bryant said: "I think there needs to be a judge-led public inquiry. Two things need to happen: firstly, what act happened at the News of the World, what was the full scale of the criminality... secondly, why did the police do nothing about it in 2006... they could have taken action then, but they chose not to. Why on earth was that? That's the double-headed scandal, and I think that a public inquiry would be the only way we will manage to get the whole truth about it."
He said it would encourage the police to do a thorough job. "It would be a sword of Damocles hanging over the police, saying 'are you done yet, are you done yet?' We need to make sure that there isn't a cover-up of the cover-up."
Rebekah Brooks's statement
When I wrote to you last week updating you on a number of business issues I did not anticipate having to do so again so soon. However, I wanted to address the company as a matter of urgency in light of the new claims against the News of the World. (1) We were all appalled and shocked when we heard about these allegations yesterday. I have to tell you that I am sickened that these events are alleged to have happened (2). Not just because I was Editor of the News of the World at the time, but if the accusations are true, the devastating effect on Milly Dowler's family is unforgivable (3). Our first priority must be to establish the full facts behind these claims. I have written to Mr and Mrs Dowler this morning to assure them News International will vigorously pursue the truth and that they will be the first to be informed of the outcome of our investigation (4). Our lawyers have also written to their solicitor Mark Lewis to ask him to show us any of the evidence he has so we can swiftly take the appropriate action (5).
At the moment we only know what we have read (6). Since 2006, when the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) seized the documentation from the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, News International has had no visibility on the evidence available (7). The process of discovery is complicated. The MPS first present relevant documents to potential victims. We only see the evidence much later during the legal process. This morning, in our regular Operation Weeting meeting, we have offered the MPS our full co-operation to establish the veracity of these fresh allegations (8). I have also written to the Chief Constable of Surrey. Although their nine-year investigation is now complete, I want to offer our co-operation should they intend to discuss this matter with us. I am determined that News International does everything it can to co-operate fully and proactively with the MPS, as we have been doing for some time, to verify the facts so we can respond in a robust and proper way.
It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way (9). If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour. I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.
I am proud of the many successful newspaper campaigns at The Sun and the News of the World under my editorship. In particular, the 10-year fight for Sarah's Law is especially personal to me.
The battle for better protection of children from paedophiles and better rights for the families and the victims of these crimes defined my editorships (10).
Although these difficult times will continue for many months ahead, I want you to know that News International will pursue the facts with vigour and integrity.
I am aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues (11). We will face up to the mistakes and wrongdoing of the past and we will do our utmost to see that justice is done and those culpable will be punished.
This is the text of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks's memo to staff
Rebekah Brooks’s statement deconstructed
(1) Brooks is implementing job cuts; now she is having to firefight the phone hacking scandal. More bad news for staff, some of whom may be beginning to wonder what kind of organisation they are working for. This email is meant to reassure them that they work for a responsiblecorporation.
(2) Brooks probably had little idea the Milly Dowler story was about to break. The events she is seeking to distance herself from happened during her editorship, which she must now acknowledge.
(3) And highly embarrassing. The public now knows that hacking did not merely involve listening to Sienna Miller or Steve Coogan's voicemails. It frustrated a police inquiry and gave the parents of a murdered schoolgirl false hope that she was still alive.
(4) For five years News International insisted that phone hacking was the work of a lone rogue reporter, Clive Goodman. Its executives repeatedly told Parliament and the public that the matter had been thoroughly investigated and no serious wrongdoing found. Now, there is to be another "vigorous" investigation.
(5) It will be interesting to see the tone of this letter.
(6) Curious. The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was carried out by Glenn Mulcaire for the News of the World. The News of the World published stories based on hacked messages, including one hoax message left on Milly's phone, the phone it was hacking. Are there no emails in News International's apparently fully preserved email archive relating to Milly Dowler: what did senior executives know?
(7) Apart from the invoices, the verbal and written testimony of its employees and executives – garnered during its own internal investigations – and that vast email data archive.
(8) Detectives actually said that they wanted to talk to News International; offering to co-operate with a major police inquiry is hardly a generous offer.
(9) This is an interesting way to describe Glenn Mulcaire's eight-year role at the News of the World. He was on a £105,000-a-year exclusive contract with the paper. Many of its exclusive stories derived from his illegal activities.
(10) A doomed trek to the moral high ground.
(11) Brooks does not intend to resign. Rupert Murdoch will decide whether she stays – or goes.
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