Phone Hacking Scandal:
Jeremy Hunt refers BSkyB deal to regulator
Monday 11 July 2011
Rupert Murdoch's attempt to take over BSkyB was referred to the Competition Commission today as more allegations emerged of illegal practices by his journalists.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons that the Competition Commission would be able to consider "all relevant recent developments" in evaluating the proposed merger - a reference to the phone-hacking and police-corruption scandals.
The move came as it was reported that police have told the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall that their voicemail messages may have been hacked by the News of the World.
It was also claimed that journalists from other newspapers in Mr Murdoch's News International stable illegally obtained private information about former prime minister Gordon Brown, including his bank account and his family's medical records.
Announcing he was referring the bid, Mr Hunt told MPs: "It will mean that the Competition Commission will be able to give further full and exhaustive consideration of this merger, taking into account all relevant recent developments."
Mr Murdoch's parent company News Corporation withdrew its offer to hive off Sky News as a separate company as part of its attempt to take full control of BSkyB and said it was ready to "engage with" the Competition Commission.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stepped up pressure on the media mogul, urging him to do the "decent and sensible thing" by reconsidering his takeover bid for the satellite broadcaster.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that Charles and Camilla are among at least 10 members of the royal household warned by Scotland Yard they may have been targeted for hacking.
A Clarence House spokesman said: "We are not commenting on an ongoing police investigation."
Mr Brown was repeatedly targeted by News International papers the Sun and the Sunday Times, which accessed details from his legal file, Abbey National bank account and his baby son's medical records, the Guardian and the BBC reported.
Scotland Yard and News International declined to comment on the latest claims.
The Metropolitan Police angrily accused News International of "undermining" its investigation into claims that journalists paid corrupt police officers by leaking details of the inquiry to the media.
It emerged today that emails handed to detectives suggest the News of the World paid protection officers around £1,000 for the contact details of senior members of the royal household.
Scotland Yard was informed last month when detectives were handed a fresh set of documents from News International as part of the long-running phone-hacking investigation, a source said.
Buckingham Palace, News International and Scotland Yard were unable to confirm the allegations.
One email showed former royal editor Clive Goodman asking then-editor Andy Coulson for cash to buy a confidential directory of royal phone numbers, the BBC reported.
Goodman, 53, and Coulson, 43, have been arrested and bailed until October on suspicion of bribing police officers.
Responding to today's reports, Scotland Yard said in a strongly-worded statement: "It is our belief that information that has appeared in the media today is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers and divert attention from elsewhere.
"At various meetings over the last few weeks information was shared with us by News International and their legal representatives and it was agreed by all parties that this information would be kept confidential so that we could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them, and secure best evidence.
"However, we are extremely concerned and disappointed that the continuous release of selected information - that is only known by a small number of people - could have a significant impact on the corruption investigation."
Mr Murdoch held talks with some of his most trusted lieutenants last night after flying into the UK on the day the News of the World was shut down to take personal charge of the crisis.
Among those who met over dinner was News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile phone was hacked.
Ms Brooks has volunteered to speak to police over the wider phone-hacking scandal, a News International source said.
The Dowler family said today that Ms Brooks should do the "honourable thing" and quit.
Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates denied ever being asked to review his force's original phone-hacking investigation in 2006, which resulted in Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed.
In a letter to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Yates wrote: "From the beginning of my involvement in this matter in 2009, I have never conducted a 'review' of the original investigation and nor have I ever been asked to do so.
"In relation to events that took place in 2009, I was provided with some considerable reassurance (and at a number of levels) that led me to a view that this case neither needed to be re-opened or reviewed."
The senior police officer also denied he had any knowledge that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked before the news emerged last week.
But in the Commons Labour MPs Tom Watson and Chris Bryant accused Mr Yates of misleading Parliament and said his position had become "untenable".
Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Bryant said: "Assistant Commissioner Yates repeatedly lied to Parliament. Surely he should resign."
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