Tuesday, July 19, 2011

News Corp. scandal claims more victims

The News Corp. hacking scandal claimed more victims this week with further resignations and the mysterious death of whistleblower and former journalist Sean Hoare. There was another twist in the hacking saga too as websites for the Sun and Times became victims of hacking themselves.

Sunday saw the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson. The police chief did not go quietly though as he fired off criticism at prime minister David Cameron. In his resignation speech, Sir Paul took a damaging parting shot at Cameron over his relationship with the former News of the World editor who became his communications chief. He pointedly said Neil Wallis had not been associated with phone hacking at the time he was employed by the Met, "unlike Andy Coulson" [Sky]

The commissioner's resignation came only hours after former editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was arrested and hauled in for questioning. She was eventually released on bail after 8 hours. Her lawyer Stephen Parkinson however insisted that Brooks was "not guilty of any criminal offence".

Meanwhile further criticism of the Met's handling of the hacking inquiry cam from politicians. Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Lord Prescott said that Assistant Commissioner John Yates "does not have the morality to stay in his job" and should himself resign. Only hours later, Yates announced his intention to quit his post. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph published on 9 July 2011, Yates had expressed "extreme regret" for the failings in the initial phone hacking inquiry, but dismissed any suggestion of corruption or improper relationships on his part. But the mounting criticism had finally pushed him into resigning. In a statement he said his conscience was clear and had "deep regret" over his resignation. Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has received referrals [IPCC] about the conduct of four current or former senior Met officers [BBC].

In what was already proving to be a tumultuous day of events, suddenly came the shocking news that former journalist and whistleblower Sean Hoare had been found dead at his Watford home. Hertfordshire Police said his death was being treated as "unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious". Nonetheless, there will be deep suspicions amongst many, given the timing of events [BBC / Sky].

Then came news that police were searching rubbish bags near to Rebekah Brooks' home in London. According to the Guardian newspaper, detectives were examining a computer, paperwork and a phone found in a bin near the riverside London home of the former chief executive of News International.

The Guardian reported that the bag containing the items was found in an underground car park in the Design Centre at the exclusive Chelsea Harbour development on Monday afternoon. The car park, under a shopping centre, is only metres away from the gated apartment block where Brooks lives with her husband, a former racehorse trainer and close friend of David Cameron.

It was reported that the bag was handed in to security at around 15:00, and that shortly afterwards Brooks's husband, Charlie, arrived and tried to reclaim it. He was unable to prove the bag was his and the security guard refused to release it.

Instead, it is understood that the security guard then called the police. In less than half an hour, two marked police cars and an unmarked forensics car are said to have arrived at the scene. Police are now examining CCTV footage taken in the car park to discover who dropped the bag. Initial suspicions that there had been a break-in at the Brooks' flat have been dismissed, and later a spokesperson for Charlie Brooks made a statement saying that, "Charlie has a bag which contains a laptop and papers which were private to him. They were nothing to do with Rebekah or the [phone hacking] case." According to the spokesperson Charlie Brooks was collecting the bag from a friend who had dropped it in the wrong part of the garage while returning it. "The suggestion is that a cleaner thought it was rubbish and put it in the bin." [Reuters]

Meanwhile Rebekah Brooks may be feeling more uncomfortable after she learns that hacking group Anonymous released a host of email addresses and passwords it claims belong to senior News International executives past and present, including Brooks herself. The hackers also defaced The Sun's website, redirecting visitors to a fake site declaring that Rupert Murdoch had been found dead in his garden [Twitpic].

For several hours both the Sun and Times websites were inaccessible, though by 05:00 UK time both sites had been restored. Twitter was also having its own troubles Tuesday with many users finding they could not access the service through the site or third party apps. This seemed to be more than coincidence rather than anything sinister however.

Today much of the world will be glued to the proceedings of a select committee which will see Rupert and James Murdoch being grilled by MPs. It is unclear at present whether Rebakah Brooks, who was due to attend, will take part.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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