Phone-hacking probe: Labour pushes for inquiry to start now

 

The final front page for the News of The World

Labour is calling for an immediate start to the judicial phone-hacking inquiry so evidence will not be lost as the News of the World closes.

News International has said a Guardian report that millions of e-mails may have been deleted was "rubbish".

Number 10 says it is acting "as rapidly as possible" and steps are being taken to appoint a judge to lead it.

Staff have been preparing the Sunday tabloid's last edition, which has the headline: "Thank You & Goodbye."

And the message is spread across a montage of several front page covers from the 168-year-old newspaper's history.

'Total' Murdoch support

Rupert Murdoch is expected to arrive in London this weekend to take charge of dealing with the phone-hacking crisis that has engulfed his News International group.

Mr Murdoch said on Saturday the decision to close the paper was "a collective decision".

And he told the Reuters news agency that News International's chief executive and former NoW editor, Rebekah Brooks, has his "total" support.

"I'm not throwing innocent people under the bus," he said.

Labour has written to No 10 to urge the immediate appointment of the judge to lead an inquiry into the scandal.

NoW staff in the newsroom at Wapping NoW editor Colin Myler paid tribute to his 'creative and talented' journalists

In a letter to the prime minister on Saturday, shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis asks for "immediate discussions so that by the end of the day we are in a position to agree the appointment of the judge" to head one of the independent inquiries into the scandal.

And Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, said: "At the end of today, NoW will no longer exist, and if a judge is appointed in a few weeks or a few months time, all the staff will have separated and gone off their separate ways, all the computers, where will they be?

"We've got to make sure, because time's running out now, the clock is ticking... we must make sure that's not the way that Murdoch covers his tracks."

A News International spokeswoman said: "This assertion is rubbish. We adopted a documented e-mail retention policy in line with our US parent's records management policy.

"We are co-operating actively with police and have not destroyed evidence."

'Sad day'

And the Church of England has threatened to pull its £3.7m investment from News Corporation unless senior executives are held to account for the phone-hacking scandal.

This came as News of the World (NoW) staff prepared its final edition, following the announcement of its closure on Thursday.

Editor Colin Myler told staff: "It's not where we want to be and it's not where we deserve to be, but I know we will produce a paper to be proud of."

At the scene

At the News of the World's Wapping offices staff are sombre, but determined to make their last edition one to remember.

Some admit there may be tears, but also a sense of pride in producing what is likely to still be, even on its last day, Britain's best selling Sunday newspaper.

Editor Colin Myler held his morning editorial conference as usual, and now the paper's 280-strong team of reporters, sub-editors, designers and support staff are focussed on the deadline of 2015BST - traditionally the time the paper is "put to bed".

Tomorrow's final front page is being kept a closely-guarded secret - but an extra two million copies are being printed to cope with anticipated demand for a piece of newspaper history.

Former NoW editor Andy Coulson, who was arrested on Friday, said it was a "very sad day" for the newspaper.

"More importantly to the staff who, in my mind, are brilliant, professional people and I really feel for them."

News International has denied reports that the paper's offices are to become a designated crime scene when journalists leave.

"Following discussions with the police, all necessary steps have been taken to secure the information necessary for their investigations," a spokesman said.

Mr Coulson, 43, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and alleged corruption and former royal editor Clive Goodman, 53, who was jailed in 2007 for phone hacking, was arrested on suspicion of corruption.

An unnamed 63-year-old man was arrested at an address in Surrey on suspicion of corruption.

All have been released on bail until October.

Inquiries

On Friday, David Cameron revealed details of two new inquiries relating to the scandal.

He said the judge-led inquiry would look into "why did the first police investigation fail so abysmally; what exactly was going on at the News of the World and what was going on at other newspapers".

Remit of police investigations

  • Operation Weeting - investigating phone hacking or intrusion into the private lives of hundreds of people. They aim to contact all those whose personal details were found in documents seized in 2006
  • Operation Elveden - investigating alleged police corruption. Documents handed over by News International on 20 June were assessed by police as including "information relating to alleged inappropriate payments to a small number of officers".

A second inquiry would examine the ethics and culture of the press, he added.

BBC Political Correspondent Carole Walker said Millie Dowler's sister and mother, and the actor Hugh Grant, are to meet Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Monday to discuss the inquiries.

They have also requested a meeting with the prime minister which, our correspondent said, is likely to be arranged.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Mrs Brooks is no longer heading the firm's own inquiry into the scandal.

She told staff in an e-mail that those carrying out the investigation would now report to Joel Klein, a US-based senior executive at the company's owner, News Corp.

On Friday, Mrs Brooks held a meeting with NoW staff at its headquarters in Wapping.

A source present at the talks told the BBC she had informed staff they would eventually understand why the Sunday tabloid had to close.

Takeover questions

Meanwhile, Mrs Brooks denied all knowledge of the Milly Dowler hacking or any other case while she was editor, in a letter to MPs released on Saturday.

It followed a request for fresh evidence from Keith Vaz MP, chair of the home affairs select committee.

Rebekah Brooks' address to staff on Friday at the News of the World was captured on a secret recording

Mr Coulson's lawyers said it would be inappropriate for him to answer the committee's questions because of the active criminal investigation.

Mr Vaz said the committee would continue to investigate the issue.

The tabloid is accused of hacking into phones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians. Police have identified 4,000 possible targets.

The controversy has raised questions about the proposed takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, ultimate owner of the NoW.

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has written to the chairman of the Commons culture committee highlighting the watchdog's duty to ensure that anyone holding a broadcasting licence is a "fit and proper" person to do so.

 

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