x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Murdoch faces more trouble over hacking at UK papers

Scotland Yard has widened its inquiry to include allegations of email hacking by a reporter on The Times and four journalists on the The Sun are on bail after being arrested last weekend on suspicion of paying bribes to police officers.

Fresh storm clouds are gathering over Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire in Britain as the phone-hacking scandal threatens to engulf more of his titles.

One victim already appears to be the launch of a new Sunday tabloid this April to replace the News of the World, which Mr Murdoch abruptly closed last year in an unsuccessful effort to quell the fury over the hacking.

Scotland Yard has also now widened its inquiry to include allegations of email hacking by a reporter on The Times and four journalists on the The Sun are on bail after being arrested last weekend on suspicion of paying bribes to police officers.

And to cap it all, Mr Murdoch's chief of his News International newspapers in Britain - his son James - is facing fresh questions after it was confirmed this week that an email warning him that phone hacking could be "rife" was destroyed just days before police launched a new investigation into the scandal a year ago.

Murdoch junior has repeatedly denied any knowledge of phone hacking beyond the claim that it was the work of "one rogue reporter" - the News of the World's former royal editor who was jailed in 2007 for accessing the voicemails of Buckingham Palace staff.

Now, though, it has emerged that a chain of emails, headed by one from the Sunday tabloid's editor, Colin Myler, was sent to Mr Murdoch in 2008, warning that the hacking was "unfortunately as bad as we feared" and not confined to a single journalist.

A reply from Mr Murdoch, sent two minutes after he received Mr Myler's email, read: "No worries. I am in during the afternoon. If you want to talk before I'll be home tonight after seven and most of the day tomorrow."

A committee of lawyers working in conjunction with the police found a hard copy of the email chain late last year when they were going through boxes of documents left after the News of the World shut.

Mr Myler's email to Mr Murdoch was deleted on January 15, 2011, 11 days before Scotland Yard launched Operation Weeting into illegal activity at the newspaper.

The House of Commons culture and media committee, which has twice taken evidence from James Murdoch as part of its hacking inquiry, has now released a letter from News International that claims Mr Murdoch's copy of the email was deleted "as part of [an] email stabilisation and modernisation programme" while Mr Myler's copy "was lost from the email archive system in a hardware failure that occurred on Mar 18 2010".

In his letter to MPs, Mr Murdoch says he is "confident" he had not read the email chain in full because of the "timing of my response, just over two minutes after Mr Myler sent his email to me, and the fact that I typically received emails on my Blackberry on weekends".

The MPs will now decide if Mr Murdoch needs to be quizzed a third time over his apparently contradictory evidence while James Harding, the editor of The Times, faces being recalled by the Leveson Inquiry - the judicial inquiry into media standards - after Scotland Yard launched an investigation into alleged email hacking by one of the newspaper's reporters.

That reporter, Patrick Foster, revealed the name of a serving police officer who was the author of an award-winning blog after, it is claimed, he accessed the officer's email account.

Detective Richard Horton, the police officer behind the blog, had gone to the High Court in 2009 to try and prevent the newspaper from identifying him. The judge, however, refused him anonymity on public interest grounds after being told The Times had obtained information about his identity by legitimate means.

Meanwhile, journalists at The Sun are reeling after the arrest of four of their number and the fact that the launch of the paper known as The Sun on Sunday as a replacement for the News of the World appears to have been put back indefinitely from the planned launch date of April 29.

Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism at City University London, fears that the very future of The Sun might be at risk, despite its profitability and daily sales of 2.7 million.

"The backwash of the phone-hacking scandal has had an extraordinary effect on both Murdoch and, more pertinently, on his company's executives and investors in America," he said. "Some believe there is no point in cleaning the Augean stables; better rather to quit the stables altogether.

"The problem for The Sun is that it is tainted by association with its deceased ugly sister [the News of the World]. And the results of the inquiries into its internal correspondence are tending to damage its image still further.

"Seen in this context, especially when viewed from the US, The Sun could be seen as expendable. Its fate is, therefore, in the balance."