Police suspect phone-hacking continued at News Corp. (NWSA)’s News of the World tabloid until 2009, dating the practice to James Murdoch’s tenure at the company’s U.K. publisher, according to revelations at a press inquiry.
News Corp. has previously said the 38-year-old executive came to the U.K. unit after reporters ceased hacking into voicemails for stories. At least 27 News Corp. employees were listed in notebooks belonging to the private investigator at the center of the phone-hacking cases, a lawyer for the media review said at a hearing in London.
Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks, seized in 2006 by London police, cited work he may have done on behalf of another News Corp. title, The Sun, as well as Trinity Mirror Plc (TNI)’s Daily Mirror, lawyer Robert Jay said today. Police are still investigating the potential Mirror link, he said.
“The inquiry is beginning to receive evidence indicating that phone hacking was not limited” to News Corp.’s News International publishing unit, Jay said on the first day of the inquiry into U.K. media practices and ethics.
Murdoch, the son of News Corp. founder and chief executive officer Rupert Murdoch, has denied knowledge that hacking was widespread in the organization, which he’s helped lead since late 2007. Hacking was previously known to have taken place as late as 2006. Mulcaire pleaded guilty to hacking and was jailed in 2007 with News of the World reporter Clive Goodman.
Police have said as many as 5,795 names of potential victims may be identified in Mulcaire’s notebooks, according to Jay.
Spokespeople at News International didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. Trinity Mirror spokesman Rich Ellis said the company has no knowledge of ever using Mulcaire.
“It was not made clear to the inquiry which newspaper he was referring to, nor did he elaborate on the nature of the ‘evidence’ or how it ‘relates’ to the Mirror,” Ellis said.
News Corp. closed the News of the World Sunday tabloid after it emerged reporters at the paper deleted phone messages on a murdered girl’s mobile phone. Prime Minister David Cameron called for the review headed by Judge Brian Leveson that started today while police and lawmakers are conducting separate probes.
Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, last week told lawmakers in the Parliamentary probe that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of closing The Sun, the U.K.’s biggest- selling daily tabloid, if evidence emerges that reporters broke the law.
“He was in charge of an internal inquiry that wasn’t thorough and the indication seems to be that this was a practice that was spilling over into his time,” said Charlie Beckett, director of media at the London School of Economics. “It’s the credibility as much as the forensic evidence that matters here. If he didn’t know what was going on, there’s a problem with the chain of command.”
News Corp. had commissioned lawyers to investigate claims that hacking went beyond the jailed reporter Goodman, and Murdoch has said that the reports didn’t indicate any widespread wrongdoing. The lawyers in charge of the inquiries have said that they were asked to look for evidence of wrongdoing within parameters that were too narrow to uncover the kind of hacking the company is being accused of.
Jay said the scandal began with a 2003 investigation of illegal news gathering methods known as blagging, where a private investigator or journalist wrongfully obtains someone’s private information.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, a privacy regulator, raided the offices of private investigators at the time whose notebooks described more than 13,000 instances of improper data gathering on behalf of 305 journalists working for 21 newspapers and 11 magazines.
The list was topped by the Daily Mail, which had 58 reporters seek information nearly 1,000 times. Jay, the inquiry’s lawyer, said 45 journalists at the Daily Mirror had hired investigators to use blagging against news targets more than 800 times.
The watchdog, which charged four investigators and police employees, may have declined to go after journalists out of fear of the power of the newspapers, Jay said, citing evidence from a former ICO employee.
The inquiry, set up in July by Prime Minister David Cameron, formally begins in London less than a week after James Murdoch gave testimony for a second time to lawmakers running a parallel probe of the scandal. Leveson is tasked with finding out how the current regulations failed and proposing new rules.
The U.K. police are conducting their own investigation and Parliament is also holding a series of hearings to question current and former News Corp. executives about how much they knew about the scandal and why the scope of hacking wasn’t disclosed sooner. The controversy has led to at least 17 arrests and has claimed the jobs of the publishing unit’s CEO Rebekah Brooks as well as Les Hinton, a former manager at the tabloid and most recently head of News Corp.’s Dow Jones unit.
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