U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron laid the ground for Rupert Murdoch to be summoned to give evidence to a public inquiry into phone hacking as he sought to deal with what he called the “firestorm” over the scandal.
Cameron specifically included “proprietors” in the list of people that the inquiry, to be led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, will have the power to summon. He said the inquiry will be in two parts: a review of press regulation to report within 12 months and an investigation into wrongdoing by press and police. The second part may be delayed by criminal proceedings.
Murdoch arrived in London on July 10 to deal with a flurry of allegations that reporters at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid hacked into hundreds of mobile-phone voice mails, including those of murder and terror victims, and bribed police for information. News Corp. said today it is dropping its bid to gain full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
“The people involved whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up, however high or low they go, must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country,” Cameron told lawmakers in Parliament in London.
Cameron said police investigating the News of the World have so far made eight arrests. The team, he said, “is looking through 11,000 pages containing 3,870 names, including around 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers. They have contacted 170 people so far -- and they will contact every single person named in those documents.”
The prime minister earlier faced questions from Labour Party leader Ed Miliband about his 2007 decision to hire as his head of communications Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World. Coulson left the newspaper after one of his reporters was jailed for phone-hacking. He has always insisted he didn’t know about it. He quit Cameron’s office in 2010 and on July 8 he was arrested.
“I sought assurances from Andy Coulson, I received assurances, those were assurances that were given not just to me but to a select committee and in a criminal case,” Cameron said. “If it turns out he lied, it won’t just be that he shouldn’t have been in government, it will be that he should be prosecuted.”
Cameron conceded he has struggled to respond to the public outcry since the Guardian newspaper reported on July 4 that the News of the World had in 2002 hacked into the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and deleted messages, leading her parents to believe she might still be alive.
He initially refused to call either for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive officer of News International, the publisher of News Corp. newspapers in the U.K, or link the scandal to the BSkyB bid.
He has since joined Miliband in calling for Brooks to go and had pledged to back a Labour Party motion due to take place in Parliament today calling for Murdoch to drop the BSkyB bid.
“There is a firestorm that is engulfing parts of the media, parts of the police and indeed the political system’s ability to respond,” Cameron said.
BSkyB shares were down 0.4 percent at 683.5 pence as of 2:50 p.m. after News Corp. announced it was withdrawing its 7.8 billion-pound ($12.5 billion) offer for the 61 percent of Britain’s largest pay-TV broadcaster that it doesn’t already own.