LONDON, (Reuters) – Police arrested David Cameron’s former spokesman yesterday over the scandal that has shut down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, forcing the prime minister to defend his judgment while promising new controls on the British press.
As Cameron fielded hostile questions over why he had hired the paper’s former editor Andy Coulson in 2007, despite knowing that one of his journalists had been jailed for hacking into voicemails in search of scoops, Coulson was being arrested by police on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice.
Underlining the seriousness of the threat facing his News Corp empire, Murdoch will fly to London today to deal with the crisis, according to two people familiar with his plans.
And in a sign of how it could be escalating further, The Guardian newspaper reported on its website that police are investigating evidence an executive at Murdoch’s News International unit may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct police investigations. A spokeswoman for Murdoch’s News International unit said the allegation was “rubbish”.
“We are cooperating actively with police and have not destroyed evidence,” she said. Cameron said he took “full responsibility” for his decision to appoint Coulson, who quit Downing Street in January when police relaunched inquiries. But the premier rebuffed criticism and strove to spread the blame for an affair that has generated public outrage against the press, politicians and police.
“Murder victims, terrorist victims, families who have lost loved ones in war…” he said: “That these people could have had their phones hacked into in order to generate stories for a newspaper is simply disgusting.”
So widespread was the rot, Cameron told an emergency news conference after Murdoch dramatically shut down his best-selling Sunday paper, that only a completely new system of media regulation and a full public inquiry into what went wrong over a decade at News of the World and beyond would meet public demand. “This scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper,” Cameron said. “It’s not even just about the press. It’s also about the police. And, yes, it’s also about how politics works and politicians too.”
In another indication of spreading fallout, police said they had arrested a 63-year-old man in Surrey in southern England over allegations of inappropriate payments to police. A police spokesman said the man was not a serving policeman.
News of the World and other newspapers have been accused of paying the police for information.
Police also raided another tabloid, the Daily Star, earlier on Friday over allegations of phone hacking.