Britain's PM Cameron faces critics in Commons

08:23, July 21, 2011      

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BRITAIN'S Prime Minister yesterday denied claims his staff tried to stop a police inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World and defended his decision to hire one of the tabloid's editors as his communications chief.

In a raucous emergency session in Parliament, David Cameron did admit that both the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party had failed to pursue key developments in the case and had actively courted media baron Rupert Murdoch.

"The clock has stopped on my watch and we need to sort it out," Cameron said, promising that a government inquiry would examine the relationship between politicians and media and investigate whether other news organizations may have broken the law.

Cameron cut short a trip to Africa and the House of Commons delayed its summer break to debate issues engulfing both Britain's political and media elite and Murdoch's global communications empire, News Corp.

Murdoch owned the News of the World, where phone hacking claims first emerged in 2005 when the royal household alerted police that the tabloid may have learned about Prince William's knee injury by illegally intercepting phone messages.

Cameron's former communications chief Andy Coulson - a former editor at the tabloid - is among 10 people arrested in the scandal.

Politicians wanted to know why Cameron insisted on hiring Coulson despite warnings and how much the prime minister knew about the hacking investigation. There have been allegations that some of Cameron's staff may have met police to pressure them to drop the investigation.

"To risk any perception that No. 10 (Downing Street) was seeking to influence a sensitive police investigation in any way would have been completely wrong," he said.

Cameron did, however, meet News Corp executives more than two dozen times from May 2010 to this month, meetings criticized by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said Cameron had made a "catastrophic error of judgment" in hiring Coulson.

Coulson was News of the World editor when royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and jailed in 2007 for phone hacking. The original police inquiry into phone hacking was dropped, Coulson quit the paper and Cameron - then opposition leader - hired him.

This January, police reopened the probe and they are now investigating some 3,870 people whose names and phone numbers were found in News of the World files.

Cameron defended Coulson's work and said if it emerged that Coulson had lied to him about his role in the hacking case he would take it seriously. "Andy Coulson is innocent until proven guilty," Cameron said.

He said the hacking affair raised questions over the ethics and values of London's police force and vowed he would bring in new leadership to the force.

In other phone hacking news, a judge awarded actor Hugh Grant - one of the most prominent celebrity critics of the Murdoch empire - the right to see whether he was a victim of hacking.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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