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News Corp. Phone-Hacking Scandal Gets New Legs

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Murdoch’s first line of defense against the reopened criminal investigation and the onslaught of civil claims against News International is the company’s flame-haired managing director, Rebekah Brooks.
 
Murdoch was once asked what he thought of Brooks, who has risen through the ranks of his U.K. tabloids, serving successively as editor of News of the World and the Sun. “She’s a larrikin,” he said, using a popular Australian term for a person who is mischievous and enjoys thumbing their nose at authority.
 
Now, a statement Brooks made to a Parliamentary committee eight years ago has opened up a new front in the phone-hacking war. She told Parliament’s culture, media and sports select committee in 2003 that “we have paid the police for information in the past.” This statement was let pass at the time because it predated the infamous Goodman case and the exposure of phone hacking at News of the World. But Keith Vaz, the MP who chairs the home affairs committee, has chosen to reopen this can of worms. He has written to Brooks asking for the answers to three questions: how many police officers did the Sun newspaper pay while she was editor, how much were they paid and when did the practice cease?
 
This has arisen because of something said to Vaz’s committee by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates. He led the investigation into phone hacking at News of the World, which concluded that none of its journalists—other than Clive Goodman—had been involved in phone hacking, a conclusion that has since been thrown into doubt by both Guardian and New York Times investigations. Yates told the committee that when Brooks had admitted that the Sun paid police officers for information back in 2003, the police had initiated research into the claim but had not launched a formal investigation.
 
The problem is that paying police officers is a criminal offense, just like phone hacking. Of course, going back many years, several newspapers kept police officers lubricated with pub drinks and generally well nourished while certain tabloids adopted a more explicit policy of putting indiscreet police officers on their payrolls. Brooks was being honest about such practices in her remarks back in 2003.

While the Metropolitan Police have, for whatever reasons, been slow to widen their investigation of phone hacking at News of the World, Parliamentary committees have shown that they are determined to embarrass Murdoch’s newspapers and hold them to account as much as possible. But Vaz’s questions represent a particular jeopardy for Brooks. If the practice of paying police officers was continued at the Sun under her editorship, Brooks might find herself implicated in a further scandal about illegal journalistic behavior while acting as News International’s chief flak on the phone-hacking scandal.