Miliband celebrates the end of the Murdoch era

Protesters make their views of Rupert Murdoch plain during the debate on phone-hacking yesterday.
Protesters make their views of Rupert Murdoch plain during the debate n phone-hacking yesterday.o

By Ian Dunt

All politicians have lessons to learn from their relationship with Rupert Murdoch and should "come out and speak the truth without fear and favour", Ed Miliband has said.

In a remarkable interview which reveals how quickly political realities are changing in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, the Labour leader pulled no punches in his attacks on News International.

After years in which Labour was desperate to gain Mr Murdoch's seal of approval, the interview reveals a hardened resolve in Mr Miliband's circle about his ability to speak out without worrying about the consequences of tabloid coverage.


"The only people in the world who seem to think that Rebekah Brooks [News International chief executive] should carry on in her position are Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron," he said.

Meanwhile, the government announced that media secretary Jeremy Hunt was deferring a decision on the BSkyB takeover for several weeks.

Thousands of last minute contributions to the consultation are understood to have severely delayed the point at which a final decision can be made, although some observers suggested the move may be an attempt to avoid announcing the takeover at such a volatile moment.

The reports were a far cry from the tone adopted by Baroness Rawlings, government media spokesperson, who told the Lords that News Corp had offered "sufficient safeguards" for the BSkyB bid.

Meanwhile, the ramifications of the phone-hacking scandal spread across the political landscape, from Scotland Yard to the Scottish courts.

Strathclyde Police announced that witness statements from News of the World journalists at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial are set to be investigated, following revelations from Labour MP Tom Watson in the Commons yesterday.

A socialist politician, Mr Sheridan was engaged in a prolonged public battle with Mr Murdoch before he lost the case. 

Other reports suggest Metropolitan Police officers have received over £100,000 in illegal payments from the News of the World in exchange for confidential information.

Deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers, who is in charge of Operation Weeting, said her team was  going through approximately 11,000 pages of material containing
almost 4,000 names in additionto the hundreds of people who contacted the police believing they may have been affected.

"I understand that many people may be upset and will want to seek information from us. I ask them to be patient and reassure them we will contact them if they are affected - have confidence in us to keep our promise but also realise it will take time," she said.

There was no sign of relief for News International today, as more revelations about behaviour at the News of the World dominated the front pages.

Mr Miliband said he was "disgusted" by reports that the newspaper had hacked the phone of relatives of dead service personnel.

"It is grotesque beyond belief that these actions are alleged to have been committed on behalf of a news organisation committed to the military covenant," he said.

The Royal British Legion dropped the paper as its campaigning partner and started a review of its advertising budget with News International in general – a move which expands the publications suffering the effects of the crisis to the Sun and the Times.

"News International's record as a friend of the armed services and of our servicemen and servicewomen is impeccable," a spokesperson said.

"If these allegations are true we are absolutely appalled and horrified."

The pressure for a judge-led inquiry grew overnight, as leading political figures capitalised on public anger to demand that witnesses give evidence under oath.

Such a move would severely slow down the process, because the legal implications would suggest the need for council, but it might provide a more reliable assessment.

"I certainly think there should be a judge-led inquiry and I think it should be immediate," Mayor of London Boris Johnson told Radio 4.

"I think there should be no holds barred. Get the editors, get the proprietors in and let's hear exactly what has been going on."

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Mr Miliband are both understood to support a judge-led inquiry, a fact which may prove conclusive given David Cameron's promise to consult with them on the nature of the inquiry.

Downing Street says it is open to ideas on the structure of the inquiry and whether there should be one or two. The latter option would separate the issue of the police's handling of the original allegations from the general ethics of the media.

"I think that inevitably means with the harder-edged bit - in other words, the relationship between the police and the media - it is going to have to be judge-led, because frankly the judge has got to be able to rely on evidence given under oath," energy secretary Chris Huhne commented.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who triggered yesterday's Commons debate, said the inquiry needed to start immediately because News of the World would already be destroying evidence.

"We need a full inquiry into every aspect of it, including why the police did nothing, and the only thing I'm depressed about with what the prime minister said yesterday is it needs to happen now, it needs to be set up now, it can't wait," he said.

"We should have people appointed, they should have the powers to seize all the documents, because I'm sure stuff is being shredded at the News of the World even as we speak."

Advertisers continued to flee the newspaper today. Sir George Young confirmed to MPs that the government would urgently review its advertising contracts with the News of the World as well. A total of 33 companies have now left the newspaper, according to campaigners.

The Times reported that a further five journalists and newspaper executives suspected of involvement in phone-hacking are expected to be arrested within days.

Meanwhile, reports suggest chancellor George Osborne is the latest figure to feature in the files of Glen Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the row.

The development has a certain irony to it. It was Mr Osborne who first convinced Mr Cameron to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his head of communications.
 

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