Rupert Murdoch's News International which publishes some of Britain's best-known newspapers, including The Times, is facing calls for a judicial inquiry following a highly critical parliamentary report relating to allegations of phone hacking against the journalists of its tabloid News of the World.
The cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee accused senior News International executives of suffering from “collective amnesia” over the scale of illegal phone-tapping by News of the World reporters.
The allegations go back to 2006-2007 when the newspaper's royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed after admitting hacking into the phone messages of royal staff. The then Editor, Andy Coulson, now communications chief of Tory leader David Cameron, was forced to resign over the scandal.
While the newspaper claims that it was an isolated incident, a Guardian investigation revealed that the practice was more widespread. It claimed that the victims included many high-profile figures and in at least three cases the company reached an out-of-court settlement amounting to millions of pounds.
The committee said: “It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone hacking will never be known, not least because of the silence of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and the ‘collective amnesia' at the newspaper group. The report notes however, that it is certainly more than a ‘handful', cited by both the newspaper and the police.”
The findings provoked calls from Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs for an independent, preferably judicial, inquiry. Downing Street expressed its “deep concern'' and Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said the government would consider “further action''.
The Guardian hailed the report as “insightful and wide-ranging''.
“The press has a proud record of shining a light into the darkest corners of our public institutions. As an industry we need to show we are willing to accept the same level of scrutiny and accountability.'' The News International “strongly rejected'' the findings and accused some members of the committee of pursuing a “party political agenda''.