Rupert Murdoch's British media group News International (NI) was on Monday facing allegations of suppressing an internal inquiry report which concluded that criminal newsgathering practices at the defunct News of the World (NoW) were far more widespread than the paper or its publishers had admitted.
It was alleged that the findings were “hidden” from the police and Parliament while NI executives continued to claim that such practices were confined to one “rogue” reporter — Clive Goodman, NoW's former royal correspondent who was jailed in 2007 for phone hacking
The revelation came as the BBC claimed The Sunday Times, a Murdoch title, “targeted” the former Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor to obtain “private financial and property details”.
“The Browns also fear medical records relating to their son Fraser, whom the Sun revealed in 2006 had cystic fibrosis, may have been obtained,” it said.
In another damaging development for Mr. Murdoch, the government announced that, in the light of the phone hacking scandal, it had decided to refer his bid for the takeover of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB to the Competition Commission for an “exhaustive consideration … taking into account all recent relevant developments”.
The inquiry report, alleged to have been suppressed by NI, was based on an examination of around 2,500 e-mails but only 300 were given to the police. These were passed to Scotland Yard only recently when it launched a fresh investigation into the hacking scandal.
The e-mails are said to be damaging to Prime Minister David Cameron's former communications chief Andy Coulson, who was editor of NoW at the time. According to The Times, which is also published by NI, they are believed to suggest that Mr. Coulson “approved payments to police officers for help with stories when he was Editor of the News of the World between 2003 and 2007”.
Mr. Coulson, who resigned after the Goodman affair, has denied any knowledge of any wrongdoing.
The BBC reported that the e-mails also suggested that NoW paid a royal protection officer for contact details of senior members of the royal family.
Mr. Murdoch continued to stand by Rebekah Brooks, NI's chief executive and a former Editor of NoW, despite growing pressure on her to resign. Asked what his priority was, he gestured to Ms. Brooks and said: “This one”.