British police arrest five in phone-hacking inquiry

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REPORTING FROM LONDON --  British police arrested four journalists and a police officer and searched the offices of Rupert Murdoch's News International company Saturday as part of their inquiry into illegal phone hacking and corrupt practices between journalists and police.

The journalists were reported to be former and current senior members of the Sun, the popular tabloid owned by News International, the British branch of the Murdoch-owned News Corp. media group. 

Fergus Shanahan, a former editor, Graham Dudman, a former managing editor, Mike Sullivan, crime editor, and Chris Pharo, head of news, were all named in media reports. 

They were being questioned by police, according to a statement from London’s central Scotland Yard police station, and their homes were also being searched.

The statement confirmed that the arrests were part of Operation Elveden, the police inquiry into illegal payments accepted by police officers. It said the men "were arrested on suspicion of corruption ... aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office (contrary to common law) and conspiracy in relation to both these offenses."

Police said they also arrested a 29-year-old police officer for the same offenses and for "misconduct in public office."

Saturday’s operation was prompted by information from News Corp.'s Management and Standards Committee, police said, specifying that "it relates to suspected payments to police officers."

Operation Elveden is one of three police inquiries into the illegal hacking into phones and emails of people in the public eye, whether celebrities or victims of crime.

Police and civil inquiries since last July have revealed that journalists, particularly from Murdoch's papers, widely used private investigators to illegally intercept mobile phones and emails over the last 10 years, triggering damage claims and payments to potentially thousands of victims.

News Corp. confirmed in a statement Saturday that it had "made a commitment last summer that unacceptable news-gathering practices by individuals in the past would not be repeated."

The company has "commissioned the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) to undertake a review of all News International titles, regardless of cost, and to proactively cooperate with law enforcement and other authorities if potentially relevant information arose at those titles," the statement said.

"As a result of that review, which is ongoing, the MSC provided information to the Elveden investigation which led to today’s arrests."

The scandal came to a head last July, when reports in the Guardian newspaper revealed that journalists from the now-shuttered News International tabloid News of the World had illegally hacked into the cellphone messages of a teenage murder victim. 

A public outcry led to the closure of the News of the World, police investigations and several arrests of media executives, journalists and police officers and the resignations of senior police officers.

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 -- Janet Stobart

Photo: Police searched the headquarters of Rupert Murdoch's News International in London on Saturday. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press

 
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