Senior British police officer faces charges in phone-hacking scandal

Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, a senior British counter-terrorism officer appeared in court to face charges tied to the police investigation into phone hacking by tabloid journalistsLONDON -- A senior British counter-terrorism officer appeared in court Monday to face charges tied to the police investigation into phone hacking by tabloid journalists.

In a brief pretrial hearing, Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, the former head of Scotland Yard's National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit, was accused of breaching Britain's Official Secrets Act.

Authorities allege that in September 2010 Casburn took home secret police documents relating to an inquiry into phone hacking and contacted the News of the World tabloid, offering it information on the police probe, then known as Operation Varec. 

Police at the time had new information from the New York Times concerning illegal phone tapping by journalists from the News of the World, although authorities did not reopen the phone-hacking investigations until July 2011.  

Casburn, 53, is also charged with misconduct in public office following a police investigation into illegal payments to public officials by journalists in return for information. That probe, known as Operation Elveden, is one of three police inquiries into the suspected widespread use of phone and computer hacking by the media over the past decade.

Casburn, who is reported to be the first defendant facing charges related to the Elveden probe to appear in court, was released on bail and ordered to appear in the Central Criminal Court on Nov. 2. She has been suspended from duty.

Trials are just beginning after more than a year of investigations and civil inquiries into illegal communication interceptions by the news organizations, which have resulted in more than 70 arrests of high-profile figures in the media and public service.

Last week saw the pretrial appearance in court of a dozen high-profile editors and executives from Rupert Murdoch's now defunct News of the World and from News International, the paper’s publisher and the British branch of the huge News Corp. conglomerate.

The tabloid was closed down by the Murdoch family following public outrage over revelations that News of the World journalists in 2003 had hacked into the mobile phone messages of a missing teenager who was later found slain.

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 Ex-tabloid editors Brooks, Coulson in court for British phone-hacking case

 -- Janet Stobart

Photo: pril Casburn arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Monday. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press

 

 

Ex-tabloid editors Brooks, Coulson in court for British phone-hacking case

A dozen defendants in a landmark phone-hacking inquiry tied to Rupert Murdoch's News International newspaper group appeared in London's Central Criminal Court for pre-trial hearings
LONDON -- A dozen defendants in a landmark phone-hacking inquiry tied to Rupert Murdoch's News International newspaper group appeared Wednesday in London's Central Criminal Court for pre-trial hearings.

Andy Coulson, former press secretary to British Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-editor of the defunct tabloid News of the World, and Rebekah Brooks, another former News of the World editor and onetime News International CEO, were among those who crowded into the 45-minute hearing.

Other defendants present included five other erstwhile News of the World editors and journalists and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who allegedly intercepted private phone communications on behalf of journalists.

PHOTOS: British phone-hacking scandal

A prosecution spokesperson said 12 of the 14 defendants in the case attended the hearings in Court No. 1 to hear the charges in connection with the alleged conspiracy to intercept voice mail messages, mostly those of celebrities and their associates. Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford granted bail to all the defendants until the proposed opening trial date on Sept. 9, 2013.

Brooks, who socialized with Cameron while she was on Murdoch's executive staff, was also charged during a separate hearing with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the phone-hacking inquiries, as were her husband, Charlie Brooks, and five members of her staff. The allegations in that matter include attempting to hide and remove evidence of phone hacking from police and making illegal payments to public officials.

Wednesday's hearings came amid ongoing legal and civil investigations into media practices after revelations in July 2011 that News of the World journalists illegally hacked into the phone of missing teenager Milly Dowler, who was abducted in March 2003 and later found murdered.  

Investigations have revealed that illegal phone hacking by Murdoch-owned tabloids has affected hundreds of celebrities and people in the public eye, including actors Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Sienna Miller. Other targets included J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, and politicians, crime victims and their families and associates.

News International has paid out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements in the matter and is openly collaborating with police, who have arrested dozens of journalists, media executives and public officials in connection with the investigation.

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Photo: Rebekah Brooks leaves London's Central Criminal Court. Credit: AFP/Getty Images


BSkyB hangs onto broadcasting license; James Murdoch criticized

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This post has been updated. See the notes below for details.

LONDON -- British Sky Broadcasting, the satellite TV network partially owned by Rupert Murdoch, remains a “fit and proper” holder of a broadcast license despite the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed Murdoch’s media empire, Britain’s communications watchdog said Thursday.

However, the regulatory agency harshly criticized James Murdoch, the former head of BSkyB, for his lackadaisical response to the hacking scandal, saying that he “repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman” of News International, the British arm of Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp.

Although BSkyB was not directly involved in the phone-hacking scandal, which has centered mostly on the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, its operations have come under scrutiny by media regulators because of News Corp.’s 39% stake in the network. The Murdochs had hoped to win full control of the broadcaster but were forced to ditch their takeover bid last year when the hacking scandal exploded over revelations that News of the World reporters had tapped into the cellphone messages of a kidnapped teenager.

The announcement by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, that BSkyB could hang onto its license came as a relief to the broadcaster, whose highly lucrative sports and entertainment programming reaches millions of homes in Britain.

“Ofcom is right to conclude that Sky is a fit and proper broadcaster,” BSkyB said in a statement. “As a company, we are committed to high standards of governance and we take our regulatory obligations extremely seriously.”

Continue reading »

Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges

Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges
LONDON -- Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive and editor of the now defunct Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, appeared in court Monday to hear three charges against her relating to illegal phone hacking.

Brooks, 44, was charged earlier this year along with a private investigator and seven other executives, editors and journalists of the paper. The group was charged with conspiring to hack into the phones of 600 potential victims.

In Brooks’ case she faces two more specific charges of hacking into the phones of murdered teenager Milly Dowler who died in March 2003, and of Andy Gilchrist, a former militant leader of the Fire Brigades Union who lead a controversial firefighters’ strike in 2002. She has denied the charges.

Brooks, wearing a short-skirted dark suit, made no comment as she walked to and from Westminster Magistrates court in central London. Throughout the brief hearing she listened in silence as presiding judge Howard Riddle Brooks read out the three charges.  

Her seven former colleagues who appeared in court last month, included Andy Coulson, former chief press officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator.

Continue reading »

Ex-Murdoch media legal executive arrested in British hacking case

LONDON -- Police have arrested Tom Crone, a former legal executive in the Murdoch-owned News International group, the latest to be apprehended in connection with ongoing investigations into illegal phone hacking. 

In a brief statement, Scotland Yard announced the arrest Thursday of a “60-year-old man ... on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications" as part their inquiry “into the hacking of telephone voicemail boxes.”  He was taken for questioning to a London police station.

Crone was a senior member in the legal department of News International, News Corp.’s British media branch, with responsibility for the legal affairs of News of the World.  He quit after revelations in July 2011 that the paper’s reporters had paid private investigators to illegally hack into the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2009, prompting myriad judicial, civil and political inquiries.

Questioned by a panel of lawmakers last year, Crone claimed he was “pretty sure” that in 2008 he had informed James Murdoch, then-News International executive chairman, of suspected widespread phone hacking within News International papers and that it went beyond one or two "rogue reporters" including Clive Goodman, jailed in 2007 for hacking into phones of the British royal family.  James Murdoch subsequently denied being informed of this.  

Crone also said he advised James Murdoch in 2008 to stave off a threatened lawsuit by paying almost a million dollars to soccer executive Gordon Taylor who claimed his phone had been hacked by NI journalists.

In a statement in April, Crone rejected evidence provided by Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman, implying that Crone was responsible for what Murdoch termed a "culture of cover-up" of phone hacking within the company. He called it a "shameful lie."

More than 70 phone- and computer-hacking-related arrests have been made in three different police operations.   Most of those nabbed have been media executives and journalists later released on bail. Eight have been charged with hacking-related offenses, including Andy Coulson, former media advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive.

Crone’s arrest comes a day after former London Times writer Patrick Foster, 29, was taken into custody on suspicion of computer hacking, the first journalist to be targeted from the flagship Murdoch daily.

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Police arrest ex-London Times journalist in computer hacking case

LONDON -- Police arrested a former London Times journalist, named by the British press as 28-year-old Patrick Foster, Wednesday morning on suspicion of illegal computer hacking. 

The arrest is the latest in ongoing investigations into phone hacking-related crimes which began last July, after revelations of illegal hacking into the cellphone of a murdered teenager by the popular tabloid the News of World caused public outrage.

Police said the arrest “for suspected offenses under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and suspected conspiracy to pervert the course of justice,” was part of their “investigation into criminal breaches
of privacy, including computer hacking which is being carried out in conjunction with MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] phone-hacking inquiries.”

One of several arrests following the News of the World exposure and subsequent judicial investigations among employees of News International, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and other tabloid papers, it is the first to strike the Murdoch's flagship daily, The Times.

Press reports said ex-Times home affairs writer Foster was arrested on suspicion of using illegal email hacking to expose the identity of a police blogger known as Night Jack in 2009. The police statement says the arrested man "is being questioned at a North London police station about alleged computer hacking relating to the identification of a previously anonymous blogger in 2009."

In a court case brought against the Times by Richard Horton, a police officer revealed
by Foster as the author of the award-winning Night Jack blog, which recounted the day-to-day realities of police work, Foster’s evidence disguised the fact he originally discovered Horton’s identity by hacking into his email.

Before his exposure, Horton lost a plea for an injunction to protect his identity resulting in his outing by the Times, the judge ruling he had been exposed by legitimate means.

The Leveson inquiry, a judge-led civil investigation that is one of the several probes into media practices opened last summer, heard from Times editorial and legal representatives this year that they were aware of but ignored the real origins of Foster’s disclosure of Horton’s identity. 

The Leveson inquiry is expected to file its findings in coming weeks, after a year’s questioning of
media and media-related figures.  


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Phone-hacking scandal: Rebekah Brooks, seven others to be charged

Prosecutors announced criminal charges against eight people in Britain's phone-hacking scandal. Among those charged are Rebekah Brooks, once one of Rupert Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants, and Andy Coulson, a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron
LONDON -- Prosecutors announced criminal charges Tuesday against eight people in connection with Britain's phone-hacking scandal, including a onetime confidante of media baron Rupert Murdoch and a former senior aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The eight suspects are accused of illegally tapping into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians and others in the public spotlight, including a teenage kidnap victim who was later found slain. All worked at one time for the News of the World, a tabloid that was notorious for its ruthless pursuit of sensational stories before Murdoch shut it down last year as a result of the hacking scandal.

Among those to be charged is Rebekah Brooks, once a trusted Murdoch lieutenant who headed his British newspapers, including the News of the World, before she resigned in disgrace.

Photos: British phone-hacking scandal

Also facing charges is Andy Coulson, a former editor at the controversial tabloid who served as the prime minister's communications advisor before stepping down early last year. Coulson's involvement in the furor over phone hacking has been deeply embarrassing for Cameron, whose government has been accused of being too cozy with the Murdoch media empire.

The six others to be charged include former senior journalists at the News of the World and a private investigator hired by the newsweekly to ferret out scoops.

Continue reading »

British police widen phone-hacking inquiry with new arrests

LONDON -- British police have arrested two more suspects linked to phone hacking, revealing a widening of the investigation into tactics used by British media outlets. The new suspects are reported to be journalists from newspapers not owned by News Corp., which previously has been the focus of the investigation. 

Scotland Yard, London’s central police station, said in a brief statement Wednesday that two men were arrested by officers working with Operation Elveden, the inquiry into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials regarding phone-tapping.

The men were arrested on “suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and of conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office,” the statement said.

While the police did not reveal their identities, the two were quickly named in the press as Justin Penrose, a 37-year-old journalist from the Daily Mirror tabloid, and Tom Savage, 34, deputy news editor from the Daily Star Sunday, another popular tabloid.

The Trinity Mirror company confirmed in a statement that it had been informed by police that Penrose “was arrested this morning on suspicion of alleged payments to public officials.  We are cooperating fully with the police.”

Last week, another person arrested in the Operation Elveden investigation was named in the media as former Mirror reporter Greig Box Turnbull.

Neither the Daily Mirror nor the Daily Star belongs to News International, the British arm of News Corp., which owned the now-defunct News of the World, the Sunday tabloid first implicated in phone-hacking offenses last July  after revelations that journalists had commissioned wiretaps into the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

In the ensuing public outcry, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch closed the paper and promised cooperation with authorities in their inquiries and compensation for several thousand victims, including celebrities and other newsworthy figures.

The scandal triggered parliamentary and civil inquiries into media ethics and practices, as well as  three ongoing investigations in which police have arrested more than 40 people connected to phone hacking, including former News International executives and editors, journalists and public officials.    

Murdoch split his company last month and separated its scandal-damaged publishing business from the more profitable entertainment side.

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Barclays Bank chairman resigns over rate-fixing scandal

Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays, one of Britain's biggest retail and investment banks, resigned after a week of turmoil in which Barclays and other leading banks were revealed to be involved in deceptively fixing the interest rate for interbank lending
LONDON -- Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays, one of Britain's biggest retail and investment banks, resigned Monday after a week of turmoil in which Barclays and other leading banks were revealed to be involved in deceptively fixing the interest rate for interbank lending.

Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland were also among about 20 major Western banks that have come under investigation by U.S. and British authorities for manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, which forms the benchmark for interest rates on corporate and consumer loans.

A Barclays communique acknowledged that it has been fined $450 million by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Justice Department's fraud section and Britain's Financial Services Authority.

In his resignation statement, Agius said that "as chairman I am the ultimate guardian of the bank's reputation. ... The buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside."

He said the past week's events, "evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behavior within the bank, have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays' reputation."

Agius is the first major casualty in the rate-fixing, which was shown to be often influenced by cozy deals with individual traders over LIBOR rates. The scandal has prompted demands from some British financiers and lawmakers for a full inquiry, similar to the probe into media practices after a phone-hacking scandal that has convulsed the News Corp. conglomerate.  

Many political and financial observers also are calling for an overhaul of banking practices and ethics as well as further resignations, starting with that of Bob Diamond, Barclays chief executive since February 2011. He is expected to face heavy grilling this week from a parliamentary panel seeking answers about his knowledge and involvement in the bank's suspicious practices.

In widely broadcast comments last week, Bank of England chief Mervyn King accused Barclays of "shoddy treatment of customers ... [and] deceitful manipulation."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Barclays management had "serious questions to answer," and that national regulators should use "all powers and means at their disposal to pursue this."

In his statement, Agius announced that Barclays' board will "undertake a root-and-branch review of all ... past practices that have been revealed as flawed,” and he promised a full report of the findings.

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Photo: Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays, at a 2009 conference on climate change in Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Pieter Bauermeister / EPA


David Cameron grilled on press ethics, denies deal with Rupert Murdoch

British Prime Minister David Cameron testified at a judge-led inquiry into media ethics that was launched as a result of Britain's phone-hacking scandal
LONDON –- In the hot seat before a judge, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday that there was never either an explicit or implicit deal in which his Conservative Party offered favors to media mogul Rupert Murdoch in return for the support of his newspapers.

"The idea of overt deals is nonsense," Cameron testified in a London courtroom. "I also don't believe in this theory that there was sort of a nod and a wink and some sort of covert agreement."

The British leader's comments came during the first part of his daylong appearance before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics. The inquiry was initiated by Cameron himself in the wake of Britain's phone-hacking scandal, which has rocked the political and media establishment here with its exposure of illegal news-gathering practices at Murdoch-owned newspapers and of extremely cozy relations between politicians and journalists.

Cameron's testimony was highly anticipated. Much of the scrutiny brought on by the hacking scandal has focused on his relationship with high-ranking executives at News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's giant News Corp., especially his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, the former head of News International.

Brooks has been arrested and posted bail on charges of obstructing justice in the police investigation into industrial-scale phone hacking at the News of the World, the sensation-seeking weekly tabloid she once edited. Revelations last year that the paper tapped into the voicemail of a kidnapped teenager who was later found slain caused Murdoch to shut down the tabloid.

Cameron reiterated his acknowledgment that British politicians, including many from his party, had become too close to Murdoch's news organizations. Lawmakers of all stripes have curried the media magnate's favor, both in the hope of earning his newspapers' endorsement and in the fear of being targeted by them in smear or muckraking campaigns.

When he was still leader of the opposition, Cameron flew to a Greek island where Murdoch was vacationing, in a effort to get to know him.

But he denied that there was anything improper in their subsequent relationship or that any quid pro quo was involved. News Corp. has long wanted to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and until the company dropped its bid because of the hacking scandal, Cameron’s government was on track to decide whether a takeover would violate anti-monopoly regulations.

"Of course all businesses have their interests and the rest of it, but in my dealings with Rupert Murdoch, most of the conversation has been about big international political issues," Cameron said.

He declared that the time had come for a new modus vivendi for the pillars of British democratic society.

"This is a ... cathartic moment where press, politicians, police, all the relationships that haven't been right, we have a chance to reset them," Cameron said. "That is what we must do."

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Photo: British Prime Minister David Cameron testifies in London at a judge-led inquiry on press ethics. Credit: Associated Press


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