British Lawmakers Angry Over Hacking Scandal

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised there will be a public inquiry into allegations that a major newspaper regularly hacked into the telephones of individuals in the news. His announcement came after allegations that the News of the World, a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International media empire, had listened to phone messages on the mobile phones of a murder victim and the relatives of victims of terrorist attacks in London.


British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a public investigation into phone hacking by the tabloid News of the World. The paper is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and it has already admitted to hacking into celebrity cell phones.

But this week, the extent of the accusations have grown wider, including hacking into the phone of a murdered child. Vicki Barker reports from London.

VICKI BARKER: Four days after 13-year-old Milly Dowler disappeared in 2002, her family believed she might still be alive because voice messages were being deleted from her cell phone. Only during her killer's trial this year were they told that a hacker, working for News of the World, may have been accessing Milly's voicemail.

In three hours of emergency debate today, British lawmakers expressed revulsion at the allegations. Ed Miliband heads the opposition Labour Party.

Mr. ED MILIBAND (Leader, Labour Party): That anyone could hack into her phone, listen to her family's frantic messages and delete them, giving false hope to those parents, is immoral and a disgrace.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BARKER: Today, the eve of the anniversary of the July 7, 2005 London suicide bombings, relatives of some of the victims expressed horror that their phones too may have been hacked.

As long ago as 2009, the Guardian newspaper was reporting the tabloid had accessed to details of more than 3,000 celebrities and royals. But Prime Minister David Cameron noted the new allegations concern private individuals whose privacy would have been violated when they needed it most.

Mr. DAVID CAMERON (Prime Minister, United Kingdom): We're talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into. It is absolutely disgusting what has taken place. And I think everyone in this House, and indeed this country, will be revolted by what they've heard and what they've seen on their television screens.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BARKER: Rupert Murdoch is more than a media mogul. The newspapers in his News International stable can make or break a British politician's career. And that, says Hugh Grant, is why he worries just how effective any new public inquiry will be. The actor is cooperating with the police investigation into the possible hacking of his phones.

Mr. HUGH GRANT (Actor): It's, frankly, not in the prime minister's interests to be taking on News International, who got him elected and who basically give him his orders; just as they gave our last four prime ministers their major orders.

BARKER: Grant, joining those lawmakers calling for Rebecca Brooks, the head of News International and a Murdoch protege, to step down.

Several big companies have pulled their ads from News of the World, and the powerful British website Mumsnet has also yanked ads from Murdoch's Sky Television.

Lara O'Reilly, of Britain's Market Week, says it's unclear how long the boycott will last.

Ms. LARA O'REILLY (Reporter, Market Week): It's all very well pulling out and going about your kind of ethics emblazoned on your chest and saying: We will boycott the paper that's unethical. But how long do you stay away from what is the biggest circulating U.K. national newspaper?

BARKER: Murdoch has called the new hacking revelations deplorable and unacceptable. He says News International will cooperate fully with the police under Rebecca Brooks' leadership. Murdoch is deep into a multibillion dollar bid to take full control of his British Sky Broadcasting arm. The Cameron government insists that will not be affected by the phone hacking scandal.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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