Phone-Hacking Scandal Widens Into Bribery Probe

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Rebekah Brooks became the latest News Corp. executive to face criminal charges amid the ongoing phone-hacking scandal in Great Britain. Police arrested the former chief executive Sunday. The scandal has also cost Britain's top policeman his job.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Let's get the latest, now, on the uproar surrounding phone-hacking within Rupert Murdoch's media empire. The scandal has now reached the highest echelons of the British police. And over the weekend, it claimed the job of the head of Scotland Yard, that's the country's most senior policeman.

We're joined from London, now, by NPR's Philip Reeves to talk about what's happened.

Good morning, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

KELLY: So why then did the head of Scotland Yard resign?

REEVES: Well, this is a gentleman called Sir Paul Stephenson, and it's all about the relationship, at a senior level, between his force, the London Metropolitan Police, and Rupert Murdoch's News of the World.

There have long been allegations this relationship got out of hand, and that the two became far too close. Now it's emerged that Stephenson's force had a former News of the World deputy editor as an advisor from 2009 to 2010. That same journalist, a guy called Neal Wallace, was arrested a couple of days ago. Wallace was working at the News of the World at the time the hacking took place. Very embarrassing for the police.

The underlying, general question is, did this relationship this cozy relationship between the police and News International, the owners of News of the World affect the way police handled allegations that journalists were hacking into people's voicemail. Was this one of the reasons that the police declined to open their original, very perfunctory, first inquiry?

KELLY: Is it clear, Phil, whether Stephenson is admitting personal fault here, or is this a case where he's saying the buck stops with me?

REEVES: He says he's actually leaving the job with his integrity intact. But there is another complication. It emerged, over the weekend, that he accepted a freebee at a health spa and that Neal Wallace, the News of the World deputy editor I mentioned a moment ago, did PR work for that spa. Stephenson says this has nothing to do with Wallace and that he obeyed all the rules and he declared this stay at the spa as a gift, officially, and so on. But that it is feeding into the mix and complicating the issue.

KELLY: Now meanwhile, this is, of course, a huge political brouhaha, lots of questions being raised about how the prime minister, David Cameron, is handling all of this.

REEVES: Yes, they are there are many questions. And among the people raising them, is in fact, Stephenson. In his resignation speech, yesterday, Stephenson drew attention to the fact that Cameron also, for a while, had a News of the World man working for him. The former editor, no less, Andy Coulson, and he was his communications chief. Coulson's also, since, been arrested. Stephenson seemed to be saying that he, Stephenson, had accepted responsibility and fallen on his sword for employing a News of the World man, as he did, but what had the prime minister done.

Now Cameron's in South Africa today, and he's been fighting back. He's saying there's no comparison between his relationship with Coulson and the police hiring someone who turns out to be involved in alleged crimes that they, the police, are supposed to be investigating.

KELLY: Yeah, I mean, lots of names to try and keep straight, here. Lots of arrests that we're hearing about more every day, it seems. Bottom line is, this has become just a huge scandal, reaching all layers of British, politics, media, society, police - everything.

REEVES: That's true, and it's going to run and run. And I think it's adding to this sense that people in authority have lost their way. And it's a kind of a sense that the establishment is now peering in political debate, quite regularly need to be brought to book. Remember, this is coming on the heels of the banking crisis, and people blamed bankers for their recklessness and their greed, and their continuing accepting of big bonuses, and a scandal, here, over MPs Parliamentarians, taking fiddling their expenses.

KELLY: Before we let you go, Phil, we want to get up to speed on Rebekah Brooks, and what's happening with her. She was, of course, until late last week, the chief executive in charge of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, in Britain. She was arrested over the weekend. She's now out on bail. Lots of questions about what happens to her whether she'll be able to testify in front of the Parliamentary inquiry that's investigating all these charges.

REEVES: Well, not long ago, her lawyer spoke on her behalf, saying that she's not guilty of any criminal offense. He says that the police interviewed her for nine hours after arresting her, yesterday, but put no allegations to her, of any crime. As for appearing before a Parliamentary committee tomorrow by the way, all eyes are now on theat committee hearing he said that Brooks is willing to attend, but it's up to the committee and Parliament to decide whether to go ahead or to postpone her appearance.

KELLY: OK, thanks so much, Phil.

REEVES: Youre welcome.

KELLY: That's the latest, from London, from NPR's Philip Reeves. And one more update to this story, the number two at Scotland Yard, John Yates, also submitted his resignation this morning.

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