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Arrests in UK hacking case

Former aide to PM is detained; Murdoch flies to London

Police officers removed documents from the home of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in London yesterday. Police officers removed documents from the home of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in London yesterday. (Associated Press)
By Jill Lawless and Robert Barr
Associated Press / July 9, 2011

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LONDON - Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications chief and a former royal reporter were arrested yesterday in a phone hacking and police corruption scandal that has already toppled a major tabloid and rattled the cozy relationship between British politicians and the powerful Murdoch media empire.

The 168-year-old muckraking tabloid News of the World was shut down Thursday after being engulfed by allegations its journalists paid police for information and hacked into the phone messages of celebrities, young murder victims and even the grieving families of dead soldiers. Its last publication day is tomorrow.

The hacking revelations horrified the nation and advertisers, who pulled their ads en masse. News International, the British arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., jettisoned the paper in hopes of saving its $19 billion deal to take over satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting. But the British government yesterday signaled the deal would be delayed due to the crisis.

In what could be an emergency damage-control move, Rupert Murdoch was flying in to London, according to the Financial Times. News International declined comment on the report.

Many expressed astonishment that 43-year-old Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of News of the World when some of the hacking allegedly occurred, was keeping her job as chief executive of News International while the paper’s 200 staff were laid off.

The Murdoch group has shown “an almost maniacal desire to protect Ms. Brooks at all costs,’’ said industry analyst Claire Enders.

Brooks told the paper’s soon-to-be-laid-off staff yesterday that she was staying on, adding that the paper was “working hard to put our own house in order and do the right thing.’’

Brooks appeared to hint at revelations to come, telling the journalists that “in a year’s time it’ll become apparent why we did this,’’ according to a leaked audiotape of the meeting obtained by Sky news. “Eventually it will come out why things went wrong,’’ she said, noting that that would also be a very bad moment for the company.

Saying “this is not exactly the best time in my life,’’ Brooks pledged to “get vindication’’ for the paper and its staff.

“If you think this is a bundle of laughs trying to get his company’s reputation back, it isn’t,’’ she said, adding that she believed she would be “much more useful leading the company through’’ the firestorm.

However, News International announced after the meeting that Brooks had been removed from the paper’s internal inquiry into the wrongdoing.

Instead, the paper’s standards committee will report to Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor who now heads News Corp.’s education division.

The police investigation into the phone hacking drew uncomfortably close to the prime minister yesterday with the arrest of Andy Coulson, Cameron’s once-powerful communications chief and a former editor of News of the World.

Coulson, 43, was taken into custody yesterday morning on suspicion of corruption and “conspiring to intercept communications.’’ Hours later, he was released on bail until October.

Police also arrested Clive Goodman, the former News of the World journalist who served a jail term in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royal aides. This time the arrest was on suspicion of making illegal payoffs to police for scoops. He was also later released on bail.

Detectives searched Coulson’s house in London and Goodman’s home south of the city in Surrey yesterday, as well as the newsroom of a second tabloid, the Daily Star Sunday. That paper is owned by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell media conglomerate, and Goodman has done work for the paper since his release from jail.

Late yesterday, police announced that a third suspect, a 63-year-old man from Surrey, had been arrested for alleged payments to police and they were searching his home. His name was not released.