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April 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

In an extraordinary about-face, Rupert Murdoch’s News International — the umbrella group for his British news operations — has admitted that reporters for its Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, hacked into the voicemails of at least eight celebrities and politicians who are suing the paper. The admission reverses its previous stance that the news hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter aligned with a private detective not affiliated with the paper. In a statement on Friday, News International admitted that its previous internal investigation was “not sufficiently robust” and had therefore “failed to uncover important information” about the hacking. In a message to the organization’s staff, CEO Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, said that she wished to express the company’s “regret for past behavior” — but the extent of that behavior was not clear. Indeed her statement was issued on the same day that Britain’s New Statesman magazine published an article by the actor Hugh Grant in which he told of secretly recording an interview with a former top editor of News of the World in which the journalist disclosed that Brooks herself had been well aware of the hacking and had encouraged it. (He also confirmed that Grant’s own phone had been hacked.) While News International said on Friday that it is setting up a compensation fund and offered to settle the eight cases, it was not clear whether the offer will be accepted by all or any of the apparent victims. At least 24 persons have filed lawsuits against the paper. Among them are former British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, actress Sienna Miller, soccer broadcaster Andy Gray, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, former Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant, TV comedian Steve Coogan, TV host Chris Tarrant, and fashion designer Kelly Hoppen. In an interview with today’s (Saturday) London Independent, Bryant, a Labor member of Parliament, called the settlement offer “nothing but a damage limitation exercise which proves that everything they’ve said about this case has been a pack of lies." And Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, a News International publication, said, “They are trying to close it [the investigation] down with their checkbook, but I don’t think they’re going to succeed.”

UPDATE: News of the World on Sunday published the apology of News International on Page 2 and added one of its own: “We have written to relevant individuals to admit liability in these civil cases and to apologise unreservedly, and will do the same to any other individuals where evidence shows their claims to be justifiable,” it said, then concluded: “What happened to them should hot have happened. It was and remains unacceptable.” Nevertheless, the scandal continued to metastasize. The London Sunday Observer reported that News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch “used his political influence ad contacts at the highest levels” to get the previous Labor government under Gordon Brown to quash the phone-hacking investigation. The newspaper, citing a former Labor minister who asked not to be identified, maintained that evidence exists that Murdoch relayed messages to Brown via a mutual friend. “The intention was to get him to cool things down,” the former minister said. However, a spokesman for News International described the claim as “total rubbish.” Also on Sunday, Ed Miliband, the current head of the Labor Party, said that it was important to know “who knew about [the phone hacking] and when. We also need to know how far across the organization knowledge of these actions went.”