Phone hacking: 9/11 victims 'may have had mobiles tapped by News of the World reporters'
DESPERATE Rupert Murdoch yesterday flew to London to try to save his crumbling empire.
He arrived in a cowboy-style hat to be hit by claims News of the World reporters hacked the phones of 9/11 victims.
Murdoch held talks with News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, amid fears nine staff and three cops may face jail.
HIS media empire is crashing around him, he’s just shut down a scandal-hit newspaper and his BSkyB bid is in tatters, but Rupert Murdoch still came out grinning yesterday.
And this cosy picture of him giving his backing to smiling Rebekah Brooks will no doubt infuriate the 200 loyal staff at the defunct News of the World who were sacrificed while she clung to her job.
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks smile as they head out for dinner yesterday
As Labour leader Ed Miliband vowed to scupper Mr Murdoch’s bid to own all of BSkyB, the News Corp boss seemed to brush off his troubles to joke with the under-fire News International chief executive – who was editor when murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked. Asked what his first priority was, he gestured at Mrs Brooks and said: “This one.”
Mr Murdoch arrived in London yesterday, wearing a Panama hat and clutching a final copy of the News of the World, in a bid to save his crumbling organisation after the phone-hacking scandal saw the 168-year-old paper axed.
But he flew straight into another storm as it was claimed 9/11 victims may have had their mobiles tapped by News of the World reporters. And there was more bad news when it was revealed nine reporters allegedly at the centre of the phone scandal and claims of police corruption could face jail, along with three officers.
After he spent time at News International’s Wapping HQ in East London, 80-year-old Mr Murdoch held crisis talks with Mrs Brooks, 43 - who denies any knowledge of the Milly phone tapping - at his home in Mayfair.
The pair chatted behind closed doors as a former New York cop made the 9/11 hacking claim. He alleged he was contacted by News of the World journalists who said they would pay him to retrieve the private phone records of the dead.
Now working as a private investigator, the ex-officer claimed reporters wanted the victim’s phone numbers and details of the calls they had made and received in the days leading up to the atrocity.
A source said: “This investigator is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims’ private phone data. He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their relatives.
“His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look.
“The investigator said the journalists seemed particularly interested in getting the phone records belonging to the British victims of the attacks.”
The News of the World was shut after 11,000 documents seized from a private investigator revealed the ugly truth behind many of its scoops.
One police source said: “These documents show the hacking was not just one or two attempts at accessing voicemails. More than 4,000 people had their phone hacked. This was hacking on an industrial scale.”
Mr Murdoch’s son James, who is chairman of News International, admitted to approving out of court settlements to hacking victims and misleading Parliament – which he claims was not deliberate.
The fresh tapping claims prompted Mr Miliband to declare war on Mr Murdoch’s bid to control BSkyB.
In his most outspoken attack on the media mogul yet, he said yesterday: “The idea that this organisation, which has engaged in these terrible practices, should be allowed to take over BSkyB... without that criminal investigation having been completed, and on the basis of assurances from that self-same organisation… frankly that won’t wash with the public.”
Labour will table a motion on Wednesday calling on Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to delay signing off the takeover deal until the criminal investigation into the hacking allegations is wrapped up. Lib Dem ministers are thought to be prepared to back the Labour leader.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable are said to be “totally united” against the bid.
News of The World Editor Colin Myler leads staff and journalists out of the NoW building
Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes lent his support yesterday. He said: “I will be suggesting to my colleagues that we as a party, a party that’s never been close to Murdoch, should make clear that we think there should be a postponement of the decision.”
Mr Murdoch also owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, 43, was arrested on Friday over phone hacking and police corruption allegations.
Ex-royal editor Clive Goodman, 53, was also held along with a unnamed 63-year-old man. All three were freed on police bail after being quizzed by officers.
Mr Coulson was hired as David Cameron’s press aide, despite warnings to the PM over his possible knowledge of the hacking while at the News of the World.
And last night criticism of Mr Cameron’s judgment grew louder as senior political figures lined up to reveal they had urged him not to take Mr Coulson into government.
Lib Dem Lord Paddy Ashdown and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne claimed they warned the PM after the election - but were ignored.
Mr Huhne said: “Well I raised it with Nick and Nick raised it with the Prime Minister and it was made clear to us that this was a personal appointment to the Prime Minister.
“It wasn’t a Government appointment and therefore we didn’t have any standing to object to it, but it was very clear from what I had said previously that I think there were big reputational risks.
“The Prime Minister has said that he wanted to give Andy Coulson a second chance and that’s very commendable. The reality is that there were very serious risks being run there. We knew with Andy Coulson that anybody in charge of a newspaper needs to know what’s going on and at the very least either Andy Coulson was complicit in criminal acts or, alternatively, he was a very incompetent editor by the standards of Fleet Street.”
Milly Dowler’s parents Sally and Bob and sister Gemma are due to meet Mr Clegg today. They will also see Mr Cameron later in the week, Downing Street has said.