A member of the British parliament who was part of an influential committee investigating phone-hacking by subsidiaries of News Corp has alleged in a new book that the company's News of the World newspaper investigated MPs on that committee in an attempt to gain details on their private lives.
The allegations in the book, released Thursday, come as the committee prepares to report on the phone-hacking scandal, and UK prosecutors decide whether to charge 11 of those arrested.
The book also alleges that the office of Rebekah Brooks, then chief executive of News International, was bugged. The authors claim that cleaners were told not to disturb listening devices planted in her office.
News Corp declined to comment on the book's claims.
Tom Watson, one of the MPs on the committee, who compared James Murdoch to a mafia boss when he appeared in front of the committee last year, alleges in the book, "Dial M for Murdoch," that News of the World gathered the private information on committee members in 2009. He bases that allegation on an interview with Neville Thurlbeck, the former chief reporter of the News of the World.
Watson, who co-authored the book with Thomas Hickman, believes that members of the Committee then decided not to call Brooks as a result of the investigations into their private lives.
The MP also wrote that he was offered a deal by intermediaries at News International, asking him to leave Brooks alone if they “gave him” Andy Coulson, the former head of communications for UK Prime Minister David Cameron and ex-News of the World editor.
The much-delayed committee report is due to be released in May, although several issues are still contentious, particularly the question of how much James Murdoch, son of News Corp founder Rupert, knew about the scandal. When the Murdochs appeared in front of the committee last July, Rupert Murdoch said it was the “humblest day” of his life—before wife Wendi had to defend him against a protestor armed with a cream pie.
Trouble to Come in US?
News of the World was shut down by News Corp in 2010. James Murdoch resigned as chairman of BSkyB earlier this year.
Brooks, who left News International in the wake of the scandal and has been questioned by police twice, famously was loaned a former police horse which the Prime Minister then took riding, in a scandal which has come to epitomize the links between the press, police and Parliament.
A journalist at News International newspaper The Sun was reportedly among three people arrested Thursday morning by police investigating payments to public officials.
Payments to public officials are the allegations which could get News Corp into trouble in the U.S., under that country's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
There is also the threat of further action from alleged phone hacking victims in the U.S. Lawyer Mark Lewis, who has acted for victims, including the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in the UK, traveled to New York last week to discuss launching similar actions there.