UK press in crisis as more Murdoch papers embroiled in hacking claims

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by G.A.Ponsonby 

The UK newspaper industry was plunged into an unprecedented crisis last night as new allegations emerged suggesting hacking was more widespread than previously thought.

The scandal has widened dramatically after fresh allegations suggested that the Sun and the Sunday Times newspapers may also have been using illegal methods in order to obtain private information on individuals including former PM Gordon Brown and the Queen.

Emails reveal that News of the World Royal editor Clive Goodman requested cash from former editor Andy Coulson in order to buy the confidential ‘Green Book’ containing personal information about the Royal family.

The book was alleged to have been stolen and was being offered for money.  It is also alleged that royal protection officers were offered payment for private information about the royal family and that people within the royal’s security circle were prepared to accept payment.  The phones of the Prince of Wales and other senior royals are feared to have been tapped.

Andy Coulson was arrested last Friday and is reported to have hired Scots QC Paul McBride after doubts were cast over the testimony Coulson gave at the perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan.  At the trial Mr Coulson denied knowing about payments to corrupt police officers.

Illegal attempts were also made to get hold of personal information about former PM Gordon Brown, including details about a London property purchased by Mr Brown and his wife.  The person said to have tried to obtain the information was named as Barry Beardall who is described as being ‘adept’ at obtaining information for newspapers.

The Sun newspaper was alleged to have tried to obtain confidential medical information about Mr Brown’s son Fraser.  It is alleged that in 2006, under fire chief Rebekah Brooks phoned Gordon Brown to tell him that The Sun newspaper had obtained details of his sick son Fraser’s medical records.

Geoffrey Robertson QC speaking on BBC news said that should the allegations be true then they were a serious breach of the data protection act and were “very serious offences” that could “lead to ten years imprisonment”.  Mr Robertson claimed that if any newspaper executive knew about illegal payments then “that executive is in trouble”.

The revelations are the latest in the phone-hacking scandal that brought down News International’s News of the World tabloid.  Legal experts claim it is possible that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S. businesses could face legal action because of the shady practices at the now defunct tabloid.

News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop said the company acknowledges the allegations made and that in order to investigate further the company asks “that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us.”

In another dramatic move Scotland Yard released an unusual statement accusing unidentified individuals of trying to sabotage its investigation.  The police – themselves accused of accepting bribes from Murdoch’s journalists – said somebody was deliberately planting distracting information in the press.