13 Jul 2011

Party leaders unite against Murdoch BSkyB bid

David Cameron joins the Liberal Democrats in support of Labour’s motion calling on Rupert Murdoch to drop his takeover of BSkyB in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Pressure has mounted on Rupert Murdoch to abandon plans to take full control over broadcast BSkyB amid the scandal involving News International journalists.

The Prime Minister will make a statement to MPs on Wednesday after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats dramatically signalled they would support Labour’s parliamentary motion calling for the takeover to be scrapped.

Following “positive talks” on the issue David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were also said to be “close to agreement” on the nature of the independent inquiry into the hacking allegations.

The judge who will head the inquiry could be announced as early as Wednesday afternoon – although Mr Cameron said last week that any investigation would not take place until the end of the current police probe.

The cross-party harmony did not survive Prime Minister’s Questions where Mr Cameron faced a boisterous grilling over the scandal and his hiring of ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

News International legal manager leaves

According to reports News International legal manager, Tom Crone, has left the company.

Party leaders unite against Murdoch BSkyB bid

Tom Crone was responsible for advising the News of World and the Sun on editorial matters before and after publication. He spent 26 years as legal manager at News International, which also publishes the Times and Sunday Times.

The reason for his departure was unclear.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister will not be attending the afternoon debate on the BSkyB takeover in the Commons, but he intends to vote if his diary allows.

The Prime Minister met Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson on Tuesday, receiving “assurances about the independence” of current investigations.

The discussion in Downing Street capped a humiliating day for Scotland Yard which saw some of its most senior officers berated by MPs for botching previous probes.

The Home Affairs Select Committee mocked former Met assistant commissioner Andy Hayman for being “like Clouseau rather than Columbo”.

Incumbent Assistant Commissioner John Yates was told his evidence was “unconvincing” after he said he had always been truthful and blamed the News of the World for “failing to co-operate” with police until the start of this year.

Former Met deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, who oversaw the original phone-hacking probe in 2006, told the MPs he could not justify the resources needed to trawl through the 11,000 pages of material seized during the inquiry.

Instead a team of officers went through the documents to identify victims where there might be “security concerns”.

Mr Clarke admitted this strategy did not work and said it was “utterly regrettable” that crime victims whose phones were hacked did not receive the support they needed sooner.

Murdochs called for questioning

The Commons Culture Select Committee has asked Rupert Murdoch, his son James and News International chief Rebekah Brooks to give evidence to their separate inquiry.

While the company said it would “co-operate” with the MPs, but stopped short of saying that any of the trio would attend.

Meanwhile, the Sun and Sunday Times have issued rebuttals after former prime minister Gordon Brown accused them of accessing private information about himself and his family.

Mr Brown said he could not think of any legitimate means by which The Sun could have got hold of details of his four-month-old son Fraser’s cystic fibrosis in 2006 – when it was edited by Mrs Brooks. The paper has insisted that it was tipped-off about the story by someone who knew Mr Brown.

As the scandal continues to dominate the headlines, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler – whose phone was allegedly hacked after she went missing – are due to meet Mr Cameron in Downing Street at Number 10 on Wednesday.