New Arrest in Britain’s Phone Hacking Scandal

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Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

LONDON — A 34-year-old man was arrested Friday as part of investigations into phone hacking, the police said in a statement, the 15th person held since a wide-ranging new investigation into criminality at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper began early this year.

The man, who was not named in line with Metropolitan Police policy, was arrested by appointment on Friday afternoon, the statement said, “on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages” and obstructing justice as part of Operation Weeting, the arm of the investigation focused particularly on phone hacking. A spokeswoman for News International, the parent company for the now-shuttered News of the World, declined to comment.

The arrest came as the phone hacking scandal, bumped from the front pages here amid widespread riots last month, looks set to resume the steady pace of revelations that had struck the heart of the British media, politics and policing in recent months.

Next Tuesday, the day after members of Parliament return from their summer recess, the House of Commons will call several former senior executives from the News of the World and News International, including the former editor of the tabloid, Colin Myler, and the company’s former legal manager Tom Crone, to give evidence.

The main issue at hand, two people with knowledge of the committee’s deliberations said, is whether James Murdoch, the head of News Corporation’s European and Asian businesses, Rupert Murdoch’s son and once the heir apparent to his $44 billion global media empire, knew phone hacking was more widespread than acknowledged when he chose to make a record $1.4 million settlement in a 2008 lawsuit brought by the soccer union leader Gordon Taylor, which alleged voicemail interceptions. That settlement included a confidentiality clause.

Documentary evidence indicating that at least one other reporter was involved in phone hacking would likely have become public had the case proceeded, and undermined the company’s initial assertion that the hacking was limited to “a lone rogue reporter.”

James Murdoch testified earlier this year that he was not aware of that documentary evidence at the time and had made the settlement because it made financial sense. Mr. Myler and Mr. Crone later said he was “mistaken” in his testimony and was fully aware of the evidence, a claim they will likely expand on during Tuesday’s proceedings. Committee members have said they may recall Mr. Murdoch to answer further questions.

In light of the accusations, Mr. Murdoch has also faced calls to step down as the chairman of British Sky Broadcasting, also known as BSkyB, a satellite television company of which News Corporation owns 39 percent.

A $14 billion bid by News Corporation to take full ownership of the broadcaster earlier this year became mired in political controversy as the phone hacking scandal broke, and was eventually withdrawn amid allegations that improper links between politicians and the Murdoch family had tainted the process.

Prime Minister David Cameron, already under fire for hiring the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief in 2007, declined to clarify, when asked eight times in Parliament in July, whether he had discussed the bid when socializing with News International executives including Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive. Both Mr. Coulson and Ms. Brooks have since been arrested, and it has emerged that Mr. Coulson was still receiving substantial severance payments from News International while in Mr. Cameron’s employ.

Last week the opposition Labour Party, which has been keen to emphasize the scandal, floated legislation that would prevent a renewed BSkyB bid before the next election. Ivan Lewis, the Labour member of Parliament with responsibility for culture issues, said in a letter to the government that he would introduce new measures while politicians considered “fundamental long-term reform” in the British news media.

His stop-gap legislation, to be put forward next week, he said, would provide for “wide-ranging” tests on whether media takeovers were in the public interest, and would allow government ministers to test whether potential acquirers were a “fit and proper person.”

The legislation has prompted a split in the already uneasy coalition government consisting of Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party and the minority Liberal Democrats, with several of the latter voicing public support for the Labour legislation in recent days.

Meanwhile preliminary hearings in a government inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, led by a senior judge, Lord Justice Leveson, will also begin this month. And the police regulatory body. the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is still investigating the relationship between Neil Wallis, a former senior News of the World editor who was arrested last month on suspicion of phone hacking and bribing police officers, and the Metropolitan Police, widely known as Scotland Yard, which employed him as a public relations consultant from October 2009 to September 2010.

Personal links with Mr. Wallis have already forced the resignations of Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police force, and John Yates, the senior officer in charge of the initial, 2006 phone hacking investigation. Scotland Yard’s director of public affairs, Dick Fedorcio, has been placed on leave while the investigation continues.

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