Phone hacking used for corporate gain at Murdoch’s media company, ex-minister claims | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

A former cabinet minister has called on the Metropolitan Police to reopen its inquiry into allegations of phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s media company, 12 years after it closed.

So what? Last time police investigated mainly News Ltd’s editors. This time the ex-minister wants them to focus on its corporate executives. Whether they do so may be a question for the next government.

New material has emerged in civil claims against News Group Newspapers, which as News International used to publish the now defunct News of the World. It is claimed that this material suggests phone hacking was not only used to acquire salacious stories on celebrities and politicians, but for corporate espionage on one of the biggest business deals of the day.

  • In June 2010, Murdoch put in a bid to acquire full control of BSkyb, an extremely profitable satellite television broadcaster of which he owned 39.1 per cent.
  • Some LibDem cabinet members in the coalition formed in May that year were concerned it would give him too much control over Britain’s media. According to court filings, they were systematically targeted by Murdoch newspaper titles.
  • Numerous suspiciously short calls from News International’s switchboard, indicative of phone hacking, coincided with key moments in Murdoch’s campaign for BSkyb, including around meetings between his chief lobbyist and the deputy prime minister’s private secretary.
  • Suspicious calls were also made around the time of these meetings to Vince Cable, the then-business secretary – who had the power to refer Murdoch’s bid to regulators and was minded to do so.

Norman Lamb, the deputy prime minister’s private secretary, made a note after one meeting with Murdoch’s chief lobbyist, Fred Michel: “he tells me News Int papers will land on VC’s [Vince Cable’s] desk in next two weeks. They are certain there are no grounds for referral. They realise the political pressures. He wants things to run smoothly. They have been supportive of the coalition, but if it goes the wrong way, he is worried about the implications. It was brazen: VC refers case to Ofcom – they turn nasty.”

Things did turn nasty.

  • Chris Huhne, the then-energy secretary who had pushed the police to widen their phone hacking investigation, saw details of his affair with an aide splashed on the News of the World
  • The Sunday Times, another Murdoch title, published a story about an arrangement in which Huhne’s ex-wife took speeding points for him – a story that led to his imprisonment for perverting the course of justice.
  • Vince Cable lost his oversight of Murdoch’s BSkyb bid after he was recorded saying he’d “declared war on Mr Murdoch” in a sting first published in the Daily Telegraph – but boosted by a News International executive.
  • Cable was replaced in his oversight of the bid by the then-culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was prepared to wave Murdoch’s bid through before parliamentary recess on 19 July 2011. 

Shortly before that date, the Guardian published its exposé on News of the World journalists illegally accessing the voicemail on schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone after she had been murdered. Public outrage followed and then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Leveson public inquiry into the ethics of the British press. Under political and public pressure, Murdoch withdrew his bid for BSkyb.

For Huhne, the story does not end there. He alleges that this kind of hacking was directed by Murdoch corporate executives, for corporate ends: “That’s different. That’s new. And that’s something which is, I think, much more akin to a sort of Russian style kompromat attempt to find compromising material. To get rid of people or to intimidate them into doing what they want.”

So far only journalists and private investigators have been convicted for phone hacking. Huhne says: “It’s time to look at the managers, not the journalists. The little people are the ones who’ve so far gone to jail on this but the people who were directing operations are still there. They’re in very powerful and important positions, they clearly have a case to answer in criminal terms.”

A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers told us the organisation made an unreserved apology for the News of the World’s phone hacking. It strongly denies that there was any corporate motive or direction to obtain information unlawfully – and says its stories about Huhne, who has “a long-standing animus against” it, were in the public interest.

Will Lewis and Fred Michel did not respond to a request for comment.

A general election is expected this year and, according to most polls, the winner is expected to be the Labour Party, which has historically had a less easy relationship with Murdoch’s titles. 

If the renewed inquiry that Huhne has called for doesn’t happen with a Labour victory, then it probably won’t happen at all.

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