New York Times targets Murdoch with phone-hacking allegations

The New York Times has published fresh allegations of phone-hacking against the News of the World, extending its feud with Rupert Murdoch and thrusting David Cameron’s media advisor Andy Coulson back into an uncomfortable spotlight.

The American paper revealed that NoW has suspended one of its journalists from reporting duties. The Sunday tabloid informed the Press Complaints Commission of the decision in June.

The watchdog’s director, Stephen Abell, confirmed this but said it had been unable to launch its own investigation because the allegation was a “subject of legal action”.

The NYT said that NoW was conducting an internal investigation after a “television personality” had been warned by her phone company about a “possible unauthorised attempt to access her voicemail” and the number was traced back to a journalist at the paper.

NoW’s managing editor Bill Akass confirmed the reporter’s suspension to the NYT.

“We have a zero-tolerance approach to any wrong-doing and will take swift and decisive action if we have proof of any wrong-doing,” he said.

NoW has been dogged by allegations of “endemic and prevalent” phone-hacking. Only one of its reporters, royal correspondent Clive Goodman, has ever been found guilty of this offence.

NoW maintained that it was unaware of this one “rogue” reporter’s actions. Andy Coulson, who resigned over the scandal in January 2007, told a House of Commons select committee that he “never had any involvement in it at all”.

However, former NoW reporter Sean Hoare, sacked by the paper at the time for having drink and drug problems, told the NYT that Coulson “actively encouraged” him and others to intercept voicemail messages.

The NYT, which has been pursuing this story since March, quotes an unnamed former editor alleging that Coulson talked openly about the illegal news-gathering practice, saying that the subject came up in “dozens, if not hundreds” of personal meetings.

The NYT says a dozen former NoW reporters have confirmed that the same activities took place. “Everyone knew,” according to an unnamed senior reporter. “The office cat knew.”

Since the NYT publication, Coulson has stated: “I absolutely deny these allegations.”

Akass, managing editor of the NoW, dismissed the NYT claims as “unsubstantiated”.

He said: “We reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman and [private investigator] Glenn Mulcaire, at the time of their arrest, were part of a culture of wrongdoing at the News of the World and were specifically sanctioned or accepted at a senior level in the newspaper.”

The Metropolitan police force could also be placed back under scrutiny, having previously been accused of cutting short its investigation of Murdoch’s newspaper group.

An anonymous source from the Met told the NYT: “Several investigators said in interviews that Scotland Yard was reluctant to conduct a wider inquiry in part because of its close relationship with the News of the World.”

Scotland Yard denies cutting short its inquiry or being influenced by its relationship with the News of the World.

For the full story see the NYT’s extensive coverage – Tabloid hack on royals and beyondhere.

Image taken by Flickr user Samantha Celera, licences under Creative Commons.

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