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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Charges mulled against News Corp.'s British publishing unit

Rebekah Brooks
Rebekah Brooks, former head of News Corp.'s U.K. publishing unit News International, leaves after appearing at Southwark Crown Court in London. (June 22, 2012)
 
British prosecutors are evaluating whether to bring charges against News Corp.'s  London-based publishing unit in connection with the phone hacking scandal, according to a person familiar with the investigation who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Crown Prosecution Service is looking into what's known as a corporate prosecution, in which the company would be named as a defendant in a criminal case. News International, publisher of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid at the center of the scandal, is likely to be the target, should charges be filed, according to the knowledgeable person.

News Corp. declined to comment on any possible legal action.

"The police are still looking at all the evidence, including the extent of any alleged cover-up and the roles of those directing the company at the relevant time," said attorney Mark Lewis, a Manchester lawyer who has represented victims of phone hacking.

Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, hinted at the prospect in remarks made July 23 to a panel investigating media ethics in Britain. She said that Scotland Yard has sought legal advice "in respect of both individual and corporate offenses."

Fifteen current and former journalists have been arrested in connection with the alleged interception of voice-mail messages, including former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and one-time News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

The police investigation has gone beyond the initial allegations that journalists from News of the World had listened to the private messages left for athletes, celebrities and crime victims.

Akers told Lord Justice Brian Leveson that Scotland Yard is probing allegations of computer hacking and reporters gaining improper access to medical, banking and other personal records. She said police are culling through 8 to 12 terabytes of records. If published in paperback form and piled one on top of the other, Akers said, the material "amounts to three and a half times the height of [Mt.] Everest."
Police have notified about 2,615 people that they had likely been subjected to phone hacking, Akers said.

Akers described News Corp.'s management and standards committee as co-operating with the investigation, "despite challenges, quite correct and proper challenges, the co-operation continues and we have recently received a substantial amount of material."

ALSO:
Britain charges 8 in phone hacking scandal
British police widen phone-hacking inquiry with new arrests 
Report questions Rupert Murdoch's fitness to lead News Corp.

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