Byline Investigates Big News Part 18: Computer Scandal Tip of New Hacking Iceberg, Fears Labour Deputy Leader

By Graham Johnson

Editor, Byline Investigates

AN EMERGING computer hacking scandal within Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper business could harm 21st Century Fox’s bid to win full control over pay TV giant Sky, Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson said last night.

Mr Watson said the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should scrutinise the case of former Army Intelligence officer Ian Hurst, whose computers were hacked by a Murdoch tabloid in a serious breach of national security.

The watchdog is already examining the proposed £11.7bn takeover on grounds of media plurality, commitment to broadcasting standards, and the Murdoch family’s track record as broadcasters and publishers both in the UK and the US.

“It’s vital that the CMA is able to take this new evidence of criminality and corporate failure into account as it assesses the Murdochs’ bid to take over Sky,” said Mr Watson.

The call follows a dramatic admission by News Group Newspapers (NGN) late on Friday at the High Court that it was responsible for targeting Mr Hurst with Trojan spyware in an attempt to find out about Britain’s top informant within the IRA.

“We know from experience of phone hacking that there won’t just be a single victim. So my question to Rupert Murdoch and his subordinates is this: who else was hacked?”

Tom Watson MP

And last night Mr Watson said he feared it could be just the first example of computer hacking to emerge from within Mr Murdoch’s controversy-dogged newspaper and media empire.

Pointing the finger: Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson
Pointing the finger: Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson

Calling it “a dramatic new revelation in the saga of criminality in Murdoch’s media empire”, he added: “We can now add computer hacking to the long list of criminal activities undertaken by Murdoch’s operatives.

“We know from experience of phone hacking that there won’t just be a single victim. So my question to Rupert Murdoch and his subordinates is this: who else was hacked?”

He went on: “This is yet more evidence that part two of the Leveson Inquiry must go ahead to discover the full truth of illegality and cover-ups like this.”

Dr Evan Harris, Joint Executive Director of Press standards pressure group Hacked Off, said it would be sending a dossier of evidence on the matter to the CMA and Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

Review: the Competition and Markets Authority
Review: the Competition and Markets Authority

He added: “This public admission, for the first time, that senior News International executives had conspired with known criminals to hack into the computer of a former intelligence officer to try and expose the identity of a protected police informant, is astonishing.

“The fact that News UK should attempt to bury this admission in a corner courtroom on a Friday afternoon, more than six years after the allegations were made, demonstrates that the cover-up of criminality at News Corporation has continued since the hacking scandal.

“This is a clear indication that Leveson part two (which was scheduled to look into the extent of this illegality and how it was covered up) should now take place as promised to the victims of criminal intrusion.

Leveson Part 2 calls: Hacked Off's Dr Evan Harris
Leveson Part 2 calls: Hacked Off’s Dr Evan Harris

“The Murdochs have claimed in the process of trying to obtain full ownership of Sky, that all their skeletons are out of the corporate cupboard and they are transparent and honest in the way their businesses work.
“But the admissions News UK have made today suggest that only a fraction of the criminality and cover-up at News International has reached the public domain.”

James Heath, Senior Associate at law firm Atkins Thomson, which acted for Mr Hurst, described the invasion of his privacy and that of his family as “gross”.

He said: “This is a long running dispute, having lasted for almost seven years. It has taken my client, his wife and daughter a very long time to achieve justice. I am pleased for them that News Group Newspapers have now settled this action and apologised to them in open court.

“The hacking of their computers, interception of their e-mails and surveillance of them was a gross invasion of their privacy. As News Group Newspapers have finally accepted, this should never have happened.”

*Read more about the latest Murdoch hacking scandal here

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