Six More British Journalists Are Arrested in Hacking Investigation

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LONDON -- Adding fresh momentum to police investigations that have already cost Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire in Britain hundreds of millions of dollars, Scotland Yard said Wednesday that six more journalists who previously worked for The News of the World tabloid were arrested at dawn on suspicion of hacking into cellphone messages.

The latest police swoop followed others in the past year that have resulted in the arrests of more than 100 reporters, editors, investigators, executives and public officials by police units investigating whether criminal activity occurred at British newspapers. Most of those have involved The Sun, Mr. Murdoch's daily tabloid, and The News of the World, the highly profitable Sunday tabloid he shut down as the scandal broke in July 2011.

In an especially troublesome development for News Corporation, the New York-based parent company of the Murdoch newspapers in Britain, a statement on the latest arrests said they involved "a further suspected conspiracy to intercept telephone voice mail messages by a number of employees who worked for the now defunct News of the World newspaper" -- in effect, a new break in the police inquiry, involving possible wrongdoing beyond the wide pattern of phone hacking at the paper that has resulted in 26 arrests so far.

The police statement said five of the arrests on Wednesday took place in London, and one in Cheshire, a county south of the northern city of Manchester. It said those held for questioning included three men and three women, all in their 30s and 40s, none of whom were identified. The Sun later confirmed that two of the six were currently working for the newspaper, having taken jobs there after The News of the World closed. The police said the homes of all those arrested were being searched.

Mike Darcey, chief executive of News International, the Murdoch subsidiary that publishes The Sun, e-mailed employees at the paper after the arrests. "As always, I share your concerns about these arrests and recognize the huge burden it places on our journalists in the daily challenge of producing Britain's most popular newspaper," he said. "I am extremely grateful to all of you who succeed in that mission despite these very challenging circumstances."

Scotland Yard gave no details of the suspected conspiracy behind Wednesday's arrests, beyond saying that the "new lines of inquiry" it was pursuing involved offenses committed in 2005 and 2006. That would place the activity in the same period as the only hacking case against the Murdoch papers that has resulted in convictions so far.

In 2007, The News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, were convicted and jailed -- Mr. Goodman for four months and Mr. Mulcaire for six months -- after they pleaded guilty to hacking into voice mail messages of members of the royal family.

At the time of the Goodman-Mulcaire trial and afterward, Murdoch executives in Britain described the hacking of the royal telephones as a "rogue" incident and not part of a broader pattern of newsroom wrongdoing.

But a different picture emerged after the police reopened the inquiry in 2011. Subsequently, hundreds of individuals, including celebrities, politicians, sportsmen and crime victims, were informed that their phone messages had been intercepted, and many of them sued the Murdoch papers for damages and demanded public apologies.

Once the phone hacking scandal broke, the police inquiry widened to include allegations of bribing public officials, computer hacking and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by concealing or destroying evidence.

Sixty arrests -- by far the largest number -- have involved conspiracies to bribe police officers and public officials to obtain confidential information on which to build the newspapers' scoops.

Last week, a London court was told that 144 of 169 civil suits filed against The News of the World by victims of the phone hacking had been settled out of court and that substantial but undisclosed damages were paid to the litigants. Those named as having settled their claims included Hugh Grant, the actor; Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York; Uri Geller, the magician; Richard Reardon, a priest who has ministered to the singer Charlotte Church; and an array of minor television and film celebrities.

A lawyer for the hacking victims told the court that 26 damage suits remained active, and that up to 100 new cases were likely to reach the court before News International, the Murdoch newspaper subsidiary in Britain, closes a compensation offer to all phone hacking victims in April.

The highest-known settlement paid by the company, amounting to about $1.2 million, was paid in 2008 to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of Britain's soccer players' union, the Professional Footballers' Association.

In an action separate from the arrests of the six journalists on Wednesday, Scotland Yard said a 50-year-old police officer had been arrested at his home in south London by detectives investigating bribes to public officials. The officer was the 60th person to be arrested under a police inquiry known as Operation Elveden, set up as part of the wider investigation of newsroom wrongdoing.

Several police officers are facing criminal corruption charges, but the most serious case before the courts so far involves a Defense Ministry official, Bettina Jordan-Barber, who has been charged, along with Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of The News of the World and The Sun, and John Kay, chief reporter for The Sun, with conspiracy to pay Ms. Jordan-Barber the equivalent of $160,000 for confidential information.

Scotland Yard's hacking investigation has resulted in 32 arrests, including the six on Wednesday. Twenty other people have been arrested and questioned in connection with computer hacking and other privacy breaches. Taken together, Scotland Yard has described the investigations, involving about 150 officers and support staff members, as the most extensive criminal inquiry in its history.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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