The fallout from Britain's phone-hacking scandal

The phone-hacking scandal that brought down Rupert Murdoch's The News of the World could lead to tougher media regulations in Britain.
James Murdoch, left, and Rupert Murdoch, give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal on July 19. (Associated Press)


  • U.K. inquiry puts spotlight on culture, practices and ethics of the press
  • Sean Hoare, the whistleblower who alleged widespread hacking at the News of the World, found dead
  • Rupert Murdoch apologizes for phone hacking, denies responsibility

Where it stands

The news media will be under the spotlight for the next year in Britain as a public inquiry examines  whether newspapers and broadcasters need to be more tightly controlled. 

The inquiry stems from the phone-hacking scandal that brought down News Corp.'s 168-year-old tabloid, the News of the World, and sent shockwaves through the country's ruling elite and police forces.

The senior judge presiding over the inquiry — Justice Brian Leveson — will have the power to force witnesses to give evidence.

Leveson's seven-member panel includes a veteran newspaper reporter, a former police chief, a civil liberties activist and a broadcast journalist. They will begin public hearings in September and are due to issue their report within a year.

The inquiry will attempt to deal with a scandal that continues to shake Britain's police, political and media establishment. It already has led to the resignations of London's police chief as well as a second in command, and two senior executives at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The scandal had its beginnings in August 2006, when two News of the World staffers were arrested on suspicion of hacking into telephone voicemails of the royal household. That was almost a year after the paper ran a story saying Prince William had a knee injury. A complaint from Buckingham Palace led to a  police inquiry.

Latest developments

Aug. 5 Lawyer Mark Lewis says he will file lawsuits against the Trinity Mirror newspaper group on behalf of several clients over alleged incidents of phone hacking.

Aug. 3 Model Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney, alleges a journalist from a Trinity Mirror paper admitted in 2001 to eavesdropping on voicemail messages from McCartney left on Mills's cellphone after a fight.

Aug. 2 Police investigating phone hacking and police bribery at the News of the World arrested a man, believed to be a former executive at the newspaper.

July 29: The private investigator at the centre of the storm, Glenn Mulcaire, said he was always "working on the instructions of others" at the newspaper, his lawyer said in a statement.

July 29: The 26-year-old man who threw a foam pie at Rupert Murdoch during a parliamentary committee hearing, pled guilty to assault and harassment in a London court. Afterwards, quoting Murdoch from the hearing, the man said "this has been the most humble day of my life."

Then, on July 4, 2011, the Guardian newspaper reported that the phone of a 13-year-old kidnap and murder victim, Milly Dowler, was hacked by someone working for News of the World when Rebekah Brooks was its editor and in the midst of a police investigation into Dowler's disappearance.

The revelation generated widespread condemnation as it was reported that certain voicemail messages were deleted, when the girl was still missing, apparently so that other media rivals would not have access to the same information.

Brooks has continued to say she knew nothing about the hacking. But she did eventually step down as CEO of News International, the parent company.

Murdoch appeared before a House of Commons committee and apologized for the scandal, but insisted that he was "betrayed" by some of his staff and was unaware of the practices at the News of the World. He also apologized directly to the family of Milly Dowler.

Attention has also turned to newspapers owned by the Trinity Mirror group, which publishes more than 165 titles in the U.K. Model Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney, told BBC's Newsnight program Aug. 3 that a senior editorial figure from one of the group's papers contacted her in 2001 about a fight she'd had with McCartney.

When pressed on how he obtained the information, the journalist reportedly admitted he had listened to voicemail messages left by McCartney on her cellphone.

British MPs on a parliamentary committee examining phone hacking have asked Piers Morgan, former editor of the group's Daily Mirror newspaper, to help police with their investigation. Tory MP Therese Coffey said the current CNN anchor needed to explain a 2006 news article that suggests he listened to a recording of Mills's message and knew about hacking at the paper.

On Aug. 5, the lawyer who represents the family of Milly Dowler said he would be filing lawsuits against the Trinity Mirror group on behalf of several clients over alleged incidents of phone hacking.

Operation Weeting

The Metropolitan Police Service — London police — established Operation Weeting to investigate claims of phone hacking at the now defunct News of the World.

In February, police stepped up their investigation  after new evidence emerged.

They currently have a list of 4,000 possible targets, including actors Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a host of sport stars, politicians and crime victims.

In the U.S., the FBI has been asked to investigate whether News Corp. reporters or their agents tried to hack into the cellphones of 9/11 victims.

On July 26, 2011, British police told Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was abducted and murdered by a pedophile 11 years ago, that her voicemails may have been targeted by a private investigator who worked for the News of the World. 

Payne — with the support of News of the World — went on to campaign for Sarah's Law, which fought for the right of parents of young children to know whether sex offenders lived in their neighbourhoods.

The last edition of the paper included a column by Payne lauding the paper for its help in the campaign for the law. When Rebekah Brooks was editor of News of the World, she gave Payne a cellphone to help her establish the charity that worked to get Sarah's Law passed.