News24

Reporter's brother: Hacking was routine

2011-12-19 22:59

London - Illegal voicemail interception and cellphone tracking was a matter of routine at both The Sun and the News of the World tabloids, the brother of a whistleblower at the centre of Britain's phone hacking scandal said on Monday.

Stuart Hoare - the brother of the late journalist Sean Hoare - told an inquiry into British media ethics that both papers, published by Rupert Murdoch's News International Ltd, broke the law as part of their "daily routine".

"The reality was that phone hacking was endemic within the News International group," Hoare said in a witness statement published to the inquiry's website.

"I know this to be the case because Sean and I regularly discussed this and there are e-mails in existence which support Sean's description of a practice referred to during such meetings as 'the dark side'."

Sean Hoare was the first ex-News of the World journalist to publicly accuse his former editor Andy Coulson of being at the hub of a culture of wrongdoing at the paper, an allegation that helped ignite the scandal that forced Murdoch to close the British tabloid.

Ethics

Coulson resigned his post as Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief earlier this year because of the scandal, and is one of a dozen former News of the World journalists arrested in the scandal.

Sean Hoare, who had from a drinking problem, died in July at just as the scandal was exploding. Stuart Hoare told the inquiry he was testifying because he and Sean "shared a lot of secrets and I felt very, very strongly that someone had to represent my brother".

The inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, was set up in response to the scandal to examine the ethics of Britain's press.

So far, the scandal has largely centred on wrongdoing at the News of the World, where journalists intercepted voicemails, hacked into computers and bribed police in an effort to win scoops.

Former News of the World journalist Matthew Driscoll, also speaking on Monday, asserted that his paper had used ill-gotten health records as bargaining chips to secure interviews with prominent people.

Driscoll, who successfully sued the paper for unfair dismissal, said he was "aghast that it seemed that easy to obtain someone's medical records".

Accounts such as Driscoll's have emerged regularly since the News of the World scandal boiled over in July, but the shadow of suspicion has since fallen across other papers as well, including The Sun, another Murdoch title and Britain's top-selling daily.

Police bribery

In November, lawmakers investigating the scandal published a 2008 e-mail drafted by a News International legal adviser warning that journalists implicated in illegal practices had secured "prominent positions" at The Sun.

Also in November, award-winning journalist Pyatt became the first Sun employee to be arrested on suspicion of police bribery.

Hoare said reporters at the Sun regularly hacked into phones and engaged in a practice dubbed "pinging", by which police were bribed to trace the location of people's cellphones.

"I have been asked not to name names," Hoare said in his statement. "But those involved know who they are and what they have done."

Hard evidence of wrongdoing at The Sun could further shake Murdoch's beleaguered British holdings. The Australian-born media tycoon bought the paper in 1969 and it has long served as a conduit for influencing British politics.

If The Sun is sucked into the scandal, it could hurt its ability to prop up Murdoch's money-losing Times and Sunday Times newspapers.

Murdoch's heir apparent, son James Murdoch, has refused to comment on whether he would close The Sun if it was proven that journalists there broke the law.

The younger Murdoch, whose position is also under threat, has quit the boards of Sun publisher News Group Newspapers and Times publisher Times Newspapers, a move interpreted by some as an effort to distance himself from his father's UK newspaper holdings.