Friday, December 16, 2011

UK crime reporter arrested in corruption inquiry (AP)

LONDON ? The former crime editor for the News of the World tabloid was arrested Thursday in Britain's phone hacking scandal, and authorities announced that CNN journalist Piers Morgan would appear before the U.K.'s media ethics inquiry.

Police investigating wrongdoing at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid did not release crime editor Lucy Panton's name, saying only that a 37-year-old female was arrested before dawn. But British media reported that Panton was the person arrested, a fact confirmed by a former News of the World employee to The Associated Press. She was later released on bail.

More than a dozen former journalists working for News of the World have been arrested in the phone hacking scandal that prompted Murdoch to shut down the tabloid in July and forced several senior Murdoch lieutenants to resign. There have also been about half a dozen other arrests in relation to corrupt payments made to police officers for news tips.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry into British media ethics in the wake of the scandal.

Morgan, the former tabloid editor-turned-celebrity interviewer, replaced Larry King at CNN. He also edited the News of the World between 1994 and 1995 before moving over to the Daily Mirror. He can expect to be quizzed on allegations that he condoned phone hacking while working at the Mirror and that he personally listened in on illegally intercepted messages.

Morgan has denied ever knowingly running a story off of illegally intercepted phone messages. He is expected to testify next week, according to his publicist.

Panton, who is married to a Scotland Yard detective, had high-level contact with the London police force, meeting with then-Assistant Commissioner John Yates and her former boss, News of the World editor Colin Myler, for dinner in November 2009.

That was only a few months after Yates had decided not to reopen the police investigation into allegations of systematic phone hacking at the tabloid. Yates was one of two top Scotland Yard officers to quit over his failure to tackle the scandal years earlier.

Myler, whose career as editor also was cut short by the scandal, appeared Thursday before the judge-led inquiry. He was the first News of the World editor to testify before the inquiry, which has so far heard from celebrities, journalists and phone hacking victims.

Myler told the inquiry he had no reason to believe that phone hacking went beyond a single rogue when he took over at the paper in 2007. But he said by 2008, he had changed his mind.

Inquiry lawyer Robert Jay asked Myler why then he still suggested to Press Complaints Committee in 2009 that only one rogue reporter was to blame

"It might be said that you didn't give them quite a full and frank answer," Jay said.

Myler dodged the question, saying he had "no reason not to give them a full and frank answer." He was not pressed on the inconsistency.

He also wasn't quizzed about one of the most notorious incidents of his career, in which, as editor of the Sunday Mirror in 1993, he published hidden camera pictures of Princess Diana working out at a private gym.

The inquiry is charged with clearing the rot from Britain's scandal-tarred media industry, but its relaxed cross-examination is facing criticism.

"It's a bit like being slapped around with a wet fish," said Mark Stephens, a media lawyer who has worked for the AP in the past.

The media inquiry also heard from private investigator Derek Webb, who testified that he'd been hired by the News of the World to conduct surveillance on dozens of public figures ? mostly politicians and celebrities.

In a possible indication that the paper hoped to pass him off as a reporter, Webb said it had asked him to register as a journalist, not as a private investigator.

Webb acknowledged carrying out surveillance on lawyers for phone hacking victims on behalf of the News of the World ? one of his most controversial assignments. But he said he wasn't told about the details behind the mission and claimed he couldn't confirm allegations that he had followed the teenage daughter of a phone hacking victim's lawyer.


Associated Press writer Paisley Dodds contributed to this report.



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