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British MPs launch blistering attack over phone hacking

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
A policeman walks through the security gates at News International on July 7, 2011.
A policeman walks through the security gates at News International on July 7, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Panel: It is "almost impossible" not to think News International deliberately obstructed police
  • The Home Affairs committee dissects former News of the World editor Brooks' testimony
  • The lawmakers blast the police who led the original probe
  • They also suggest the number of phone-hacking victims may be much lower than feared

London (CNN) -- British lawmakers investigating police handling of the country's phone-hacking scandal released a blistering judgment on law enforcement and on Rupert Murdoch's News International Wednesday, including criticism of top police officers and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks.

The Home Affairs committee said it is "almost impossible" not to believe News International in 2005 and 2006 was "deliberately trying to thwart a criminal investigation" into the scandal, which this month forced the closure of News of the World, the country's best-selling newspaper.

The committee also tore apart statements that Brooks made to lawmakers about the hacking of the phone of missing teen Milly Dowler, who was later found dead.

Brooks, who was editor when the hacking took place in 2002, insisted to the committee that she "had no knowledge whatsoever" about it, and denied that phone hacking had continued at News of the World.

She also tried to take back earlier testimony about the bribery of police officers.

But the committee noted sharply that "neither of these carefully crafted responses is a categorical denial."

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And it said lawmakers were "astounded at the length of time it has taken for News International to cooperate with the police."

The report does not mention either Rupert Murdoch or his son James, who is also a top executive of News International, the British subsidiary of News Corp.

James Murdoch has admitted giving misleading testimony to Parliament in the past, saying it was because he himself did not have complete information. Both Murdochs testified Tuesday that they did not know of illegal activity by their employees when it was happening and vowed to clean up the global media company.

The Home Affairs committee -- which is specifically probing the police response to the scandal, not the alleged phone hacking itself -- made its most damning comments about the Metropolitan Police.

The force's top officer, Paul Stephenson, and one of his most senior deputies, John Yates, resigned this week because of the scandal, though both denied wrongdoing.

The lawmakers stopped just short of accusing the former senior officer who handled the original investigation, Andy Hayman, of lying to them, calling his testimony misleading.

They label his conduct "both unprofessional and inappropriate" when conducting the investigation in 2005-2006 and when giving evidence.

And they "deplore" Hayman's taking a job with News International shortly after leaving the police.

They also said they were "appalled" by the way the Met hired a former executive editor of the News of the World as a communications consultant while the scandal was dormant.

And they say they are "are seriously concerned about the allegations of payments being made to the police by the media, whether in cash, kind or the promise of future jobs," warning that corruption could have affected the original police investigation.

The report did contain one glimmer of good news.

Police say they are now going through records of 3,870 potential hacking victims. The Home Affairs committee notes that phone records of the private investigator and journalists at the center of the scandal show only about 400 numbers were actually called.

"The total number of people who may eventually be identified as victims of (private investigator) Mr. (Glenn) Mulcaire's hacking is therefore much lower than the number of names in his papers," the committee concludes.

But, it cautions, because phone records are incomplete, "unless Mr. Mulcaire provides a list, no one will ever know whose phone may have been hacked into."

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