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UK ministers given core role in hacking inquiry

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 4, 2012 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been given the right to see witness statements in advance.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been given the right to see witness statements in advance.
  • PM David Cameron is among 8 ministers given the right to see witness statements in advance
  • Leveson Inquiry will examine the relationship between the news media and politicians
  • Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been under pressure over his ties to News Corp.
  • The inquiry was set up after the News of the World phone hacking scandal

London (CNN) -- Eight UK government ministers were given the right Friday to see written witness statements before the witnesses testify to an independent inquiry into phone hacking and news media ethics.

The ministers include Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt has been under pressure since his aide was forced to resign last week over back-channel communications between the Culture Ministry and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which is under scrutiny at the inquiry.

Lord Justice Leveson, the judge in charge of the inquiry, agreed to grant the ministers "core participant" status after hearing an application from their lawyer.

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Business Secretary Vince Cable, Education Secretary Michael Gove, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Ken Clark are the other ministers named.

They will all present statements to the government-appointed inquiry, and most will testify in person.

The next phase of the inquiry could be contentious, as it is set to examine the relationship between the media and politicians.

Former Cameron spokesman Andy Coulson, who was once editor of News of the World, has been called to testify next week, as has another former editor of the Sunday tabloid, Rebekah Brooks.

Coulson, who was asked to appear May 10, worked as Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman but stepped down when police launched a new phone hacking investigation in January 2011.

He resigned as editor of News of the World in 2007, after a private investigator working for the paper and its royal editor were jailed on phone hacking charges.

Both Coulson and Brooks, who will be quizzed at the inquiry on May 11, deny knowing the extent of misconduct at the newspaper when they were in charge.

Brooks resigned last summer as chief executive of News of the World's publisher, News International, a subsidiary of News Corp., amid growing outrage over claims of widespread hacking by the Sunday tabloid's staff.

She was editor of News of the World when the voice mail of a missing schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, was hacked by the newspaper in 2002. The teenager was later found dead.

Brooks is known for her close ties to Murdoch. She and her husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, have also socialized with Cameron.

The independent, government-appointed Leveson Inquiry grilled Rupert Murdoch and his son James, also a senior News Corp. executive, last week.

Others given "core participant" status for the next phase of the hearings include London's Metropolitan Police, politicians who say their phone was hacked, News International and Brooks.

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark and Susannah Palk contributed to this report.

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