Belfast Telegraph

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Stormont leaders in phone hacking storm

By Liam Clarke, Martin Hickman and Cahal Milmo

Published 07/07/2011

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are to make an official request to discover if their phones were tapped as the News of the World (NOTW) hacking scandal exploded last night.

The First and Deputy first minister are contacting London's Metropolitan Police over suspicions their mobile phones were tapped into illegally.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McGuinness said he also wants to know how his private ex-directory number has fallen into the hands of reporters.

The NoTW has been under intense scrutiny since it was revealed this week a mobile phone belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had its voicemail hacked and messages from her family deleted.

Since then, allegations stated that a private detective working for the Sunday tabloid also hacked phones belonging to the parents of murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman as well as relatives of those killed in the July 7 terror attacks.

As Prime Minister David Cameron promised to set up a public inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, Mr McGuinness said he and the First Minister had "good reason to communicate with the Met in London to establish if either of our phones have been hacked".

"I couldn't rule out the possibility, or even probability, that if they (tabloid journalists) were doing it on the sort of people they were doing it on in England, they were trying to do it on us," he said.

As the scandal spiralled Rupert Murdoch's planned takeover of Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster was cast into doubt.

The communications regulator Ofcom revealed it was "closely monitoring" allegations of widespread criminality at News International and said it had a duty to be satisfied Mr Murdoch and his top executives were "fit and proper persons" to control BSkyB.

MPs used a three-hour emergency Commons debate on the latest revelations to condemn journalistic practices at NOTW.

Labour MP Tom Watson even demanded the suspension of James Murdoch, Mr Murdoch's son and the chairman of News International.

Watson said: "It is clear now that he personally, without board approval, authorised money to be paid by his company to silence people who had been hacked and to cover up criminal behaviour within his organisation."

David Cameron, a close friend of Ms Brooks, suggested that the Government would hold a public inquiry into the scandal.

He said: "We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities, we are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into.

"It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone will be revolted by what they have heard."

Mr Cameron said there were two "vital areas" that needed to be considered - why the original police inquiry failed to "get to the bottom of what happened", as well as the behaviour of journalists and media organisations.

He offered to hold talks on the matter with other party leaders, Attorney General Dominic Grieve and Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O' Donnell.

Mr Grieve indicated inquiries could be set up and begin some aspects of their work before criminal investigations were complete.

Mr Cameron said he took "full responsibility" for his decision to employ former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his most senior spin doctor - a position he quit in January.

Coulson was drawn further into the row with claims he had authorised payments to police when he edited the newspaper.

Mr Murdoch yesterday gave his personal backing to the paper's former editor and News International's current chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

In a statement, Mr Murdoch said the company "must fully and proactively co-operate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks' leadership."

Meanwhile Newspaper watchdog the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has announced it will launch a review of "all aspects of press regulation" in the wake of the latest allegations.

Belfast Telegraph

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