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MPs' fear 'held back hacking probe'

A parliamentary inquiry into phone-hacking allegations was held back because of fears their own private lives could be probed by a newspaper, a former member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee claimed.

Adam Price, who stood down as a Plaid Cymru MP in May, said the concern - raised by a senior Tory - was a factor in the committee not trying to force News International (NI) chief executive Rebekah Brooks to give evidence last year.

Ms Brooks declined requests to appear before the investigation into the hacking of phones by the News of the World, which had already heard evidence from other NI executives.

Mr Price told Channel 4 News the committee discussed the idea of asking the Commons authorities to take the rare step of forcing her to attend but held off amid fears the newspaper "would go for us".

Committee chairman John Whittingdale confirmed that the potential impact on MPs' personal lives was discussed but insisted he had no reason to believe it would happen and it had not influenced his decision.

Mr Price's comments came a day after MPs voted to refer the hacking allegations to the more powerful Standards and Privileges Committee for a fresh probe into whether politicians' mobiles were targeted.

In 2007, ex-News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for intercepting voicemail messages left for public figures - something NI insists was an isolated case. But the row was reignited last week when a former reporter claimed that David Cameron's communications chief Andy Coulson - editor of the Sunday paper at the time - was aware such eavesdropping was happening.

Mr Coulson repeatedly denied the allegation and Downing Street insists he retains the Prime Minister's confidence.

Mr Price said he now thought it "regrettable" that the committee had not been tougher and said he hoped the standards committee would "stand firm where we didn't".

"We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us - which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that's part of the reason we didn't do it," he said. "In retrospect I think that's regrettable. It's important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn't. Politicians aren't above the law but neither are journalists including Rupert Murdoch's bovver boys with biros."

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