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British government, police under pressure over Murdoch links

LONDON (AFP) -- The British government and police faced fresh pressure over their ties to Rupert Murdoch on Saturday as the media mogul published apologies in national newspapers over the phone hacking scandal.

A day after Murdoch lost two of his most senior executives, the crisis returned to haunt the British establishment with new allegations about the close ties between the media baron's empire and the police and politicians.

Prime Minister David Cameron was forced on the defensive after it emerged that he personally had 26 meetings in 15 months with key figures Murdoch's News Corp. and its British newspaper division, News International.

Scotland Yard was meanwhile drawn deeper into the row with the revelation that Commissioner Paul Stephenson met Murdoch executives and editors 18 times socially between 2006 and 2010.

This included a dinner with the deputy editor of the News of the World in September 2006, when the police force was investigating hacking at the tabloid, and when Stephenson was deputy commissioner.

A spokesman told AFP that meetings with the media were a "necessary part" of being a senior police officer.

But the revelation is likely to up the pressure on Stephenson, who is already facing questions about why the force hired a former News of the World deputy editor, Neil Wallis, as an advisor just two months after he quit the tabloid.

Wallis was arrested last week over the phone hacking scandal.

Scotland Yard has previously defended its links with Wallis, and a spokesman strongly denied fresh claims by Sky News television late Saturday about a free stay Stephenson had accepted from a health clinic and spa where Wallis worked.

"The commissioner only learnt who the PR consultant for Champneys was following a media enquiry today," he said, adding that Stephenson's meals and accommodation were provided by the spa's managing director, a personal friend.

Stephenson has been called to give evidence on Tuesday to a committee of lawmakers which last week grilled other senior officers about the phone hacking investigation, alleged payments to police and their ties to News International.

The government meanwhile has also been forced to defend its links to Murdoch's empire.

It has emerged that Cameron hosted former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, who quit Friday as chief executive of News International, and Murdoch's son James, the chairman of News International, at his country retreat, Chequers.

"Personally, I'm not embarrassed by it in any way," Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC on Saturday after widespread media criticism.

Hague also defended Cameron's decision to invite Andy Coulson, his former media chief and another one-time editor of the News of the World tabloid, to Chequers in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.

Coulson was arrested last week in connection with the scandal over alleged hacking and payments to police, one of nine people held since police reopened their investigations in January. He denies the charges.

Hague said: "In inviting Andy Coulson back, the prime minister has invited someone back to thank him for his work, he's worked for him for several years, that is a normal, human thing to do."

On Saturday, Murdoch abandoned his previously defiant stance and ran full-page adverts in seven national British dailies, apologising for the hacking scandal at the News of the World, which he closed down last week.

"We are sorry," the headline of the ads read. They were signed "Sincerely, Rupert Murdoch."

In a further show of contrition, Murdoch on Friday met the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked by the News of the World in 2002, when Brooks was editor of the paper.

Murdoch's determination to keep his empire afloat was shown, however, when he accepted the resignation of Brooks on Friday and then, hours later that of Les Hinton, head of Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Both Brooks and Hinton, a former chairman of News International who had worked with Murdoch for 50 years, deny any knowledge of the phone hacking.

Their departure capped a disastrous week for Murdoch in which he was also forced to scrap a buy-out of British pay-TV giant BSkyB, and also leaves his heir-apparent James, 38, exposed.

The British government has announced a full public inquiry into the scandal, and Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Brooks have all been summoned to testify before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

(관련기사)

해킹 언론과 '밀월' 런던경찰 명성 `흔들'

최근 휴대전화 해킹•도청 파문으로 폐간한 영국 매체  뉴스오 브더월드와 경찰 간 깊은 유착 의혹이 잇따라 불거지면서 그동안 엄격한 법의  수호 자로 명성이 높았던 런던경찰청의 명예가 땅에 떨어질 위기에 처했다.

17일 뉴욕타임스(NYT)와 AFP 등에 따르면 런던경찰청은 지난 2006년 뉴스오브더 월드의 도청 사건 수사를 벌일 당시 이 언론사의 의뢰를 받고 해킹을 실행한 사설탐 정 글렌 멀케어의 집에서 해킹을 당했을지도 모르는 사람들 이름이 적힌 1만1천 쪽 분량의 기록을 확보했다.

여기에는 유명인사와 정치인, 스포츠 스타, 경찰관, 범죄 피해자 약 4천명의 이 름이 올라 있었고, 각 장마다 이를 의뢰한 기자와 편집자의 이름이 함께 쓰여있었다 .

하지만 런던경찰청은 이 가운데 `표적 대상'으로 분류된 왕실 일가와 직원 8명, 그리고 다른 28명 등 36명과 관련해서만 조사를 벌이고 나머지는 살펴보지 않고 201 0년 가을까지 증거 보관실에 그대로 방치했다고 전현직 경찰 관리들은 전했다.

이 기간 중 런던경찰청의 고위 간부들은 의회와 판사, 변호사는 물론 잠재적 해 킹 피해자들, 언론, 대중들을 접할 때마다 뉴스오브더월드가 행한 해킹이  광범위하 다는 증거는 없다고 밝혔었다.

전직 경찰들은 런던경찰청이 나태하고 무능력했으며 특히 용의자로 여겨야 할 사람들과 너무 친밀한 관계를 유지했다면서 일부 경찰관은 범죄 자체에 책임이 있을 수 있다고 지적했다.

실제로 이번 사태 이후 런던경찰청 고위 간부들과 뉴스오브더월드 간에 수사 목 표를 공유할 정도의 밀월 관계마저 속속 드러나고 있다.

최근 해킹•도청 음모를 꾸민 혐의로 체포된 뉴스오브더월드의 전 부편집장 닐 월리스의 경우 2009년 뉴스오브더월드를 퇴사한 뒤에는 런던경찰청의 미디어 전략담 당(media strategist)으로 일한 것으로 밝혀졌다.

월리스는 또 경찰에서 일하는 동안 해킹문제와 관련한 내용에 대해 알아본 뒤 뉴스인터내셔널 측에 이를 전달해왔다고 NYT는 전했다.

런던경찰청의 최고위 간부들도 밀월에 예외는 아니었다.

해킹 스캔들이 불거진 2006년 이후 존 예이츠 치안감을 비롯한 다른 간부들은 뉴스오브더월드의 모기업인 뉴스인터내셔널 편집자들과 정기적으로 저녁식사를 해왔 다.

폴 스티븐슨 현 런던경찰청장도 이 기간에 이들 간부와 18번에 걸쳐 식사한  것으로 나타났으며, 최근에는 그가 지난해 월리스가 일했던 건강 클리닉과 스파를  공짜로 이용했다는 의혹이 제기되기도 했다.

그러나 런던경찰청 대변인은 스티븐슨 청장이 해당 업체 간부인 그의 친구로부터 서비스를 제공받았을 뿐 월리스가 그곳에서 일했다는 사실은 몰랐다고 의혹을 부인했다. (연합뉴스)

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