Investigations by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper suggested that illicit practices ranged beyond the feisty world of News Corp. tabloids and included journalists acting on behalf of one of the company’s more prestigious papers, the Sunday Times.
“Gordon Brown has now been informed of the scale of intrusion into his family’s life. The family has been shocked by the level of criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained. The matter is in police hands,” Brown spokeswoman Nicola Burdett said in a statement Monday.
Other News Corp. journalists, the BBC said, sought to buy the personal phone numbers of the royal family, leading the broadcaster to question whether even Queen Elizabeth’s phone might have been hacked.
Murdoch was in London on Monday, attempting to personally manage what is quickly becoming one of the most serious crises in the history of the world’s second-largest media conglomerate — a global network of newspapers, film studios and television stations, including U.S.-based Fox News.
Murdoch over the weekend shuttered the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, seeking to quell a growing fervor here. Though years in the making, the scandal — at first thought to be limited to police bribes and the hacking of voice mails of celebrities and sports stars — turned into a full-scale crisis last week amid revelations that News of the World had also targeted average British citizens.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Monday suggested that shutting down one newspaper would not be enough. After meeting with the parents of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old abducted and killed in 2002 whose case was complicated by News of the World phone hacks, Clegg called on Murdoch to drop his $12 billion bid to expand his holdings here by taking over full ownership of British Sky Broadcasting, the nation’s most lucrative satellite broadcaster. News Corp. owns 39 percent.
Such a move could thwart News Corp.’s plans to consolidate its position as the dominant voice of conservative Britain by adding a highly profitable and politically influential asset to its portfolio. A successful takeover of the company was also viewed as a key steppingstone for Murdoch’s 38-year-old son, James Murdoch, on the road to running his father’s empire one day.
“The Murdochs have ruled the roost here in this country for 30 years,” said Claire Enders, chief executive of London media researchers Enders Analysis. “This is absolutely seismic for their empire.”