Apologies all around in UK hacking scandal

Associated Press + More

By RAPHAEL SATTER, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — They're all so very sorry.

British police, an editor and a press regulator took turns to express regret over their role in the phone hacking scandal Tuesday, each acknowledging that they could have done more to get a grips with illegal practices whose exposure has rocked the country's establishment.

For years, officials took turns dismissing suggestions in the Guardian newspaper that phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World was widespread, denials which eventually fell apart when scandal erupted in July, leading to the dramatic closure of the top-selling tabloid as well as dozens of arrests and resignations.

First up Tuesday was London's Metropolitan Police Service, which for years insisted — apparently without bothering to examine the evidence gathered by its own officers — there were only a handful of phone hacking victims.

At London's High Court lawyers for the police acknowledged that they had violated the human rights of thousands of potential victims by failing to inform them that they and their private communications may have been targeted by unscrupulous journalists.

The force said it had been stretched by an "unprecedented increase in anti-terrorist investigations" in the mid-2000s and noted that it now had some 130 officers devoted to chasing phone hacking allegations.

"This in part reflects the lessons that have been learned about how police should deal with the victims of such crimes," police said in a statement. "All the claimants are receiving personal apologies."

On the same day, the former chairwoman of Britain's press regulator, Peta Jane Buscombe, said she regretted her dismissal of the phone hacking issue, explaining that she had been lied to by Murdoch's News International.

In 2009 the Press Complaints Commission downplayed the Guardian's claims, saying in a report that the paper's allegations didn't live up to their "dramatic billing," while Buscombe herself seemed to suggest that a prominent lawyer for the hacking victims wasn't telling the truth.

Buscombe paid 20,000 pounds in libel damages for her comments, while her organization was forced into a humiliating retraction once it became clear that its report had gotten the hacking story catastrophically wrong.

A judge-led inquiry ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron is considering whether to scrap the Complaints Commission, which critics have derided as ineffective, and on Tuesday Buscombe blamed Murdoch's company for pulling the wool over her eyes.

"I regret that I was clearly misled by News International, that I accepted what they had told me," she told the inquiry.

Later Tuesday it was Times of London Editor James Harding's turn to apologize, saying he was sorry that one of his journalists had hacked into the email of the detective behind an award-winning police blog.

"As editor of the paper, I am responsible for what it does and what its journalists do," Harding said. "So on behalf of the paper, I apologize."

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Online:

The media inquiry's website: http://leveson.org.uk/

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