Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB appeared to be dead in the water last night after proof emerged that executives at his British newspaper empire mounted a cover-up of the full scale of alleged criminal wrongdoing at the News of the World.
In another extraordinary day in the phone-hacking scandal, Downing Street sources confirmed that Government lawyers were drawing up a strategy to halt the £9bn deal which looked a certainty only a week ago.
As Nick Clegg threatened to split the Coalition by siding with a Labour plan to block the takeover, a senior Government source said last night: “We are working on a plan to suspend the deal while the police investigation is taking place. But we have to ensure it doesn’t get thrown out by judicial review.”
The U-turn came after one of News International’s own papers revealed that an internal report carried out in 2007, after the News of the World’s royal editor Clive Goodman was jailed, had found evidence that illegally accessing voicemails was more widespread at the paper – and that payments had been made to police officers.
An anonymous executive was quoted as saying that the report had been like a “ticking time bomb”. The report suggests there was a deliberate cover-up by unidentified executives at News International, which had told Parliamentary inquiries in 2007 and 2009 there was no evidence journalists other than Goodman had been involved in phone hacking, nor that it had attempted to suppress evidence of illegality.