MPs were warned off probing Brooks & Coulson, “because there could be consequences”

The latest on the News of the World phone hacking scandal, including reports from the past that MPs were warned off probing Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.

Dogged News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, has been given the backing of media mogal and News of the World owner, Rupert Murdoch – on the same afternoon that she was accused of misleading parliament.

Ms Brooks and David Cameron’s former director of communications, Andy Coulson, were at the centre of this afternoon’s emergency Commons debate on whether a public inquiry should be held into alleged criminal behaviour at Britain’s most read Sunday newspaper.

Mr Coulson, who was News of the World editor until 2007, has been accused of authorising payments to police officers for information.

Asked by Chris Bryant MP at a Culture, Media and Sport select select committee hearing in 2003 whether the newspaper had ever paid police officers, Ms Brooks, then editor of the Sun, confirmed that it had exchanged money for information.

Her successor at the News of the World, who went on to become David Cameron’s director of communications, defused the situation – telling committee members that the paper had acted within the law.

Chris Bryant, who kicked off the Commons debate this afternoon, today questioned whether paying police officers for information could ever be legal.

The relationship between some members of parliament and the News International group has come under light as Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World is accused of hacking phones and paying police officers.

As the BBC’s Newsnight found last night, backbench MP and then chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, John Whittingdale MP, had enjoyed a donation of £3,000 from the media empire to the cricket club that he is the vice-chairman of. Mr Whittingdale told Newsnight that the organisation sponsors many other sports clubs.

According to one member of the committee, the chair told the backbench MPs not to use their power to force Rebekah Brooks to give evidence.

Adam Price, former Plaid Cymru MP and select committee member, told Newsnight:

“The chair told us to think very carefully before going down that road, because there could be consequences for us, personally.”

After Channel 4’s Dispatches investigation, ‘Tabloids and Telephone Hacking’ last October, Labour MP Tom Watson told journalists he had been threatened by a senior member of News International staff in 2006 – something the organisation denies.

At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this afternoon, David Cameron said an independent inquiry into whether police had been paid for details including the phone numbers of the victims of the 7/7 bombings should take place.

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