UK phone hacking scandal damages police reputation

By GREGORY KATZ and ROBERT BARR | July 7, 2011 | 1:44 PM EDT

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2009 file photo, Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, which publishes the News of the World tabloid, arrives at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England. Britain's long-running phone hacking scandal took a twist Tuesday, July 5, 2011, with claims that a the News of the World hacked into the phone mail of an abducted teenage girl and may have hampered the police investigation into her disappearance. Brooks said in an email to her staff that the "strongest possible" actions would be taken if the charges were found to be true. Brooks said in the email that she had no knowledge of the alleged hacking and that she would not resign. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

LONDON (AP) — The focus of the British phone hacking scandal that led to the shutdown of the News of the World tabloid has shifted to serious allegations of police corruption, with authorities calling Thursday for an independent review of reported payoffs by journalists to police.

The review announced by the Independent Press Complaints Commission reflects the seriousness of the corruption charges, which are apparently based on information provided by the Sunday newspaper to police in recent days.

The information deals with journalists making secret payments to police in exchange for information and tips, a practice that is illegal in England.

Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said Thursday he is "determined" to see any officers who took illegal payments face criminal prosecution.

"I am more than ashamed — I am determined to see them in a criminal court," Stephenson said.

The involvement of the independent commission means police will have impartial outside help in determining whether its officers should face corruption charges because of the new information about possible payoffs from tabloid operatives.

Deborah Glass, deputy commissioner of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said she will personally supervise the investigation into the possible News of the World payoffs. She said she wants to assure the public that the police have done everything possible to identify offenders.

Many have long assumed that some police receive payment from British journalists. The practice was admitted in 2003 by Rebekah Brooks, then the editor of The Sun — another Rupert Murdoch tabloid — and now chief or Murdoch's U.K. newspaper operations, in testimony before Parliament. But details about suspected corruption are starting to emerge because of the increased focus on shoddy journalistic practices at Britain's highly competitive tabloids.

Brian Paddick, formerly a senior police commander, told the BBC that journalists make clandestine cash payoffs to police in envelopes, which are handed over at a drive-thru fast food restaurant near the News International headquarters.

Sometimes the reporters get information about celebrities in trouble — he cited a car crash involving singer George Michael, who was using marijuana and alcohol at the time — and sometimes it deals with ongoing investigations.

He said there are cases when payoffs are "jeopardizing serious criminal investigations by giving out confidential information that could be useful to criminals."

Police officials have said only a handful of police are suspected of receiving payments, but declined to say how many.

Paddick, a former London mayoral candidate who may run again in 2012, said one journalist said he had paid 30,000 pounds (about $50,000) for information.

"All of this is done in a very clandestine way," said Paddick, who said he had never personally seen money being exchanged.