News Corp puts Sky bid on hold

Steve Dinneen
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■ Competition Commission probe to last up to a year

■ Gordon Brown says sick son was target of News Int

NEWS CORP yesterday made the shock decision to effectively put its bid for BSkyB on ice for up to a year.

Rupert Murdoch’s firm withdrew concessions made to the media watchdog over the takeover, triggering a Competition Commission enquiry. The dramatic U-turn, which centred around its agreement to “hive off” Sky News, was announced minutes before culture minister Jeremy Hunt addressed the house of commons.

Sources close to News Corp said the move was intended to “depoliticise” the bid process and give the firm a clearer timetable of events.

It seems to have been triggered by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to request new advice from Ofcom – most pertinently whether he should trust News Corp’s assurances over Sky News.

The announcement was made as political pressure on News Corp reached fever pitch. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband both called for Murdoch to abandon his bid for Sky and Clegg added his voice to those calling for News International boss Rebekah Brooks’ head.

Even David Cameron, whose close relationship with News International has come under scrutiny in recent days, said that if he were in charge of News Corp he would focus on cleaning it up rather than “the next corporate move”.

The dramatic developments, which sent BSkyB’s shares as low as 699p yesterday, came amid yet another day of damning accusations against the now-defunct News of the World and its stablemates including the Sunday Times.

Gordon Brown made the explosive claim that News International journalists attempted to hack his phone; used so-called “blagging calls” to try to extract information about his personal bank account; accessed confidential legal documents; and even looked at his family’s medical records – including those of his seriously ill son.

Private investigators, including convicted fraudster Glenn Mulcaire, are thought to have targeted Brown over a period of more than 10 years.