SFO asked to probe News International

 
Steve Dinneen
Follow Steve
THE scandal threatening to topple Rupert Murdoch’s empire continued to gather pace yesterday, after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was asked to investigate News International.

The SFO became involved after Labour MP Tom Watson wrote to the body asking it to investigate settlements made in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

Watson branded payments totalling more than £1m to public figures including Gordon Taylor, former head of the FA, a “gross misuse of shareholders’ money”.

There is no guarantee that a full probe will be launched. The SFO was unavailable for comment.

Any probe would be in addition to criminal investigations underway here and across the Atlantic, although experts say the US legal process is likely to prevent any action being taken there in the short term.

Meanwhile, James Murdoch’s position as BSkyB chairman is understood to be under further scrutiny as the crisis at the British newspaper company worsens.

A source close to the Sky board last week told City A.M. the directors are waiting for James Murdoch to appear in front of the media select committee before they decide their position on his chairmanship. The broadcaster is now said to be considering a share buy-back that could return as much as £1.9bn to investors.

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday called for the break-up of the Murdoch empire, saying “that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power.”

Miliband will also argue today that media regulation should be overhauled to prevent the emergence of a future Murdoch figure.

● ANOTHER DAY OF TURMOIL FOR MURDOCH EMPIRE
6:00am
Labour leader Ed Miliband calls for the Murdoch empire to be broken up in an interview with the Observer. He says the regulatory system should be overhauled to ensure that there are limits on how much of the media a single proprietor can own. He will push for cross party agreement on ownership laws.

11:00am
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says he is "incredibly worried" about the affect the hacking scandal has had on the police and its reputation with the public. He says he will not call for the head of commissioner Stephenson until after the media select committee hearing he is due to appear at tomorrow.

1:00pm
Police announce that former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has been arrested. Brooks, who quit on Friday after intense political pressure, was arrested by appointment and spent the entire day in police custody facing questions over her knowledge of the hacking scandal and payments to police officers.

7:30pm
Met Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson announces his resignation. It comes after a weekend of growing pressure, in which his judgement was questioned over a holiday he accepted from a company linked to arrested former News of the World executive Neil Wallis. He denies any wrongdoing.