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Former spin doctor slams 'putrid' press as UK police make 17th arrest in phone-hacking probe
LONDON (AP) ' Tony Blair's former spin doctor told Britain's media ethics inquiry Wednesday that a minority of journalists have turned the country's press "putrid" and tarnished the whole industry.
Alastair Campbell said journalists such as those who hacked phones for the News of the World tabloid had "besmirched the name" of almost every other reporter in the country.
"A very, very small number of people have completely changed the newspaper industry," said Campbell, who is credited with running a sophisticated ' and manipulative ' media operation when he worked for the then-prime minister at 10 Downing Street between 1997 and 2003.
"We have a press that has just become frankly putrid in many of its elements," Campbell said, criticizing the "inhumane treatment" meted out to celebrities and ordinary people alike by newspapers in relentless pursuit of exclusives.
Campbell was giving evidence to judge Brian Leveson's inquiry, which was established to examine media ethics and practices and recommend changes to Britain's system of media self-regulation.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry in response to the scandal that began with the exposure of illegal eavesdropping by Rupert Murdoch's the News of the World.
Murdoch shut down the tabloid in July after evidence emerged that it had accessed the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search for scoops.
In a written witness statement, Campbell said he suspected the phone of Blair's wife, Cherie, had been hacked ' although he acknowledged he had no proof.
He said stories about her "often involved details of where Cherie was going, the kind of thing routinely discussed on phones when planning visits, private as well as public."
He said phone hacking could explain how the Daily Mirror learned that Cherie Blair was pregnant in 1999.
"As I recall it, at the time only a tiny number of people in Downing Street knew that she was pregnant," Campbell said. "I have heard all sorts of stories as to how the information got out, but none of them strike me as credible."
More than a dozen current and former News of the World journalists and editors have been arrested, and two top London police officers and several senior Murdoch executives have resigned over the still-unfolding hacking scandal.
Police said Wednesday that they had made a new arrest, a 31-year-old woman detained in northern England on Wednesday. Her name was not disclosed, although media including Sky News ' which is 39 percent owned by Murdoch's News Corp. ' identified her as a former News of the World reporter.
The only people charged with crimes so far are former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who were jailed in 2007 for hacking into the voicemails of royal aides.