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London police chiefs says 10 of 45 press officers once worked for Murdoch media empire
LONDON (AP) ' London's departing police chief revealed Tuesday that 10 of the 45 press officers in his department used to work for News International, but he denied there are any improper links between the force and Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Paul Stephenson was giving evidence to a committee of lawmakers investigating wrongdoing at the now-shuttered tabloid News of the World, and allegations of bribery and collusion between Murdoch employees and the police.
"I understand that there are 10 members of the (Department of Public Affairs) staff who have worked in News International in the past, in some cases journalists, in some cases undertaking work experience with the organization," he said.
News International is the British newspaper division of Murdoch's global News Corp.
Stephenson denied wrongdoing, or knowing the News of the World was engaged in phone hacking ' but acknowledged that in retrospect he was embarrassed the force had hired Neil Wallis, a former executive of the paper, as a PR consultant,
After being asked about his relationship with Wallis, who was arrested last week, Stephenson said he had "no reason to connect Wallis with phone hacking" when he was hired for the part-time job in 2009.
He said now that the scale of phone hacking at the paper has emerged, it's "embarrassing" that Wallis worked for the police.
Stephenson announced his resignation Sunday, saying allegations about his contacts with Murdoch's News International were a distraction from his job.
He was followed out the door by assistant commissioner John Yates, who will also give evidence Tuesday, before a hotly anticipated appearance by Rupert Murdoch, his son James and the media mogul's former U.K. newspaper chief, Rebekah Brooks,
Rupert Murdoch's car was mobbed by photographers as he arrived for a grilling from U.K. lawmakers about the phone hacking scandal that has swept from his media empire through the London police and even to the prime minister's office.
The elder Murdoch's Range Rover was surrounded as he arrived at the Houses of Parliament three hours early, and it quickly drove off. The vehicle returned to Parliament about half an hour before the hearing was due to start.
Politicians will be seeking more details about the scale of criminality at the News of the World, while the Murdochs will try to avoid incriminating themselves or doing more harm to their business without misleading Parliament, which is a crime.
Lawmakers are also holding a separate hearing to question London police about reports that officers took bribes from journalists to provide inside information for tabloid scoops and to ask why the force decided to shut down an earlier phone hacking probe after charging only two people.
Detectives reopened the case earlier this year and are looking at a potential 3,700 victims.
London's Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it had asked watchdog to investigate its head of public affairs over the scandal ' the fifth senior police official being investigated. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will look at Dick Fedorcio's role in hiring a former News of the World executive as an adviser to the police.
Fedorcio also was questioned by lawmakers Tuesday, along with Stephenson and Yates.
It was the appearance by the Murdochs and Brooks that was drawing huge public interest.
Members of the public and journalists lined up hours ahead of time in hope of a spot in the small committee room, which holds about 40 people. More will be able to watch in an overspill room, and Britain's TV news channels are anticipating high ratings for the appearance.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Africa and is expected to return to Britain for an emergency session Wednesday of Parliament on the scandal.
A former News of the World reporter, Sean Hoare, who helped blow the whistle on the scandal, was found dead Monday in his home. Police said the death was "unexplained" but is not being treated as suspicious. A post-mortem was being conducted Tuesday. Hoare was in his late forties.
Brooks' spokesman, David Wilson, said police had been handed a bag containing a laptop and papers that belong to her husband, former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks. Wilson said the bag did not contain anything related to the phone hacking scandal and he expected police to return it soon.
The bag was found dumped in an underground parking lot near the couple's home on Monday, but it was unclear how exactly it got there. Wilson said Tuesday that a friend of Charlie Brooks had meant to drop the bag off, but he would say only he left it in the "wrong place."
Murdoch shut down the News of the World tabloid that Brooks once edited after it was accused of hacking into the voice mail of celebrities, politicians, other journalists and even murder victims. Still, the closure has done little to end a string of revelations about the murky ties between British politics and the country's tabloid media.
The scandal has prompted the resignation and subsequent arrest of Brooks and the resignation of Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton, sunk Murdoch's dream of taking full control of lucrative satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and raised questions about his ability to keep control of his global media empire.
Rupert Murdoch is eager to stop the crisis from spreading to the United States, where many of his most lucrative assets ' including the Fox TV network, 20th Century Fox film studio, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post ' are based.
In New York, News Corp. appointed commercial lawyer Anthony Grabiner to run its Management and Standards Committee, which will deal with the scandal. But News Corp. board member Thomas Perkins told The Associated Press that the 80-year-old Murdoch has the full support of the company's board of directors, and it was not considering elevating Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey to replace Murdoch as CEO of News Corp.
News Corp.'s widely traded Class A shares fell 68 cents to $14.97 Monday ' down 17 percent since the scandal reignited on July 4.
Britain's Independent Police Complaints Commission also is looking into the phone hacking and police bribery claims, including one that Yates inappropriately helped get a job for the daughter of Wallis. Wallis has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.
London police also confirmed that they once employed a second former News of the World employee besides Wallis. Alex Marunchak had been employed as a Ukrainian language interpreter with access to highly sensitive police information between 1980 and 2000, the Metropolitan Police said.
The police force said it recognized "that this may cause concern and that some professions may be incompatible with the role of an interpreter," adding that the matter will be looked into.
Meanwhile, Internet hackers took aim at Murdoch late Monday, defacing the sites of his other U.K. tabloid, The Sun, and shutting down website of The Times of London. Visitors to The Sun website were redirected to a page featuring a story saying Murdoch's dead body had been found in his garden.
Internet hacking collective Lulz Security took responsibility for that hacking attack via Twitter, calling it a successful part of "Murdoch Meltdown Monday."
Lulz Security, which has previously claimed hacks on major entertainment companies, FBI partner organizations and the CIA, hinted that more was yet to come, saying "This is only the beginning."
It later took credit for shutting down News International's corporate website. Another hacking collective known as Anonymous claimed the cyberattack on The Times' website.
Danica Kirka and Bob Barr contributed to this report.
Meera Selva can be reached at http://twitter.com/Meera_Selva.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://twitter.com/JillLawless