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UK police arrest Murdoch tabloid staff, raid offices

To match Special Report NEWSCORP/TAINT
To match Special Report NEWSCORP/TAINT

By Tim Castle and Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (Reuters) - British police arrested four current and former staff of Rupert Murdoch's best-selling Sun tabloid plus a policeman on Saturday as part of an investigation into suspected payments by journalists to officers, police and the newspaper's publisher said.

Police also searched the paper's London offices at publisher News International, News Corp's British arm, in a corruption probe linked to a continuing investigation into phone hacking at its now closed News of the World weekly tabloid.

News Corp's Management and Standards Committee, set up in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, said Saturday's operation was the result of information it had passed to police.

"News Corporation made a commitment last summer that unacceptable news gathering practices by individuals in the past would not be repeated," the committee said in a statement confirming the arrests of four "current and former employees" of the Sun.

The committee is conducting a lawyer-led internal review of News International's remaining titles, which also include The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers, as part of a drive to mend the reputational damage done by the phone hacking scandal.

The committee's investigation into The Sun was "well advanced," News International chief executive Tom Mockridge said in an email sent to staff.

"News International is confronting past mistakes and is making fundamental changes about how we operate which are essential for our business.

"Despite this very difficult news, we are determined that News International will emerge a stronger and more trusted organization," he added.

News International was providing legal support for the four arrested "colleagues," Mockridge said.

The arrests included The Sun's crime editor Mike Sullivan, its head of news Chris Pharo, and former deputy editor Fergus Shanahan, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Also arrested was the paper's former managing editor Graham Dudman, now a training director at News International, the source said.

Police said a 48-year-old man from north London and two other men from Essex, east of London, aged 48 and 56, were arrested at their homes. The fourth man, aged 42, was arrested after reporting to an east London police station.

A Sun reporter, who asked not to be named, said: "Everyone is a bit shocked, there is disbelief really. But there is a big difference between phone hacking and payments to the police."

A 29-year-old policeman serving with the Met Police's Territorial Policing Command, was arrested at the central London police station where he worked.

All five were being questioned on suspicion of corruption.

OPERATION ELVEDEN

Police searched the arrested men's homes as well as The Sun's offices in Wapping, east London.

Thirteen people have now been arrested over allegations that journalists paid police in return for information.

Their detentions are part of Operation Elveden - one of three criminal investigations into news-gathering practices.

Last week, News International settled a string of legal claims after it admitted that people working for the tabloid had hacked in to the private phones of celebrities and others to find stories.

The phone hacking scandal drew attention to the level of political influence held by editors and executives at News International, and other newspapers in Britain.

It embarrassed British politicians for their close ties with newspaper executives and also the police, who repeatedly failed to investigate allegations of illegal phone hacking.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Ben Harding)

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