Senior executives at News Corp and News International could be investigated by police after the company was accused by detectives of attempting to thwart the first phone-hacking investigation.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, the officer leading Scotland Yard's new inquiry, yesterday suggested to MPs that the scope of the investigation could be widened beyond journalists at the 'News of the World' to include the "criminal liability of directors".
This could implicate senior managers including James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, and Rebekah Brooks, its chief executive.
The Metropolitan Police yesterday accused News International of "lying" during the original investigation into phone hacking at the 'News of the World'.
Senior officers told MPs that James Murdoch's company had deliberately undermined a criminal inquiry, a move that could leave senior executives facing prosecution. Peter Clarke, the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Met, said: "If at any time News International had offered some meaningful co-operation instead of lies, we would not be here today."
It also emerged that Rupert Murdoch was set to make an unprecedented appearance before parliament next week.
The chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, the parent company of News International, has been asked to appear at next week's hearing of the Commons' media committee, along with his son, James, and Ms Brooks.
A company statement said: "We have been made aware of the request . . . to interview senior executives and will co-operate. We await the formal invitation."
Steve McCabe, a Labour MP, asked whether the police were looking at taking any action under Section 79 of the British Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (Ripa) 2000 covering "criminal liability of directors".
Ms Akers replied: "[The Crown Prosecution Service] will decide in due course, if it comes to that, what the most appropriate charges are, and I am sure they won't confine themselves to one particular part of Ripa."
Section 79 of the Act says directors can be prosecuted if an offence "is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of a director".
Last week, James Murdoch admitted agreeing "out-of-court settlements" to phone hacking victims, although he said that he did not have the complete picture when he did so. Alan Johnson, the former Labour home secretary, suggested this admission could lead to prosecution under the Act. (© Daily Telegraph, London)