RUPERT Murdoch's grip on his media empire was dramatically challenged yesterday after his company was labelled a "toxic shadow state", which launched a dirty tricks campaign against MPs.
The sense of a legal net tightening around Mr Murdoch and News Corp was heightened by the announcement that he and his son James will testify separately next week before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
It also coincides with the publication of a book on the scandal which claims 'NOTW' set out on a campaign of intimidation of MPs to try to blunt their investigations into its alleged law breaking.
Last night, senior MPs called for News International (NI) to be investigated over the claims that members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee were targeted by attempts to dig up dirt on their private lives.
NI said it had no comment to make on the book, 'Dial M for Murdoch', written by the Labour MP Tom Watson and The Independent's Martin Hickman.
Mr Watson, who is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport committee, said the claim that the NOTW set out in 2009 to undermine the MPs investigating came from Neville Thurlbeck, the NOTW's former chief reporter.
In the book, Mr Thurlbeck, who has been arrested in connection with phone hacking, says: "An edict came down -- and it was to find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use," said Mr Thurlbeck, who added last night the order to target the MPs had not originated from inside the paper but "came from elsewhere inside News International".
Mr Watson, who has received an apology from NI after he was placed under surveillance, said: "Parliament was, in effect, intimidated. News International thought they could do this, that they could get away with it, that no one could touch them; and they actually did it, and it worked."
Labelling News Corp a "toxic institution", he added: "We conclude that the web of influence which News Corporation spun in Britain, which effectively bent politicians, police and many others in public life to its will, amounted to a shadow state." (©Independent News Service)