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UPDATE 1-Attorney General to look at police Leveson remarks
* Govt's top legal adviser to examine Sue Akers remarks
* Ex-top cop concerned over senior officers' media relations
* Journalists bribed police-former senior officer (Adds new evidence from inquiry)
By Michael Holden
LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - The government's top legal adviser said on Wednesday he was looking at whether comments by a detective leading investigations into alleged illegal activities at Rupert Murdoch's newspapers could prejudice future trials.
London police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told a public inquiry last week that illegal payments to public officials were rife at Murdoch's Sun tabloid, where 11 journalists have been arrested by her detectives.
After an unnamed person raised concerns that the remarks could affect possible trials, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said he would look into the matter.
"Evidence given during the Leveson inquiry has been drawn to the attention of the attorney general's office," a spokeswoman for Grieve said. "The attorney general will consider the issues raised."
In her statement, Akers, who is heading three criminal inquires centred on News Corp's British newspaper arm, News International, said the Sun had operated a "culture ... of illegal payments".
"The current assessment is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials," she added.
Legal rules mean statements to a public inquiry are covered by privilege, so Akers' comments could not be considered to be in contempt of court, as some media reports suggested. But Grieve could consider that they might impact on a fair trial.
Grieve's spokeswoman said a decision on any action considered appropriate would be made in due course.
Since January last year, detectives have made some 40 arrests over allegations that journalists illegally accessed the voicemail messages of mobile phones, bribed public officials or hacked into email accounts.
Those arrested include Andy Coulson, a former editor of the now defunct News of the World newspaper and former media chief for Prime Minister David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks, ex-chief executive of News International, and numerous journalists from Murdoch's British titles.
Two senior journalists from News International have apparently tried to take their own lives amid the growing allegations of illegal practices, sources close to the company said on Tuesday.
POLICE TOO CLOSE TO JOURNALISTS
Meanwhile the police themselves continue to come under the spotlight over whether some senior officers were too close to News International, clouding their judgement over claims of phone-hacking at the News of the World.
On Wednesday, former London Commissioner Ian Blair told the inquiry he himself had had lunch with Rebekah Brooks on the day she inquired about borrowing a police horse, but said he could not recollect the issue being mentioned.
Asked if he thought the affair dubbed "Horsegate" by the media was a big deal, he said "no".
However, he criticised the decision by senior officer John Yates not to reopen the phone-hacking probe in 2009, saying it was too hasty.
"Do I believe that John Yates took that decision in order to placate News International? No I don't," he told the Leveson inquiry. "But his difficulty ... is a number of contacts and that I think is a problem."
But, he said he was concerned about the close media relations and "large amount of dinners" enjoyed by Yates and Andy Hayman, the officer with ultimate responsibility for the original 2006 probe into News of the World phone-hacking.
Hayman was also investigated over media leaks regarding one terrorism case, Blair revealed. Hayman's explanation for multiple calls to journalists was because he had a specific media advisory role.
"I'm not sure I find that sufficient in this case," said Blair, who told the inquiry his own phone numbers were in the file of the private detective at the centre of the phone-hacking scandal, although he did not think he himself was a victim.
Another former senior officer Bob Quick told the inquiry he had recommended an investigation into police corruption in 2000 after intelligence that some officers were being paid 500 to 2,000 pounds by journalists for stories.
However, Hayman, his boss at the time, decided against it because of problems obtaining evidence.
He also said he was asked to examine whether Yates had been leaking information to the media over the high-profile "cash for honours" inquiry.
Yates refused to allow access to his phone records saying, "I am very well connected", the inquiry heard, although Quick said he saw no evidence of any leaking. (Editing by Steve Addison)
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