* Focus narrows on Murdochs after executives resign
* British lawmaker not swayed by Rupert Murdoch apology
* Pressure mounts on police
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON, July 17 (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper business, mired in a widening scandal stemming from phone hacking, pledged on Sunday to fully cooperate with inquiries by police, who themselves are under mounting pressure for being too close to his media empire.
There also were signs that the resignations of two top Murdoch executives, Rebekah Brooks, who was chief executive of his British newspaper arm News International, and Les Hinton, chief executive of Murdoch’s Dow Jones & Co and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, had done little to alleviate pressure on Murdoch and his son James, chairman of News International.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that members of the board of pay-TV operator BSkyB , of which Murdoch’s News Corp owns 39 percent and where James Murdoch serves as chairman, are to meet in a special session on July 28 to discuss his future.
The younger Murdoch’s handling of the phone-hacking scandal has been heavily criticised.
James and Murdoch senior, along with Brooks, face a hotly anticipated grilling in Britain’s parliament on Tuesday, in which James will be asked about claims that News International misled parliament during earlier hearings over phone hacking.
The scandal has embroiled Britain’s police, who are accused of being too close to News Corp, of accepting cash from the now defunct News of the World tabloid that was at the heart of the scandal, and from other newspapers, and of not doing enough to investigate phone-hacking allegations that surfaced as far as back as 2005.
Britain’s senior police chief Paul Stephenson came under renewed pressure late on Saturday after it emerged he had stayed at a luxury spa at which Neil Wallis, a former News of the World deputy editor, was a public relations adviser.
A police statement said Stephenson did not know of Wallis’s connection with the spa, and his stay was paid for by the spa’s managing director, a family friend with no links to his professional life.
Stephenson already had come under fire after his force said Wallis, who has been arrested over the phone-hacking scandal and is free on bail, had been hired as a consultant by the police.
Murdoch attempted to quell some of the uproar over the phone-hacking allegations with adverts placed in British newspapers on Saturday and Sunday.
“There are no excuses and should be no place to hide...We will continue to cooperate fully and actively with the Metropolitan Police Service,” News International said in its Sunday announcement. Unlike apologies published on Saturday, these were not signed by Murdoch.
The News of the World, which published its final edition a week ago, is alleged to have hacked thousands of phones, including that of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, sparking a furore that forced Murdoch to close the paper, and drop a $12 billion plan to buy all of highly profitable BSkyB.
News International’s rival British newspapers have pounced on Murdoch’s flailing empire, seeking to grab the huge number of readers left without a Sunday paper by the closure of News of the World and dishing out more dirt on News International.
The Sunday Telegraph also carried a story detailing claims that footballer David Beckham and actor Jude Law had been victims of phone hacking.
The Observer newspaper published an interview with British opposition leader Ed Miliband, in which the Labour party chief called for the breakup of Murdoch’s empire.
“I think it’s unhealthy because that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation,” Miliband was quoted as saying.
Murdoch’s apologies appeared to have done little to allay public and political anger and looked to many like a belated about-face. As recently as recently as Thursday Murdoch had told The Wall Street Journal that his company had made only “minor mistakes” in handling the crisis.
“I think a PR man has told him to say these things and I don’t he think believes a word of it. It seems like a confession to me that they haven’t cooperated with the police so far,” British lawmaker Chris Bryant, a prominent campaigner against media abuses, told Reuters.
The police also are ratcheting up the pressure, having claimed last week that News International had hampered their investigations.
“Bearing in mind that (the police) said that News International deliberately thwarted a police investigation, I think (Rupert Murdoch) should be very careful about every step he takes from now on,” Bryant said.
Murdoch’s attempts at conciliation included his personal apology on Friday to Dowler’s parents in what appeared to be an admission that the News of the World, then edited by Brooks and overseen by Hinton, had in 2002 hacked into the voicemails of their missing daughter who was later found murdered.
“It’s a good strategy. The problem is it’s too late. Is it repairing the damage? No. But the strategy is that it’s trying to move the story into a second phase,” said Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics’ Polis journalism think tank.
“The big question mark is how vulnerable is Rupert ultimately, but James in particular, and Rebekah and Les in terms of what they were told and ignored,” he added.
The scandal may have broken the grip that Murdoch, 80, has held over British politics for three decades as leaders from Margaret Thatcher, through Labour’s Tony Blair to current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron sought his support.
Cameron, who has been embarrassed by his friendship with Brooks, has pledged a judge-led inquiry into phone hacking, and police are renewing their efforts.
The prime minister’s decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief has also raised doubts over his judgment, the criticism becoming more acute after Coulson was arrested over phone-hacking on July 8.
On Friday, Cameron tried to put the issue behind him by releasing a list of meetings he has had with media executives.
It emerged that Coulson visited Cameron in March, two months after quitting his job on Cameron’s staff amid allegations of phone hacking while he was a newspaper editor. (Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Michael Roddy)