Britons gripped by Murdoch phone hack grilling

LONDON Mon Jul 18, 2011 1:02pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch's appearance before a parliamentary committee Tuesday will be required viewing for many Britons infuriated by the escalating phone-hacking scandal.

The saga's explosive mix of high profile arrests and resignations, political intrigue and the humbling of a global media magnate have gripped the nation and raised questions about Prime Minister David Cameron's judgment.

Commuters at the bustling Liverpool Street railway station in London's financial district said they hoped the hearing would shed light on how much Murdoch and his allies knew about some of their reporters' methods and whether other newspapers were involved.

"It'd be naive to assume only Murdoch's newspapers do it or have done it in the past," said student Sarah Reder, from Croydon, south of London. "I'm glad someone is being held accountable."

Millions are expected to watch Murdoch, his son James and his former UK newspaper chief Rebekah Brooks live on the BBC's second channel BBC2, as well as the BBC's rolling news channel and on Sky News, part-owned by Murdoch's News Corp.

British parliamentary committee hearings are rarely shown live on the main TV channels and are seldom described as being the "hottest ticket in town."

"I will be watching tomorrow," said Dekkard Todd, 21, a charity worker from north London. "Times are changing and maybe nothing will be kept secret anymore."

Allegations earlier this month that Murdoch staff may have hired an investigator to hack the phone of a murdered schoolgirl struck a nerve. The claims dramatically raised interest in a story that had been bubbling around for years and began with the hacking of the phones of the royal household.

'MELTDOWN AT THE MET'

Under summer rain clouds, office workers passed news stands where every front page carried the same story -- the resignation of the head of London's Metropolitan police force over his links to a former Murdoch newspaper deputy editor. "Meltdown at the Met" screamed the mid-market Daily Mail in big black capitals.

The story has taken minds off the soggy mid-summer, faltering British economy and the crisis engulfing countries in the neighboring euro zone.

"It's absolutely disgusting what they've done, it's horrendous," said insurance broker Alex Tobias, 30, from Essex, southeast England. "There's got to be a lot of heads hung publicly, right up to Murdoch.

Parliamentary committee member Tom Watson asked Twitter users for ideas about what to ask at the hearing, a technique known as "crowdsourcing."

Among the dozens of suggestions was a tongue-in-cheek question from Jane Thomas for Murdoch about the top-selling tabloid he closed last week: "Did News of the World staff sell their souls individually or did you lead collective bargaining on their behalf?"

Tuesday's hearing won't be watched by everyone, however.

"If the story continues and starts affecting the government it will obviously be huge, but phone hacking has been going on for years so why has it gone so big all of a sudden?" asked 26-year-old teacher Robert Rogers.

(Writing by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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