* Police move raised fears for press freedom
* Police say they did not intend to target journalists
(Adds reaction, background)
LONDON, Sept 20 British police said on Tuesday
they were dropping their bid to force a newspaper that led the
coverage of a phone-hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's
News Corp empire to reveal its sources.
Leading journalists and lawyers had accused the London
police force of attacking press freedom by seeking a court order
to force Guardian reporters to disclose their confidential
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that, after
taking legal advice, it had decided not to pursue, "at this
time", its application for the order which was due to be heard
in court on Friday.
"Despite recent media reports there was no intention to
target journalists or disregard journalists' obligations to
protect their sources," the statement said.
The police have been investigating an alleged leak of
information about the case by a police officer. They said the
decision not to seek the court order did not mean they had ended
The police denied they had sought the order under the
Official Secrets Act, usually used in spying cases, as had been
"I'm massively relieved," the Guardian's investigative
reporter Amelia Hill, who had been questioned by police about
alleged leaks of information about the inquiry, told Reuters.
"It's shown that they behaved completely inappropriately
with unacceptable force and thoughtlessness," she said.
British newspaper editors, in crisis after revelations of
illegal phone-hacking and other ethical lapses, recognised on
Tuesday that Fleet Street had to mend its ways but appealed to
the government not to crush Britain's cherished free speech with
The Guardian's reports have helped keep the story at the top
of the political agenda in Britain and played a part in forcing
News Corp to close the 168-year-old News of the World, the
tabloid at the centre of the scandal.
The story has pulled in Murdoch's son James, forced News Corp
to withdraw a bid to buy the part of pay TV group BSkyB
it did not already own and shaken the British political
Britain's most senior police officer and the top
counter-terrorism officer also quit amid the furore.
The Guardian said the police wanted to find the source of
information that led to the revelation in July that murdered
schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked.
The disclosure caused a wave of public anger which ultimately
brought about the downfall of the News of the World and led to
the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News
International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp.
News International is expected to pay three million pounds
($4.7 million) to settle hacking claims by Dowler's family
against the News of the World, sources close to the issue told
Reuters on Monday.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft, Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Tim