Latest revelations in the deepening UK phone-hacking scandal say the now-defunct News of the World tabloid may have targeted Britain's royal family and Gordon Brown, the former prime minister.

Royal protection officers were bribed by the UK tabloid to provide personal details about the royals, including Queen Elizabeth and her aides, according to British media reports.

Detectives had approached Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to say they had found evidence which indicated their voicemails might have been hacked, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Prince Charles' spokesman declined to comment on an ongoing police investigation.

The Guardian also reported on Monday that journalists from two News International titles, the Sun and the Sunday Times, had tried to hack into Brown's voicemails during his tenure as finance minister and prime minister, as well as repeatedly trying to obtain information about his bank account, his legal files and his family's medical records.

The police also said on Monday that an investigator working for the UK tabloid may have also targeted Brown.

Bid review

The phone hacking saga has cast doubt over the planned takeover of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) by Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp, which owns News International.

The UK government has referred News Corp's bid for BSkyB to competition authorities for review, a day after News International shut down its Sunday paper News of the World amid a phone-hacking scandal.

The announcement on Monday by Jeremy Hunt, the UK's cutural secretary, means that the $11.9b bid will probably be put on hold for several months.

The decision follows News Corp's withdrawal of a promise to spin off Sky News, which had been a condition for assuming complete ownership of the prominent UK broadcaster, in which it already has 39 per cent stake.

Britain's Competition Commission must now hold a full-scale inquiry into whether the takeover would break anti-monopoly laws.

Analysts say the deal could be jeopardised if British regulators impose tougher rules in response to new concerns about News Corp's dominance in British media.

But the company defended the bid, saying: "News Corp continues to believe that, taking into account the only relevant legal test, its proposed acquisition will not lead to there being insufficient plurality in news provision in the UK".

A failure to clinch the BSkyB takeover would represent a huge setback for Murdoch, who has built up a global empire over four decades.

News Corp owns a number of newspapers and media outlets around the world, as well as Fox News and the 20th Century Fox film studio.

Pressure to bear

The referral of the bid for review came as the UK government was facing intense pressure to block it after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal reached a tipping point earlier this week.

The paper, in print for 168 years, published its final edition on Sunday.

Controversy stemmed from allegations that in 2002 the paper had listened to the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and even deleted some of her messages to make way for more.

That claim, and allegations that a growing list of victims included Britain's war dead and the families of those killed in the 2005 London bombings, outraged readers and caused many brands to pull advertising from the title.

Louise Cooper, a financial analyst at BGC Partners in London, said the revelations of phone-hacking at News of the World title had sent the BSkyB share price tumbling from $13.5 a week ago to $11.14 on Monday.

"What that tells us is that the City no longer expects the takeover to go through - or is at least highly sceptical that it will go through, and that it definitely won't go through in the foreseeable future," she said.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian newspaper and the first to report on the hacking scandal two years ago, said News Corp's takeover bid was dead in the water.

"I think the prospects of the BSkyB bid going ahead are now nil," he said. "I think the government realises it would be politically impossible."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies