News of the World accused of accessing schoolgirl’s voicemail, and even deleting some messages.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a full inquiry into a phone hacking scandal at a top-selling newspaper which has prompted public disgust over claims that the phones of a murdered schoolgirl and bomb victims may have been targeted.
Journalists and private investigators working for the News of the World are alleged to have accessed the voicemail messages of crime victims, including Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl later found murdered.
“We do need to have an inquiry, possibly inquiries, into what has happened,” said Cameron, as British MPs debated the issue in an emergency debate at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
Cameron said earlier that claims that Dowler’s phone messages had been hacked into were “disgusting”. But he told MPs an inquiry could not take place until ongoing police investigations were concluded.
“And crucially, it doesn’t involve police officers who were involved in the original investigation. It is important that we have enquiries that are public and that are independent,” Cameron said.
Phones owned by relatives of dead UK soldiers were also allegedly hacked by the News of the World, the Daily Telegraph, a national British newspaper reports.
The newspaper said phone numbers of relatives of dead service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan were found in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the News of the World.
News International said it would be “absolutely appalled and horrified” if there was any truth in allegations that relatives of killed soldiers were victims of phone hacking.
The Daily Telegraph report comes after Cameron said he would set up a public inquiry into the alleged phone hacking.
Cameron is himself under personal scrutiny over his decision to appoint a former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, as his head of communications.
Coulson was forced to quit that role over the phone hacking saga earlier this year, but insists he knew nothing about phone-hacking.
The News of the World was previously thought to have targeted members of the royal family, celebrities and other high-profile figures.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Paul Brennan, reported from London that “allegations [of hacking] first emerged in 2005.
An inquiry was launched and it was realised that journalists were hacking into people’s private answering service.
“And the News of the World was paying celebrities out of court settlements to remain silent. There are now question marks over the paper’s handling [of the scandal], the police’s initial handling and also what happens next?”
US car manufacturer Ford has already said it would pull advertising from the paper until the matter is resolved properly. Other companies have also said they were reviewing the situation.
Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of the sprawling News Corporation and its affiliate News International Ltd, which publishes newspaper titles such as The Times, The Sun and News of the World, said the company is “committed to addressing these issues fully and have taken a number of important steps to prevent them from happening again”.
In a statement released Wednesday, Murdoch wrote: “Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable.
“I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively co-operate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’ leadership.”
The BBC said the material passed to police related to a trail of emails appearing to show that payments for information were made to police in the past which were authorised by Coulson.
It is not the first time a News Corp paper has been linked to police payments.
In 2003, Brooks, then editor of The Sun, told a parliamentary committee that her paper paid police for information. News Corp later said this was not company practise.
Brooks, now head of News Corp’s British newspapers and other holdings, is reported to be a friend of Cameron and occasional guest at his country home.
UK media reports
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that News of the World journalists may have attempted to access voice messages left on phones as relatives waited for information about their loved ones in the aftermath of the London bombings in 2005 which killed 52 people.
And The Independent newspaper said Brooks commissioned a search, on a personal matter, by one of the private investigators used by the News of the World, to trace the family of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
The Guardian said police investigating the phone-hacking claims were turning their attention to high-profile cases involving the murder or abduction of children since 2001.
The parents of two murdered schoolgirls in another high-profile case dating back to Brooks’ editorship of the News of the World have been visited by police investigating the phone-hacking affair.
Cameron’s government is weighing approval of News Corp’s takeover bid for British broadcaster BSkyB.
The hacking revelations are unlikely to derail that deal, since approval hinges on whether the takeover would give Murdoch too much power over the British media. The government has hinted that it will approve.
Murdoch transformed the British press landscape in the 1980s during Margaret Thatcher’s years as prime minister, bringing in new technology and confronting printers’ and journalists’ trade unions.
He holds sway with global leaders and, through his media, is seen as one of the world’s most powerful men.
Brooks, who has worked for Murdoch for nearly half her life, was previously seen as untouchable because of her close relationship with the News Corp chairman and chief executive.
But popular pressure could prove her undoing if readers start to desert the Sunday paper. Facebook and Twitter campaigns have sprung up in the wake of the latest allegation encouraging readers and advertisers to boycott the News of the World.