THE CANADIAN PRESS — LONDON – British lawmakers staged an emergency House of Commons debate Wednesday to vent their outrage over a widening tabloid phone hacking scandal that allegedly targeted missing schoolgirls and the families of London terror victims in addition to celebrities and royals.
News International, the British linchpin of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, was under intense pressure following reports that its News of the Worldtabloid had hacked into the cellphone of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002, deleting messages and giving her parents and police false hope that the girl was still alive.
Milly had been abducted and murdered, and the search for her transfixed Britain at the time.
Prime Minister David Cameron described the allegation as a shocking intrusion and major advertisers — including Ford UK — pulled their ads from the paper.
Members of Parliament seized on the case to demand a full debate as pressure rose for the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, to resign, since she was a former editor of News of the World.
U.K. tabloids have a history of harassing royals, sports stars and celebrities, eavesdropping and paying even the most tangential sources for information about stars’ sex lives and drug problems. But the Dowler allegations showed a press that would even stoop to interfering in a police investigation to seek tabloid headlines.
New allegations emerged Wednesday that Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective employed by News of the World, had obtained telephone numbers of relatives of some of the 52 people killed in the 2005 terrorist attack on London’s transit system. It was unclear whether any of those phone had been hacked.
British media also reported that the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, schoolgirls murdered in a sensational 2002 case, had been informed by police that they were investigating whether the News of the World also hacked their telephones.
The British Broadcasting Corp. also reported that the tabloid had handed over evidence that it had illegally paid police officers for information.
Mulcaire and former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman have already served prison sentences for hacking into phones of royal officials. Mulcaire issued an apology on Tuesday to anyone who had been hurt by his actions, but said there was no intention to interfere with a police investigation.
“Working for the News of the World was never easy. There was relentless pressure. There was a constant demand for results,” Mulcaire said.
Graham Foulkes, the father of one of the terrorist victims in 2005, said police had told him he was on a list of names of potential hacking victims.
“I just felt really upset and sad and sickened that some people would go to those extremes given the distress of 52 families at that time,” Foulkes said, but added that police said they had also warned only a few other families.
Foulkes said he wants to meet Murdoch in person about the scandal. Simon Greenberg, News International’s director of corporate affairs, told the BBC that a meeting was “something we would consider.”
The intense attention on the News of the World comes at a sensitive moment for Murdoch, who is seeking British government clearance to launch a full, multibillion-pound takeover of British Sky Broadcasting.
Britain’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has insisted he will decide the issue purely on competition grounds, without regard to the behaviour of the News of the World. But some members of Parliament are linking the two issues and demanding that Hunt block a takeover.
The rapidly expanding phone hacking case is also an embarrassment for London’s Metropolitan Police, who essentially accepted the paper’s claim that Mulcaire and Goodman were simply a couple of rogue employees who did not reflect company policy.