Media magnate Rupert Murdoch has promised full cooperation to resolve a scandal shaking his media empire after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised an inquiry into what he called ‘disgusting’ phone hacking by a newspaper.
Responding in parliament to allegations that the News of the World eavesdropped on voicemail for victims of notorious crimes, including child murders and suicide bombings, Mr Cameron said he was ‘revolted’ and would order inquiries, probably into both the specific case and more widely into Britain's media.
Critics accused the government of trying to bury the embarrassment of the long-running saga.
Mr Murdoch, whose News International group faces boycotts from advertisers and readers as well as questions over a takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB, made a rare public statement to say he too found the hacking, and reports of buying tips from police, ‘deplorable and unacceptable’ and would ensure transparency.
But the 80-year-old Australian-born American media magnate insisted he was standing by Rebekah Brooks, the 43-year-old head of his British newspaper operation.
She was editor in 2002 when, police say, a News of the World investigator listened to - and deleted - voicemails left for the cellphone of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
British PM Mr Cameron also faces questions over his own judgment in appointing Ms Brooks' successor as editor, Andy Coulson, as his spokesman.
Mr Coulson quit Cameron's office in January, but denies knowing of any hacking.
Mr Cameron, who regularly hosts Ms Brooks at his home, said: ‘We are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into. It is absolutely disgusting.’
When its royal correspondent and an investigator were jailed in 2007 for hacking into the cellphones of royal aides to break a story about an injury to Prince William's knee, the newspaper insisted it was a case of one rogue reporter.
After campaigning by celebrities and politicians who suspected they too had been spied on, police launched a new inquiry in January and, following the arrests of several journalists, the affair has taken on dramatic new proportions.
Shares in Murdoch's News Corp, which also controls Fox television, the Wall Street Journal, London's Times and the New York Post among other titles, were down over 5% in New York, while shares in BSkyB fell more than 2%.
Police have also been criticised for being slow to investigate the phone-hacking claims but reject suggestions this was because of alleged payments to officers.
The head of the Metropolitan Police Paul Stephenson said allegations of ‘inappropriate payments’ to some officers were under investigation.
British politicians have said in the past they feared criticising any of the Murdoch papers because they feared their own private lives might be exposed.
Among further allegations, families of Londoners killed by Islamist suicide bombers in 2005 said police had told them their voicemail messages may have been intercepted.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Cavan man Sean Cassidy - whose son Ciaran died in the London bombings - said he was contacted by police yesterday who told him his address and phone number were on a document linked to the hacking by the newspaper.
Mr Cassidy said he had been following the hacking controversy in recent days and could not believe that he would be one of the names on the hacking list.
He said he was appalled that someone was hacking his phone and said the newspaper 'should really be ashamed of itself ... especially a paper that parades itself as a family paper.'
Advertisers pull out
Following the allegations, Bulmers Cider has said it will no longer be advertising with the News of the World.
A spokeswoman for the company said that while Bulmers had placed advertising with the paper in the past it had taken the decision not to do so in the future.
Supervalu has also said that its advertising with the News of the World is under review following the allegations.
Two other leading companies, Npower and Halifax, confirmed they are also considering whether to continue advertising with the paper amid a rising tide of anger at its alleged conduct.
Car manufacturer Ford has already said it is suspending advertising with the News of the World.