Dead soldiers' relatives 'hacked' as British scandal deepens

7th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's tabloid scandal deepened Thursday after families of dead soldiers reportedly had their phones hacked, with Prime Minister David Cameron facing growing questions over his ties to Rupert Murdoch's empire.

The Royal British Legion, a veterans' charity, dropped the News of the World as a campaign partner over reports that an investigator hired by the paper may have accessed the phones of relatives of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It said the allegations, reported in the Daily Telegraph, had "shocked us to the core".

It could not maintain its links with the Murdoch-owned paper if it had been "preying on families in the lowest depths of their misery," it added.

A long-running saga over the activities of the News of the World escalated in recent days over claims that investigators working for Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper had hacked the phone messages of a murdered girl.

The scandal has also engulfed an imminent government decision on whether Murdoch's News Corp. should be able to proceed with a bid to take control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted the row should not affect the government's decision, due within days, on Murdoch's bid to take full control of BSkyB.

But on Wednesday he ordered an inquiry into the phone hacking scandal.

Opposition leader David Miliband on Thursday urged him to distance himself from two former editors of the paper during the period covered by the scandal.

Cameron has dined on several occasions with Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp., while his former communications chief Andy Coulson quit in January over the claims.

"What we know is that the Prime Minister does have close relationships with many of the people involved in this -- Andy Coulson who worked for him, Rebekah Brooks who is at the centre of some of what has happened," Miliband said.

"I think the Prime Minister should ignore those relationships and come out and say the right thing."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Thursday he had agreed with Cameron there would be inquiries into an original police investigation into hacking and also into the behaviour of the British press.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the personal details of the families of dead British servicemen were found in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the heart of the scandal.

Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed while serving in Iraq, said she and other relatives were trying to establish if their phones had been hacked.

"If it is true we think it is pretty disgusting," she told BBC radio.

Murdoch's News International publishing group said it would be "absolutely appalled and horrified" if the claims were true.

Chief of the Defence Staff Sir David Richards said the allegations were "disgusting" while Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said that if proved the claims were an "outrageous breach of trust".

In a continuing commercial backlash over the allegations, the British government said it was urgently reviewing its own advertising contracts with the News of the World.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury's, mobile phone operator O2 and energy supplier Npower became the latest companies to pull advertising, joining major brands such as Ford, Vauxhall and Mitsubishi, the Halifax bank and Virgin Holidays.

The latest claims follow outrage at revelations that investigators working for the News of the World had deleted some messages from the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl murdered in 2002, giving her family false hope.

Families of other murdered children and relatives of the London bombings, which took place six years ago on Thursday, have also been informed they may have been targeted.

In his first statement on the scandal, Australian-born Murdoch on Wednesday backed Brooks but said it would be "deplorable and unacceptable" if the hacking allegations were true.

It also emerged that Britain's finance minister George Osborne has been told by police that his name had also appeared in Mulcaire's notes.

The News of the World has been dogged by claims of phone hacking since its royal editor and Mulcaire, who was being paid by the paper, were jailed for the practice in 2007.

© 2011 AFP

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