British inquiry hears of wider phone-hacking

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A judge-led inquiry into Britain's phone hacking scandal heard Monday the practice was more widespread than thought at Rupert Murdoch's empire and that other papers may have been involved.

Opening the probe into the row that led to the closure of the News of the World in July, counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay revealed new evidence found in the notes of a private detective employed by the tabloid.

Jay told the inquiry that the notes of Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking, contained the names of 28 employees of News International, Murdoch's UK newspaper business.

The names of the Sun, Britain's top-selling daily tabloid, which is owned by Murdoch, and the Daily Mirror, owned by the separate Trinity Mirror group, were also found in the notes, said Jay.

The dramatic development came within the first hours of the opening of the inquiry, which was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron in July and is being led by senior judge Brian Leveson.

The claims are the latest evidence that the practice of illegally accessing mobile phone voicemails was endemic in the British press.

Jay said one News International employee -- referred to only as "A" to avoid prejudicing a police investigation -- made 1,453 separate requests from Mulcaire.

The 28 names of News International staff relate to a total of 2,266 tasks and the names of 5,795 potential victims, and were found in some 11,000 pages of notes seized by police from Mulcaire, the inquiry heard.

"We only have the first name in each of the cases, but they happen to tie up with the first names of employees of News International," the News of the World's publisher, said Jay.

He said there was a name "in the Mulcaire notebook which simply states 'the Sun' without specifying the individual working there."

"There is also documentary evidence which we have seen of another... name relating to the Mirror," he added.

Mulcaire was jailed along with the News of the World's royal editor Clive Goodman in 2007 -- but News International long insisted that he was a "rogue reporter".

But police reopened an inquiry in January this year amid new allegations, and the scandal exploded in July when it emerged that the News of the World had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a murdered British schoolgirl.

Dowler's father was in court for Monday's hearing along with lawyers and journalists.

The scandal has already shaken the British establishment over its own links to Murdoch, and led to the resignations of two senior police officers and a series of News International executives.

A string of people have also been arrested this year on suspicion of hacking, including Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson.

Cameron ordered the inquiry after the current system of self-regulation failed to identify the hacking at the News of the World, which was Britain's biggest selling weekly newspaper.

Critics however said the launch of the inquiry was a move by Cameron to deflect criticism over his decision to hire Coulson shortly after the journalist resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007.

Leveson warned editors not to try and undermine the probe.

"Concern has specifically been expressed that those who speak out might be targeted adversely by the press as a result," he said.

The inquiry will be held in two parts. The first, which opened Monday, which will have a broad remit looking at media culture, practices and ethics,

The second part of the probe will examine the extent of unlawful activities by journalists, including at the News of the World and News International.

But his part of the probe cannot start until police investigations are complete, which could take some time given the huge amount of evidence and number of potential victims.

© 2011 AFP

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