The News of the World newspaper bought contact details about Britain's royal family from a corrupt policeman and detectives have warned Prince Charles the tabloid might have hacked into his phone, media reported on Monday.
The revelations are the latest in the deepening scandal engulfing the News Corp media empire, as police said some stories emerging on a daily basis were being leaked to divert attention and could undermine their inquiries.
The BBC and the London Evening Standard newspaper reported that personal details about the royals, including Queen Elizabeth and her aides, were sold to the News of the World by royal protection officers.
They said the disclosure was contained in emails from News International, the UK newspaper arm of News Corp, handed to a law firm in 2007 but only passed to police last month.
The BBC's Business Editor Robert Peston said the emails provided evidence that the now shut-down tabloid was buying information about the royal family's friends and connections from an officer assigned to protect them in return for 1,000 pounds.
The implication, therefore, is that the security of the head of state was in some sense being jeopardized, Peston added.
The Metropolitan Police said it was extremely concerned and disappointed about the continuous release of selected information which it said could hamper its corruption investigation.
Its team is examining accusations of phone hacking by the News of the World's journalists and allegations some police officers were bribed by papers for information.
It is our belief that information that has appeared in the media today is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers and divert attention from elsewhere, the Met said in a statement.
It said it came after information had been shared between detectives and News International and its lawyers over the past few weeks.
It was agreed by all parties that this information would be kept confidential so that we could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them and secure best evidence, the statement added.
There was no immediate comment from News International.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is overseeing the bribery inquiry, told Reuters it not yet been given any details of any specific individual officers allegedly involved.
Meanwhile the Guardian newspaper reported that detectives had approached Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to say they had found evidence which indicated their voicemails might have been hacked.
We are not commenting on an ongoing police investigation, Charles's spokesman said.
News Corp closed down the 168-year-old News of the World after allegations it hacked into voicemails of a murdered teenage schoolgirl and victims of the 2005 bomb attacks on the London transport network.
A private investigator and the newspaper's royal editor were jailed in 2007 after they were convicted of hacking into the voicemail of members of the royal household.
News Corp long maintained that this was the work of a rogue reporter but that defense has unraveled as the list of targets grew.
(Reporting by Keith Weir and Michael Holden; Editing by Jon Boyle)