Prime Minister David Cameron promised an inquiry on Wednesday into a disgusting phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News International that has outraged Britain and cast a shadow over the mogul's plans to buy control of broadcaster BSkyB.
Britons, he told parliament, had been revolted by the affair, in which tabloid journalists from the News of the World were said to have tapped into the mobile voicemails of crime victims, including an abducted schoolgirl later found murdered.
We do need to have an inquiry, possibly inquiries, into what has happened, said Cameron. He faces questions on his own judgment, for hiring one former News of the World editor as his spokesman and for maintaining close relations with another, now a top executive and confidante of the international media baron.
The Conservative-led government has been under increasing pressure to hold an inquiry after allegations of phone hacking against the top-selling Sunday newspaper spread beyond politicians and celebrities to victims of notorious crimes.
The scandal has cast an unflattering light on the way British tabloid newspapers work and come at a bad time for Murdoch's attempts to buy out BskyB, a big news and entertainment broadcaster, in which he has a minority stake.
Battling to defend itself, News International issued a statement said it was cooperating with police. We also welcome today's cross-party calls for a broad public inquiry into standards and practices in the industry, it said.
Media regulator Ofcom said it was taking a close interest in both the scandal and the BSkyB takeover, and that any holder of a broadcasting license must be a fit and proper person.
Parliament began an emergency debate over the scandal that has prompted calls for the resignation of Murdoch's most senior newspaper executive in Britain -- Rebekah Brooks, who edited the paper during the missing schoolgirl case in 2002 -- and led major brands to pull advertising from the News of the World.
Among further revelations in a scandal that began with the jailing of the paper's royal correspondent in 2007 but widened dramatically this year, families of Londoners killed by Islamist suicide bombers in 2005 said police had told them their voicemail messages may have been intercepted by reporters.
Graham Foulkes, whose son David was one of 52 people who died in the 7/7 bombings, told BBC radio he was contacted by police after they found his private contact details on a list as part of the investigation into hacking claims.
We were using the phone frantically trying to get information about David and where he may have been and ... talking very intimately about very personal issues, and the thought that these guys may have been listening to that is just horrendous, Foulkes said. Relatives are preparing to mark the sixth anniversary of the attacks on Thursday.
Three hours were cleared for the parliamentary debate, in which politicians may call for a national boycott of the News of the World. Opposition Labor Party leader Ed Miliband's said Murdoch confidante Brooks, the paper's editor from 2000 to 2003 and a friend of Cameron, should resign.
The debate is likely to embarrass Cameron, already under fire for hiring Andy Coulson, Brooks's successor as editor from 2003 to 2007, as his communications director. Coulson quit in January as police reopened inquiries into the hacking, which the paper had long insisted was the work of a rogue reporter.
Cameron regularly entertains Brooks at his country home.
Pressure is also mounting on News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch media empire News Corp.
Car firm Ford, Lloyds and Richard Branson's Virgin Holidays were among forms to suspend advertising from the News of the World.
Internet campaigns have sprung up urging readers to boycott the paper which, if successful, could prove more damaging to Britain's best-selling Sunday paper then any political condemnation. Sales of News Corp's Sun daily never recovered in the city of Liverpool after it offended football fans there in the wake of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in the 1980s.
TWISTS AND TURNS
News International, which also publishes the Times, said on Tuesday that new information had been provided to police. The BBC said the material related to e-mails appearing to show payments were made to police officers for information and were authorized by Coulson during his time as editor.
Full and continuing cooperation has been provided to the police since the current investigation started in January 2011, it said in a statement.
Commentators suggested information about the payments had been released to deflect attention from Brooks.
Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in 2007, just before the paper's editor responsible for covering the British royal family was jailed for intercepting mobile phone messages. Coulson has insisted he knew nothing about the phone hacking.
It is not the first time a News Corp paper has been linked to police payments. In 2003, Brooks, then editor of the Sun, told a parliamentary committee her paper paid police for information. News International later said it was not policy.
Police have been criticized for being slow to investigate the phone-hacking claims but reject suggestions this was because of alleged payments to officers.
British politicians have said in the past they feared criticizing any of the Murdoch papers because they feared their own private lives might be exposed.
Though the phone hacking saga has been bubbling for some time it is only this week -- when it emerged investigators may have accessed voicemail messages of crime victims -- that the affair captured much wider public attention.
The Guardian said police investigating the phone-hacking claims were now turning their attention to all high-profile cases involving the murder or abduction of children since 2001.
The key allegation is that journalists, or investigators hired by them, took advantage of often limited password security on mobile phone voice mailboxes to listen to messages left for celebrities or people involved in major stories.
What has particularly outraged many was the suggestion, made by police to the family of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, that a News of the World investigator not only hacked into her mailbox during the six months of 2002 that she was missing but also deleted messages to make room for more -- misleading police and giving her family false hope she was still alive and well.
The child's killer was tried only this year and convicted just last month, refreshing painful memories of the case.
The parents of two 10-year-olds taken and murdered by a school caretaker in the town of Soham in 2002 have also been contacted by police probing hacking at the News of the World.
Brooks, 43, who has worked for Murdoch for nearly half her life, was previously seen as untouchable because of her close relationship with the News Corp chairman and chief executive.
Simon Greenberg, director of corporate affairs at News International, said that if the allegations turned out to be true they would not be tolerated: We would need to identify the individuals involved who were directly involved in either commissioning or dealing with this situation, he told the BBC.
Media commentator Stephen Barnett said Brooks's position seemed untenable but that Murdoch would likely support her: If she has 100 percent backing of Rupert Murdoch, which is the word coming out of News Corp, then clearly she is untouchable and more importantly it shows that Murdoch himself thinks the company is untouchable, Barnett said.
Murdoch transformed the British press landscape in the 1980s, bringing in new technology and, with the support of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, largely breaking resistance by printers' and journalists' trade unions.
Seen as one of the world's most powerful men, the Australian-born American billionaire is currently trying to secure the 61 percent of broadcaster BSkyB he does not already control in a deal expected to be worth at least $14 billion.
The hacking revelations have prompted calls for the purchase to be either delayed or blocked.
The government has maintained that the hacking scandal should not influence its decision, which will be based on whether the takeover will give Murdoch too much power over the British media and politics -- a view Cameron's ministers reject.
(Writing by Jodie Ginsberg; Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan, Olesya Dmitracova and Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alastair Macdonald)