Bereaved relatives of 7/7 victims 'had phones hacked'
Bereaved relatives of the July 7 London bombings had their phones hacked by journalists at the News of the World, police believe.
Detectives from Scotland Yard’s team investigating the phone hacking scandal are reported to be in the process of contacting a "handful" of the 52 bereaved families whose names or phone numbers have appeared as part of their inquiry.
It is thought that journalists were seeking to access voice messages left on family members’ phones as they desperately waited for information about their loved ones in the aftermath of the bombings in 2005.
It is unclear if they were aware at that stage that their relatives had died in the bombings.
The news will come as a deep shock to the relatives affected, coming as it does on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the bombings.
Last night Clifford Tibber, solicitor for a number of the families, said he was unaware of the development but added: “This will cause heartache for all the families involved. The anniversary is such an emotional moment for everybody who was caught up in the bombings and many of them still struggle at this time of year.”
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police refused to comment on the continuing investigation.
It came as the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have been warned by detectives that their mobile phone voicemails may have been intercepted by a private detective working on behalf of the News of the World.
Scotland Yard was understood to have contacted the parents of the two young girls murdered by Ian Huntley in Soham after finding mobile telephone numbers belonging to family members in files seized from Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the Sunday newspaper.
Last night detectives were also contacting the families of victims of the July 7 bombings in London in 2005 amid concerns that they may have also been targeted.
It was also alleged that Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time and is now the chief executive of News International, personally commissioned one of the private investigators used by the tabloid and who was involved in tracing the family of Milly Dowler, the teenage murder victim.
It was reported that she used Steve Whittamore, who provided the paper with the Dowlers’ ex-directory home number, to "convert" a mobile phone number to find its registered owner.
The disclosures came a day after it emerged that Milly had her mobile phone voicemails intercepted by the newspaper in the days after she went missing in 2002.
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police, the force that investigated the disappearance of the 10-year-old Soham girls in the summer of the same year, said the families — Kevin and Nicola Wells and Leslie and Sharon Chapman — were contacted by the Metropolitan Police in March this year. It was not clear whether mobile phones belonging to the girls were also hacked. Jessica had a mobile phone with her the day she died, while Holly’s phone was found in her room.
The Wells and Chapman families refused to comment on the suggestion that they had been targets, but Mr Wells said his family was being kept informed by the police. A statement from police said: "Both families have been contacted by officers from the Metropolitan Police and are assisting them with their inquiries."
The disclosure that the News of the World phone hacking allegations involved the victims of crime as well as high-profile celebrities raised the possibility that other victims’ families were hacked — something police were examining. "Basically every major crime story, every major news event, there was some sort of hacking involved," said a senior police source. "It was systematic."
Yesterday, Mrs Brooks, who was editor at the time of the alleged incidents involving Milly and the Soham families, was forced to deny that she would resign following widespread condemnation of the alleged hacking.
But she faced growing pressure last night after it emerged that:
- Ford was suspending advertising in the newspaper and other major advertisers, including npower and Halifax, were considering similar action.
- The UK government was considering whether to hold a public inquiry into media standards and phone hacking. A three-hour debate will be held in the House of Commons today.
- Investigators for the News of the World were alleged to have carried out covert surveillance of a senior Metropolitan Police detective over incorrect claims that he was having an affair with a presenter of the BBC programme Crimewatch. News International executives privately feared that even more damaging allegations about hacking victims were about to emerge. The news that victims of crime were targets prompted other high-profile victims to query whether they, too, had their messages accessed by the tabloid.
Detectives were in the process of contacting a "handful" of the 52 bereaved families of the July 7 bombings whose names or phone numbers appeared as part of their inquiry. It was thought that journalists were seeking to access messages left on phones as family members waited for information about their loved ones after the bombings.
Clarence Mitchell, a spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, said there was evidence to suggest that someone had attempted to access the mobile phones of people close to the couple after their daughter, Madeleine, disappeared in Portugal in 2007.
The family of Natasha Hogan, whose six-year-old son was thrown to his death from the balcony of a hotel in Crete by his father in 2006, believed that her mobile phone was hacked and planned to contact police.
Linda Bowman, the mother of Sally Anne Bowman, 18, an aspiring model murdered in Croydon in 2005, said the disclosure about Milly increased her suspicions that her daughter’s mobile may also have been a target in the aftermath of her death.
It was also suggested that Sara Payne, who co-operated with the News of the World in its anti-paedophilia campaign after the murder of her daughter, Sarah, in 2000, may have been hacked. But she insisted that she had no evidence that she had been a target and had not been contacted by the police.
Yesterday, Mr Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 after he admitted intercepting voicemails for the newspaper, apologised to those whose phones he hacked, claiming that he did not realise he was breaking the law.
He claimed he had been put under intense pressure by the newspaper to produce stories.
"Working for the News of the World was never easy," he said. "There was relentless pressure. There was a constant demand for results. I knew what we did pushed the limits ethically. But, at the time, I didn’t understand that I had broken the law at all."
The Prime Minister led the condemnation of the alleged hacking of Milly’s phone, describing it as "truly dreadful act", if true.
Ed Miliband urged Mrs Brooks to "consider her position" and "examine her conscience".
James Harding, the editor of The Times, which is also owned by News International, condemned the hacking of Milly’s phone as "disgusting", "indefensible" and "profoundly depressing".
Mrs Brooks, however, said she was determined to continue in her position, saying it was "inconceivable" that she knew that Milly’s phone had been hacked during her tenure at the paper and that she was "appalled and shocked" by the allegations.