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Phone hacking at News of the World 'as recent as last year'

Phone hacking at the News of the World could have taken place as recently as last year, new documents suggest, as Scotland Yard reopens its investigation into the scandal after receiving "significant new information".

The BBC claims to have seen documents which relate to Kelly Hoppen, the interior designer, who is the stepmother of Sienna Miller, the actress.

The papers are understood to refer to fears that reporters were gaining access to their phone messages between June 2009 and March 2010.

They are said to name Dan Evans, a journalist with the News of the World who is currently suspended on full pay over alleged hacking against an unnamed female celebrity.

Both Miss Hoppen and Miss Miller are taking legal action against the tabloid newspaper. Both Mr Evans and the newspaper deny wrongdoing.

Previous allegations against the newspaper have centred on events from December 2005 to the end of the following year.

Senior Metropolitan Police officers have braced themselves for an investigation lasting up to two years which is expected to cost millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

News International is understood to have passed the police a dossier of evidence – including emails - which details communications between Ian Edmondson, the former news editor of the News of the World, and a private detective already convicted of phone hacking.

Mr Edmondson was sacked by the newspaper on Wednesday and is now expected to be questioned by police within weeks.

Other former executives at the newspaper, including the former editor Andy Coulson, may also become embroiled in the new investigation.

Mr Coulson, who resigned from his new job as David Cameron’s director of communications last week, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of phone hacking at the newspaper.

The allegations date back to 2005 and 2006 when reporters at the newspaper are accused of listening to the voicemail messages left on the mobile phones of hundreds of well-known people.

The police previously launched an investigation into the scandal which culminated in a reporter and a private detective being sent to prison in 2007.

The original investigation was overseen by Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who is now in charge of counter-terrorism. Therefore, responsibility for the renewed inquiry has been passed to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers at the specialist crime directorate.

The newspaper previously insisted that the phone hacking was restricted to a single rogue reporter.

However, it has now apparently discovered that a “small cabal” of staff may have been involved and is co-operating with the police.

The Daily Telegraph understands that the legal advice offered by prosecutors to the police has recently changed which could also lead to more employees at the paper facing criminal action.

During the course of the original investigation, detectives discovered the mobile phone numbers of hundreds of well-known people which appeared to have been given to Glen Mulcaire, a private detective, by News of the World staff.

However, prosecutors are understood to have advised police that a criminal offence was only committed if a mobile phone message had been “intercepted” before it had been listened to by its intended recipient. Therefore, Scotland Yard concluded that the law had only been broken in a handful of cases.

But, it is now understood that prosecutors may have changed their advice and now believe that a criminal offence may have been committed whenever a voicemail was listened to – regardless of whether the recipient had already picked up the message.

The News of the World is also facing a growing number of legal claims in the civil courts from well-known people who claim their privacy has been violated by the newspaper allegedly listening to their mobile phone messages.

Steve Coogan, the comedian, and Paul Gascoigne, the footballer, are also among those bringing claims. It has already reached out of court settlements with several people embroiled in the scandal.

The newspaper is thought to have been warned that it may face claims running in to tens of millions of pounds from those whose phones may have been hacked. These claims may now be suspended while the police investigate the alleged phone hacking.

Last night, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “The Met has today received significant new information relating to allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2005/06. As a result, the Met is launching a new investigation to consider this material.

"This work will be carried out by the specialist crime directorate which has been investigating a related phone hacking allegation since September 2010.

"Discussions have taken place with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the recently announced role of Alison Levitt QC.

"It has been agreed that her task will continue and she will evaluate any new evidence and advise as to the progress of the investigation.”

In a statement, News International said: “Mr Edmondson was suspended in December 2010 following a serious allegation.

"Material evidence found during the course of the subsequent investigation has led to Mr Edmondson's dismissal.

"News International has informed the police, handed over the material it has found and will give its full co-operation going forward.

"News International reiterates that it will take swift and decisive action when we have proof of wrongdoing."

The decision comes just days after Mr Coulson resigned after he claimed the ongoing controversy was making it impossible for him to advise the Prime Minister.

There had been growing criticism at the apparent reluctance of the police to pursue the case more vigorously, with Tony Blair's former communications chief Alastair Campbell describing the police’s behaviour as a "scandal".

The investigation may now also spread to other newspapers as lawyers have claimed to have been approached by people who claim their phones have been hacked by other publications.