Phone-hacking scandal spreads to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman families

By Ian Dunt

The families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman may have also been targeted by phone-hacking, new reports suggest.

The Guardian reported this afternoon that Cambridgeshire Police believe the families were contacted by police investigating phone-hacking at the News of the World about two months ago.

It is understood that they may have been targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who is at the heart of many of the allegations around the practise.

The new development worsens a situation which has already been described as British journalism's 'lowest day'.

It was reported yesterday that journalists at the News of the World hacked into the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a teenage girl who disappeared in 2002, following her abduction.

It is alleged that after the voicemail's memory was full up journalists deleted past messages. That is believed to have led Milly's parents to hope, falsely, that their daughter was still alive. It may also have eradicated important evidence and hindered the police investigation.

MPs will debate the latest allegations during an emergency three hour debate tomorrow, after Speaker John Bercow accepted a request from Labour MP Chris Bryant.

"That's not just a paper out of control, that's not just a paper believing it's above the law, it's a national newspaper playing god with a family's emotions," Mr Bryant furiously told MPs when he asked for the emergency debate.

In a sign of how serious the scandal has become, the MP proceeded to accuse the Metropolitan Police of lying to parliament.

"They [the police] had all this information in their hands in 2006 and yet they did nothing with it," he said.

"Why have they lied time and time again to parliament?"

The sordid details of the scandal instantly turned the phone-hacking row from a celebrity-orientated issue into something much more serious.

Answering a question on the allegations in the Lords, Home Office minister Lady Browning all-but assured peers that there would be an independent inquiry into phone-hacking once the police investigation was over.

"I have no doubt that once [the results of the other inquiries] are in the public domain, we shall return to this subject with much vigour," she said.

The pressure on then-News of the World editor and current News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to resign is now tremendous, as several influential political figures branded her position "untenable".

Labour leader Ed Miliband was the first political leader to call for her resignation.

"Of course she should consider her position, but this goes well beyond one individual," he said.

"This was a systematic series of things that happened and what I want from executives at News International is people to start taking responsibility for this, people to start saying why that happened."

He added: "Members of the public up and down this country will be appalled by what has happened and they will say British journalism, known for its high standards, known for its history, has had one of its lowest days with these revelations.

"This is immoral what was going on. This is truly immoral. My wife said to me this morning this is sick what was going on."

Ms Brooks said she was "sickened" by the allegations and acknowledged that, if true, they are "unforgivable".

In a memo to News International staff this lunchtime, she wrote: "It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way.

"If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour.

"I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations."

Aware of the public anger around the accusations, David Cameron adopted a noticeably stronger line than he usually does when discussing phone-hacking. He has previously been reluctant to get too involved in a scandal which has already cost him Andy Coulson, his former director of communications, and now threatens the career of his close friend Ms Brooks.

"If [the allegations] are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation," he said during a trip to Afghanistan this morning.

"What I have read in the papers is quite, quite shocking."

The prime minister could well find himself politically damaged because of the row, as journalists raise questions about his judgement in associating so strongly with figures who look increasingly compromised by the revelations.

The new development has also prompted a surge of anger online, leading many to start targeting the companies that advertise with the News of the World with demands that they reconsider their commercial strategy. At least one company is understood to have terminated its contract with the newspaper.

Speaking to MPs on the home affairs committee, Theresa May offered perhaps the most robust response to the allegations.

"I think it's totally shocking, frankly it's disgusting," she said.

"The mindset of somebody who thinks it's appropriate to do that is totally sick."

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which offered a much-ridiculed report exonerating News International over phone-hacking in 2009, tried to turn the situation to its favour by arguing that the current row showed that the commission required extra powers.

"It is right to use this terrible moment in British journalism as a catalyst to improve the reach and range of the PCC," it said in a statement.

"We will require News International to answer publicly in response to hacking allegations."

In an interview with the BBC, PCC chair Lady Buscombe effectively accused the newspaper of directly lying to her investigators.