The Prime Minister has described allegations that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked as “truly dreadful”. The News of the World’s former editor, Rebekah Brooks, says she is “appalled” by the claims.
In April Scotland Yard officers contacted Sally and Bob Dowler, Milly Dowler’s parents, about the hacking allegations – one month before Levi Bellfield went on trial for Milly’s murder.
News International, publisher of The News of the World, said the allegations were of “great concern” and said it would be conducting its own inquiry.
Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire is alleged to have illegally accessed Milly Dowler’s phone messages after she went missing as she walked home from school in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in March 2002.
The voicemail messages were allegedly deleted to make room for more after Milly’s inbox became full.
Speaking in Afghanistan Prime Minister David Cameron said: “If they (the allegations) are true this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation.
“What I’ve read in the papers is quite, quite shocking, that someone could do this knowing the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened. And we all now know the tragedy that took place.”
Mr Cameron went on to say the police should pursue the matter, regardless of where the evidence leads, in the “most vigorous way they can”.
The position of Rebekah Brooks, who was the News of the World’s editor at the time of the alleged hacking in 2002, is coming under growing scrutiny.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Brooks, who is now Chief Executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, should “consider her position” and “consider her conscience”.
Rebekah Brooks said she was “appalled and shocked” by allegations that a private investigator working for the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler’s phone.
At the time of Milly’s disappearance Andy Coulson, who resigned in January as Prime Minister David Cameron’s media adviser, was the News of the World’s deputy editor.
Mark Lewis, a lawyer acting for the Dowler family, said: “It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time.
“The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable.”
He added that Mr and Mrs Dowler were pursuing a claim for damages against the News of the World.
Mr Lewis said the Dowlers had been told their own phones had been targeted, as well as that of their daughter.
It has also emerged that police have contacted Colin Stagg – the man cleared of murdering Rachel Nickell – and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, to tell them they may have been victims of News of the World phone hacking.
Detectives have told Mr Stagg his phone was hacked in 2000, six years after a judge at the Old Bailey threw out the case against him, his solicitor Alex Tribick said.
Mr Tribick added: “From my understanding, this is linked with the year 2000, which I believe is the earliest date of anybody so far.”
Mr Stagg and his lawyer have yet to meet officers from Operation Weeting but they are planning to make a civil claim for compensation.
Sir Richard also suggested he would pursue a claim for damages, to be donated to charity.