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A scandal in the U.K. over the hacking of cellphones by an investigator working for Rupert Murdoch's News of the World has ramped up further this week. There's word from The Guardian that voice mail messages left for Milly Dowler, a young girl who went missing in 2002 and turned up dead, were intercepted by that investigator and that many may have been deleted — potentially setting back the murder investigation.
The deletions also gave hope at the time to the 13-year-old girl's parents that she might be alive because they thought she might have been responsible for erasing the messages, the Guardian says.
The investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, allegedly deleted some because the girl's voice mailbox was filling up and he wanted there to be room for others. Many were messages of concern from Dowler's friends, asking her to get in touch. Mulcaire is currently in jail, serving time for an earlier conviction related to hacking.
As The Associated Press says of the news, "Britain's long-running phone hacking scandal has taken a sickening twist."
The wire service adds that:
"New allegations center on the controversial News of the World tabloid, which has already seen a number of its journalists arrested for breaking into the cell phone voicemail systems of celebrities, sports figures and royal aides. The newspaper has admitted wrongdoing in those cases and made financial settlements with some of its victims, including actress Sienna Miller."
Prime Minister David Cameron today said of the new report that if true, "this is a truly dreadful act."
Rebekah Brooks, chief executive at News International, which operates the tabloid, said the "strongest possible" actions would be taken if the charges are verified. "We were all appalled and shocked when we heard about these allegations yesterday," she told her staff in an e-mail.
But the leader of Britain's Labour Party has called for a public inquiry into News of the World's actions and says that Brooks should "consider her position."
The Guardian adds that investigators are also looking into whether Mulcaire might have been trying to get information for News of the World about other missing girls.
NPR's David Folkenflik will have more on the story during today's All Things Considered. As he reported back in April, during an earlier flare-up of the hacking scandal, "News International had previously dismissed the hacking allegations as an isolated case fanned by their journalistic competitors." But the scandal has focused attention on "the close ties maintained between the media empire of the paper's controlling owner, Murdoch, and the authorities," he added. Critics have long been pressing for more forceful action on the part of police to investigate News of the World's activities.
A nightclub doorman, Levi Bellfield, was convicted earlier this year of Dowler's murder. He's also serving time for two other murders of young women and "attempting to murder a third," the BBC says.