Rebekah Brooks, the embattled chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, personally commissioned searches by one of the private investigators who was later used by the News of the World to trace the family of the murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler, The Independent can reveal.
Ms Brooks, while editor of NOTW, used Steve Whittamore, a private detective who specialised in obtaining illegal information, to “convert” a mobile phone number to find its registered owner. Mr Whittamore also provided the paper with the Dowlers’ ex-directory home phone number.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, which successfully prosecuted Whittamore for breaches of the Data Protection Act in 2005, said last night it would have been illegal to obtain the mobile conversion if the details had been “blagged” from a phone company.
Ms Brooks, who said yesterday she was “shocked and appalled” at the latest hacking claims, admitted requesting the information. But she said it could be obtained by “perfectly legitimate means”. She faced demands for her resignation last night.
The revelation came as News International battled a political and commercial firestorm over the disclosure that its bestselling paper interfered with the police investigation into Milly’s disappearance in March 2002 by hacking into her mobile phone and deleting messages. One big advertiser, Ford, announced it was suspending its account with the paper while the energy company Npower and Halifax bank said they were considering options. Thousands of readers joined boycott campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.
An emergency three-hour debate is to be held in the House of Commons today. The Labour leader Ed Miliband hardened his position on the scandal, demanding a public inquiry and calling for Ms Brooks to “consider her conscience and consider her position”.
David Cameron described the hacking as “quite shocking” and a “truly dreadful act”, but rebuffed the call for a public inquiry. He insisted Scotland Yard be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it led.