Legal documents indicating that alleged phone hacking at The News of the World newspaper may have been taking place as late as last year emerged this morning.
The BBC said it had seen a court order relating to the case of interior designer Kelly Hoppen, the stepmother of actress Sienna Miller. Both women are taking action against the tabloid newspaper.
The document reveals that Ms Hoppen was granted the order forcing a telephone company to release the identity of anyone allegedly trying to hack her private voicemails between June 2009 and March 2010.
The News of the World rejected the latest claims.
A spokeswoman said: “We have carried out an extensive investigation led by a team of independent forensic specialists and we have found no evidence whatsoever to support this allegation.
“The civil litigation is ongoing, as is the internal investigation, and until both are concluded it would be inappropriate to comment further.
“However, we are disappointed that the BBC chose to lead with this misleading report without giving the News of the World an opportunity to respond.”
Meanwhile, Tim Godwin, the acting head of the Metropolitan Police, is likely to face questions about the handling of the hacking investigation when he appears before the Metropolitan Police Authority later today.
Scotland Yard was facing mounting criticism today of its handling of allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.
Metropolitan Police detectives have launched a fresh inquiry into the controversy after receiving “significant new information” from the newspaper.
But former British deputy prime minister John Prescott called for a judicial review into the Met’s handling of the case so far.
“I just don’t trust the Metropolitan Police to conduct a proper inquiry,” he said. “I can’t trust them to carry out a proper inquiry and that’s why I asked the courts for a judicial review on the Metropolitan Police and the way they’ve conducted investigations.”
Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s director of communications in Downing Street, also criticised the police.
“Why was none of this done before, either by the newspaper group or by the police? Both of them I think still have a lot of things to answer,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“I’m very pro-police. I don’t like sitting here attacking the police, but their investigation so far has been absolutely woeful, and it’s absolutely right another set of officers comes in and looks at this.”
Scotland Yard announced yesterday that detectives had received a dossier of evidence about suspicious activities at the News of the World in 2005 and 2006, and that a new team would carry out the inquiry.
The decision was made after the newspaper handed over material gathered during an internal investigation into its assistant editor (news) Ian Edmondson.
The newspaper, whose owner Rupert Murdoch was in London this week, said Mr Edmondson was sacked as a result of the investigation.
Mr Edmondson was suspended from duty in December after he was linked to the scandal in documents relating to legal action by actress Sienna Miller lodged at the High Court.
The new inquiry is one of the most significant developments in the controversy since the News of the World’s royal editor was imprisoned in 2007.
Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed at the Old Bailey after they admitted intercepting messages.
The pair used mobile phone numbers and secret codes to hack into voicemails of celebrities and other high profile people.
Until now the Met has repeatedly batted away calls for a new inquiry despite a steady flow of people also claiming to be victims of the scam.
However, Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin and Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer recently announced that senior lawyers would review existing evidence.
Last week Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson resigned, claiming the ongoing clamour was poisoning his work.
Mr Coulson was editor of the News of the World when Goodman was charged and stepped down the day he was jailed.
Confirming the sacking of Mr Edmondson, News of the World owners News International said in a statement: “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.”
Senior politicians from Britain's government and opposition have combined to demand that police investigate a fresh round of allegations as a number of public figures pursue civil legal actions against both the newspaper and police.
There was growing criticism at the apparent reluctance of the police to pursue the case more vigorously, with Campbell describing the Met’s alleged inactivity as a “scandal”.
It has been claimed Britain's former prime minister Gordon Brown contacted the Met last summer to ask if his phone had also been targeted, but his office declined to comment on the reports.
Mark Lewis, who acted for Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association in a damages claim against the News of the World, says he is representing four people who believe they were targeted by other newspapers.