UK prosecutors reopen phone hacking investigation

Prosecutors said Friday that a politically sensitive investigation into phone hacking charges against one of Britain's best-selling tabloid newspapers would be reopened.

Chief prosecutor Keir Starmer said that a "comprehensive assessment" of all evidence would be held to see whether new charges should be brought in the case involving The News of The World, owned by Rupert Murdoch's media company.

"The purpose of this assessment is to ascertain whether there is any material which could now form evidence in any future criminal prosecution relating to phone hacking," prosecutors said in a statement.

The criminal inquiry will focus new attention on the tabloid's sophisticated phone-tapping operation, which included hacking into cell phones used by senior aides of the royal family in order to listen to voicemail messages.

Actress Sienna Miller and other celebrities have also accused the paper of illegal hacking and harassment, leading to the recent resignation of Ian Edmondson, a top executive.

The News of The World has been at the center of the scandal since a reporter and a private investigator employed by the title were caught illegally eavesdropping on the phones of the British royal family's entourage.

The pair were convicted in 2007, but News of the World executives have long insisted that they were the only ones responsible for the tapping operation — a claim dismissed as implausible by the paper's critics.

The issue is particularly sensitive because the tabloid's former editor, Andy Coulson, who stepped down in the wake of the scandal, now serves as British Prime Minister David Cameron's communications director.

Coulson has long insisted he knew nothing of the illegal goings-on at his paper while he was in charge. He has enjoyed Cameron's support despite the allegations.

But Coulson's story has been challenged by a series of media reports. An article published in The New York Times last year quoted former News of The World reporter Sean Hoare as saying that Coulson was aware of the practice.

Another ex-staff member, Paul McMullan, was quoted by The Guardian as saying he had commissioned private investigators to commit hundreds of illegal acts on the newspaper's behalf — and that Coulson knew.

Labour Party legislator Chris Bryant, who believes he may have been a victim of the phone hackers, said Friday he welcomed the decision to re-examine the case, adding that it should not have been closed last month.

"The evidence that this goes far deeper than one rotten apple has continued to stack up, and so a fresh pair of eyes looking at the case is very welcome," he said.

Bryant said the police had "severely" damaged their credibility by failing to properly investigate earlier.

Coulson and the News of The World have denied the charges.

The News of the World released a statement Friday promising to "cooperate fully" with prosecutors, who had earlier asked the paper's editors if they had information that could be useful in the probe.