Ex-UK deputy leader presses police for answers as scandal over tabloid phone hacking widens

LONDON (AP) — Britain's former deputy prime minister pressed Friday for police to reveal more about what is alleged to have been a pattern of illegal eavesdropping at a major tabloid newspaper.

John Prescott said he believes he was among those targeted by the best-selling News of The World tabloid. He urged police, who investigated phone hacking by the newspaper, to reveal whether the paper's journalists tried to spy on his private conversations.

"The only way the truth can come out is really to have it properly investigated," Prescott told the BBC. "I think it demands at least that."

Prescott is one of several public figures who are pushing for a fresh inquiry into News of The World's activities following a New York Times report alleging that breaking in to voicemail messages was a matter of routine in the paper's newsroom, and that the editor, Andy Coulson, had participated in dozens or even hundreds of meetings where the hacking was discussed.

The Times cited a dozen former News of the World reporters as the sources of its information — and said that one current reporter had only recently been linked to an attempt to hack into an unidentified public figure's phone.

Others pressing for a new investigation include Labour lawmaker Tom Watson and former Scotland Yard official Brian Paddick.

Coulson resigned in January 2007 after his royal editor, Clive Goodman, was found guilty of intercepting phone messages left for palace officials, including some from princes William and Harry. Goodman's accomplice, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, was also convicted. Both were sentenced to several months in prison.

The News of the World has always characterized the scandal as a singular event, saying that Coulson and other senior figures at the paper had no knowledge of the hacking. Coulson has denied having anything to do with phone hacking.

The Times' report — and the cascade of British media coverage that has followed it — threatens to taint Britain's Conservative-led government because Coulson has since been hired as Prime Minister David Cameron's top media aide. Cameron's Downing Street office has so far backed Coulson.

The News of the World has contested the Times' report, saying in a statement that "we reject absolutely that any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman or Glenn Mulcaire ... were part of a 'culture' of wrongdoing at the News of the World and were specifically sanctioned or accepted at senior level in the newspaper."

The paper acknowledged that one of its journalists faced a "serious allegation" and had been suspended from reporting duties pending an investigation into his activities. But it followed that admission with an attack on the Times, suggesting that the paper had devoted "enormous resources" to investigating the News of The World out of corporate self-interest.

The News of the World is owned by News International Ltd., a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., whose U.S. media outlets include Fox Television, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal — which is in fierce competition with the New York Times.

The scandal also has the potential to embroil a host of public figures — celebrities, sports stars, politicians, and even senior members of law enforcement. The Financial Times reported Friday that as many as 10 lawmakers feel they could have been targeted, and The Guardian newspaper reported that documents held by Mulcaire, the private investigator, listed the names of Ian Blair, Scotland Yard's former police commissioner, and Paddick, its former deputy assistant commissioner.

The scandal also raises questions about Scotland Yard itself.

The New York Times claimed that the investigation into the phone hacking was limited to the attempt to spy on the royal family in part because the force was busy investigating a major terrorist plot — but also because of the allegedly cozy relationship between the police force and the tabloid.

A Scotland Yard official speaking to The Associated Press emphasized the former point and denied that the force had failed to follow up on clear leads.

But he revealed that the force had recovered a huge load of telephone numbers over the course of the investigation.

The official said that detectives found nearly 3,000 cell phone numbers over the course of their investigation into the hacking and that hundreds of people were thought to have been targeted, although he cautioned that investigators believed far fewer had their phones actually broken into.