The claims that Rupert Murdoch's media group, which had proclaimed it printed the papers "that support our boys", may instead have been hacking the telephones of bereaved families of dead soldiers has led to anger and revulsion within the British military.
The latest development in the News of the World scandal led to the Ministry of Defence last night asking Scotland Yard to provide details of possible breaches of privacy of the relations of servicemen and women who had died on the frontlines of Afghanistan and Iraq.
News International, the parent company of the Sunday tabloid, promised last night to add the latest allegations to its investigation of transgressions by journalists. A spokesman said: "News International's record as a friend of the armed services and of our servicemen and servicewomen is impeccable. Our titles have campaigned in support of the military over many years and will continue to do so. If these allegations are true we are absolutely appalled and horrified. We will be contacting the MoD immediately to try and verify the situation."
But one of the UK's most senior Army officers described the News International protestations last night, if hacking of the families had taken place, as "self-serving and pretty nauseating". "One can't help but feel that we are dealing with an enemy within," said Graham Knight, whose son Ben was killed in the Nimrod explosion in Afghanistan in 2006.
Col Douglas Young, the chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation, said he would seek a meeting with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. "It is now imperative that the police do follow up and do say as quickly as possible 'we have now contacted everybody involved' because otherwise it is going to leave a lot of worry and concern," he said.
The news of the possible hacking broke after the firm MPH Solicitors, which had acted for the families of a number of deceased military personnel, put out a statement saying: "We have been contacted this morning in connection with a possible phone-hacking on our clients, and [MPH solicitor] Geraldine McCool, arising out of high-profile military inquests in 2006/2007."
The firm had acted on behalf of Sergeant Steven Roberts, whose death in southern Iraq was blamed on inadequate provision of body armour, Lance corporal Matty Hull, who was the victim of "friendly fire", and some of eight men who died in a helicopter crash in Kuwait. Royal Marines Colour Sergeant John Cecil, 35, Captain Philip Guy, 29, Marine Sholto Hedenskog, 26, Warrant Officer 2 Mark Stratford, 39, Major Jason Ward, 34, Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans, 24, Sergeant Les Hehir, 34, and Operator Mechanic (Communications) Second Class Ian Seymour, 29, were killed when a US Sea Knight aircraft went down in Kuwait.
Ms McCool said: "Solicitors are cautious when leaving messages due to client confidentiality and my military clients and their families come from a background that works on a 'need to know' basis. I sincerely hope that any future revelations do not involve our clients and that full disclosure of the extent of this diabolical practice is now made."
Ms McCool added that she had not been contacted by the police about the matter and was awaiting further clarification. It is not known whether the military names had appeared in a list kept by Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective who had worked for the News of the World.
The Ministry of Defence said last night that it has received the names of a number of bereaved families whose telephone calls may have been monitored. Checks were being carried out with the families while the police were asked to provide any necessary details.Reuse content