Police have uncovered new evidence that phone hacking was endemic at Rupert Murdoch's News International until as recently as 2009 – part of a "thriving cottage industry" of lawbreaking that involved "at least" 28 of the company's employees, the Leveson Inquiry was told yesterday.
The dramatic first proceedings of the judicial inquiry into press standards also heard that notebooks seized in 2006 from the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who carried out phone hacking for the News of the World, suggest he also worked for The Sun and "maybe" the Daily Mirror.
The inquiry has been provided with material from Scotland Yard that suggests "wide-ranging, illegal activity" at Wapping dating back to the hacking of the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 and continuing "until at least 2009" – three years after two employees were arrested and later jailed for hacking.
The suggestion that the Yard's Operation Weeting has discovered evidence beyond Mulcaire's notebooks that voicemail interception carried on beyond his imprisonment in 2007 would be devastating for the Murdoch empire. Senior executives vowed repeatedly that the practice was halted in 2006.
If information is uncovered that the Mirror commissioned Mulcaire to hack phones, it would be the first time that a non-Murdoch newspaper has been implicated in the scandal.
The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London was told that the names of the disgraced NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman and at least 27 other NI employees appeared as so-called "corner names" in notes seized by police from Mulcaire's home in 2006. The private investigator was in the habit of identifying those who commissioned him by writing their name in the top corner of each notebook page.
Lord Justice Leveson warned newspapers not to victimise inquiry witnesses, saying that if they did so he might draw inferences about ethics that would be relevant to his final recommendations.
Explosive evidence on first day of Leveson: Read the in-depth report here