The ability of the News of the World to limit the timeframe for phone hacking claims against it to the period from 2004 to 2006 is facing a direct challenge from a senior Labour MP who has lodged a complaint against the paper that his voicemails were intercepted at least 12 months earlier.
Chris Bryant, a former Foreign Office minister and one of the leading parliamentary critics of the handling of the hacking scandal by police and Rupert Murdoch's News International, has joined the list of public figures suing the NOTW and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire by alleging that his mobile phone messages were eavesdropped in 2003.
His case, which was lodged at the High Court last Friday on the day that News International offered apologies to eight hacking victims and admitted it had failed to uncover important evidence, could pave the way for a slew of new claims against the Sunday newspaper by significantly widening the period during which voicemail interception is alleged to have taken place.
The development came as it emerged that police are preparing to interview Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, as part of the new Scotland Yard investigation into phone hacking. The Guardian reported that Ms Brooks also had her own phone tapped in 2004 by police investigating the payment of bribes to serving officers. Police found no evidence of wrongdoing by Ms Brooks, who was at the time editor of The Sun and believes the tapping of her phone related to an investigation into the leaking of the Hutton report.
Mr Bryant, who is also pursuing a judicial review along with the former deputy prime minister John Prescott over the failure by the Yard to inform them that they were potential victims of hacking, said he had been shown new evidence by police from Mulcaire's files which suggested that messages left for him by senior Labour figures including Peter Mandelson had been intercepted.
The Labour MP for Rhondda, who wrote to police alerting them of suspicions as early as 2004, said officers from the new Yard inquiry into phone hacking had shown him two previously undisclosed pages from notebooks seized from the private investigator's Surrey home which made it clear that the alleged activity against him was more prolific than hitherto thought.
Mr Bryant told The Independent: "I have issued proceedings against the News of the World for damages arising from hacking which we claim took place in 2003. I have been shown evidence which contains material relating to friends, my family and political colleagues."
Although Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 along with NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman for listening to the voicemails of aides to Prince William and Prince Harry, was employed by the newspaper as early as 2000, allegations of phone hacking have so far been restricted to the period between 2004 and 2006.
In its statement on Friday admitting liability for hacking the phones of eight public figures including the former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell and actress Sienna Miller, News International was careful to state that its concessions related to that two-year period.
But Mr Bryant's damages claim is the latest evidence that the chronology of the hacking scandal is widening.
The Independent understands that Operation Weeting, the new police investigation, is looking at documents from Mulcaire which date back to at least 2002, in stark contrast to the original Yard inquiry which focused on the activities of the private investigator in 2005 and 2006.Reuse content