Crisis at News of the World as advertisers pull out over phone hacking claims

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by G.A.Ponsonby

The News of The World was facing a crisis today as advertisers announced they were pulling ads from the paper in the wake of serious allegations over phone hacking. Car giant Ford has confirmed that they will not be running planned ads after claims that the newspaper had hacked the mobile phone of murder victim Millie Dowler when police were still searching for the teenager.

The claims include allegations that at the time of the investigation a hacker working for the Sunday tabloid deleted messages from the teenager’s mobile phone, thus giving false hope to her parents that their daughter was still alive.

Ford says it will cease placing advertising in the News of the World until the outcome of an investigation into the allegations has been announced. Other companies said to be reviewing their options include Halifax, Npower and T-Mobile. A group of leading journalists, MPs and academics have already formed a campaign group, dubbed Hacked Off, calling for a public inquiry into the phone hacking allegations.

The phone hacking scandal has also called into question the safety of the conviction of former Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan who was jailed earlier this year after being found guilty of committing perjury in his action against the News of the World.

However, the emergence of emails, said to have been lost when News International archived their records, calls into question the testimony of key News of the World witnesses at Mr Sheridan’s trial.

Former Labour Minister Tom Watson, speaking on behalf of Mr Sheridan, called the conviction “an unsound decision” and insisted that the jury were not in full possession of the facts. Mr Watson claimed that the emails did exist and that: “The jury were misled either inadvertently or deliberately.”

The outspoken former MSP insisted at his trial that his phone had been hacked by a private investigator called Glen Mulcaire who he claimed was working for the News of the World. It was thought by the defence that the emails would prove Mr Sheridan’s claim.

When asked at the trial whether he or his staff had intercepted Mr Sheridan’s phone messages “in any shape or form” Bob Bird, editor of the News of the World’s Scottish edition replied: “I certainly didn’t. To the best of my knowledge, none of my staff did.” Mr Bird added “No. I never saw any evidence that you were under surveillance.”

Glen Mulcaire was jailed in 2007 for illegally intercepting, on behalf of the newspaper, mobile phone messages of members of the Royal Family and five other public figures. Police discovered documents in his possession listing Sheridan’s home address, mobile number, several pin codes and what appeared to be his Vodafone account number.

News International chief Rebekah Brooks is under pressure following the new revelations but is denying any knowledge of phone hacking and is refusing to resign.

The scandal has also embroiled the Press Complaints Commission whose chairwoman Peta Buscombe said she was lied to by the News of the World over phone hacking.

Buscombe had insisted in 2009 that the PCC was not misled by the News of the World during its own inquiry into phone hacking. However, on the BBC’s Daily Politics show, she admitted she had been “misled by the News of the World”.

“There’s only so much we can do when people are lying to us. We know now that I was not being given the truth by the News of the World,” she said.

Buscombe denied having sided with the newspaper.