News International yesterday suffered a serious blow to its attempts to limit the phone-hacking scandal to events five years ago when it emerged that the News of the World is being accused of trying to access the voicemails of a celebrity within the last 12 months.
Court documents made public for the first time show that Kelly Hoppen, an interior designer and the stepmother of the actress Sienna Miller, has lodged a claim against the Sunday paper and one of its reporters, Dan Evans, for “accessing or attempting to access her voicemail messages between June 2009 and March 2010”.
Mr Evans, who worked in the paper's features department, was suspended last April in relation to previously unspecified phone- hacking claims.
The allegation, which is strongly denied by the NotW and Mr Evans, is particularly embarrassing for Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group because it covers a period long after 2005 and 2006, when hacking was taking place which led to the jailing of the tabloid's royal editor Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire.
News International had insisted until this week that any hacking was limited to Mr Goodman and that procedures had been tightened by the current editor Colin Myler to ensure that the practice was stamped out.
The company's single “rogue reporter” defence unravelled on Wednesday when it was announced that the NoTW's head of news Ian Edmondson had been sacked following the discovery of emails which could link him to the activities of Mulcaire. Scotland Yard yesterday vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in a new investigation into the claims.
Shadow cabinet office minister Tessa Jowell added to growing suspicions that hacking is not a historic problem.
The former Culture Secretary said Scotland Yard was investigating whether her voicemails were illegally accessed last week after she received a warning from her mobile phone provider, Vodafone.
Ms Jowell, who was told previously by police that her voicemail was unlawfully accessed on 29 occasions in May 2006 alone, called for a “root and branch” review by the newspaper industry to stamp out the practice.