The grim news that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked by the News of the World could be a tipping point in the phone hacking scandal. It represents a new low for the tabloid and gives the lie to the claim that only publicity hungry celebrities were targeted.
Not only did private investigators illegally hack Dowler's voice mail, they subsequently deleted messages left on her phone (in order to access more), leading her family to mistakenly believe that she was still alive. As the Guardian notes:
[W]hen her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.
The tabloid also stands accused of interfering with the course of a police investigation by destroying potentially valuable evidence. Remarkably, Surrey Police chose not to take action against the NoW because this was only "one example of tabloid misbehaviour".
Even Chris Morris couldn't do justice to the fact that all of this coincided with the tabloid's campaign against paedophiles.
It's quite possible that we'll now see a Liverpool-style boycott of the paper across the country. In addition, more will question the government's decision to waive through Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB. As the shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, recently noted: "[T]he current legal framework does not allow serious admissions of criminal conduct by News International to be taken into account when considering Newscorp's acquisition of BSkyB." The question the government will have to answer is why this was the case.
Rebekah Brooks, who was NoW editor at the time, and is now chief executive of News International, has so far managed to remain in her post. But today's developments mean her position looks increasingly untenable.