Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates is to “establish the facts” about claims that the News of the World hacked into mobile phones and will report back later today.
Met commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told Sky News: “I have asked him to establish the facts of this case and look into the detail.”
He added: “I think we have got a track record of doing exactly what we are supposed to do. If we need to investigate, we will investigate.
“We will do the right thing and do what we have to do to investigate crime wherever it exists.”
He was speaking following claims by The Guardian that News Group Newspapers, which publishes titles including the News of the World, has paid out more than £1m to settle cases that threatened to reveal evidence of its journalists’ alleged involvement in telephone hacking.
MPs from all three parties including former deputy prime minister John Prescott and Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell were among the targets of the alleged phone taps, The Guardian said.
It quoted sources saying police officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into “thousands” of mobile phones.
Ministers will face questions about the allegations in the Commons this morning.
Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris has tabled an urgent question asking Home Secretary Alan Johnson about the response of police and prosecutors to alleged “illegal surveillance” by newspapers.
Harris, a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: “While we are rightly worried about Government surveillance getting out of hand, the public also have the right to be protected from illegal actions by newspapers and their agents.
“I want to see effective investigative journalism – especially of public figures who wield power – but such journalism must be within the law.
“The law must be seen to take its full course when wrongdoing is found to avoid suggestions that wealthy interests are able to buy their way out of the criminal justice system.”
The Press Complaints Commission conducted an inquiry in 2007 into the use of subterfuge by journalists and came up with a number of recommendations to ensure that phone tapping was eliminated.
“The PCC has previously made clear that it finds the practice of phone message tapping deplorable,” the Commission said in a statement today.
“Any suggestion that further transgressions have occurred since its report was published in 2007 will be investigated without delay.
“In the meantime, the PCC is contacting the Guardian newspaper and the Information Commissioner for any further specific information in relation to the claims, published today about the older cases, which suggest the Commission has been misled at any stage of its inquiries into these matters.”