A senior Scotland Yard detective has expressed his “extreme regret” that he did not act to reopen police inquiries into phone hacking two years ago.
Despite fresh allegations that thousands of public figures had been targeted, Assistant Commissioner John Yates ruled in July 2009 that there was no new evidence.
He has come under vociferous criticism from MPs over his stance and has been called on to give evidence to an ongoing inquiry by an influential Commons committee.
The initial police investigation led to the jailing of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
But it was accepted that they were an isolated case.
Speaking after this week’s revelation that the mobile phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler had in fact been among those targeted, he said: “We are all extremely shocked by it and it is a matter of massive regret we didn’t deal with it earlier.”
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said: “My byword has always been you look after the victims and the job will always resolve itself.
“I always put the victim first but here I didn’t follow my principle and that is my greatest regret.”
He told the newspaper: “I didn’t do a review. Had I known then what I know now, all bets are off. I would never have reached this conclusion.
“I am accountable and it happened on my watch and it’s clear I could have done more.
“I have regrettably said the initial inquiry was a success. Clearly now that looks very different.”
The entire scandal had been “a very damaging episode” for the Metropolitan Police, which now faced a task to rebuild public confidence, he said.
Announcing his decision in 2009, Mr Yates declared: “No additional evidence has come to light since this case has concluded.
“I therefore consider that no further investigation is required.”
Murdoch backs Brooks
Meanwhile, as the final edition of the NoW went to press, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch continued to give his full backing to embattled News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, insisting she had his “total” support.
“We already apologised,” he told reporters in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he has been attending a media conference.
“We’ve been let down by people … the paper let down its readers.”
Brooks, a former editor of the paper, has remained defiant as the scandal engulfing the tabloid gathered pace in recent weeks.
Resisting calls for her resignation, she has told MPs she had “no knowledge whatsoever” of claims that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was among up to 4,000 people who might have fallen victim to hacking.
And she insisted there was “no reason to believe” that hacking had been used by any other News International titles.
She was responding to a request for fresh evidence from Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party home affairs select committee.
In a letter to MPs Brooks said: “I want to be absolutely clear that as editor of News of the World I had no knowledge whatsoever of phone hacking in the case of Milly Dowler and her family, or in any other cases during my tenure.”
Cameron to meet family of Milly Dowler
At Downing Street, Prime Minister David Cameron is to meet Milly’s family to discuss the Government’s response to the phone hacking crisis.
A spokesman said the Media Standards Trust charity – which had initially arranged talks with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – had requested that the premier also now attend Monday’s meeting.
Milly’s parents Bob and Sally Dowler are suing the News of the World over claims their daughter’s phone was targeted when she went missing in 2002.
As the paper was finally put to bed, the criminal investigation into alleged illegal practices continued to gather momentum with officers poised to make more arrests.
In the last two days, three people have been quizzed by police.
A 63-year-old man arrested in Surrey last night in connection with alleged corrupt payments made to police officers, has been bailed to return to a London police station in October. Officers would not confirm reports that he is a private investigator.
On Friday former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was questioned for nine hours over suspected corruption and the scandal which forced the paper’s closure.
Ex-royal editor Clive Goodman, 53, has also spoken to police over claims officers were bribed following a dawn swoop on his Surrey home.
Ashdown ‘warned’ Cameron
Cameron is also likely to face further scrutiny over his decision to retain Mr Coulson as his spin chief on coming to power was added to by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown who said he had warned Downing Street it would be a “disaster” shortly after the general election.
He told The Observer that he spoke out after being briefed on information that could not be published for legal reasons at the time, concerning the ex-newspaper editor who resigned after his royal reporter was jailed but denied any knowledge of hacking under his watch.
“I warned No 10 within days of the election that they would suffer terrible damage if they did not get rid of Coulson, when these things came out, as it was inevitable they would,” he said.
With two independent public inquiries on the horizon, News Corporation was also faced with the threat of losing £4 million in investments from the Church of England if the organisation fails to hold “senior managers” to account.
It has already strongly denied allegations published in The Guardian which claim millions of emails from an internal archive at News International may have been destroyed in what could be seen as a bid to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry.
Still further financial pressure looked set to be heaped on the media group as it was reported that Labour will table a motion next week opposing News Corporation’s proposed takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.