LONDON — A phone hacking scandal sweeping Britain made a sordid turn late Wednesday with reports that personal information of the families of soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan were found in the files of a private detective working for a tabloid newspaper.
The personal details of the troops' families were discovered in the records kept by investigator Glenn Mulcaire, according to the Daily Telegraph, which did not disclose its source.
London police have contacted relatives to tell them their names and contact details appear in notebooks belonging to Mulcaire, the Guardian reported.
The latest report of the News of the World's intrusion into private lives, primarily voicemails, reached a high pitch Wednesday as the scope of the targets of the detective emerged: Murder victims. Terror victims. Film stars. Sports figures. Politicians. The royal family's entourage.
Military families reacted harshly to the news that they were targeted, calling it a "disgusting and indefensible assault on privacy," the Telegraph reported.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will arrange for a public investigation into the alleged phone hacking.
The paper's owner, Rupert Murdoch, has called the hacking reports "deplorable and unacceptable." Murdoch is the chairman of the conglomerate News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and other media outlets in the United States.
News International, the parent company of the Sunday tabloid, told the BBC it would be "absolutely appalled and horrified" if there was truth to the allegations about the families of fallen soldiers and would contact the country's Ministry of Defence.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon Gentle was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, told the BBC she was "totally disgusted" by the "shocking" allegations.Video: UK tabloid allegedly hacked slain girl’s phone (on this page)
"The police should be contacting families straight away and putting them out of their misery," Gentle said.
Graham Knight, whose son Ben was killed in in Afghanistan in 2006, told the Guardian: "It's disgusting but it doesn't surprise me."
Charities that work with soldiers in Britain demanded that police release the names contained in Mulcaire’s records so they could determine whether they were targeted by the newspaper's detective.
Col. Douglas Young, chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation, told the Telegraph that police were failing families by not disclosing the names.
Meanwhile, the News of the World tabloid faced a growing advertising boycott from major firms over the alleged phone hacking, though the extent of the intrusion is not yet clear — and may not be known for months as inquiries unfold.
When police arrested Mulcaire, they seized 11,000 pages of notes, including the phone numbers of many suspected hacking victims. But police have in most cases not made clear who was actually hacked.
The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.