News Corp tabloid bought royal contacts from police: BBC

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LONDON (Reuters) - The News of the World newspaper bought contact details about the royal family from a policeman, the BBC reported Monday, deepening the scandal engulfing the News Corp media empire.

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BBC business editor Robert Peston said the disclosure was contained in News International emails handed to a law firm in 2007 but only passed to police last month.

London's Evening Standard newspaper also printed similar allegations that personal details about Queen Elizabeth and her aides were sold to the News of the World by royal protection officers. It said these details were also uncovered in 2007.

The police team, investigating accusations of phone hacking by the News of the World's journalists and allegations some police officers were bribed by papers for information, condemned the reports, saying it could undermine their work.

It said the leaked information, which followed meetings between detectives and News International, the UK newspaper arm of News Corp, appeared to be designed to "divert attention."

The BBC's Peston said the emails provided evidence that the now shut-down tabloid was buying phone details about the royal family's friends and connections from an officer assigned to protect them.

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The Metropolitan Police said it was "extremely concerned and disappointed" about the "continuous release of selected information" which it said could hamper its corruption investigation.

"It is our belief that information that has appeared in the media today is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers and divert attention from elsewhere," the Met said in a statement.

It said information had been shared between detectives and News International and its lawyers over the past few weeks.

"It was agreed by all parties that this information would be kept confidential so that we could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them and secure best evidence," the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from News International.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is overseeing the bribery inquiry, told Reuters it not yet been given any details of any specific individual officers allegedly involved.

News Corp closed down the 168-year-old News of the World after allegations it hacked into voicemails of a murdered teenage schoolgirl and victims of the 2005 bomb attacks on the London transport network.

A private investigator and the newspaper's royal editor were jailed in 2007 after they were convicted of hacking into the voicemail of members of the royal household.

News Corp long maintained that this was the work of a "rogue reporter" but that defense has unraveled as the list of targets grew.

(Reporting by Keith Weir and Michael Holden; Editing by Alison Williams)