Britons are used to seeing their press harass royals, sports stars and celebrities, constantly eavesdropping and paying even the most tangential sources for information about stars' sex lives and drug problems.
Yet the hacking case involving 13-year-old Milly Dowler has horrified everyone, from British Prime Minister David Cameron to movie stars to people who commented on Twitter.
"(It is) shocking that someone could do this, knowing that the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened," Cameron said while on a trip to Afghanistan.
The case has refocused the spotlight on the already tainted News of The World, part of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire at News Corp. It also comes as Murdoch is trying to engineer the politically sensitive, multibillion-pound takeover of broadcaster BSkyB in Britain.
Dowler's abduction in 2002 while walking home from school in Surrey, south of London, transfixed Britain until her decomposing body was found six months later in the woods by mushroom pickers.
But while police were pursuing all leads and Milly's parents were making dramatic appeals for any tidbit of information that could be useful, a private investigator working for the News of the World tabloid allegedly hacked into her cell phone, listened to her messages, and even deleted some to make room for possible new ones.
Mark Lewis, a lawyer representing Dowler's parents, said Tuesday the suspected hacking may have hampered the police investigation and he plans to sue the tabloid for its interference.
It was never determined how long Dowler was alive after being abducted but the tabloid's actions reportedly came right after her disappearance. Police realized some messages had been deleted, giving them and Milly's parents false hope that she was still alive.
"It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time," Lewis said. "The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardized the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable."
He said executives at the newspaper should take responsibility and step down.
Serial killer Levi Bellfield was convicted of Milly's slaying two weeks ago. He was already serving a life sentence for two other murders.
Cameron condemned the grotesque press intrusion and call for an immediate inquiry. Lawmakers in parliament decided to hold an emergency debate Wednesday on the phone hacking.
Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who earlier served prison time for helping the tabloid hack into cell phones, apologized Tuesday evening for any possible interference with police inquiries.
In a statement in the Guardian newspaper, he said he knew he "pushed the limits ethically" but he didn't understand that he had broken the law. He said he was sorry to all who had been "hurt or upset" by his activity.
Mulcaire and reporter Clive Goodman were jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phone messages of palace officials.
Meanwhile, pressure mounted Tuesday on Rebekah Brooks, editor of the tabloid when Dowler disappeared and now a top Murdoch executive in the U.K., to resign.
There were also signs of a developing boycott when Ford UK announced it would not advertise in the News of the World because of the hacking. Grocery chain Tesco and Virgin Media both said they are considering withdrawing ads as well.
Prominent Britons also railed against the tabloid.