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LONDON (AP) — A retired police officer on Monday accused the News of the World tabloid of endangering a murder investigation by hiring ex-special forces soldiers to follow a police surveillance team.

Dave Harrison, a former officer with the Serious Organized Crime Agency, told Britain’s media ethics inquiry that the tabloid had spied on detectives tailing a suspect in the serial killing of five women working as prostitutes in the eastern England city of Ipswich in 2006.

Harrison, a member of the police surveillance team, said in a written witness statement that he and his colleagues had been told “that the News of the World had employed their own ‘surveillance team,’ made up of ex-special forces soldiers, whose objectives were to identify any suspects we were working on, and to identify ‘us’ and our operating base.”

He said the police surveillance team had been followed at least twice by another vehicle.

“We identified them because they were sat in the position that we would sit in if we were doing the same job,” he told the inquiry.

Harrison said the newspaper’s actions jeopardized the police operation to catch the killer.

“If our surveillance had been weakened by having to try and avoid other surveillance teams looking for us, if we had lost the subject, he may have gone and committed further murders because we were dealing with something else,” he said.

Former forklift operator Steve Wright was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for murdering the women, whose naked bodies were found in streams and woodland around Ipswich, 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of London.

Justice Brian Leveson is leading the prolonged inquiry into practices of the British press, concentrating on phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World.

Owner Rupert Murdoch closed the paper in July after evidence emerged that it had illegally eavesdropped on dozens of prominent people in its quest for scoops.

Murdoch’s company has settled court cases brought by many victims of phone hacking.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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