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Phone bugging scandal reignited as NotW suspends reporter

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New allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World have resulted in the suspension of one of the Sunday paper's reporters, pending legal and disciplinary action over allegations of tapping into the voicemail messages of an unnamed television personality.

A detailed investigation by the New York Times has reignited a controversy News International officials have long sought to quench. Under scrutiny was the extent of illegal wiretapping of the mobile phones of public figures at the paper at the time it was edited by Andy Coulson, prime minister David Cameron's director of communications.

Coulson edited the tabloid during a time when Clive Goodman, the paper’s disgraced royal editor, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire conspired to intercept voicemail messages of public figures and celebrities in order to extract news leads. The duo were convicted of tapping into the voicemail of members of the royal household and jailed back in 2007.

Coulson resigned editorship of the paper over the scandal, which News International has consistently blamed on a rogue journalist who acted without the knowledge or approval of his bosses.

Last year it emerged that News International had made a series of payouts to public figures including football players' union boss Gordon Taylor. A series of investigative pieces by the Guardian provided evidence that the use of mobile phone hacking tactics was widespread at the paper.

The articles prompted the re-opening of a Press Complaints Commission inquiry and an investigation by the House of Commons select committee.

There is also increasing pressure on the Metropolitan police to either reopen their wider investigation, or at least explain why it was dropped so quickly.

The New York Times cites former editors at the paper who said Coulson attended meetings where phone hacking was openly discussed, reopening allegations that the practice was endemic at the time he edited the paper. The NYT further alleges that police investigators failed to act on evidence that phone hacking was widespread at the paper, instead focusing their investigation on Goodman and Mulcaire. According to the paper it's only now, four years after the police investigated the case, that many of the victims are finally being notified.

Many of the hacks carried out relied simply on knowing a target's mobile phone number and hoping that they had not changed the default PIN code used by carriers, though other more sophisticated techniques were also allegedly used.

The NYT story can be found here (free registration required). ®

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