Police probe News of the World phone tap claims

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Police probe <i>News of the World</i> phone tap claims

Guardian report alleges widespread use of criminal methods to get stories.

Police are investigating claims of widespread telephone hacking by the News of the World, according to a report in The Guardian.

The report alleges that telephone hacking carried out by private investigators at the behest of the UK tabloid runs into the thousands, and includes phone lines owned by politicians and celebrities.

The Guardian broke the story when it discovered that News Group Newspapers (NGN), which owns the News of the World and The Sun, had paid out over £1m to settle legal cases relating to its journalists' sources. The Guardian accused NGN of "repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories".

The alleged incidents date back to 2006 when Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal editor, was arrested on suspicion of illegally intercepting phone calls, along with Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective.

"Scotland Yard had previously been contacted by members of the royal household who suspected their mobile phones had been hacked into," said The Guardian report. "A series of stories in the paper seemed to be based on voicemails left on their phones."

A number of other incidents have been identified since that time, and News International, parent company of NGN, has since paid out £700,000 in damages to the Professional Footballers' Association over similar allegations.

The Guardian has claimed that three cases involving the group and its use of private investigators have been settled out of court.

The News of the World's former editor, Andy Coulson, now the Conservative Party communications director, appears to have shrugged off the claims, but Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has apparently ordered that a senior officer "establish the facts" on the case.

At the time of writing, the following appeared on former deputy prime minister John Prescott's Twitter feed: "Whittingdale just confirmed Coulson would probably be asked to give evidence on NOTW hacking at CMS Select Committee."

The message suggests that Coulson will face scrutiny in the House of Commons as well as the police investigation.

A statement from the police is due later today.

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