LONDON - Tom Crone, a former senior legal executive at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper business, has been arrested by police investigating allegations of phone-hacking by journalists, media reported on Thursday.
London police confirmed they had arrested a 60-year-old man at his home in southwest London on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, but declined to name him.
However Crone, the former legal chief of Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid on which the police inquiry is centred, was the arrested man, according to Sky News, part of Murdoch’s News Corp group, and other media outlets.
There was no answer from Crone’s mobile phone when Reuters tried to contact him.
Eight senior figures at the now-defunct News of the World have been charged with conspiring to hack phones, including former editor and Prime Minister David Cameron’s ex-media chief Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, who oversaw Murdoch’s British newspaper arm News International.
The scandal has not only rocked News Corp, it has put the notoriously aggressive British press under the spotlight and embarrassed senior politicians, including Cameron, over their often cosy ties with the Australian-born businessman.
Crone resigned from his post in July last year at the height of public anger over revelations journalists from the News of the World Sunday tabloid had hacked the phones of people ranging from celebrities and politicians to victims of crime.
He subsequently fell out with Murdoch and his son James, then News International chairman, accusing James of giving false information to a parliamentary committee about an email in 2008 which indicated that hacking was widespread on the tabloid.
James Murdoch has denied knowing about the full scale of the problem until it became apparent last year and said Crone himself had misled lawmakers.
At a public inquiry into Britain’s newspaper industry ordered by Cameron in the wake of the outcry over phone-hacking, Rupert Murdoch blamed a culture of cover-up on Crone, an allegation the lawyer described as a “shameful lie”.
Detectives have now arrested 25 people as part of the phone-hacking probe, and have held more than 50 others in related inquiries into illegal payments to public officials and the hacking of computers.
On Wednesday, detectives arrested a 28-year-old former Times journalist over suspected offences under the Computer Misuse Act over hacking that led to the identification of an anonymous blogger in 2009.
Patrick Foster, former media correspondent at the Murdoch’s newspaper, wrote a story exposing a police officer as the author of a popular blog, information which the paper’s editor admitted had resulted from the hacking of the blogger’s email account.
The arrests come as senior judge Justice Brian Leveson prepares to deliver the findings from his 10-month inquiry into press ethics after hearing evidence from hundreds of witnesses including many who condemned papers’ tactics and behaviour.
One newspaper editor said Leveson had sent a letter to major newspaper groups giving them advance warning of possible criticism in his final report, calling it a “damning indictment“ of the industry.
“The best way I can describe it is that he’s loading a gun, and this document, well over 100 pages, is all the ammunition,” Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, told BBC radio, adding he was worried about the inquiry’s outcome.
“Believe you me there is plenty of ammunition - you read it and you just gulp.”