The phone-hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World intensified on Thursday after the police arrested a third senior journalist from the newspaper in the early hours and carried out another search at the tabloid’s offices.
James Weatherup, news editor between 2004 and 2006, was questioned after being arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages. Mr Weatherup, who is a senior reporter at the newspaper, has been bailed until September.
Two plainclothes police officers entered the News of the World’s offices on Thursday to carry out a search and left with some property. The police investigation looks set to widen and there is speculation it could encompass more senior executives including Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, and Andy Coulson, former editor-in-chief of the paper who went on to become David Cameron’s director of communications.
The arrest marks the second public action in Operation Weeting , the Scotland Yard investigation that was launched after new evidence emerged that Clive Goodman, the former NoW royal editor, was not the paper’s only journalist involved in phone hacking.
The police last week arrested former news editor Ian Edmondson and chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and searched the paper’s offices. The pair have since been released on police bail. The arrest of Mr Weatherup comes less than a week after Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers (NGN), the parent company of the News of the World, admitted liability in certain cases related to the phone-hacking scandal and offered to pay compensation to certain public figures whose voicemail messages were intercepted on behalf of the Sunday tabloid.
Despite the growing number of civil cases against the newspaper it had maintained until its apology last week that phone hacking had been the work of one rogue reporter. Mr Goodman, and a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 for intercepting voicemails.
Lawyers for more than 24 celebrities, politicians and sports stars who are suing the paper are due to take part in a case management conference at the High Court today to determine how the cases are handled in the run-up to trial.
Many of the law firms representing claimants, including solicitors for Sienna Miller, the actress, have indicated that their clients have no plans to settle their lawsuits. NGN has made an offer of settlement and apology to eight celebrities and has approached a further nine people who have brought lawsuits and asked them for more evidence.
Charlotte Harris, a lawyer representing a number of the claimants, said her clients were “very very determined” to establish what had happened. However, some lawyers believe the tactics by News Group to offer settlements and an apology could put pressure on some celebrities to settle because of the potentially huge costs of pursuing the legal action through to trial. There has been speculation that the News Group settlement offer might be made under part 36 of the Civil Procedure Rules which allows defendants to offer claimants a so-called “reasonable” offer of settlement. News International declined to comment.
Most of the claims in the scandal have been made under breach of confidence and privacy grounds. It is notable that in this fast developing area of the law, that the highest award for damages in a privacy case so far was the £60,000 paid to Max Mosley by News of the World for the intrusion into his privacy.
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