* Spotlight on David Cameron’s head of communications
LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - British police said on Sunday they had sought more information about claims that reporters at the News of the World newspaper illegally hacked into voicemail accounts to eavesdrop on people’s phone messages.
The issue shines an awkward spotlight on the former career of the head of communications in Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, Andy Coulson, a former editor at the mass-market weekly paper, which has Britain’s highest circulation.
In 2007, Clive Goodman, who reported on the royal family for the paper, was jailed for four months after writing stories based on information from a private detective who had illegally accessed the voicemail messages of palace aides.
The newspaper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWSA.O), has always maintained that Goodman acted without the knowledge of senior editors, including Coulson. Coulson has said he knew nothing of the practice.
The issue resurfaced last week after the New York Times reported that illegal eavesdropping by reporters at the paper was widespread. Since then, former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare has said in a BBC interview that Coulson knew of it.
John Yates, assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, said the force had sought more information from the New York Times “and will consider this material, along with Sean Hoare’s recent BBC Radio interview, and will consult the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) on how best to progress”.
The case has been taken up by senior figures in the former Labour government, which lost an election in May to a coalition led by Cameron’s Conservatives.
Among those concerned about whether his phones were tapped is former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who has suggested the police may have been slow to disclose to him all the evidence they have about his case.
Yates said there was no evidence Prescott had been bugged.
“Lord Prescott has been provided with the information the (police force) has in its possession relevant to him,” he said.
On Friday, the News of the World said: “The New York Times story contains no new evidence — it relies on unsubstantiated allegations from unnamed sources or claims from disgruntled former employees that should be treated with extreme scepticism given the reasons for their departures from this newspaper.”
Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Peter Graff