The former chief reporter of the News of the World has been approached by Scotland Yard to give potentially vital evidence in the phone-hacking scandal against his former employer.
Neville Thurlbeck, a key figure in the crisis that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News International (NI), told i that detectives from a specialist Yard unit met him last week and asked him to consider turning "Queen's evidence" in return for possible immunity from prosecution.
The move represents a dramatic twist in Operation Weeting, the Metropolitan Police inquiry into voicemail interception at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid, suggesting that 11 months of investigation has led detectives to conclude that Mr Thurlbeck is more useful as a potential witness against senior figures in the Murdoch empire.
A total of 16 people, including Mr Thurlbeck, the former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks and the former NOTW editor Andy Coulson, have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in a phone- hacking conspiracy at the title. But with many suspects bailed until next March, it is understood the investigation, which has so far uncovered the names of 5,800 possible victims and has at least 11,000 pages of evidence, still has a long way to run.
Mr Thurlbeck last night revealed he had rejected the proposal and believes he will be exonerated by police enquiries or as a result of any court proceedings. The Yard declined to comment on Mr Thurlbeck's statement despite being provided with specific details of the specialist-witness unit from which officers had met him, he said, last Friday in central London. Mr Thurlbeck said: "I have informed Scotland Yard that while I fully understand and respect the reason for their request of me to give evidence for the Crown in any prosecution arising from Operation Weeting, it is my opinion that a detailed and forensic inquiry into my working methods by what is a highly professional police unit will fully exonerate me. So... I have declined their offer."