The Attorney General has cleared the News of the World of committing a crime by paying £10,000 to a convicted conman for details of a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham.
The newspaper was investigated by the Press Complaints Commission after the high-profile collapse of the trial of five men into the alleged kidnapping of the former Spice Girl.
Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, concluded that the newspaper did not commit contempt of court by paying for the story, despite the outcome of the court case. His intervention came in the form of a letter to the PCC only days before the commission was due to formally publish its verdict, which also cleared the newspaper of breaching the editors' code of conduct on payments to witnesses.
The publication of the PCC's conclusion has been delayed in order to incorporate the views of Lord Goldsmith.
However, the News of the World described its "surprise" at the unexpected intervention of Lord Goldsmith, in the light of the position of the PCC as an independent body.
Stuart Kuttner, executive editor of the News of the World, told Press Gazette: "In my experience this is unprecedented. In the months leading up to the Beckham kidnap trial, our staff co-operated extensively with the police. We also assisted the PCC throughout its subsequent inquiry. "The PCC adjudication exonerated the News of the World. We have no reason to think the Attorney General's involvement will change that."
The News of the World story was based on information provided by Florim Gashi, a parking attendant from Kosovo, who was paid £10,000 as part of a deal arranged by Mazher Mahmood, the investigations editor at the paper.