First Goodman, then Coulson: the day the police inquiry got serious

Computer and documents taken from home of Cameron's former spin-doctor
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The Independent Online

As a former chief spin-doctor and erstwhile editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson is well versed in the art of parrying awkward questions.

But until 10.30am yesterday, he had not been required to deploy his talents while under caution. He did so in a sparsely furnished interview room at Europe's largest police station.

The man who until January had an office in Downing Street as David Cameron's director of communications suffered the indignity of being photographed for a mugshot and having his DNA taken as he was arrested by appointment at Lewisham in south London on suspicion of conspiracy to hack voicemails and making corrupt payments to police officers.

As Mr Coulson, 43, was questioned by officers from two criminal inquiries, a chain of events which underlined the increasingly breathless nature of police investigations into the NOTW was beginning to unfold.

Detectives from Operation Weeting arrived at Mr Coulson's Victorian villa in Forest Hill to confiscate documents and a computer, while police had already been to the home of disgraced NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman.

Officers arrived at 53-year-old Mr Goodman's door at 6.11am and placed him under arrest for alleged corruption of police officers. As he was being questioned at another south London police station, detectives searched his home and his desk at the London offices of his present employer, The Daily Star Sunday, owned by Richard Desmond.

The Daily Star said Mr Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking royal household phones, had been working as a freelance reporter for the past year and police had been given a disc recording his computer activity at the paper.

A statement, released by former NOTW deputy editor Neil Wallis, who now works as a PR for Mr Desmond's title, said: "They were particularly interested to check Mr Goodman's current email contacts to cross-match them with those from his time at the News of the World. There was no suggestion that Mr Goodman had acted improperly... at the Daily Star Sunday."

As Mr Coulson and Mr Goodman were yesterday released on bail until October, a third man was arrested in connection with alleged payments made to police officers. Police said a 63-year-old member of the public was arrested in Surrey by police investigating phone hacking.

Strathclyde Police are investigating claims of phone hacking and breaches of data protection laws related to the NOTW after a complaint from the lawyer for disgraced former MSP Tommy Sheridan. Mr Coulson, who has consistently denied any knowledge of the phone hacking under his editorship, told Mr Sheridan's perjury trial last year that he was not aware of payments made by his paper to police.

The arrests of Mr Coulson and Mr Goodman under the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act followed the surrender to police in June by News International (NI) of internal emails allegedly showing that the NOTW paid serving police officers around £100,000 during the editorship of Mr Cameron's former confidant between 2003 and 2007.

Reports claimed that corrupt officers, understood to number about five, received payments of up to £30,000 a time from unnamed NOTW journalists during clandestine meetings at a drive-through McDonald's in east London.

News of the emails emerged this week despite an apparent agreement that it would be withheld until next month to allow officers from Operation Elveden, the new inquiry into the corruption claims, time to conduct their inquiries. NI said it had been forced to confirm the existence of the emails after it was accused by another publication of withholding them.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron said of Mr Coulson: "When you work with someone for four years as I did, and you work closely, you do build a friendship and I became friends with him. He became a friend and is a friend."

* A 63-year-old man who was arrested yesterday as part of the police inquiry into the phone hacking scandal has been bailed, police said.

The man was held last night in connection with alleged corrupt payments made to police officers.

Scotland Yard said he was arrested in Surrey by officers from Operations and Elveden and he has been bailed to return to a London police station in October.