Arrest of LA correspondent takes hacking scandal into new territory

James Desborough is fourth NOTW journalist recruited from 'The People' to be arrested, following Neil Wallis, Ian Edmondson and James Weatherup

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The Independent Online

The US editor of the News of the World, who provided the paper with a string of showbusiness scoops on both sides of the Atlantic, yesterday became the 13th person to be arrested by police investigating phone hacking at the now defunct Sunday tabloid.

James Desborough, who became the newspaper's Los Angeles-based correspondent in 2009 after winning an award as Britain's best showbusiness reporter, flew back from America to be arrested by appointment at a south London police station by officers from Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemails.

The 38-year-old is the first NOTW journalist working in America to be detained as part of the phone hacking scandal – prompting an excited reaction in the US – although it is understood that his arrest relates to his work for the paper while still working in Britain. He joined the NOTW as a showbusiness reporter in 2005 from its rival Sunday tabloid, The People.

In a statement, Scotland Yard said: "Officers from Operation Weeting have arrested a man on suspicion of conspiring to unlawfully intercept voicemails. He was arrested by appointment at a London police station and remains in custody."

Mr Desborough is the fourth journalist recruited from rival Sunday red-top The People to the NOTW under the editorship of former Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson to have been arrested by officers from Weeting.

Neil Wallis, who joined the NOTW as deputy editor in 2003 from the Trinity Mirror-owned People, was arrested last month on suspicion of conspiracy to hack phone messages.

His former assistant editor at The People, Ian Edmondson, became one of the first journalists to be arrested by Weeting when he was detained in April following his dismissal from the NOTW four months earlier. James Weatherup, an assistant editor at the NOTW who was also arrested by Weeting officers in April, had worked alongside Mr Desborough, Mr Edmondson and Mr Wallis at The People.

Mr Desborough was considered to be one of the paper's best-performing journalists in the high-pressure world of Sunday tabloids, regularly beating rivals to showbusiness stories and notably scoring successes in his coverage of the break up of the marriage of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.

He was named showbusiness reporter of the year in the 2009 British Press Awards and was appointed the paper's US editor shortly afterwards. He was presented his award by Jon Snow, the Channel 4 News presenter.

Living in Hollywood and deploying the tactics of Britain's famously battle-hardened tabloid entertainment correspondents, Mr Desborough won plaudits for his work. His revelations about the investigation into the death of Michael Jackson included one story with the headline "Jacko had cocaine in his pants".

His arrest is the latest link between the phone hacking scandal and America. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal reported this week that American authorities have widened their inquiry into News Corp to establish whether there are grounds for investigating corporate wrongdoing at the media giant's US subsidiaries.

But the paper said a separate inquiry by the FBI into claims that NOTW journalists tried to instruct a private investigator to hack the phones of victims of the 9/11 attacks had so far failed to find any "hard evidence" to substantiate the allegations.

'No celebrity with secrets can sleep easy'

When James Desborough was named Britain's best showbusiness journalist in 2009, the judging panel was in no doubt about its reasons for giving him the award. Its citation praised him for "uncompromising scoops which mean no celebrity with secrets can sleep easy".

After working for more than a decade in the PR-infested world of entertainment reporting, the News of the World hack had indeed secured a number of exclusives that would have been valuable to his editors. They included the revelation that Fern Britton, who claimed to have lost a large amount of weight by dieting and exercise, had in fact undergone gastric band surgery. Mr Desborough also broke the news that Peaches Geldof, daughter of Bob Geldof, was obtaining a divorce after a Las Vegas wedding.

But the reporter has not had an unblemished record. The NOTW paid an undisclosed sum to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt last year after it published a story written by Mr Desborough wrongly stating that the couple had split up. The journalist has insisted that his stories are not the result of cosy deals with publicists. After receiving his British Press Award in 2009, he said: "A lot of deals are done these days between PRs and papers... These stories were all old-fashioned journalism where we said: 'We know this to be true; would you like to comment?'"