Lecturer quizzed in hacking probe

 

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The Independent Online

A university lecturer was questioned today over phone-hacking at the News of the World.

Bethany Usher, who worked at the axed Sunday tabloid and its former rival the People, has been bailed until late March after being held in Northumbria, sources said.

The 31-year-old - who was questioned by officers in 2006 on suspicion of providing false information for a job at Buckingham Palace - is the 17th arrest under Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting.

Officers said the suspect was being held this morning in connection with conspiring to intercept communications.

Ms Usher, who worked in the newspaper industry for seven years, is currently a senior journalism lecturer at Teesside University.

She studied at Leeds University before getting her first job as a trainee reporter on the Sunderland Echo.

According to her biography on the university's website: "Bethany has won four awards and was named young journalist of the year in 2003."

Regarding her arrest, a spokesman for the university said: "We cannot comment on an ongoing investigation."

Ms Usher has referred several times to the Leveson Inquiry on her Twitter page, bethanyusher.

One tweet yesterday read: "For god sake Paul McMullen, shut your sickening trap."

Another, posted on Monday, said: "Am I the only former tabloid reporter who followed the #PCC? #Leveson. Hey kids. They the rules, stick to them. #mediateesside."

She is the first Weeting arrest since sports journalist Raoul Simons, 35, was held in September.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "At 06.35am officers arrested the woman on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages... It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details at this time."

The arrest came as Labour MP Peter Hain met detectives over claims that his computer was hacked while he was Northern Ireland Secretary.

Police are examining evidence suggesting that his files, as well as those of senior civil servants and intelligence agents, were targeted by private detectives who may have been working for News International.

Media lawyer Charlotte Harris, of Mishcon de Reya, will act on Mr Hain's behalf for the case, which comes under the force's Operation Tuleta, running alongside the Weeting phone-hacking probe.

Scotland Yard's phone-hacking squad is working its way through 300 million emails from News International.

Detectives have arrested a series of high-profile figures, including former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and ex-Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson.

The scandal has already led to the closure of the News of the World after 168 years, prompted a major public inquiry and forced the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates.

New Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe says police have already spent up to £3 million on salaries, with officers speaking to 1,800 of 6,000 potential victims.

A total of 120 officers and staff are now working on the entire investigation after 1,800 people came forward to express fears that they may have been victims of hacking.

PA