Millionaire playboy under investigation for tapping phone lines

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After the misdemeanours of a cocaine-fuelled youth and a marital breakdown played out in the gossip columns, few could blame Matthew Mellon, the scion of a £4bn oil and banking dynasty, for seeking a quieter life.

After the misdemeanours of a cocaine-fuelled youth and a marital breakdown played out in the gossip columns, few could blame Matthew Mellon, the scion of a £4bn oil and banking dynasty, for seeking a quieter life.

But the unerring ability of Mr Mellon, 41, the multimillionaire playboy whose great-grandfather set up Gulf Oil, to hit the headlines continued yesterday when it emerged that he was being investigated in connection with allegations of illegally tapping phone lines. He denies having committed any offence.

The businessman, whose estranged wife Tamara runs the £100m Jimmy Choo footwear chain, was arrested on Friday by Scotland Yard detectives investigating an alleged conspiracy between police officers and a detective agency to bug the phones of rich clients. Officers from the anti-corruption squad arrived at Mr Mellon's maisonette in Belgravia, central London, at 6am to make the arrest.

Mr Mellon, who took a near-fatal drugs overdose in the early 1990s, said recently that he was concentrating on a career away from the limelight as chief designer for Harry's of London, the upmarket shoe company he launched five years ago. It is understood the American, who is worth an estimated £50m and lists his hobbies as nude jet skiing and shooting, is being investigated over allegations of intercepting phone calls using computer equipment.

The offences can carry a jail term of up to five years.

The arrest was the latest in a series since BT alerted police last year that a central London private detective agency was allegedly offering to intercept calls for customers wanting personal or business information. Six men were arrested last September, including a 37-year-old Metropolitan Police officer, and a retired police officer, for intercepting calls and criminal damage to BT equipment.

Last month, a detective based at the Met's training centre in Hendon, north London, and a former detective were arrested on related charges. All nine, including Mr Mellon, have been released on police bail until May, when they are likely to learn if they will face charges.

Mr Mellon refused to comment yesterday. But the incident will set tongues wagging in the upper echelons of society on both sides of the Atlantic.

From a dalliance as a would-be film producer after inheriting a $25m (£14m) trust fund at the age of 21, to a string of celebrity girlfriends, the well-spoken millionaire has long attracted public interest.

Mr Mellon, whose friends include the actress Elizabeth Hurley, was reported last monthto be finalising a divorce agreement with his wife, who is estimated to have made £30m from the partial sale of her stake in Jimmy Choo last year.

Their marriage in May 2000 at Blenheim Palace was billed as an A-list love story after Mr Mellon proposed in a rose-filled limousine with a poem he had written. American Vogue devoted eight pages to the nuptials.

Their formal separation followed an affair in 2003 between Mrs Mellon, one of the "It" girls of the London party circuit in the 1990s, and Oscar Humphries, the son of Barry Humphries, creator of Dame Edna Everage. The liaison ended spectacularly when Humphries Junior, some 15 years younger than Mrs Mellon, wrote a long account of the relationship in The Daily Telegraph, protecting his lover by changing her age. Her identity was revealed within a week.

Mr Mellon, who insists he is friends with his estranged wife, comes from an American family which ranks alongside the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Astors in its wealth and influence.

Alongside its role in the oil industry, the dynasty established two banks and the family has properties in Manhattan, Maine and Florida. Mr Mellon's brother, Chris, works for the Bush administration in the Pentagon.

After several visits to addiction therapy clinics, Matthew Mellon has declared his drug-taking days behind him. When asked about his ability to stay off drugs and drink last month, he said: "It's about discipline, about making choices. You either want to go down a glowing path full of opportunity, or you want to go down a path towards hell. I start every day with meditation and prayer to a god of my own understanding."