One of Rupert Murdoch's most senior and longest-serving journalists was arrested and questioned by detectives yesterday as police stepped up their inquiry into allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World.
As senior reporter James Weatherup was held at a London police station, detectives reportedly searched the NOTW offices at News International's headquarters in Wapping, east London. The newspaper's journalists repaired to a nearby pub, according to colleagues.
Mr Weatherup is the third senior NOTW figure to be arrested as part of Operation Weeting, the new Scotland Yard investigation into the paper's alleged interception of voicemail messages, launched four months ago after Britain's biggest newspaper company passed new evidence to police.
Neville Thurlbeck, 50, the NOTW's chief reporter, and former assistant editor Ian Edmondson, 42 – who was sacked around the turn of the year after the new evidence emerged – were arrested and released on police bail last week. Both are thought to deny involvement in hacking.
Three days after their arrest, on Friday, News International (NI) admitted wrongdoing at its top-selling title, spoke of its "sincere regret" and offered to set up a multi-million-pound fund to compensate eight high-profile victims with "justifiable claims", including the actress Sienna Miller, former culture secretary Tessa Jowell and football pundit Andy Gray. This week it emerged that NI will admit liability in a further nine civil cases.
The arrests further underline the Metropolitan Police's determination to investigate the scandal after criticism of an earlier inquiry by Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, which led to the jailing of NOTW royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2006, but which a Commons committee described as inadequate.
When counter-terrorism officers searched Mulcaire's home five years ago, they found 4,332 names, 2,978 mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes, but interviewed only one journalist, Goodman, and later insisted there had been only a handful of victims.
Mr Weatherup, 55, is a particularly high-ranking journalist at the newspaper, having worked as a reporter for 25 years. He served as a news editor between 2004 and 2006 – the period for which NI now admits hacking took place, later becoming a senior reporter.
His posts have included reporter, chief reporter, deputy news editor and news editor of The People and News of the World, according to his LinkedIn site. He wrote: "As well as breaking exclusive stories, managing huge budgets, I also advised stars on PR and media-related matters."
A police spokesman said a 55-year-old man had been arrested at 8am and taken to a London police station.
"The Operation Weeting team is conducting the new investigation into phone-hacking," he said.
"It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details regarding this case at this time."
Mr Weatherup was reported to have been bailed until September.