The News of the World yesterday faced damaging new allegations about how many of its senior executives knew about phone hacking, after the private investigator convicted of intercepting messages told a court that he supplied illegally obtained voicemails to its news desk, which was manned by "different people".
Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of aides to Prince William while on a £100,000-a-year contract with the Sunday red-top, said in a statement that he could no longer recall to whom on the news desk he had passed the intercepts.
The High Court in London heard that, if true, the private investigator's evidence suggested the involvement of several NoW journalists in hacking and was "devastating" to the paper's long-held insistence that the practice was restricted to a "lone rotten apple" reporter.
Mr Mulcaire said, in the previously unpublished statement to lawyers for the football agent Sky Andrew: "Information was supplied to the news desk at The News of the World. This was manned by different people, [Mr Mulcaire] cannot now recall who in respect of this claimant [Mr Andrews] he passed the information to."
Until last month, the NotW had insisted that the hacking was restricted to the former royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed along with Mr Mulcaire. The paper appeared to abandon that stance when it sacked its head of news, Ian Edmondson, who the private detective has now said instructed him to hack Mr Andrew's phone. Mr Edmondson, a close lieutenant of the NotW's former editor Andy Coulson, has denied any wrongdoing.
Lawyers for Mr Andrew, one of five public figures whose mobile phones Mr Mulcaire admitted to hacking between 2005 and 2006, said that, if proved correct, the private investigator's new testimony "hit for six" the defence of the NoW, whose parent company News Group Newspapers (NGN) is being sued by the football agent for breaches of confidence and privacy over the unlawfully-intercepted messages.
Jeremy Reed, the barrister representing Mr Andrew, whose clients include the the former Arsenal and England player Sol Campbell, said: "I would argue this is devastating for NGN's defence. It strongly suggests the involvement of several other News of the World journalists. Put bluntly, it hits the NGN defence for six."
Mr Reed, who was applying for further evidence seized from Mr Mulcaire's Surrey home to be disclosed by the Metropolitan Police, said Mr Mulcaire's confirmation that he passed hacked voicemail messages to the NoW news desk – the part of the paper responsible for sifting and managing stories prior to publication – was a "mantra" which he repeats twice in his statement.
Following his arrest in August 2006, Mr Mulcaire, a former amateur footballer, formally admitted to hacking the phones of eight public figures: three senior members of the royal household; the publicist Max Clifford; the model Elle Macpherson; Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes; the former chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor; and Mr Andrew.
During the private detective's sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey in 2007, the court heard that the hacking victims who were not linked to the royal family would have been of little or no interest to Mr Goodman, raising the question of just who Mr Mulcaire was eavesdropping his other victims for. Lawyers at the hearing for Mr Mulcaire, who was on a £2,000-a-month contract to the NotW to provide legally obtained information but received separate payments for his hacking activities, said he was intercepting Mr Andrew's voicemails for "persons" at NGN other than Mr Goodman.
In a separate case being brought by Nicola Philips, a former employee of Mr Clifford, Mr Mulcaire has refused to say who at The News of the World instructed him to allegedly hack into her phone on the grounds that to do so would compel him to risk incriminating himself. The case is due to go before the Court of Appeal later this year.
In a statement responding to the Sky Andrew proceedings, News International said: "News International is aware of the information provided to the court and continues to be pro-active and cooperate fully with the relevant authorities regarding any ongoing investigations."
Earlier this week, it emerged that Kelly Hoppen, the interior designer who is a former partner of Mr Campbell, had been told by the Metropolitan Police that it held six pages of information on her from Mr Mulcaire's files, despite previously telling her on two separate occasions that she did not feature on the private detective's databank.