One of the News of the World's most senior journalists made an abject apology to the Prince of Wales and his sons yesterday after pleading guilty to a gross invasion of their privacy.
Clive Goodman, royal editor at the Sunday newspaper, admitted conspiracy to intercept telephone calls "without lawful authority" between 1 November, 2005 and 9 August, 2006.
As he sat in the Old Bailey dock, his counsel John Kelsey-Fry QC said: "He wishes through me to take the first opportunity to apologise publicly to those affected by his actions. He accepts they were a gross invasion of privacy.
"He therefore apologises unreservedly to the three members of the Royal Household staff concerned and their principals, Prince William, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales."
Goodman was remanded on unconditional bail for pre-sentence reports along with his co-defendant Glenn Mulcaire, 35, a former footballer who is now a private investigator. The judge, Mr Justice Gross, warned: "I am not ruling out any options. It's a very serious matter."
Goodman, 48, from Putney, south-west London, was arrested after claims by members of the Prince of Wales's household of security breaches in its telephone network.
The case came to light when Prince William began to fear aides' mobile phone voicemail messages were being intercepted after a story about his knee injury appeared in the News of the World in November last year although few people were aware of it.
A second article a week later claimed that Tom Bradby, ITV's political editor, had lent the Prince some broadcasting equipment. When the pair met a week later, they concluded that mobile voicemail messages could have been intercepted.
Mulcaire, of south-west London, admitted the same offence as well as five further charges of unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages left by the publicist Max Clifford; the footballer Sol Campbell's agent Skylet Andrew; chairman of the Professional Footballers Association Gordon Taylor; the MP Simon Hughes and the model Elle Macpherson. Fourteen other "alternative" charges which both Goodman and Mulcaire had originally faced were ordered to be left on the file.
They alleged the men intercepted voicemail messages left for other high-profile names. These were the Prince of Wales's aide, Helen Asprey; Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, the ex-SAS officer who is private secretary to Princes William and Harry and Prince Charles's communications secretary, Paddy Harverson.
Mr Clifford said he was not surprised to discover his calls were being tapped. "Clive Goodman has been caught doing something which is becoming far more widespread in tabloid journalism in recent years," he said, adding: "I suppose the only way you can justify this kind of activity is when the end product is something that genuinely is something the nation can benefit from, something to do with national security.
"But for tittle-tattle and gossip, then the end does not justify the means."
Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World, said yesterday: "I apologise unreservedly on behalf of the News of the World to Prince William and Prince Harry, Paddy Harverson, Helen Asprey and Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton for the distress caused by this invasion into their privacy.
"As the editor of the newspaper, I take ultimate responsibility for the conduct of my reporters. Clive Goodman's actions were entirely wrong and I have put in place measures to ensure that they will not be repeated by any member of my staff.
"I have also written today to Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales's private secretary, to this effect. The News of the World will also be making a substantial donation to charities of the Princes' choice."
Sir Christopher Meyer, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, added that the commission's journalistic code of practice was absolutely clear on the issue of phone message tapping. "It is a totally unacceptable practice unless there is a compelling public interest reason for carrying it out. In this case, a crime has been committed as well - something which I deplore."
How he was caught
It was a relatively tame story in Clive Goodman's Blackadder column that first raised suspicions.
The piece appeared on 6 November last year claiming a knee injury had led Prince William to postpone a mountain rescue course. So few people were aware of his doctor's appointment that the Prince was left questioning the source. A second article a week later compounded his fears that aides' mobile phone messages were being intercepted.
The article said Tom Bradby, ITV's political editor, had lent William some equipment. It said: "If ITN do a stocktake on their portable editing suites this week, they might notice they're one down." But the piece appeared a week before the pair were due to meet. Mr Bradby disclosed: "When he and I hooked up, we both looked at each other and said, 'Now, how on earth did that get out?'."Reuse content