Rupert Murdoch's News Group suspended one of the most senior journalists at the News of the World last night following a "serious allegation" of phone-hacking, placing renewed pressure on the Conservative director of communications, Andy Coulson, the former editor of the newspaper.
The shock suspension of Ian Edmondson, who is assistant editor (news) at Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, follows the allegation that he was involved in hacking into the phone of the actress Sienna Miller, who is suing News Group.
Lawyers acting for Ms Miller have filed in to court a 20-page document which claims that notes compiled by the disgraced private investigator Glenn Mulcaire indicate that Mr Edmondson instructed him to intercept her voicemail and to target her friends and family, including her partner Jude Law.
Mulcaire and the former News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman were jailed for phone-hacking in 2007 after a court heard that they conspired to intercept the voicemails of members of the royal household.
Yesterday News Group issued a statement saying a "serious allegation" had been made about a member of the News of the World staff. "We have followed our internal procedures and we can confirm that this person was suspended from active duties just before Christmas," it said. "The allegation is the subject of litigation and our internal investigation will take place in tandem with that. If the conclusion of the investigation or the litigation is that the allegation is proven, appropriate action will be taken. The News of the World has a zero-tolerance approach to any wrong-doing."
The suspension of Mr Edmondson increases the pressure on Mr Coulson, who has assured MPs that Goodman had been a rogue operator within his newspaper and that there had been no culture of phone-hacking. "Goodman deceived the managing editor's office and he deceived me," Mr Coulson told a committee of MPs when questioned in 2009.
News Group has determinedly supported that line but it has become clear that the phone-hacking story is not going to go away as individuals have continued to come forward with legal claims against the News of the World's publishers.
Mr Murdoch's organisation has reached out-of-court settlements in cases brought by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, and Max Clifford, the publicist.
Allegations against Mr Edmondson, a long-standing News of the World journalist who worked under Mr Coulson, have been raised in a number of recent cases. The documents filed in the Miller claim state that in several cases Mulcaire's notes "were marked 'Ian' in the top left-hand corner, which the claimant infers to be Ian Edmondson".
In a judgment made in November in respect of a separate claim brought by Nicola Phillips, Mr Clifford's personal assistant, Mr Justice Mann made several references to Mr Edmondson and upheld Ms Phillips's application for Mulcaire to be compelled to reveal who at the News of the World had asked him to investigate Mr Clifford.
One of the questions that Ms Phillips wanted Mulcaire to answer was: "Did Ian Edmonson request him to investigate individuals connected with Max Clifford?"
The Independent has seen a judgment made in October relating to a claim brought against News Group by Andy Gray, the Sky Sports commentator, another branch of Mr Murdoch's empire. Mr Gray also claims his phone was hacked by Mulcaire on behalf of the News of the World.
Mr Justice Floyd rejected News Group's attempts to stop the commentator gaining access to documentation held by the office of the Information Commissioner, who investigated the unlawful trade in confidential information in 2006, after the commissioner's office said it believed the material related to "illegal activities" and was "likely to be helpful" to Mr Gray.