Journalist held in royal phone tap row

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The Independent Online

A journalist for the News of the World has been arrested for allegedly intercepting telephone calls at Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales. Clive Goodman, 50, the newspaper's Royal Editor, was one of three men held by police yesterday.

Detectives believe that public figures beyond the Royal Household - thought to include an MP - have also been targeted. Scotland Yard has not ruled out the possibility that other Royal Households, including Buckingham Palace, could have had their phones intercepted, or that the conversations could have involved members of the Royal Family. Other public figures who could have been affected included Cabinet-level ministers - but not the Prime Minister - and high-profile celebrities, reports suggested.

Goodman was being questioned at Charing Cross police station in central London last night, a spokeswoman for the News of the World said. The police have conducted searches of business premises in Sutton, Chelsea and the News International offices in Wapping, where the News of the World is based.

Three employees at Clarence House reported the alleged security breaches within its telephone network to Scotland Yard's Royalty Protection unit in December last year. The investigation was passed to the force's Anti-Terrorism Branch, due to the wider security implications.

Sources said the claims did not relate to the tapping of live telephone calls, but another method of telephone interception or alleged hacking of phones. It is believed the allegations relate to the interception of mobile phone calls, rather than landline calls.

The former royal aide Dickie Arbiter said there was considerable sensitivity within the royal family over phone interceptions stemming from mobile phone tapping in the 1990s.

One of these incidents resulted in the publication of an intimate phone conversation, believed to be between Diana, Princess of Wales, and long-standing friend James Gilbey, in which he referred to her as "squidgy".

"If you cast your mind back there were several phone tappings, mainly of mobiles," Mr Arbiter told Sky News.

"There is a lot of sensitivity after these incidents with mobile telephones. Ever since those particular episodes they have taken phone calls very seriously."

He said it took the royals a long time to move on to external e-mails because of concerns over security.

"If they are tapping into telephone messages then they are going to have to re-look at their whole system because obviously there is a flaw somewhere," he said.

Last night the three men arrested yesterday under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 remained in police custody. The 48-year-old man was arrested at his home in Putney, south London, while the 35-year-old was held at his home in Sutton, also south London, both at 6am yesterday.

Mr Goodman was arrested in Sutton shortly before 9.30am. Officers have searched the residential address in Putney and the Sutton address of the 35-year-old man.

A Clarence House spokesman said last night they would not be commenting on the arrests.

The News of the World's Investigations Editor, Mazher Mahmood, was criticised last month over the methods he used to gain his exclusive stories. Three men were acquitted of plotting to buy red mercury, a substance used to make "dirty bombs", after a trial at the Old Bailey. The story had appeared on the front page of the newspaper. Defence lawyers said Mahmood's tactics and methods undermined the prosecution case, as a key witness stood to gain financially.

Last week, the newspaper was ordered to pay Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan £200,000 in damages after a defamation case.