Sean Hoare looks likely to take his place behind Princess Diana and David Kelly in the roll call of controversial deaths. Within hours of reports of his untimely demise, conspiracy theorists were questioning whether he had been murdered.
"Another murder cover-up?" asked one online. Another wrote: "Nothing that the British police can say will convince me that Sean Hoare's death was natural causes."
The decision of many newspapers, but not The Independent, to splash on the sensational death of the "phone-hacking whistleblower" posed the question in some readers' minds: was this man killed by the Murdoch empire? The answer is – unexcitedly but almost certainly – "no".
True, we do not yet have all the facts, but there are many reasons why Mr Hoare's death presents no more of a conspiracy than the failure of Princess Diana to fasten her seatbelt while being driven through the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris in 1997.
Firstly, Mr Hoare was not in possession of unique information about the wrongdoing at the News of the World, nor was he the only one to point the finger at Andy Coulson, its former editor. During its excellent investigation into the "hack attack" last year, The New York Times spoke to 12 current or former NOTW staff, who said hacking was rife.
Secondly, the new inquiry into phone hacking, Operation Weeting, was always unlikely to base its case on the testimony of one ex-employee. While statements may form part of its case, a much bigger part will rely on emails discovered or forensically recovered from News International's digital archive, electronic payment invoices and phone records.
Even if Weeting were to make personal testimony central, it was unlikely to have been Mr Hoare's, since he had been dismissed from the NOTW for drink and drug problems and could be portrayed as an unreliable witness.
Thirdly, the (unspoken but tangible) suggestion that News International might want to send death squads scuttling round Britain to silence witnesses is absurd, and especially so given the trouble it already faces.
Notwithstanding its dark arts, deceit and links to criminals, NI's new strategy is PR-led; it wants to now co-operate with the police and apologise for the mess.
Fourthly, Mr Hoare's death is not being investigated by the Metropolitan Police but by the Hertfordshire force, whose statement that the death was not thought to be suspicious was probably a disappointment to Hertfordshire's best detectives, who may have been only too keen to get one over on their big city colleagues.
Finally, Mr Hoare was not in good health. He was reported to be looking yellow and his doctor had remarked that he should have been dead.
And this is where Mr Hoare almost certainly was a "victim" of News International. He was told to do whatever it took to get the story; he went on marathon benders and snorted coke with rock stars. He had some great times as a show business journalist. But he decided to tell the truth about the illegal methods used to land stories. In that he was brave, and that is what he should be remembered for, not the manner of his passing.Reuse content