British private eye bailed after hacking arrest: reports

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A private investigator who was previously jailed for his role in phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World was bailed Wednesday after police probing the scandal detained him earlier in the day.

Police said a 41-year-old man had been arrested at 0700 GMT on suspicion of phone hacking and perverting the course of justice, and the BBC and the partly Murdoch-owned Sky News identified him as Glenn Mulcaire.

The arrest is the 18th made by officers working on Operation Weeting, the investigation set up in January into the illegal hacking of mobile phone voicemails at the paper, which was closed down in July.

"On 7 December 2011 officers from Operation Weeting arrested a man in connection with phone hacking and perverting the course of justice," London's Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

"The man was taken into custody at a south London police station and this evening released on bail to a date in late March, pending further investigation.

"It would be inappropriate to discuss any further details at this time," the statement added.

A Scotland Yard spokesman refused to confirm the reports that the man was Mulcaire when contacted by AFP.

Mulcaire's London-based lawyers also declined to comment.

Mulcaire, a former footballer turned private detective, and the News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman were jailed for six months in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of aides of Britain's royal family.

Goodman was re-arrested in July.

Rebekah Brooks, a former top executive in Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire, and Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor and Prime Minister David Cameron's former media chief, are among those previously arrested.

The Murdoch-owned News of the World was closed in July amid a storm of phone-hacking allegations, including that a private investigator had hacked the voicemail of a murdered teenage girl, Milly Dowler.

Last month Mulcaire denied claims made at a press ethics inquiry set up by the government in the wake of the scandal that he had deleted some of Dowler's voicemails, giving her parents false hope that she was alive.

Separately on Wednesday, lawyers working for News Corporation revealed that lawmaker Tom Watson, a long-time Murdoch critic, had been placed under surveillance in 2009.

Legal firm Linklaters told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee that it had arranged for private investigator Derek Webb to follow Watson for five days.

Also Wednesday, Coulson launched a legal battle at the High Court in London against his former employer after it stopped paying his legal fees.

Coulson is suing a subsidiary of News International, the British newspaper wing of Murdoch's US-based News Corporation empire, over a clause in his severance agreement with the firm when he quit the News of the World in 2007.

His lawyer James Laddie asked for a declaration that Coulson's ex-employer "must pay the professional costs and expenses properly incurred... in defending allegations of criminal conduct" during his editorship.

"I should make it clear at this stage that the claimant denies any allegations of wrongdoing," Laddie said.

Coulson was not in court for the hearing.

After quitting the News of the World in 2007 following the jailing of Mulcaire and Goodman, Coulson went on to become Cameron's communications director.

But he resigned that post in January after he came under pressure over the phone-hacking scandal.

Mulcaire also launched legal action against Murdoch's empire in August after it stopped paying his legal costs.

© 2011 AFP

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