'News of the World' Whistle-Blower Reported Dead

The phone-hacking scandal in Britain took a tragic turn Monday with news of the death of a former reporter at the News of the World. News reports say Sean Hoare, was found dead at his home north of London. The police say there seem to be no suspicious circumstances. Hoare had alleged that his editor at the newspaper instructed him to tap into people's phones. The editor, who later worked as press adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, denies the allegation. NPR's Philip Reeves joins Michele Norris from London.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

It's seems that barely an hour goes by without another staggering new development in the phone hacking saga in Britain. The scandal has already engulfed Rupert Murdoch's media empire and has the British government in damage control mode.

Well, the story took a tragic turn today with news of the death of a former reporter at the news of the world, a reporter who turned whistleblower.

We're joined now from London by NPR's Philip Reeves. And, Phil, what can you tell us about this reporter?

PHILIP REEVES: He was a guy called Sean Hoare. He used to be a showbiz reporter at the News of the World. He was fired for drink and drugs abuse, according to the paper. It is widely known that he had a problem in that area. Hoare was the first former reporter from the News of the World to publicly blow the whistle on phone hacking at the paper. The first to say on the record that hacking into voicemails was endemic.

He also, in particular, made allegations about the British Prime Minister David Cameron's former communications chief, Andy Coulson. Coulson was editor at the News of the World while Hoare worked there. Hoare, last year, told The New York Times, which was investigating all this, that Coulson knew all about the hacking at the paper, and in fact actively encouraged him to do it. Coulson has always denied any knowledge of phone hacking.

NORRIS: Do we know more about how Sean Hoare died?

REEVES: We know that he was found this morning at his home in Watford, near London. Police there say that his death is so far unexplained, but they say it's not thought to be suspicious. They're still investigating, though. Hoare's death is proving, however, to be a bombshell here, because it comes - apart from anything else - hot on the heels of the resignation over the last day of two of Britain's top policemen from Scotland Yard, including the chief.

Their heads rolled after it emerged that their force, the London Metropolitan Police, hired as an advisor and executive from the News of the World despite the phone hacking allegations against the paper, and that its executives recently been arrested over hacking allegations.

All this is raising all sorts of questions. Among them, questions about the cozy relationship between the police and the News of the World, and whether that relationship caused the police to hold back in their efforts to really get to the bottom of the phone hacking scandal.

NORRIS: Now, Philip, you mentioned Sean Hoare's former editor Andy Coulson and the link to Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron. How is that playing out?

REEVES: Well, it's in a way, for Cameron, from his perspective, it's a blow upon a bruise. He's under growing pressure over all this. One measure of that is the fact that Cameron is cutting short a five-day trip to Africa and flying home on the second day of that trip, that's tomorrow. He's called for a special sitting of Parliament on Wednesday for an emergency debate on all of this, on the scandal.

The opposition Labour Party is accusing him of making a major error of judgment by hiring Coulson. And some, a few, Labour MPs are calling on Cameron now to resign. So, overall, this is becoming very uncomfortable for the British prime minister.

NORRIS: I know I have to let you go, but tomorrow is a critical day in this unfolding affair with all eyes on Britain's Parliament. What do we expect to happen there?

REEVES: Well, particularly on the select committee of British parliamentarians, where Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks - the former chief executive of News International who was arrested over the weekend - are expected to appear. That's going to be a very big day, very dramatic.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Philip Reeves reporting from London. Phil, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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