March 5, 2021

Reporter Known for Scoops Is Held in Hacking Inquiry

The reporter, James Desborough, worked in Britain for the newspaper for four years before being sent to Hollywood in 2009. It is not clear when the crimes he is suspected of committing — gaining illegal access to other people’s voice mail messages — took place. Until 2005, Mr. Desborough covered celebrity culture for The People, a Sunday tabloid owned by Trinity Mirror, which also publishes The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror.

He was sent to Hollywood by The News of the World shortly after being named “showbiz reporter of the year” at the annual British Press Awards. The judges said Mr. Desborough had “produced a series of uncompromising scoops which mean no celebrity with secrets can sleep easy.”

Among those articles was an exclusive report revealing that Fern Britton, a British television personality who claimed to have lost a large amount of weight through diet and exercise, had in fact had gastric band surgery. Mr. Desborough also appears to have been the first journalist to report that Peaches Geldof, daughter of the rock star Bob Geldof, was getting a divorce after a hurried marriage in 2008.

In addition, Mr. Desborough wrote exclusive articles about Heather Mills before her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney. Ms. Mills recently said she believed that she had, at some point, been a victim of phone hacking.

Mr. Desborough, after winning the reporting award in 2009, said in an interview with its sponsor, The Press Gazette, that he was working at a “very difficult time for the tabloid market.”

“A lot of deals are done these days between P.R.’s and papers,” he said, referring to public relations professionals. Speaking of his own articles, he said: “These stories were all old-fashioned journalism where we said, ‘We know this to be true, would you like to comment?’ ”

The Metropolitan Police did not identify Mr. Desborough by name in announcing the arrest, but the person close to the investigation confirmed his identity. The police said that the suspect was taken to a London police station at 10:30 a.m. and that he was questioned into the afternoon.

He has not been formally charged. It is common practice in Britain for charges in such cases to be brought months after an arrest. An arrest does not mean a suspect will be charged.

Most of the other people arrested in the phone hacking investigation have been released after hours of questioning and ordered to report back to the authorities in the fall.

They include former News of the World reporters and editors, including Andy Coulson, an editor who later was the communications chief for Prime Minister David Cameron, and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, The News of the World’s parent company and the British arm of the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate.

Also on Thursday, a private investigator who is one of the central figures in the scandal, Glenn Mulcaire, sued the newspaper unit of News International, Bloomberg News reported. In 2007, Mr. Mulcaire and a News of the World reporter were jailed in a phone hacking case that News International executives had long maintained was the lone episode of phone hacking at the tabloid.

The lawsuit’s specifics were not made public, but they appeared to involve Mr. Mulcaire’s legal fees. Last month, the payments were abruptly halted after members of Parliament questioned Mr. Murdoch and his son James about them. Mr. Mulcaire is a defendant in roughly 40 suits over phone hacking accusations.

Don Van Natta Jr. contributed reporting from Miami. 

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