Yesterday former News of the World showbiz reporter Sean Hoare was found dead at his flat in Watford. Police said they are not treating his death as suspicious.
Mr Hoare, 47, who accused his former editor, Andy Coulson, of complicity in the illegal activity, was discovered at his home days after he made a series of fresh allegations against executives under whom he worked.
The news came as David Cameron cut short a trip to Africa to fly home as another day of developments turned the phone hacking scandal into his gravest crisis as Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron, who employed Mr Coulson as his Downing Street media strategist after the former editor quit his post at the News of the World, faces a barrage of questions from MPs tomorrow after Parliament’s summer recess was delayed so he could make an emergency Commons statement.
Mr Hoare, who worked for The Sun and the News of the World until 2005, became a key figure in the phone hacking scandal last year when he was the first reporter to go on the record with allegations that Mr Coulson not only knew about hacking, but “actively encouraged” his staff to intercept voicemail messages.
He told the New York Times that Mr Coulson’s claims that he knew nothing about phone hacking were “simply a lie”. He later told the BBC that his former editor had personally asked him to access phone messages, a claim that Mr Coulson denied.
Mr Hoare, who was later interviewed under caution by police, made fresh allegations last week, when he said News of the World executives paid police officers to locate “targets” by using their mobile phone signal in an operation known as “pinging”.
Then he told a Guardian journalist: “There’s more to come. This is not going to go away.” Mr Hoare, who was interviewed under caution last September by police, was found dead at his home in Watford, Herts, yesterday morning after concerns were raised about his whereabouts.
A spokesman for Hertfordshire Police said: “The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious.”
Mr Hoare had been treated in the past for drink and drug problems, and badly injured his foot earlier this month in an accident.
His father, John, of Ickenham, west London, said he was “totally bemused” by his son’s death and added: “All I can say is I think eventually he will be proved right.”
In a separate development earlier yesterday, Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates resigned as the fallout from the phone hacking scandal continues.
The move came as Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Metropolitan Police Commissioner last night over his relationship with the paper’s former executive editor Neil Wallis.
Mr Yates announced he was standing down today shortly after the Metropolitan Police Authority told him he would be suspended — also over his relationship with Mr Wallis.
He said his conscience was clear tonight as he spoke of his “deep regret” over his resignation after 30 years as an officer and said the decision was a matter of great personal frustration.
Mr Yates said: “We in the police service are truly accountable. Those of us who take on the most difficult jobs clearly have to stand up and be counted when things go wrong. However, when we get things wrong, we say so and try and put them right.
“As I have said very recently, it is a matter of great personal regret that those potentially affected by phone hacking were not dealt with appropriately.”
The police watchdog has been asked to investigate the conduct of the Mr Yates when he reviewed whether the phone hacking inquiry should be re-opened in 2009 and allegedly inappropriately secured a job for a friend’s daughter.
Both the men quit shortly after ex-News International chief Rebekah Brooks was arrested over allegations of corruption and phone hacking yesterday. London Mayor Boris Johnson said it was right for both Sir Paul and Mr Yates to stand down.
As well as being referred to the IPCC over links to Mr Wallis, Mr Yates has also been recalled to appear before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating phone hacking, tomorrow. [via The Telegraph (UK), The Daily Mail (UK), Press Gazette (UK) and The Sun (UK)]