British police likely to quiz PM's communications chief over tabloid phone hacking claims

LONDON (AP) — A key aide to Prime Minister David Cameron will be questioned by police over allegations a major British tabloid illegally eavesdropped on politicians and celebrities — including the British princes, a senior Scotland Yard officer said Tuesday.

Assistant police commissioner John Yates told a parliamentary committee that Cameron's communications director Andy Coulson, the newspaper's former editor, is expected to meet with investigators after they look into new allegations made by an ex-reporter.

Coulson quit as editor of the 3 million-circulation weekly News of The World in 2007 after the newspaper's royal reporter was convicted of hacking phone voicemail messages and jailed, along with a private investigator.

The pair were found to have accessed voice messages left for royal officials, including some from Princes William and Harry.

Coulson has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, or knowing that hacking cell phones was widespread among his former staff.

In an article published Sunday, the New York Times quoted a former reporter, Sean Hoare, and other unnamed ex-staff as claiming that Coulson had in fact been aware of the practice.

Yates said that police would soon speak with Hoare, who was fired from the tabloid, and discuss with prosecutors whether their inquiry should be reopened.

He said officers would also speak with Coulson, who has said he is willing to meet with investigators. "At some stage, I imagine we would be seeing him in some capacity," Yates told the committee.

Yates said he had written Tuesday to the New York Times asking editors to review a decision not to assist the police by supplying materials from the newspaper's interviews.

Executive editor Bill Keller said that to do so would contravene newspaper policy. Keller was quoted by the Times on Monday as saying "police already have evidence that they have chosen not to pursue."

Critics of the original police inquiry claim officers failed to adequately examine practices at the newspaper. Yates acknowledged officers should have interviewed the newspaper's chief reporter, whose name appeared in some documents related to transcripts of the hacked messages.

At the time of the initial inquiry, police said there was no evidence of widespread illegal behavior at the newspaper. However, the Times claimed Coulson had participated in dozens or even hundreds of meetings where hacking was discussed.

Scotland Yard found nearly 3,000 cell phone numbers over the course of their initial investigation and said hundreds of people were thought to have been targeted. But it is likely far fewer had their phones actually broken into.

Yates told lawmakers the targets may have included athletes and models, in addition to legislators and members of the royal family.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz later announce the committee will hold a full inquiry into the issue of phone hacking. He said Yates had "raised a number of questions of importance about the law on phone hacking, the way the police deal with such breaches of the law and the manner in which victims are informed of those breaches."

Cameron's Downing Street office has said Coulson has the prime minister's support.

The News of the World denies phone hacking was widespread, and it has accused the New York Times of being motivated by commercial rivalry. The tabloid is owned by News International Ltd., a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., whose U.S. media outlets include Fox Television, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal — which is in fierce competition with The New York Times.