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Phone-hacking whistleblower found dead

2:19 PM, Jul 18, 2011   |    comments
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LONDON (CNN) -- One of the first journalists to go on the record and allege phone hacking at News of the World was found dead Monday, the British Press Association said.

Sean Hoare, a former News of the World employee who said Andy Coulson "encouraged" phone-hacking, "was discovered at his home in Watford, Hertfordshire, after concerns were raised about his whereabouts," the press association said.

"The death is being treated as 'unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious,'" the report quoted Hertfordshire police as saying.

The Guardian reported that Hoare had recently been injured his nose and his foot in an accident. It was unclear whether those injuries were linked to his death.

Hoare had publicly accused News of the World of phone-hacking and using "pinging" -- a method of tracking someone's cell phone using technology that only police and security officials could access -- according to the New York Times.

Hoare was one of the few sources who allowed his name to be used when speaking to the Times last year for an investigative report about allegations of phone-hacking by the British tabloid.

In his remarks, he specifically accused Andy Coulson -- former editor of News of the World, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's communications director -- of wrongdoing.

The Times described Hoare has a "onetime close friend of Coulson's."

"The two men first worked together at The Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson," the Times wrote in its report last September. "At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits. Coulson 'actively encouraged me to do it,' Hoare said."

The report added that Hoare said he was "fired during a period when he was struggling with drugs and alcohol. He said he was now revealing his own use of the dark arts -- which included breaking into the messages of celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham -- because it was unfair for the paper to pin the blame solely on" one reporter who covered the royal family.

"Coulson declined to comment for this article but has maintained that he was unaware of the hacking," the report said.

Coulson worked for Cameron until the police launched their new phone-hacking investigation in January, then resigned, still protesting his innocence, but saying he had become a distraction for the prime minister.

Last week, the Times reported that Hoare, a former show-business reporter for News of the World, also described "pinging" by the newspaper. "Pinging" is a term for locating a person using his or her cell phone number -- something that only law enforcement and security officials are allowed to do, the paper reported

Hoare "said that when he worked there, pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each occasion," the Times reported.

A second former editor at the paper backed Hoare's account, speaking anonymously, the Times reported.

The Times reported that people on the police payroll were bribed to use the technology to pinpoint people's locations, according to the two former News of the World journalists.

The Guardian newspaper also spoke to Hoare last week. He told them the idea that Coulson wasn't aware of pinging "bollocks," noting that "the chain of command is one of absolute discipline" at News of the World.

Hoare "repeatedly expressed the hope that the hacking scandal would lead to journalism in general being cleaned up and said he had decided to blow the whistle on the activities of some of his former News of the World colleagues with that aim in mind," the Guardian reported Monday.

"He also said he had been injured at a party the previous weekend while taking down a marquee erected for a children's party. He said he had broken his nose and badly injured his foot when a relative accidentally struck him with a heavy pole from the marquee," the report said.

Hoare emphasized that he was not making money from telling his story, the Guardian reported.

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