REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A private investigator was hired by the now-defunct News of the World to spy on dozens of famous figures, including members of Britain's royal family and their friends, according to a new report on the lengths to which the tabloid allegedly went to dig up stories.
[Updated, 3:10 p.m., Nov. 8: In a program that aired Tuesday night, the BBC says it has seen a dossier compiled by private eye Derek Webb showing that he was paid by the News of the World to conduct surveillance operations on more than 90 people.]
Webb, a former police officer, told the BBC that his spying took place from 2003 until this year, when the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid shut down amid allegations of industrial-scale phone hacking.
Among those he tailed and took notes on, the BBC's report says, were Prince William, the second in line to the British throne; Peter Goldsmith, a former attorney general for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and sports commentator Gary Lineker.
Even relatives and friends of the rich and famous were targets, including the parents of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe and a onetime girlfriend of Prince Harry, Chelsy Davy.
"I followed her to where she was going, and on a number of occasions she would be picked up, and they'd either go to Clarence House [the prince's official residence] or ... she'd go to an address out in Oxfordshire," Webb told the BBC.
The surveillance does not appear to have been illegal. But the BBC said Webb's claim to have secretly followed Prince William around Gloucestershire five years ago raised questions about the security surrounding Britain's royal family.
[Updated, 11:50 a.m. Nov. 8: The revelations came a day after Webb disclosed that he had also been hired to dig up dirt on two lawyers who were helping suspected phone-hacking victims sue the News of the World. Webb said he had even secretly filmed the ex-wife and daughter of one of the attorneys as they were out shopping.]
BBC's Tuesday report comes at an awkward time for Murdoch's media empire, which has been badly embarrassed by the phone-hacking scandal in Britain.
On Thursday, James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son and possible heir as head of News Corp., is due to reappear before a committee of Parliament to answer questions about the scandal. At least one lawmaker has accused the younger Murdoch of misleading lawmakers when he previously denied any knowledge that the illegal tactic went beyond a single "rogue reporter" at the News of the World.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: James Murdoch and his father, Rupert, in London in July when both men gave evidence before Parliament in the phone-hacking scandal. Credit: Sang Tan / Associated Press