LONDON -- Three people, including a journalist with the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid the Sun, were arrested during early-morning raids Thursday in connection with a wide-ranging investigation into payoffs of British police and public officials in exchange for information.
Officials also announced that Murdoch and his son James would testify next week before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics. Both men have already appeared before Parliament to answer questions about the widespread hacking of cellphones by the now-defunct News of the World in its hunger for sensational scoops.
The hacking scandal has spawned three criminal investigations into illegal news-gathering practices, centered mostly on papers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s giant News Corp.
At least two dozen people have now been arrested as part of the probe into alleged bribery of police and other officials. News International, News Corp.’s British subsidiary, confirmed that one of the suspects arrested Thursday is a journalist employed by the Sun, a bestselling newspaper famous for its stories on celebrity sleaze and its prominently displayed photos of topless women.
News International declined to name the journalist, but British media outlets identified him as Duncan Larcombe, the editor in charge of coverage of Britain’s royal family. Scotland Yard said only that a 36-year-old man had been arrested about 6 a.m. at his home in Kent, south of London, on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and to cause official misconduct.
About the same time, detectives also raided the home of a 42-year-old man and 38-year-old woman in Lancashire, in northern England. The man, described as a former member of the armed forces, was being questioned on suspicion of official misconduct.
Both of the homes were being searched, police said.
Larcombe testified in January before the same judge-led inquiry that has summoned the Murdochs. Larcombe told the inquiry that he was “massively surprised” to learn of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World. Revelations that the tabloid had illegally accessed voice mails left on the phone of a kidnapped girl who was later found slain prompted Rupert Murdoch to shut down the 168-year-old paper.
Larcombe said he had seen no evidence of such hacking at the Sun. He told the inquiry that, as the paper’s royal editor, he maintained a close working relationship with Buckingham Palace.
Phone hacking at the News of the World first came to public attention with the conviction of its royal reporter, Clive Goodman, who, along with a private investigator hired by the paper, went to jail in 2007 for intercepting voice mails left by Princes William and Harry for their aides.
Last year, British media said there was evidence that the News of the World paid police officers in the royal family’s security detail for information.
So far, more than 40 people -- including Rebekah Brooks, former head of News International -- have been arrested in connection with the three investigations arising from the hacking scandal. Most have been released on bail.
Earlier this week, Britain’s chief prosecutor said police had referred the cases of 11 suspects to his office to weigh whether charges ought to be filed against them. Brooks and her husband, Charlie, are among them.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: A journalist with the Sun tabloid was arrested in connection with an investigation into payoffs of British police and public officials in exchange for information. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press