Two tabloid journalists were arrested Tuesday in a phone-hacking scandal that has reached into the highest echelons of Britain's government and involved the royal family.
The two men were arrested on suspicion of illegally intercepting voice mail messages left on cellphones. Authorities declined to name the pair, but British news reports identified them as Neville Thurlbeck and Ian Edmondson, the chief reporter and former news editor, respectively, of the News of the World, a British weekly specializing in celebrity gossip and sensational stories.
The two allegedly took part in a widespread effort by reporters at the tabloid to tap into the cellphones of movie stars, professional athletes and other celebrities, in hopes of gleaning tidbits for publication. One former reporter for the paper, Clive Goodman, has already spent time in jail for illegally accessing messages left by Prince William and Prince Harry for their aides.
The scandal has turned into a headache for both the police and the government.
Scotland Yard has been accused of conducting a lackadaisical investigation into the initial allegations of phone hacking several years ago, reopening the case only after an expose appeared in the New York Times in September.
The government was embarrassed 2 1/2 months ago when Prime Minister David Cameron's chief spin doctor, Andy Coulson, resigned after being questioned over the affair. Coulson was the News of the World's editor when Goodman was arrested and convicted in 2007 but had insisted he knew nothing of the phone hacking that was taking place during his tenure.
Prosecutors said they had no evidence to file charges against Coulson, but he stepped down as Cameron's aide because, he said, he had become an unnecessary distraction for the government.
Edmondson was fired from the tabloid in January because of the scandal. British news media said he and Thurlbeck were released on bail Tuesday evening after their homes were searched by detectives.
The high-profile figures who allege that their cellphones were hacked into include actress Sienna Miller and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. The News of the World is now the subject of several breach-of-privacy lawsuits.