British police arrest four Mirror journalists over phone hacking

Four current and former Mirror Group Newspaper (MGN) journalists were arrested on Thursday by police investigating the hacking of mobile phones, London’s Metropolitan Police said.

Police said the inquiry “mainly concerned” the Sunday Mirror tabloid and was into a suspected conspiracy to intercept telephone voicemail messages at MGN between 2003 to 2004.

It is the first time journalists from MGN, part of the Trinity Mirror media group, have been arrested over phone hacking in a scandal centered on telephone interception at Rupert Murdoch’s now-closed News of the World tabloid.

MGN comprises three national titles: the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People.

Police said they were treating the Mirror inquiry as a separate conspiracy to those under investigation from the News of the World.

Officers from the force’s hacking inquiry – known as Operation Weeting – arrested three men and one woman at separate addresses in south London on suspicion of conspiracy to intercept telephone communications. Police said they were all journalists or former journalists on MGN titles.

Police said they would be making contact with people they suspected had been victims of the suspected voicemail interceptions.

There was no immediate comment from Trinity Mirror other than to confirm the police’s statement.

Trinity Mirror has previously said it had not carried out an investigation into any alleged illegal practices at its titles because there was no evidence its journalists had hacked any phones.

But the group’s shares lost around 17 million pounds ($27.26 million) in value in October when a lawyer who handled many of the original phone-hacking cases filed legal claims against Trinity Mirror on behalf of four people, including the former England soccer manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Shares in Trinity were down 10 percent by mid-morning on Thursday, after an initial 6 percent fall following the company’s full-year trading results.

Operation Weeting was set up to investigate claims that journalists and private detectives working for the News of the World, owned by News Corp’s British arm News International, repeatedly hacked into mobile phones.

Revelations that the hacking extended from celebrities and politicians to crime victims, including a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, caused public outrage.

The scandal escalated into a wider crisis embroiling the top echelons of the British political establishment, media, and police, and led to Murdoch closing down the News of the World in July 2011.

Tens of people from Murdoch’s British tabloids have been arrested for hacking voice messages and for conspiring to make payments to public officials.