Former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare, who blew the whistle on widespread phone hacking at the title, has been found dead.
Mr Hoare, who also worked on The Sun, was pronounced dead at his home in Langley Road, Watford, shortly before 11am yesterday. Hertfordshire police said his death, although unexplained, was not suspicious. Investigations are continuing.
Police forensic officers were seen entering Mr Hoare's home at around 9.30pm last night carrying evidence bags, clipboards, torches and laptop-style bags.
Mr Hoare, who had health problems from drinking and drugs during his years as a showbusiness reporter, was the first News International journalist to allege that Andy Coulson had known about widespread phone hacking at the NOTW.
After being sacked by the NOTW when his health deteriorated, he told The New York Times that Mr Coulson actively encouraged his staff to eavesdrop on messages on celebrities' phones. Mr Hoare, once a close friend of Mr Coulson, said: "He was well aware that the practice exists. To deny it is a lie, simply a lie."
Mr Coulson, then the Prime Minister's communications chief, denied the claims, saying he had "never condoned the use of phone hacking and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place".
Some commentators claimed Mr Hoare's testimony could not be taken seriously because he had been dismissed from the NOTW because of his drink and drug addiction. But Mr Hoare always insisted that all he was doing was telling the truth.
After The New York Times article last September, he was interviewed under caution as a suspect rather than a witness by Metropolitan Police officers. He made no comment to the team led by Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who resigned from the force yesterday over claims he mishandled the case.
Mr Hoare claimed last week that NOTW reporters bribed police officers to track targets for stories using mobile-phone mast technology.
While acknowledging that his health was failing, he expressed a desire that journalism be cleaned up and said he had not been paid for his allegations. He lived long enough to see the arrest of Mr Coulson – who denies any wrongdoing – on suspicion of phone hacking a fortnight ago and police corruption earlier this month.
Mr Hoare's death means that his in-depth knowledge of alleged illegality at the defunct Sunday redtop will not be available to the public inquiry into illicit behaviour by the press, which was confirmed by David Cameron last week. It is not known whether Operation Weeting, the current police investigation into phone hacking at the NOTW, interviewed him.
Mr Hoare apparently told a reporter last week that he had been injured the previous weekend while dismantling a marquee put up for a children's party. An accidental blow from a heavy pole used to erect the marquee had had broken his nose and badly injured his foot.
The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear. Last night Hertfordshire police issued a statement, which said: "At 10.40am today police were called to Langley Road, Watford, following the concerns for welfare of a man who lives at an address on the street... the man was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after."