msnbc.com
updated 9/2/2010 7:03:24 AM ET 2010-09-02T11:03:24

Britain's government came under pressure Thursday amid allegations that a top prime ministerial aide was involved in illegally tapping cell phones of members of the royal family.

In a previous job as editor at one of the country's leading tabloids, the Prime Minister David Cameron’s media advisor Andy Coulson was claimed to have discussed with his staff about keeping tabs on the first in line to the throne, Prince Charles, and his sons William and Harry, The New York Times reported.

Coulson has always denied involvement or any knowledge of the tapping, insisting a rogue journalist was responsible.

The News of the World aggressively rebutted the allegations in the Times, which dedicated a team of reporters to the story for several months.

The case goes back to 2005, when the News of The World began printing especially intimate details about the princes' lives.

At the same time, members of the royal family began to suspect that messages on their mobile phones had been listened to before the owners of the telephones themselves had heard them.

The newspaper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman and a private investigator working with him, Glenn Mulcaire, were eventually sent to prison for hacking into the mobile phones of the royal inner circle. 

Cameron has backed Coulson
While Coulson quit after the men were imprisoned, he has always said he did not know anything illegal was going on while he was editor of what is widely regarded as the most salacious of the country’s aggressive so-called red-top tabloid newspapers.

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However, the New York Times cited former News of the World journalists who said that Coulson was aware his journalist’s reporting techniques. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper has also reported that journalists at a number of other papers were also involved in the scandal.

Coulson's boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, has stood behind his media guru. The Prime minister’s office did not respond to msnbc.com requests for comment.

In a statement issued by the Labour Party, which was replaced in government in May by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, lawmaker Tom Watson called for an investigation into the affair.

"These latest allegations about Andy Coulson's involvement in a very dark time in British journalism highlights the need for a full investigation into this serious matter," he said.

"David Cameron has put this man at the heart of government and his salary is paid by taxpayers. Mr. Cameron needs to be completely assured that his career has been 100 percent within the law," the statement added.

'Tainted by a vested interest'
The News of the World, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, dismissed the Times’ piece in a letter.

"It seems to us that your investigation has always been tainted by a vested interest in its outcome which means it is in serious and multiple breach of your own ethical guidelines," the News of the World said, addressing the Times directly.

The long and detailed letter also called on The New York Times to remind its journalists of its own standards and avoid actual or apparent conflict of interests.

Separately, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary tried to dampen lurid speculation about his private life, after one of his advisors stepped down amid rumors they had had an inappropriate relationship.

Speculation about the 49-year-old Hague and 25-year-old Christopher Myers, who critics note has virtually no experience in foreign affairs, began swirling after pictures of them smiling together while walking on the street appeared online and in The Mail on Sunday.

Hague admitted he had shared a twin-bedded room with Myers "occasionally" during the campaign earlier this year, The Guardian reported.

In response to the growing furore, Hague released a deeply personal statement on Wednesday, emphasizing the strength of his family and revealing that he and his wife had been trying unsuccessfully to start a family for some time and that his wife had recently had a miscarriage.

On Thursday he told a news conference that "work of Foreign Office has not missed a beat” since Myers resigned.

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