LONDON — Sean Hoare said he was told to stop at nothing to deliver celebrity scoops for the Sunday papers, and he delivered some of the most sensational as he knocked back whiskey and snorted cocaine with the stars.
Then he helped break open the biggest scandal of all: a phone-hacking saga that has thrown Britain’s establishment into disarray.
Hoare’s death this week added another tragic twist to the very scandal he helped bring to light, which has forced the closure of his newspaper, The News of the World, brought down senior police officials and threatened to engulf the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Hoare was the first journalist to openly say that his former friend and editor at the paper, Andy Coulson, knew about the tabloid’s widespread use of phone hacking. Coulson links the scandal to Prime Minister David Cameron, for whom he worked as communications chief.
Hertfordshire police discovered Hoare’s body at his home north of London on Monday morning. They said Tuesday a post-mortem found no evidence of outside involvement in Hoare’s death, calling it “non-suspicious.”
Police said they are awaiting the results of further toxicology tests on Hoare’s body, which could take weeks.
Journalists paid tribute to a man in his mid-40s they remembered as an excellent reporter and a hard partier who got high and drunk with the celebrities he was meant to write about, while charming his sources to reveal scoops.
Nick Davies, the Guardian journalist whose reporting has driven the phone hacking scandal, said Hoare described starting the day with a “rock star’s breakfast” — a line of cocaine and a Jack Daniel’s — and then carrying on drinking through the day while gathering gossip and filing stories.
Hoare’s career was intertwined with the careers of Coulson and Neil Wallis, two of the most senior News International reporters who have been arrested in the phone hacking scandal.
Hoare started his career in the late 1980s at local newspapers.
His break came in the mid-1990s when he joined News International’s daily tabloid, The Sun, to write for its celebrity column Bizarre, then run by Coulson.
He later worked for The Sunday People, a tabloid edited by Wallis. In 2001, he joined the News of the World, where Coulson was deputy editor, and later editor.
Hoare had regarded Coulson as a friend, but the two men clashed as Hoare’s heavy drinking and drug-taking became problematic. Hoare left the newspaper in 2005.
And then, in September, Hoare came out swinging.
He told The New York Times that Coulson’s claim that he did not know that News of the World employees were hacking into phones was untrue.
Coulson knew hacking took place and had actively encouraged him to intercept the voicemails of celebrities, Hoare claimed.
Following his comments, Scotland Yard interviewed Hoare about his allegations under caution — an interview that is usually recorded and can be used in later prosecutions.
Hoare, angry that he was being treated like a suspect rather than a witness, said little.
“The police wanted to speak to him because he’d made some admissions, but nothing came of it,” his lawyer David Sonn told The Associated Press.
But Hoare continued to speak about phone hacking. The New York Times reported last week that Hoare told them News of the World reporters had paid police to use technology that could track people through their mobile phone signals.
On a BBC program broadcast Monday night, Hoare said phone hacking was “endemic” in his former newspaper.
“People were scared. If you’ve got to get a story, you’ve got to get it. You’ve got to get that by whatever means. That is the culture of News International,” Hoare was heard saying.
No one can now ask him to elaborate. Hours before the BBC broadcast his comments — as part of a scheduled program — his body was found at his home in Watford, 20 miles (35 kilometres) north of London. Hertfordshire Police said they went to his house because they had concerns for his welfare.
“Hoare hadn’t heard anything more from either police or News International, as far as I know,” said Sonn, the lawyer. “I spoke to him about a week ago and he seemed fine.”
David Yelland, who edited The Sun from 1998 to 2003, said on Twitter: “Sean Hoare was trying to be honest, struggling with addiction. But he was a good man. My God.”