LONDON (Reuters) - British police have arrested the private eye at the heart of the scandal over illegal newspaper telephone hacking, which forced Rupert Murdoch to shut Britain's most-read newspaper and rocked the media and political elite.
Police said a 41-year-old man had been detained in London on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages and perverting the course of justice, and was later released on bail until March, pending further investigation.
Media reports said the man was Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator accused of listening to phone mail messages on behalf of journalists. Mulcaire's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Mulcaire, 41, a former professional football player, worked for years as a private investigator for the News of the World. Questions to News Corp executives in parliamentary hearings have focused on how much they knew about his activities.
Britain's media industry, politicians and police have been rocked this year by revelations that journalists and private investigators illegally intercepted mobile phone voicemail messages to get gossip for stories. Detectives are also looking into whether reporters paid police for information.
The scandal forced Murdoch's News Corp to shut the News of the World weekly tabloid in July. Top London police officers have resigned and Prime Minister David Cameron's media adviser - a former News of the World editor - resigned and was arrested.
Police have made about 20 arrests in the phone hacking case so far, while other people have been held on suspicion of hacking into computers and paying police for information.
Suspected targets of telephone hacking commissioned by the News of the World include celebrities and politicians, families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and crime victims, including a missing schoolgirl who was later found dead.
The scandal forced Murdoch's News Corp to abandon plans to take full control of BSkyB satellite TV broadcaster, and has put his son James, the executive in charge of UK operations, under fire in parliamentary hearings.
An inquiry into press practices set up by Cameron has heard testimony from film stars, politicians and crime victims complaining that they have been hounded by reporters whose methods they believe are illegal.
(Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Tim Pearce)