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News of the World hacking scandal began with Prince William

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, greets veterans at the Service Nation: Mission Serve Hiring Our Heroes Los Angeles job fair event at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., Sunday, July 10, 2011. Bret Hartman

Prince William, file
Bret Hartman

(CBS) - Britain's explosive phone hacking scandal - which seems to be growing larger and is taking down one VIP after another overseas every day - actually began in 2005 when Prince William received a game-changing tip from a friendly journalist.

I was working in London last winter doing interviews for the CBS News Royal Wedding special when I first heard about the scandal's origins from British journalist Tom Bradby. Bradby, who became a trusted friend of Prince William and was invited to the Royal Wedding, at the time was covering the Royal Family for ITV, the British television network.

It was a footnote to our conversation last winter because it then seemed as though the phone hacking scandal had come and gone. Now of course, it's back with a vengeance that is threatening media magnate Rupert Murdoch's far-reaching empire.

The topic came up when Bradby and I were discussing his friendship with Prince William, and how William came to trust him. "The phone hacking thing started with me, actually and bizarrely," Bradby said.

Bradby at that point had borrowed some home videotapes from Prince Harry and edited them together into a humorous piece of business about Harry's "gap year" post-high school. Harry loved it and so did William. Bradby of course offered to make a similar tape for the future king. "So I said, 'Listen, just give me a ring next time you're in London and we'll meet up and I'll get your tapes..."

Eventually, Bradby and William exchanged phone messages about an editing deck that was to be picked up at a certain date and time. Soon after this phone conversation, an item about their arrangement appeared in the News of the World, a British newspaper.

Prince William, always leery of the media, wanted to know if Bradby had told anyone. He said he hadn't, neither had William and only a couple of others knew of the arrangement. Bradby said he told William, "When I was royal correspondent, [phone hacking] was kind of an open secret and I remember having chats with tabloid hacks about how phone hacking is, you know, kind of rife."

Prince William was upset. It was the first he'd heard of it. He turned the information over to his secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton who contacted the British police. "I heard that it was something they were actively looking into and that it was a big thing," Bradby said. "And six months later, they arrested Clive Goodman and the whole thing blew up into an enormous thing."

Goodman, then the newspaper's royal editor and reporter, wound up spending four months in jail for intercepting private phone messages.

Bradby says that the revelations of the existence of phone hacking changed the Princes' lives and, oddly, made them more trusting than they'd been in the past. "Since that happened, the stories about their personal lives, which used to dominate the papers every week, have shut down to nothing.

"And what [the Princes] have realized over time is that people aren't trying to sell them out," Bradby said. "Actually most people are pretty decent, understand their lives are complicated and don't sell stories to the papers, and I think that has had a transformative effect on their lives.

"It's also opened up the possibility that they will be able to live a public life when they need to live a public life but have a private life when they need to have a private life."

No one knew until recent days that the Murdoch journalists had not limited themselves to hacking only the Royals' phones but also had focused on the families of innocent victims, such as the parents of the abducted 13-year-old schoolgirl Milly Dowler. It was that revelation this summer that has triggered the firestorm in England. 

Paul LaRosa is a producer for 48 Hours Mystery. He can be reached on Twitter @paullarosa.

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