Long before they were wed, in the murky days of deceit and divorce, Prince Charles and his mistress-now-wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, were no strangers to telephone taps that transformed risque private murmurs into oh-so-public newspaper headlines.
Now, the specter may have returned to haunt the royal household again -- this time not just in telephone intercepts of the prince's entourage but across a wider range of celebrities and politicians whose telephones may have been bugged by a tabloid.
The British police announced late on Tuesday that three men had been arrested on suspicion of intercepting telephone calls, possibly on mobile phones, following complaints by personnel at Clarence House, Charles' official residence in central London.
The News of the World, a mass-circulation tabloid with a penchant for disclosures, acknowledged that Clive Goodman, its reporter covering the royal family, was one of those under arrest.
The news bumped the Lebanon war off the top of some television news bulletins: Not only did it have everything a tabloid might wish -- titillation, celebrity and royal embarrassment to start with -- it also had the tabloid itself.
By late on Tuesday, few details of what had been intercepted -- and who had said what to whom -- had emerged.
"Police launched an investigation after concerns were reported to the Met's Royalty Protection Department by members of the Royal Household at Clarence House," London's Metropolitan Police -- the Met -- said in a statement. The investigation has been going on for around seven months.
The inquiry "is focused on alleged repeated security breaches within telephone networks over a significant period of time and the potential impact this may have on protective security around a number of individuals," the Met statement said.
Apart from Charles, the heir to the throne, and Camilla, now the Duchess of Cornwall following their marriage in April lat year, those most likely to have had their phones intercepted could well have included the royal princes, William and Harry -- the sons of Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Somewhat coyly, the statement said police had concluded that "public figures beyond the Royal Household" may have had their calls intercepted, kindling speculation that politicians and other members of the royal household might have been caught up in the eavesdropping web.
"The investigation initially focused on complaints from three individuals within the Royal Household," the police statement said, without identifying them. "As a result of their inquiries police now believe that public figures beyond the Royal Household have had their telephones intercepted which may have potential security implications."
"Police continue to work with the telephone companies concerned and continue to have their full support in attempting to identify any other person whose telephone may have been intercepted," the statement said.
The Press Association news agency reported, "the allegations did not relate to the tapping of live telephone calls, but another method of telephone interception or alleged hacking of phones."