LONDON (AFP) - A senior journalist tapped into more than 600 messages on the mobile phones of aides to the royal family, some of them from Prince William.
The evidence emerged just hours ahead of the expected sentencing of Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the weekly News of the World, and an accomplice over the embarrassing scandal, dating from 2005-2006.
"The defendants' motivation was profit and personal gain and their conduct amounted to gross invasion of privacy and the abuse of the public telephone system," prosecutor David Perry said Friday.
Goodman, 49, and 36-year-old Glenn Mulcaire -- who was paid over 100,000 pounds a year for carrying out "research" for the tabloid -- admitted conspiracy to hack into the messages in court in November 2006.
Specifically the prosecutor said they managed to eavesdrop on messages left on mobiles belonging to three royal staff between November 2005 and June last year.
Police were alerted by staff at Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles, who contacted them about alleged repeated security breaches on its telephone network.
William had become suspicious when the News of the World printed a story about a problem with his knee, something only a handful of people knew about but which he had referred to in a phone message.
When Goodman admitted the offences in November, his lawyer told the court the tabloid journalist wanted to apologise to Charles and his sons.
"He wishes ... to take the first opportunity to apologise publicly to those affected by his actions," he said. "He accepts they were a gross invasion of privacy and Mr Goodman accepts that this characterisation is correct."
As part of their probe, police searched a number of addresses, including the offices of News International which owns News of the World.
Anti-terrorist officers -- called in because of the potential security risks to the royal family -- were said to have investigated whether other public figures may also have had their mobile telephones tapped.
Mulcaire was paid some 12,300 pounds for stories about Harry, his girlfriend Chelsy and the Duchess of York.
Goodman submitted the payments as expenses to his newspaper, whose circulation at some 3.3 million copies makes it the nation's biggest-selling paper.
During the trial he also admitted intercepting messages on behalf of other high profile figures, including publicist Max Clifford, Professional Footballers Association chairman Gordon Taylor and supermodel Elle Macpherson.
"The inference to be drawn is that he was also motivated by profit, seeking confidential information with a view to selling it to the press," said the prosecutor.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.