In a murky turn to the phone hacking scandal, a former News of the World (NoW) journalist Sean Hoare who was the first to publicly reveal the scale of use of illegal newsgathering practices at the newspaper was found dead at his house in Watford, a town in Hertfordsire north-west of central London, on Monday.

Police said the death was being treated as “unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious’’.

Mr. Hoare, who was dismissed by NoW for drink and drug problems, hit the headlines when he told The New York Times that Prime Minister David Cameron’s ex-communications chief Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by NoW journalists during his time as its Editor. He described as a “lie…simply a lie’’ Mr. Coulson’s claim that he did not know about it.

Mr. Hoare claimed that Mr. Coulson in fact “actively encouraged me to do it’’.

Mr. Cameron has been criticised for hiring Mr. Coulson when he resigned from NoW after its royal correspondent was jailed in 2007 for hacking phones of members of the royal family.

Last week, Mr. Hoare revealed more details about the practices at NoW telling The New York Times that its journalists paid police to use technology to locate people through mobile phone signals, a technique known as “pinging’’. He separately told the BBC that hacking was “endemic’’ at NoW.

Mr. Hoare’s body was found when a family member called the police after becoming concerned that he was not answering his phone. His colleagues were reported as saying that he had become “paranoid’’ of late and spoke of “conspiracies’’.

“He talked about all sorts of problems…A lot of it was alcohol-related. He said he was in trouble and he was worried about people coming to get him,’’ one neighbour told The Times.

Another said that Mr. Hoare (47) was in poor health.

“I feared the worst a couple of months ago. He wasn’t looking in great shape physically,’’ he said.

In another development, computer hackers tampered with the website of The Sun, directing “visitors’’ to a hoax story which said Rupert Murdoch has been found dead. A group of hackers called Lulz Security, was reported to have claimed responsibility.

This copy has been corrected for errors on July 20, 2011

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