-Sean Hoare found dead at his flat in Watford, Herts
-Ex NotW reporter's claims last autumn reignited scandal
-Mr Hoare claimed Coulson's denials of phone hacking were 'a lie'
-Police probing former showbiz reporter's 'suicide'
-Friends suggest he may have died of natural causes
-Post mortem being carried out this morning
By Sam Greenhill, Tom Kelly and James Chapman
The man who launched the entire phone hacking scandal had become a paranoid recluse who believed someone was out to get him, a friend has revealed.
Sean Hoare, who was found dead at his flat in Watford, Hertfordshire, yesterday, had spent much of the last weeks of his life 'hiding' in his flat with the curtains drawn.
Last night a friend and neighbour claimed Mr Hoare, 47, had become increasingly reclusive and paranoid in recent weeks.
‘He would talk about someone from the Government coming to get him,' he said.
'He’d say to me, “If anyone comes by, don’t say I’m in”.
'He was physically going downhill. He was yellow in colour and wasn’t looking well for the last month.
‘He had a constant struggle with alcohol and talked to me about how much he had put his wife through.
‘He did say something about phone hacking and I think that was his main worry. He had definite concerns with the media. He did mention he was paranoid and would mention conspiracy stuff.’
Former News of the World journalist Mr Hoare had accused former Tory media chief Andy Coulson of lying about his role in the affair.
He said that when editor of the paper, Mr Coulson actively encouraged his staff to intercept the calls of celebrities.
It was his explosive claims last autumn that reignited the scandal and ultimately led to the tumultuous events of the past fortnight which have shaken the political, police and media establishments.
Police were investigating the possibility that he had killed himself, saying his death was ‘not thought to be suspicious’.
His death came on a day when:
-The Metropolitan Police was left in turmoil as counter-terrorism officer John Yates was forced to follow Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and resign;
-Mr Yates faced investigation over claims that he secured a Scotland Yard job for the daughter of hacking suspect Neil Wallis;
-David Cameron cut short a trip to Africa and said he will fly back to Britain today after agreeing to delay Parliament’s summer break to discuss the affair;
-London Mayor Boris Johnson infuriated Number Ten by refusing to say whether the PM should quit over his hiring of Mr Coulson;
-Police recovered a bag containing a computer, phone and paperwork found in a bin near Rebekah Brooks’s London home.
Mr Hoare in the sitting room of his home. A friend and neighbour claimed Mr Hoare had become increasingly reclusive and paranoid in recent weeks
Tragic: Police are investigating the death of Mr Hoare after his body was found at his Hertfordshire home
The body of Mr Hoare, 47, was discovered by police yesterday morning at his modern first-floor flat in Watford.
The former reporter blew the whistle during an investigation by the New York Times last September, pointing the finger directly at Mr Coulson, by then the Prime Minister’s communications chief.
Until Mr Hoare spoke out in September, pressure had eased on Mr Coulson, recruited by David Cameron as his media chief in 2007 after resigning as editor of the News of the World when royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed.
Last week, Mr Hoare was back in the spotlight with further claims, telling the New York Times that reporters at the News of the World were able to use police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals in exchange for payments to police officers.
Mr Coulson, who quit Downing Street in January and was arrested over hacking earlier this month, has strenuously denied Mr Hoare’s allegations.
Allegations: Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was aware phone hacking took place at the paper, Mr Hoare claimed last year
He issued a statement last year that he had ‘never condoned the use of phone hacking and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place’.
But Mr Hoare told Radio 4’s PM programme that phone hacking was ‘endemic’ at the newspaper and said of his former boss: ‘He was well aware that the practice exists. To deny it is a lie, simply a lie.’
Mr Hoare’s death remained unexplained last night.
Police could not rule out suicide but friends suggested natural causes was also a possibility as he had been suffering from ill health.
A post-mortem examination was taking place this morning as police continued to investigate the death.
A Hertfordshire Police spokeswoman added: 'The man's next of kin have been informed and the family are being supported by police at this sad time.'
Officers have yet to confirm arrangements for an inquest to be opened.
His solicitor David Sonn said: ‘I last spoke to him a week ago and he seemed fine. I am shocked and saddened. It is a terrible tragedy.’
He added: ‘In giving his statement to the New York Times, he was arguably the catalyst for everything that has happened since.’ When Mr Coulson was made editor of the News of the World in 2003, he recruited Mr Hoare as a showbusiness reporter.
Investigation: Forensic officers and a policeman at the flat of Mr Hoare
They had previously both worked on The Sun’s showbusiness column Bizarre.
One former colleague said: ‘At The Sun, they were absolutely the best of buddies.
They used to go out to Covent Garden and socialise all night together. Andy would cover for Sean, or vice versa, if one of them was too hung over for work.
‘I last saw Sean at a do not all that long after he left the News of the World. He was looking very scrubbed and sober and I asked what he planned to do, and he said he wanted to get back into journalism but added, “Journalism has turned its back on me”.’
Mr Hoare was sacked from the News of the World over drink and drug problems in 2005, and last year sources at the paper said that his claims should be treated with ‘extreme scepticism’.
But a friend who saw him more recently described him as ‘sober’ and wanting to rebuild his career.
Evidence: The death of Mr Hoare is currently being treated as unexplained, said authorities
Guarded: Two police officers stand outside Mr Hoare's flat