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Virgin Atlantic probes claim that employee tipped off paparazzi about celebrity clients

Virgin Atlantic has launched an investigation over claims that an employee fed information about more than 60 celebrity clients — from Madonna to Sienna Miller — to the paparazzi. 

The employee, a junior member of the Virgin team tasked with looking after high-profile clients, resigned Thursday after the Guardian newspaper contacted her about the allegations. She is accused of passing details of dozens of high-profile customers to the London-based photographic agency Big Pictures. 

Both the Guardian and the Press Gazette, who did not mention the female employee by name, reported that she used her private e-mail address to share flight numbers, departure times, and arrival information with Big Pictures.

"The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation," Virgin Atlantic, which has been in contact with the affected clients, said in a statement sent to msnbc.com. "The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected."

The Virgin Atlantic employee also allegedly tipped off the paparazzi on flight information concerning Princess Beatrice; actors Russell Brand, Daniel Radcliffe, Scarlett Johanson and Gwyneth Paltrow; singers Rihanna and Robbie Williams; and England soccer player Ashley Cole. 

The past year has seen the sometimes underhanded methods of Britain's media thrust into the spotlight by a scandal over phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World.

Paparazzi have come under particular scrutiny, with celebrities — including Milller and actor Hugh Grant — alleging aggressive, intimidating or illegal behavior on the part of celebrity-obsessed snappers.

Big Pictures founder Darren Lyons, who testified before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics set up in the wake of the scandal, said back in February that he had "no reason" to believe his photographers broke rules in pursuit of pictures.

He also attacked suggestions photographers had victimized their targets.

"The fact of the matter is that celebrities court publicity when they want to court publicity and then all of a sudden they want to switch it off very, very soon after," he told the inquiry.

"If you are in the public eye, you are looked up to," he added later. "We live in a world of voyeurism."  

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was included in this report.

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