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Sunday Times STLive By The Daily Telegraph , 2012-04-08

Upper classes fall prey to flight leaks

A Virgin Atlantic employee has resigned amid claims she leaked confidential flight details of celebrities to one of the world's biggest paparazzi agencies, Big Pictures.

The airline, which is owned by Sir Richard Branson, began an urgent investigation this week after the woman allegedly e-mailed information about more than 70 celebrities to the agency, so that photographers could be on hand when the stars arrived at airports.

Information about Hollywood stars Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson, as well as pop singer Madonna and her children, was allegedly leaked by the woman.

The celebrities' travel schedules are recorded in precise detail in the series of e-mails. In one message the Virgin worker - understood to be a support supervisor in the company's Upper Class service - mocked Borat actor Sacha Baron Cohen and his wife Isla Fisher for travelling economy class to New York.

In another, she gives details of separate flights to Los Angeles being taken by singer Cheryl Cole and her estranged husband, Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole, in July 2010. The woman jokes: "That'll be funny if she bumps into him!"

Oscar-winner Charlize Theron was also affected by the leaks.

The employee, whose position was relatively junior, quit after her alleged deal with Big Pictures was publicly exposed.

Virgin Atlantic said it was taking the apparent leak "extremely seriously". Big Pictures is also understood to have launched an investigation into the affair.

The accused employee, whose name has not been revealed, reportedly denies the allegations.

She is understood to have told colleagues she was recently a victim of identity theft.

The woman said she was "not going to comment on that at all" before hanging up the phone this week.

A Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said: "The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected.

She said Virgin was in contact with those whose details had been leaked.

"It is too early to draw conclusions on this matter, but of course we would deeply regret any concern that these allegations may cause the individuals involved," she said.

A spokesman for Big Pictures was unavailable for comment.

The allegations come amid the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and the methods used by the British press.