News Corp. (NWSA)’s Times newspaper in London gave an inaccurate account to a court to hide an instance of computer hacking by a journalist.
The newspaper’s former lawyer, Alastair Brett, told an inquiry into media ethics that the explanation of how a reporter had discovered the identity of a policeman was “not entirely accurate.” The reporter had hacked into the officer’s e-mail in May 2009 to expose him as the writer of the unauthorized “Nightjack” blog about police work.
“It’s not a full and frank account,” Brett told the inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, today about the reporter’s witness statement in the case. “He’s certainly skirted the issues. I told him don’t engage. Keep it simple, say how you did it legitimately.”
The Metropolitan Police Service is investigating the Times over e-mail hacking, Labour party lawmaker Tom Watson said in February. The newspaper is the third News Corp. title in London to come under suspicion in related probes of phone hacking, computer hacking and bribes to police officers. News Corp. closed the News of the World in July after revelations that reporters accessed messages on a murdered schoolgirl’s mobile phone.
Lawyers for the police officer, Richard Horton, had raised the possibility that his e-mail had been illegally accessed. In response the Times claimed in court proceedings that the reporter had pursued the story through legitimate means.
“That is utterly misleading isn’t it?” Leveson said, referring to the reporter’s statement submitted to the court during the Nightjack case.
The Times published the stories revealing the police officer because it was in the public interest, editor James Harding said in February. “I sorely regret the intrusion,” Harding told the inquiry last month.
Brett who had been the Times’ internal lawyer from 1977 through to 2010, said he never adopted “an end justifies the means approach.”
Seven people were arrested this week including the former editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks and her husband as the police probe widened to focus on a possible cover up of phone hacking at the tabloid. At least three people have been arrested by police investigating computer hacking.
Brett’s testimony “was a painful reminder of an occasion when the Times’s conduct failed to meet the high standards expected of this newspaper,” News International, parent company of the Times, said in an e-mailed statement. “News International has changed governance and compliance procedures, including formalised guidance to the in-house legal team, to ensure that rigorous internal processes are adhered to.”
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