News Corp.’s Times newspaper in Britain is being investigated by police over possible computer hacking by a reporter, spreading the company’s media scandal to a third Rupert Murdoch paper in the U.K.
The Metropolitan Police Service is investigating the Times over e-mail hacking, Labour party lawmaker Tom Watson said in an e-mail. Officers from Operation Tuleta, which is probing possible computer hacking, said they have been in contact with Watson, police said in a separate e-mail.
It’s the first time the Times has come under police scrutiny since a phone-hacking scandal prompted News Corp. to shutter the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid in July. A parallel probe of police bribery by reporters led to the arrests of four current and former employees at New York-based News Corp.’s Sun tabloid in London five days ago.
Watson, a member of the U.K. Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee that is investigating the interception of mobile phone voice mails by reporters, said in August he thought computer hacking would become the next scandal facing Murdoch’s U.K. publishing business.
The Times’s editor, James Harding, told a separate judge-led inquiry into media ethics last month that a reporter at the 227-year-old newspaper had gained unauthorized access to an e-mail account to get information for a story.
“When it was brought to my attention, the journalist faced disciplinary action,” Harding said in written testimony for the inquiry. “The reporter believed he was seeking to gain information in the public interest, but we took the view he had fallen short of what was expected of a Times journalist.”
Harding will be asked to give additional testimony to the inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, a person familiar with the situation said today. The inquiry was called for by Prime Minister David Cameron in response to the phone-hacking scandal.
“The culture at the Times is very different than at other papers at News International -- I’d be surprised if it was more than just a rogue reporter,” said Niri Shan, a media lawyer at Taylor Wessing LLP in London. “It’s a serious issue in itself and they’ll be concerned where it leads.”
Former British Army intelligence officer Ian Hurst sued News Corp.’s London-based News International unit over claims it hired a computer expert to hack into his e-mail. Actress Sienna Miller told the judicial inquiry last year that she suspected her computer had been accessed by the media in 2008, though she didn’t say which paper.
News Corp. spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop declined to comment.
The probe comes days after News International submitted new evidence to Watson’s committee describing the deletion of an internal e-mail that later resurfaced and contradicted claims by News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch.
The e-mail from former News of the World editor Colin Myler suggested James Murdoch was made aware in 2008 that phone-hacking at the News of World was more widespread than the company claimed. Murdoch, who says he didn’t read the e-mail because it was sent on a Saturday, told the committee he wasn’t aware of widespread phone-hacking before the scandal erupted.
Myler’s copy of the message was “lost from the e-mail archive system in a hardware failure” in March 2010, while James Murdoch’s copy was deleted by a member of News International’s IT staff in January 2011 as part of an “e-mail stabilization” program, according to the company’s law firm. The police probe started less than two weeks later.
Judge Geoffrey Vos in London, who is overseeing civil phone-hacking cases filed by victims, said at a hearing last month that News International should be treated as “deliberate destroyers of evidence” and ordered the company to search more computers.
When the phone-hacking scandal started in 2006 with the arrest of a News of the World reporter and a private investigator, the company claimed the practice was limited to a “rogue” journalist. Evidence obtained in civil lawsuits later revealed others were involved and triggered a new police probe.
London police, who are still contacting hundreds of possible phone-hacking victims, have arrested more than 20 people in the three related probes, including the News of the World’s former editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.