News Corp. Computer Hacking Probe Prompts Reporter Arrest

U.K. police probing computer hacking and voice-mail interception by News Corp.’s British newspapers arrested two ex-employees suspected in separate conspiracies related to the use of stolen information.

London police investigating computer hacking at News Corp.’s Times newspaper arrested a 28-year-old journalist on suspicion of illegally accessing e-mail and conspiring to “pervert the course of justice,” the Metropolitan Police Service said today in a statement, without identifying him.

In Glasgow, police probing phone hacking at the New York-based company’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid charged former Scotland editor Bob Bird, 56, for allegedly perverting the course of justice in a 2006 defamation trial. In that case, former lawmaker Tommy Sheridan sued the publisher over a story alleging he was involved in a sex scandal.

“The phone-hacking scandal could be eclipsed by Rupert Murdoch’s unexploded bomb of computer hacking,” Labour Party lawmaker Tom Watson, who sat on a committee probing News Corp., said in an e-mail today. “It’s infecting all his U.K. titles already and the investigation has only really just begun.”

The first journalist, identified by Sky News as former Times reporter Patrick Foster, is being questioned at a North London police station about a 2009 article that included the name of a previously anonymous blogger.

The Times was sued in April by former police blogger Richard Horton for hacking into his e-mail account in 2009 and identifying him. Before the computer-hacking probe, the Times had escaped the fallout from the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World and the related bribery investigation at Murdoch’s best-selling Sun title. Dozens of people have been arrested.

Foster accessed Horton’s e-mail to expose him as the writer of the unauthorized “Nightjack” blog about police work, Times editor James Harding told a media-ethics inquiry in February. The newspaper “regretted the intrusion,” Harding said at the time.

Legitimate Deduction

The Times also misled the judge who oversaw Horton’s failed 2009 lawsuit to block publication of his name, Harding said at the inquiry. The publisher won by claiming it deduced he was the blog’s author through legitimate means, even though the Times was aware of the reporter’s hacking.

Mary Kearney, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, declined to comment.

Foster is now a freelance reporter for the Guardian newspaper, which broke the phone-hacking story. Guardian spokeswoman Christine Crowther declined to comment other than to say Foster hadn’t written a story for the title since January.

In the Scottish probe, Bird told the British Broadcasting Corp. after his release that he will deny the charge. Glasgow police arrested another former News of the World Scotland editor, Douglas Wight, on Aug. 17 and charged him with conspiring to intercept voice mail and perjuring himself in a 2010 criminal trial stemming from Sheridan’s 2006 lawsuit.

In the 2010 trial, Sheridan was found guilty of perjuring himself during the earlier defamation case.

Andy Coulson, a past editor of the News of the World and Prime Minister David Cameron’s former press chief, was arrested on May 30 by Glasgow police on suspicion of perjury in the same trial. Coulson was charged in the broader phone-hacking probe by London police and appeared in court earlier this month for the first time in that case.

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