Times reporter hacked into police blogger’s email account | Media | The Guardian
A controversial 2009 Times article “outing” an anonymous police blogger called Nightjack was based on material obtained by email hacking, it has emerged in evidence to the Leveson inquiry.
Times editor James Harding told the inquiry on Tuesday he had disciplined the reporter involved for accessing the email account by giving him a written warning.
He said in a witness statement: “There was an incident where the newsroom was concerned that a reporter had gained unauthorised access to an email account. When it was brought to my attention, the journalist faced disciplinary action. 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. He was issued with a formal written warning for professional misconduct.”
Times sources subsequently identified the reporter as a 24-year-old former graduate trainee, Patrick Foster. They said he openly disclosed that he guessed security questions for an anonymous email account run by a Lancashire detective, Richard Horton. Horton failed in a subsequent legal bid to protect his anonymity, and the Times “outed” the constable in June 2009. Horton’s blog, which won the prestigious Orwell prize for its descriptions of a PC’s life, was closed down and he was reprimanded by his police superiors.
Harding did not disclose the reporter’s identity in his Leveson statement, nor did he reveal that the hacking had led to a published Times article. The Times did not state in its original story that the blogger’s identity had been obtained by penetrating Horton’s Hotmail account. It said Foster had “deduced” Nightjack’s identity.
Earlier witness statements, by News International’s chief executive Tom Mockridge and the Times’ lawyer Simon Toms, did not disclose that unauthorised email access had resulted in a published article. They referred only to “attempted” access allegedly denied by the reporter. Mockridge later corrected his statement.
The “outing” of Nightjack stirred up controversy at the time, with some bloggers arguing that it was morally wrong to expose a writer and thus close down a widely-valued publication.
Foster, who has declined to speak about the affair, maintained at the time that his action was justified in the public interest because Horton had given details of sex attacks in his blog which could be traced to individual incidents, and had therefore revealed details which should have been kept confidential.
In his amended statement, Mockridge said Foster had subsequently been “dismissed following an unrelated incident”. Foster has subsequently written freelance articles for both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.