Tucked away in the written evidence of News International's Interim Legal Director Simon Toms to the Leveson Inquiry was this fascinating revelation, which seems not to have been picked up by any of the mainstream media other than the Press Gazette:
Question Explain whether you, or The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun or The News of the World (to the best of your knowledge) ever used or commissioned anyone who used ’computer hacking’ in order to source stories, or for any reason.
Answer I am not aware that any NI title has ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories. I have been made aware of one instance on The Times in 2009 which I understand may have involved a journalist attempting to access information in this way. However, I also understand that this was an act of the journalist and was not authorised by TNL. As such, I understand it resulted in the journalist concerned being disciplined.
How very interesting.
[17.1.12 This has now been followed up by Paul Waugh at Politics Home and Fleet Street Blues.]
17 January 2012 - further witness evidence from Leveson
First witness statement of Thomas Mockridge, CEO of News International:
20. Have you, or The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun or The News of the World (to the best of your knowledge)ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories, or for any other reason?
20.1 As with my answer to question 12 above, I shall restrict my response to this question to my knowledge of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.
20.2 Neither I nor, to the best of my knowledge, The Sunday Times or The Sun has ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories or for any other reason. In relation to The Times, I am aware of an incident in 2009 where there was a suspicion that a reporter on The Times might have gained unauthorised access to a computer, although the reporter in question denied it. I understand that that person was given a formal written warning as a result and that they were subsequently dismissed following an unrelated incident.
Corrected to an extent by his second witness statement:
At paragraph 20.2 of my first witness statement of referred to a reporter at The Times who might have gained unauthorised access to a computer in 2009. At the date of my first witness statement, it was my understanding that the reporter in question had denied gaining such access. Following further enquiries, I now understand that the reporter in fact admitted the conduct during disciplinary proceedings, although he claimed that he was acting in the public interest. The journalist was disciplined as result, he was later dismissed from the business for an unrelated matter.
From witness statement of James Harding, Editor of The Times:
19. The Times has never used or commissioned anyone who used computer hacking to source stories. 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 joumalist 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.
So, we now know that:
- the incident was in 2009;
- the reporter was male ("he");
- the computer hacking was in the form of unauthorised access to an email account;
- a disciplinary process was commenced after concerns from the newsroom;
- the reporter admitted the unauthorised access during the disciplinary process;
- the incident was held to be "professional misconduct" and the reporter was disciplined;
- the reporter is no longer with the business having been dismissed on an unrelated matter.
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