Trouble for Times: hacking gives Harding a headache

There were some highly uncomfortable moments at The Leveson Inquiry today for The Times editor James Harding, who apologised after one of his reporters was found to have hacked into an email account to unmask anonymous police blogger DC Richard Horton (aka Nightjack).

Harding told the inquiry he ‘sorely regrets’ not disclosing the actions of his former media correspondent Patrick Foster at a High Court hearing into a privacy injunction brought by Horton against the paper. The hearing found in favour of The Times.

If you watch him on video at today’s hearing, sore is not the word for it. An editor of a newspaper like The Times publicly apologising over a hacking incident is significant enough. But there are elements to this that border on jaw-dropping and raise serious questions about the management of the paper.

Why, for example, did Harding not grasp the full details of this case until last week – after the hearing had taken place? He admitted he had been copied into email correspondence that revealed the hacking, but did not read it fully. It was a lengthy email and his focus was on other pressing stories, the inquiry heard.

Why was the hacking not disclosed at the High Court, which heard Horton’s identity was uncovered by journalistic tenacity and piecing together bits of publicly available information?

Why did it matter so much that the identity of Horton be known? The High Court ruling had serious implications for him and raises issues for those who blog anonymously. But, whatever you think about whether he should have been blogging, there can be no public interest defence that justifies breaking the law to identify him. Harding admitted this today.

He also said:

“I am sure that Mr Horton and many other people expect better of The Times. So do I.”

I can imagine how The Times would react if a business leader or politician had made such admissions over something as potentially serious.

This piece in The New Statesman is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand a bit more about this issue.