Chris Blackhurst at Leveson

Indpendent editor Chris Blackhurst told the Leveson inquiry of the 'enormous shock' upon hearing of the accusations made against columnist Johann Hari

Editor of the Independent Chris Blackhurst today spoke of his "enormous shock" after learning of the accusations of plagiarism against columnist Johann Hari last year.

Appearing before the Leveson inquiry today, Blackhurst revealed that Hari will be returning to the title in "four or five weeks' time".

Blackhurst was asked about the company's decision not to terminate Hari's employment after it emerged that the journalist had inserted quotes not given to him directly in the related interview, but from comments made elsewhere.

It also later emerged that Hari had been editing Wikipedia entries under a different username, himself admitting in an apology in the Independent that at times these edits were made in a "juvenile or malicious" way.

Today Blackhurst denied a cover-up of the case, saying the company had no prior knowledge of the issue and that he was surprised by the emergence of the accusations.

"[The revelations caused] enormous shock, to myself as somebody who prior to then had mainly been an observer and admirer of Johann's journalism, but much deeper shock to his colleagues at the Independent. It was really profound and totally unexpected."

Blackhurst said he does not believe any of his colleagues had any knowledge of the practice, saying "the paper was in deep shock".

"I am surprised you say cover-up in the sense we had inklings because that is genuinely news to me. We had no inklings of the plagiarism. One of the problems was no one had ever complained; no journalist, no person he interviewed, no reader, no colleagues, nobody had alerted us."

Blackhurst also defended the company's decision not to publish its internal report into the matter, saying it was an internal disciplinary report and that the Independent "can't set a precedent of publishing disciplinary reports about employees".

But said, given the evidence, it was found that it was not "sufficient for [Hari] to lose his job".

He told the inquiry that Hari has now spent four months without pay and undergone ethics training in New York. When he returns to the paper in a few weeks Blackhurst said it is understood that "he won't be interviewing people" and that "everything he writes will be heavily looked at".

Blackhurst denied protecting Hari, adding: "If you're publicly suspending somebody without pay, his reputation has been severely damaged. He produced cogent reasons ... we had to respect those, I don't think we covered up at all."

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