Johann Hari

Johann Hari, who was admitted plagiarism, will take months unpaid leave from the Independent to undertake journalism training

Award-winning Independent columnist Johann Hari has returned the Orwell Prize he won in 2008 and taken a leave of absence from the newspaper after admitting plagiarising the work of others.

Hari has also admitted using the pseudonym David Rose to edit the Wikipedia pages of other journalists "in ways that were juvenile or malicious".

In a piece published in today's Independent, Hari said that he was handing back the Orwell Prize as "an act of contrition" and acknowledged that the Orwell Prize Council had been "minded to take it away anyway".

His statement added that he is to take a four-month leave of absence from the Independent, during which time he will undertake journalism training. He also said he intends to add footnotes to articles after he returns to the newspaper, as well as publishing audio recordings of his interviews online.

It is understood that the editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, intends to allow Hari to return to the newspaper following his leave.

Hari's plagiarising of quotes was first discovered in June by an anonymous blogger who found that quotes from his profile of Italian philosopher Anthony Negri had been lifted from a book on Negri published the previous year.

The columnist initially denied having committed plagiarism, calling the accusations "totally false", but a series of further revelations concerning other articles – including a 5,000-word profile of journalist Ann Leslie which was said to contain 545 words taken directly from a piece she wrote for the Daily Mail – led to an him being suspended in July and and the newspaper launching an internal investigation conducted by former editor Andreas Whittam Smith.

According to the Independent, Hari acknowledged Whittam's Smith's conclusion that he had embellished and plagiarised quotes.

The council of the Orwell Prize also began to consider whether to strip him of the award. In a statement, the Prize organisers said: "The 2008 Orwell Prize for Journalism, which had been awarded to Johann Hari, was returned this afternoon by courier. The Orwell Prize accepts Hari’s withdrawal."

In an apology published in today's Independent, Hari says he did "two wrong and stupid things". The first was plagiarising quotes, the second using the pseudonym David Rose to edit his own and others' Wikipedia entries.

[S]everal years ago I started to notice some things I didn’t like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn’t my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people’s too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire – like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

"I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk.

"I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. I apologise to the latter group unreservedly and totally.

Hari continues to deny accusations published in Private Eye and made by a translator that accompanied him in the Central African Republic in 1997 that he had fabricated a quote from a French soldier and exaggerated the extent of the French bombing in the area. According to Hari, two members of the NGO he was with at the time came forward to the Independent to support his version of events.

Chris Blackhurst, editor of the Independent, said: "We always pride ourselves on pursuing the highest ethical standards at The Independent. Regrettably, Johann fell below those in some aspects of his journalism.

"He has acknowledged his mistakes and made a full apology. There is no doubting his talent as a columnist and we are hoping to see him back in The Independent in the not too distant future."

The Independent has said that Whittam Smith's investigation is an internal report and will not be made public.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).