Tom Crone at Leveson inquiry

Crone told the inquiry it was his 'understanding' that Webb was a reporter

Former News of the World legal manager Tom Crone has denied being aware that Derek Webb, who conducted surveillance for the News of the World, was a private investigator.

Webb, who was instructed by the tabloid to secretly film phone hacking victim lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris and their families, alleged in November that he had previously been told by a News of the World executive to obtain a press card in order to pose as a journalist.

Crone, who was testifying for a second day at the Leveson inquiry, was challenged by both inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC and victims' lawyer David Sherbourne over the plausibility of Webb's status as a journalist, given that the investigator had not written any articles for the newspaper.

The lawyer denied Jay's assertion that it was "all a front", claiming that it was normal for a freelance journalist to use covert surveillance and to work in the background of stories without writing anything.

"He was a reporter, he had a press card," Crone said. "That's always been my understanding, a member of the NUJ is a journalist."

He added: "I knew he had a press card, but I didn't know the rest of it.

"I was told he was an accredited journalist and he worked as a freelancer for us".

Sherbourne later read from a series of emails between Crone, former News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner, and other staff at the tabloid, in which Webb was referred to as "silent shadow" and his surveillance activities were discussed.

Crone verified the emails but said that he could not remember reading them.

The NUJ confirmed in its Leveson inquiry submission that Webb had obtained a press card. The union's general secretary Michelle Stanistreet called it a "breathtakingly cynical move on behalf of the News of the World".

Lawyer Mark Lewis revealed during his Leveson inquiry testimony last month that police had showed him videotapes of his ex-wife and daughters filmed by Webb.

Lewis called the surveillance "horrific", adding: "That shouldn't happen to anyone's child … They had no right to do that."

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).