Tom Watson

Labour MP Tom Watson

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has spearheaded the political investigation into phone hacking at News International, has called on the Metropolitan police to investigate a case of email hacking at the Times.

Watson has written to Sue Akers – deputy assistant commissioner at the Met police, who is running the force's investigation into phone hacking – urging her to launch an investigation into a 2009 instance of email hacking by a Times reporter.

The hacking was admitted by both editor James Harding and News International chief executive Tom Mockridge in their written statements to the Leveson inquiry, with no further details of the reporter's identity or the story involved.

Harding subsequently admitted (£), following speculation, that the reporter was former media correspondent Patrick Foster and the story was the newspaper's controversial unmasking of anonymous blogger "NightJack".

The blog, which chronicled police life and won the Orwell Prize's inaugural blogging award, was subsequently shut down by its author, serving Lancashire police officer Richard Horton, who was disciplined by the force.

The Times admitted last week that Foster had informed managers at the Times that he had, "on his own initiative, hacked into Mr Horton's email account".

The newspaper also admitted that managers had been informed of the hacking prior to going to court to challenge an injunction sought by the blogger and the subsequent publication of the story. It claims though that Foster "identified Mr Horton using a legitimate process of deduction based on sources and information publicly available on the internet" and that "the role the hacking played in Mr Foster’s investigation remains unclear".

Watson's letter, which he copied to the attorney general, says: "The journalist, who used the illegally gathered information to identify the name of a serving police officer, claimed public interest guided his actions. His managers, however, clearly did not.
This is demonstrated in the 'The author of a blog vs Times Newspapers Ltd' 9th June 2009.

"In an attempt to protect his privacy, the police officer in question sought an injunction. Far from putting forward a public interest defence, lawyers representing The Times claimed that the information was obtained through entirely legitimate means"

Mr Justice Eady, who denied Horton an injunction, ruled that Foster "had been able to arrive at the identification by a process of deduction and detective work, mainly using information available on the Internet".

Watson went on to say: "It is clear that a crime has been committed – illicit hacking of personal emails. It is almost certain that a judge was misled. In turn, James Murdoch has misled a parliamentary inquiry into where Parliament had been previously misled by executives of News International.

"A journalist and unnamed managers failed to report the crime to their proprietor or the police. This runs counter to the assurances of Rupert Murdoch that News International takes a “zero tolerance approach to wrongdoing.”

"I must ask that you investigate computer hacking at The Times. In so doing you will also be able to establish whether perjury and a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice have also occurred"

According to Harding's Leveson statement, Foster was disciplined at the time of the hacking and later dismissed in relation to a different matter.

He has since written for the Telegraph and the Guardian.

The Met police has made one arrest so far in the course of its investigation into computer hacking by the press, Operation Tuleta.

News International, parent company of the Times, declined to comment.

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