Stephen Glover: The editor of The Times must learn the lessons of the News of the World

Media Studies: Had the judge known the facts, he might have referred the case to the police

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The Independent Online

Tomorrow the editor of The Times, James Harding, is due to appear before the Leveson Inquiry a second time. I suspect he will be pretty nervous. When he appeared before the inquiry three weeks ago he appears to have been somewhat economical with the truth concerning a case of email hacking at his paper. The Times also stands accused of withholding important information from a High Court judge in 2009.

The background to this story is a touch involved. In June 2009, The Times decided to identify the policeman behind an anonymous and widely read blog called NightJack. Why it should have done so is not obvious. NightJack lifted the lid on life on the beat. It had even won the Orwell Prize. Many would say that it shone a light on normally shady corners, but The Times thought it put the confidentiality of victims of crime at risk.

Not unnaturally, the author of NightJack wanted to remain anonymous, and so the matter came up in front of our old friend Mr Justice Eady. The Times won. NightJack was unmasked as Detective Constable Richard Horton of Lancashire police. His blog was closed down by his superiors, and he was disciplined. All this may have been to the paper's discredit, but it had done nothing improper. Where it went wrong – and this is the crucial point, if you are beginning to nod off – was in not telling Mr Justice Eady that DC Horton's identity had been established by a young Times reporter called Patrick Foster hacking into his email.

On 17 January, James Harding, editor of The Times, appeared in front of Lord Justice Leveson. In what seemed a commendable spirit of openness, he told the inquiry that he had disciplined Mr Foster for accessing the email account by giving him a written warning. What he failed to mention, however, was that at the time of the hearing before Mr Justice Eady the newspaper knew illegal hacking had been used to establish DC Horton's identity, but did not inform the learned judge. This information was vouchsafed by Mr Harding in a letter to the Leveson Inquiry a week after his appearance.

Is this serious? The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph think so. They have been running lots of pieces about it, no doubt partly out of a pardonable wish to discomfort a rival. It is certainly an important story. The Times should not have published an article partly based on email hacking (I say "partly" because it is asserted that Mr Foster used additional legal means to establish DC Horton's identity) and it should not have kept Mr Justice Eady in the dark about its means of discovery. If he had known, he would have presumably thrown out the case, and might have referred the matter to the police.

But, although I am as keen on a witch-hunt as the next man, I can't work myself up into a very high state of indignation. Perhaps this is a fault in me, and others may take a different view. I deplore The Times's decision to unmask NightJack, and deprecate the methods it used. On the other side of the ledger, Mr Foster no longer works for the paper, having been dismissed for unrelated reasons, and no one has revealed any other instances of email hacking at The Times.

Nonetheless, Mr Harding is undeniably in a pickle. He reportedly spent much of last week closeted with advisers preparing for his appearance tomorrow. If he is to keep his job, he will have to show that he was not party to the misleading of Mr Justice Eady. Whoever was must take the rap. The lesson of the far more serious and ramifying phone-hacking scandal at The Times's former sibling, the News of the World, is that doing nothing makes things worse.


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