Times admits it 'misled' High Court over email hacking case

Former legal chief says paper made a 'mistake' when giving evidence in 'Nightjack' hearing

The Times misled the High Court during its attempt to name a detective as the writer of an anonymous blog, the newspaper's then legal manager admitted yesterday.

The witness statement that The Times submitted to the court in 2009 was described as an "utterly misleading" and deliberately inaccurate legal defence, during questioning of the newspaper's former legal manager, Alastair Brett, which was largely conducted by Lord Justice Leveson himself. The statement was intended to help the former Times journalist Patrick Foster prepare for his defence. But Lord Justice Leveson said it hid the fact that he had illegally hacked into the email account of the Nightjack blog's author, detective constable Richard Horton. At an earlier inquiry hearing, Times editor James Harding publicly apologised to DC Horton for the paper's actions.

In 2009, The Times successfully fought DC Horton's attempt to keep his identity secret. At the time the newspaper's lawyers insisted that the blogger's identity had been uncovered through legitimate public sources, hiding details of the illegal access of an email account.

But Mr Brett told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that Mr Foster had admitted hacking the email account before the court case, and that other senior executives at The Times knew the "legitimate access" defence was untrue. Details of other hacking attempts by Mr Foster, one when he was a student at Oxford, were also uncovered by Mr Brett. But he told Mr Horton's lawyers prior to the High Court case that any history of hacking was "baseless".

Mr Brett told the inquiry that Mr Foster had eventually found a "legitimate" way of unmasking Nightjack, butLord Justice Leveson attacked this description, telling him: "That's not accurate is it?" The former legal manager replied: "It's not entirely accurate, no."

When Mr Brett suggested Lord Justice Leveson was being "fantastically precise" in his analysis of the statement, he was told: "Oh, I'm being precise, because this is a statement being presented to a court."

Another part of Mr Foster's statement read: "At this stage I felt the blog was written by a real police officer." Again Lord Justice Leveson said "This is actually misleading, isn't it?" Mr Brett admitted it did not give the full story.

The inquiry chairman said that if Mr Justice Eady had been told the truth, The Times might not have won its case. He also reminded Mr Brett of the purpose of his inquiry, saying "The press rightly holds all of us to account: who is holding the press to account? That's the point."

A News International spokesperson said: "Today's testimony by The Times's former lawyer Alastair Brett was a painful reminder of an occasion when The Times's conduct failed to meet the high standards expected of this newspaper. As has been previously stated, the handling of the Nightjack case was deeply unsatisfactory. News International has changed governance and compliance procedures, including formalised guidance to the in-house legal team, to ensure that rigorous internal processes are adhered to in future."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy