Sunday, 22 January 2012

A NightJack - and computer hacking - timeline

I set out below a chronology of the NightJack case and computer hacking by newspapers more widely.

Please suggest further events and/or links, as it is intended that this post will be updated - significant additions will be noted in the comments at the end of the post.

You will notice that I do not mention the journalist by name (unless quoting from a document). There is no reason for this to be a witch-hunt. The journalist admitted the computer hacking incident to his managers, and he was disciplined for it. The far more important issue is about what his managers did or did not do with this information. As far as I can I tell, they knew before publication, decided to publish, decided to oppose an injunction, did not tell the High Court or the defendant's lawyers, and told the Leveson inquiry as little as possible.

They also have never apologised to the blogger.

You will see I also do not mention the blogger's real name (again, unless quoting from a document). However, I regard "Jack Night", the author of the NightJack blog, as the best writer the blogging medium has so far produced (even if he and I have - ahem - different views on many policing and social issues). The loss of his blog was needless and unfortunate. He was one of the two kind judges when Jack of Kent was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. I hope the below helps get him the apology he greatly deserves.

The NightJack posts are archived here - hat-tip to SaltedSlug for putting the archive together.


Judgment - the judgment of the High Court in The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Limited dated 16 June 2009
PF - the witness statement of the journalist dated 2 June 2009

22 April 2009

"NightJack" awarded 2009 George Orwell Prize for blogging.

This is the first year that the prize is awarded for blogging.

This the acceptance speech, read out by an old friend.

When I started the Night Jack blog back in February last year, I was standing on the shoulders of others. I heard about a Police blog called Inspector Gadget at work. I read it and I agreed with it. My comments on there started to get so long that one evening I sat down with my laptop and started a blog of my own.

As I wrote more posts I found that people were coming to my site to read and leave comments. Arguments started, some of them even came close to being reasoned debates. Then people in other blogs started linking to some of my posts and saying they were worth reading. As the readership headed over 1,000 a day, I started getting the occasional e-mail from the news media asking for an interview. I even got the obligatory Police blogging book offer. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a media cop.

If anyone had told me then that I was going to make the short list for the Orwell Prize I would have asked them to stop being silly. It is still a bit of a nosebleed experience finding myself in the company of so many other blogs that I admire and follow.

I believe that as bloggers we are mostly short levers in the political world but I would like to thank the Orwell Prize for noticing us and for choosing to do so in a year that has seen political blogging become a more important part of the wider political process.

Anyway, as you may know, I am an anonymous blogger and as I do not feel able to accept the prize openly and in person, I have decided to donate any winnings to the Police Dependents’ Trust. This is a charity that assists the families of colleagues who have died in the execution of their duties.

Enjoy your night. Thanks again. Jack Night.

Reported at the Guardian here.

At some point after the award the journalist "resolved to try and uncover the identity of its author, for the purpose of a news story" (PF para 5).

21 May 2009

The Independent publishes an article confirming that the author of the NightJack blog is a serving police officer but that he does not wish to be identified.

27 May 2009

A Times journalist telephones the blogger to put to him allegation that he is author of "NightJack" intending to publish allegation next day. (PF para 52)

The blogger's lawyers contact the Times and a decision is made not to publish the story in the next day's edition (PF para 56).

Two things are currently not clear in respect of the intended original publication date of 28 May 2009: (a) whether the editor/managers knew at that point hacking had took place and (b) how far the journalist's investigation had got to by this point. None of the print-offs exhibited to the witness statement are dated before 28 May 2009, though that - of course - does not mean that the searches had not occurred by then. Unfortunately, the PF witness statement does not date when the searches were made.

28 May 2009

Date of some print-offs of the NightJack blog in the exhibits to the PF witness sttaement.

29 May 2009

The journalist telephones Monday Books (publishers) in an attempt to obtain evidence that people knew of identity not bound by confidentiality(PF para 1(b)(ii)).

Date of further print-offs of the NightJack blog in the exhibits to the PF witness statement.

1 June 2009

Date of the "Factiva" (electronic news archive) search print-offs in the exhibits to the PF witness statement linking real-life cases to NightJack posts. (This does not mean the searches had not taken place before 1 June 2009, just that they had not been printed off.)

Date of the print-offs from various Ju-Jitsu sites featuring blogger's real name. (Again, date of print-off not necessarily same as date of discovery.)

2 June 2009

Date of the PF witness statement (PF, page 1)

4 June 2009

Private hearing by Sir David Eady of application for injunction (judgment, para 1)

The defence and the High Court are not told that the journalist's investigation included the hacking of the blogger's email.

The defence is forced to concede that the case be decided on the basis that there had been no breach of privacy rights of the blogger (judgment, para 3).

16 June 2009

The judgment is handed down.

The injunction application by the blogger fails.

The judge decides, on the basis of the evidence put before him, that the blogger had no expectation of privacy (judgment, para 33).

17 June 2009

The Times publishes identity of the author of NightJack

The Times later admit they were aware of the hacking at the time of publication.

Reaction to publication:
Jean Seaton (Director of the Orwell Prize)
Graeme Archer (who was to win the same blogging prize in 2011)
Carl Gardner (leading legal blogger at "Head of Legal")

At some point the journalist is disciplined for the hack and receives a formal warning.

The blogger faced disciplinary action and possible dismissal, but is given a written warning.

Then nothing for two years...

...and the phone hacking scandal erupts.

10 June 2011

The Metropolitan Police establish a team to look into computer hacking. This is called Operation Tuleta (Wikipedia page).

11 July 2011

The highly respected Graham Cluley blogs about computer hacking concerns at the Sunday Times (but not the Times). This is also picked up at The Register.

13 July 2011

The Leveson Inquiry is announced.

18 July 2011

Lord Grabiner QC is appointed chairman of a new management and standards committee set up by News Corporation.

19 July 2011

Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee question Rupert and James Murdoch. Tom Watson mentions allegations of computer hacking at other titles.

Q207 Mr Watson: Are you aware that there are other forms of illicit surveillance being used by private investigators, which were used by News International?

Rupert Murdoch: Other forms of?

Q208 Mr Watson: Illicit surveillance. Computer hacking, tracking on cars.

Rupert Murdoch: No. I think all news organisations have used private detectives, and do so in their investigations from time to time, but not illegally.

Q209 Mr Watson: If it can be shown to you that private investigators working for newspapers in News International used other forms of illicit surveillance like computer hacking, would you immediately introduce another investigation?

Rupert Murdoch: That would be up to the police, but we would certainly work with the police. If they wanted us to do it, we would do it. If they wanted to do it, they would do it.

14 October 2011

Date of first witness statement of Thomas Mockridge, CEO of News International, to the Leveson Inquiry.

20. Have you, or The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun or The News of the World (to the best of your knowledge)ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories, or for any other reason?

20.1 As with my answer to question 12 above, I shall restrict my response to this question to my knowledge of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

20.2 Neither I nor, to the best of my knowledge, The Sunday Times or The Sun has ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories or for any other reason. In relation to The Times, I am aware of an incident in 2009 where there was a suspicion that a reporter on The Times might have gained unauthorised access to a computer, although the reporter in question denied it. I understand that that person was given a formal written warning as a result and that they were subsequently dismissed following an unrelated incident.

Date of witness statement of Times editor James Harding to the Leveson Inquiry.

The Times has never used or commissioned anyone who used computer hacking to source stories. There was an incident where the newsroom was concerned that a reporter had gained unauthorised access to an email account. When it was brought to my attention, the joumalist faced disciplinary action. The reporter believed he was seeking to gain information in the public interest but we took the view he had fallen short of what was expected of a Times journalist. He was issued with a formal written warning for professional misconduct.

Date of interim Director of Legal Affairs at NI Group Limited Simon Toms' witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry.

Explain whether you, or The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun or The News of the World (to the best of your knowledge) ever used or commissioned anyone who used ’computer hacking’ in order to source stories, or for any reason.

I am not aware that any NI title has ever used or commissioned anyone who used "computer hacking" in order to source stories. I have been made aware of one instance on The Times in 2009 which I understand may have involved a journalist attempting to access information in this way. However, I also understand that this was an act of the journalist and was not authorised by TNL. As such, I understand it resulted in the journalist concerned being disciplined.

10 November 2011

Over a month after the above witness statements are submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, James Murdoch is asked about computer hacking at the DCMS select committee. It is clear he either does not know of or is careful not mention the incident already described in the witness statements already submitted to the Leveson Inquiry.

Computer hacking is first mentioned in general:

Q1546 Mr Watson: There are allegations of phone-hacking, computer-hacking, conspiring to pervert the course of justice and perjury facing this company and all this happened without your knowledge.

James Murdoch: As I have said to you, Mr Watson, and to this Committee on a number
of occasions, it is a matter of great regret that things went wrong at the News of the World in 2006. The company didn’t come to grips with those issues fast enough. We all recognise that.

I have also acknowledged that evidence to this Committee was given without full possession of the facts in the past and that is something that I am very sorry for. What I can tell you, though, is that when evidence came to light and when we finally achieved the transparency that is appropriate, we have acted, and the company has acted, with great zeal and diligence, to get to the bottom of issues, to improve the processes to make sure they don’t happen again, and to make sure that our co-operation with the police, with this Committee and the like is such that we can bring any wrongdoers, if they are proven to be so, to account.

And then in more depth (I have added emphasis):

Q1670 Mr Watson: [...]Can you let me know whether the company admitted liability to e-mail hacks during any of the settled civil cases? I am thinking of Taylor, Miller or Clifford.

James Murdoch: I do not believe so. I am not aware of any of that.

Q1671 Mr Watson: If it is subsequently found, could you go back and let us know if
that’s the case and write to us if you did accept liability? You’ve got some lawyers with you.

James Murdoch: I will consult with counsel about that to hopefully clarify those things, but I am not aware of any of the computer hacking that you have talked about in the past.

Mr Watson: Your lawyers behind you might be able to let you know whether that’s a
yes or a no.

James Murdoch: Would you like me to talk to them now, or can I write to you at some
point in the future?

Mr Watson: Yes, if you just ask them now. We’ve got a bit of time. Yes or no.

James Murdoch: They would like to get back to us. They are not aware.

Q1672 Mr Watson: Okay. At the News Corp AGM a few weeks ago, board director Viet Dinh told me that he would investigate allegations of computer hacking. Has he
discussed that with you?

James Murdoch: No. Mr Dinh has oversight authority at a board level for the work that
the management and standards committee is doing, and I would understand that it’s on the agenda for the management and standards committee and is being pursued with vigour.

Q1673 Mr Watson: Are you aware that former Army intelligence officer Ian Hurst has
now had it confirmed that he is a victim of computer hacking?

James Murdoch: No, I am not aware of that.

Q1674 Mr Watson: And that 16 others associated with him have had their e-mails
illicitly read?

James Murdoch: No.

Chair: Tom, I am advised that you are straying into areas that could relate to the police investigations.

1 December 2011

The law firm representing News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committe write to the Select Committee, and include information on the email interceptions mentioned in the exchange between Watson and Murdoch:

You have asked about the admission of liability for the interception of emails in the Taylor, Miller and Clifford cases. The MSC understands that neither Mr Taylor nor Mr Clifford made allegations that there had been e-mail hacking. Ms Miller did make a late amendment to her claim to allege e-mail hacking. This is a technical legal matter but the MSC has been advised that the order recording the settlement and the statement made in open court did not include any admission in relation to that late amendment.

16 December 2011

Thomas Mockridge, CEO of News International provides a correction to his earliar witness statement

At paragraph 20.2 of my first witness statement of referred to a reporter at The Times who might have gained unauthorised access to a computer in 2009. At the date of my first witness statement, it was my understanding that the reporter in question had denied gaining such access. Following further enquiries, I now understand that the reporter in fact admitted the conduct during disciplinary proceedings, although he claimed that he was acting in the public interest. The journalist was disciplined as result, he was later dismissed from the business for an unrelated matter.

It is interesting that this correction was issued. It may have been that there was a simple mistake. Or it could mean that Thomas Mockridge had not been provided with full information. But by December 2011 the mistake had been noticed and that "further inquiries" had been made into the the hacking of the #NightJack account at a senior level at News International.

9 January 2012

The witness statement of Simon Toms is published on the Leveson site.

10 January 2012

The Press Gazette notice the reference to computer hacking and publish a brief post. It mentions the date of the incident as 2009.

I see the Press Gazette post and wonder whether the 2009 incident could relate to the outing of NightJack.

16 January 2012

I do a quick post drawing attention to the evidence and the Press Gazette post. However, at this stage I have no idea who the journalist was or even if it related to a published story. (I update that post when the other witness statements become available.)

17 January 2012

The witness statements of Tom Mockridge and James Harding are published on the Leveson site.

Taking the four witness statements together it is evident:

- the incident was in 2009;
- the reporter was male ("he");
- the computer hacking was in the form of unauthorised access to an email account;
- a disciplinary process was commenced after concerns from the newsroom;
- the reporter admitted the unauthorised access during the disciplinary process;
- the incident was held to be "professional misconduct" and the reporter was disciplined;
- the reporter is no longer with the business having been dismissed on an unrelated matter.

I add the above analysis to my earlier post.

Paul Waugh at Politics Home (who had been deeply sceptical of the Times story in 2009) makes a possible link with NightJack case. The Times admission is also noticed by Fleet Street Blues.

I do a post at New Statesman asking whether the Times has used the hacking in a published story. I email same question to the Times but get no reply.

In the meantime, Tom Mockridge and James Harding had given oral evidence at the Leveson inquiry.

Mockridge is asked specifically about the computer hacking incident:

Q. [...] Can I ask you to clarify paragraph 5. This is the access to a computer by a reporter at the Times. Are we talking about an internal computer or are we talking about a third party's computer?

A. I believe it was a third-party computer.

He is also asked about issues wider than phone hacking:

Q. Are there any specific issues which have caused you concern since you took over as chief executive officer outside the ambit of phone hacking, issues which you've
discovered which you would like to draw to the Inquiry's attention?

A. I don't think there's anything I would draw to the Inquiry's attention separately from the investigations which are progressing and which I think in time results of which will be notified to the authority the Inquiry.

Q. This is the internal investigation --

A. The internal investigation.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: This is the one chaired by Lord Grabiner?

A. Correct.

However, it does not appear that Harding is asked directly about the incident.

In the evening, a source tells David Leigh at the Guardian that the admitted hacking was regarding the NightJack case. The journalist is also named. David Leigh also tweets that hacking was used in the exposure.

18 January 2012

The Times publishes the following article, which I set out in full for the purposes of reporting current events and review.

The Times and the NightJack case

The Times published a report exposing the identity of an anonymous police blogger after a journalist at the newspaper had hacked into his e-mail account.

The report in 2009 revealed the identity of the author of NightJack, a popular blog by a police officer who gave behind-the-scenes insights into frontline policing.

The Times’s decision to expose the Lancashire detective Richard Horton was widely criticised at the time but the newspaper said there was a public interest in doing so because his blog contained details that could be traced back to actual prosecutions. A High Court judge agreed that there was a public interest in naming him and overturned an injunction Mr Horton had obtained against The Times.

The e-mail hacking has come to light because James Harding, Editor of The Times, and Tom Mockridge, Chief Executive of the paper’s parent company, News International, were asked questions by the Leveson inquiry about computer hacking.

Mr Harding referred to the incident in his statement, dated October 14 last year: “The Times has never used or commissioned anyone who used computer hacking to source stories. There was an incident where the newsroom was concerned that a reporter had gained unauthorised access to an e-mail account.

“When it was brought to my attention, the journalist faced disciplinary action. The reporter believed he was seeking to gain information in the public interest but we took the view he had fallen short of what was expected of a Times journalist. He was issued with a formal written warning for professional misconduct.”

The witness statement was made public after Mr Harding’s appearance at the inquiry on Tuesday.

Mr Mockridge made two witness statements, the second correcting what he had said in the first about the computer-hacking incident. His first statement, also dated October 14, said there had been a “suspicion” that a reporter from The Times “might have gained unauthorised access to a computer”. The statement added that the reporter had denied doing so but had been given a formal written warning.

However, the reporter, Patrick Foster, who has since left the paper, had in fact informed his managers before the story was published that he had, on his own initiative, hacked into Mr Horton’s e-mail account. The incident raised issues about the approval process for newsgathering at the newspaper.

The role the hacking played in Mr Foster’s investigation remains unclear. Mr Foster identified Mr Horton using a legitimate process of deduction based on sources and information publicly available on the internet.

Mr Mockridge’s second witness statement, dated December 16, said: “Following further enquiries, I now understand that the reporter in fact admitted the conduct during disciplinary proceedings, although he claimed that he was acting in the public interest. The journalist was disciplined as a result. He was later dismissed from the business for an unrelated matter.”

In his original injunction application, Mr Horton said his identity had been disclosed to The Times “in a breach of confidence”. In his ruling overturning Mr Horton’s injunction, Mr Justice Eady said that Mr Horton’s barrister “was prepared to proceed on the basis that the evidence relied upon from Mr Patrick Foster was correct; that is to say, that he had been able to arrive at the identification by a process of deduction and detective work, mainly using information available on the internet.”

Mr Harding said: “The newspaper published the story in the strong belief that it was in the public interest even though concerns emerged about the conduct of the reporter. After the judge handed down his judgment overturning the injunction on the grounds of public interest, we published. We also took the decision to look into the reporter’s conduct and he was subsequently disciplined.”

The crucial points arising from the Times admission appeared to me to be that managers did know about the hack before publication on 17 June 2009, that they were "unclear" about the role it played in the journalist's investigation, and that the High Court and the blogger's lawyers were not told about the hacking.

19 January 2012

In another case, the High Court is told that the News of the World hacked into the emails of Christopher Shipman. Michael Silverleaf, QC, for News Group Newspapers, told the court that the company offered its "sincere apologies ... for the damage, as well as the distress caused to him by the unlawful interception of his emails and obtaining private and confidential information".

This seems to be the first formal admission by News International that computer hacking took place on any of its titles.

20 January 2012

I do a follow on post at the New Statesman establishing that senior managers at the Times knew the blogger's email account had been hacked that but did not tell the High Court.

22 January 2012

The Independent on Sunday reports that Tom Watson MP is calling for James Harding to be recalled to the Leveson Inquiry to give evidence on the computer hacking.

22 January 2012

I summarise the emerging three key questions at the New Statesman as being why the court and blogger's lawyer's were not told, why the DCMS select committee were not told in November 2011, and why the Leveson inquiry was not given fuller information.

I also call for the Times to apologise for the hacking, which it has already accepted at the internal disciplinary was misconduct and should not have happened.

23 January 2012

Tom Watson MP calls for a police investigation. Also reported in the Press Gazette.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


vjohn82 said...

Thanks for setting out the timeline David. It's a truly intriguing case.

Jack of Kent said...


1 December 2011 - letter from Linklaters to the Select Committee

There are still some typos, and I am sorry, but these should be cleared up shortly.

Jack of Kent said...


- Link to blogger's disciplinary case.
- Links to reactions by Graeme Archer and Jean Seaton.

Jack of Kent said...


- Link to Carl Gardner post
- Link to David Leigh confirmatory tweet

Jack of Kent said...


- My 23 January 2012 NS post
- link to Tom Watson's site and Press Gazette article on the call for a police investigation

Jack of Kent said...


- link to NightJack archive

Nick said...

Interesting to see the emails now published, and the role that the Times' in-house counsel played in covering this up. The Solicitors Regulation Authority might be quite interested in the extent to which he's complied with his duties as an officer of the court.

jjc said...

I should have thought that more than the SRA would be interested. If if were Eady J and I read this blog (which to be fair I probably wouldn't) then I'd seriously consider summoning the Times' legal advisers at the time before me and asking them to explain why I shouldn't be jailing them for contempt of court. It would be interesting to hear what they would have to say.