Earlier this year, the New Statesman investigated the 2009 outing of the “NightJack” police blogger by the Times newspaper (background here).
Over a sequence of blogposts it was shown that there had been interference with the blogger’s email account and that the High Court had, in effect, been misled.
Today brings the news that there has now been an arrest in respect of the outing. The arrest was at dawn by the Metropolitan Police “Operation Tuleta” team investigating alleged computer hacking by newspapers, and the person arrested is the former Times reporter Patrick Foster. He was arrested for both suspected offences under Computer Misuse Act and suspected conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. (Also see this excellent post at Brown Moses on Operation Tuleta.)
The arrest today is against other legal backdrops to do with the outing. First there is the on-going civil action brought by the blogger himself, Richard Horton, against the Times for breach of privacy and deceit. Second there is the impending report of the Leveson Inquiry, where both the James Harding, the editor of the Times, and Alastair Brett, the former legal director of the newspaper, were both closely questioned about the incident. And it has also been reported Brett is also facing an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
It is not clear how any of these various proceedings will affect the criminal investigation, and vice versa. It will certainly make it complicated.
Due process must now take its course, and every arrested person has the benefit of the presumption of innocence. It is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service whether there is any charge, and a matter for a court whether there is any criminal liability. None of this can or should be prejudged in individual cases.
However, as the New Statesman investigation revealed, the wrongful outing of the NightJack blogger was never just about individuals.
The wrongful outing of the NightJack blogger was a systemic and managerial failure, and not the fault of any one person.
David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman