Nightjack: an arrest is made

Officers from Operation Tuleta arrest Patrick Foster.

 

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

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.