Observations on #savetheintern

If you are reading this post it’s probably because you are interested in a trending hashtag on Twitter – #savetheintern. There have been hundreds of comments, questions,humorous one liners and attempts at satire, as well as a small amount of legitimate journalistic enquiry. To be honest, I haven’t got the spiritual energy to personally reply to them all. So here’s a bullet point list of answers to many of the questions that have been posed, as well as a few things I would like to get of my chest:

1. My intern is a student and paid above the minimum wage.
2. She is contracted for a year to work part time.
3. People have asked why I have not deleted the offending tweet. The reason is simple. It’s impossible to delete anything once it is published on the internet. To do so would just have lead to screen grabs of the offending tweet reaching a wider audience. I’ll delete it later today when the fuss dies down though. So if, for some weird reason, you do want to screen grab the tweet, do so quickly.
4. The Sun political team retweeted the comment. Given the grievance recently taken out against the Sun’s political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, this was foolish.
5. Journalists on the Times have been ringing people to find more information about the intern. Do you think I don’t know your motives? Please show some decorum.
6. Yes, she’s very embarrassed. She’s also a little intimidated by stories of the Times and the Sun trying to dig up stuff about her.
7. Three journalists have asked for more information. I have given them as much as I can whilst protecting the privacy of a young intern who is not seeking a public profile. I was surprised the BBC didn’t phone to check facts before they published their online story.
8. The intern has not been sacked nor was she ever going to be. She’s young. We all make mistakes.
9. I know her well enough to know she’ll never do this sort of thing again.
10. And yes, I know I should have logged out. I really do. Thank you to the people who pointed that out.
11. For those that have asked – all my tweets, other than the two this morning, are my own.
12. Though my account wasn’t technically ‘hacked’, yes, I do understand the irony of what happened.
13. Once again, I am sorry.

On a more serious note, don’t you think this parliamentary answer to a question about data deletion from Tim Loughton MP is unusually constructed?

Complaint to the police about allegations of email hacking at The Times.

Ms Sue Akers QPM
Deputy Assistant Commissioner
Metropolitan Police Service
New Scotland Yard

23 January 2012

Dear Sue,

I write to ask you to investigate email hacking at The Times newspaper.

The Chief Executive of News International, Thomas Mockridge, has admitted to illicit email hacking in written evidence to Leveson on 14th October and 16th December 2010. Indeed, in his December evidence, Mr Mockridge makes the remarkable assertion that the journalist who hacked the email raised it with his managers before the decision to publish the article. The relevant passage from the evidence of Mockridge is here:

“At paragraph 20.2 of my first witness statement I 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. ”

The journalist, who used the illegally gathered information to identify the name of a serving police officer, claimed public interest guided his actions. His managers, however, clearly did not. This is demonstrated in the “The author of a blog vs Times Newspapers Ltd” 9th June 2009.

In an attempt to protect his privacy, the police officer in question sought an injunction. Far from putting forward a public interest defence, lawyers representing The Times claimed that the information was obtained through entirely legitimate means.

In his ruling of 16th June 2009, Mr Justice Eady makes it clear that the newspaper claimed that no laws were broken during the case:

“It was asserted in the Claimant’s skeleton for the hearing of 28 May that his identity had been disclosed to The Times in breach of confidence. By the time the matter came before me, on the other hand, Mr Tomlinson was prepared to proceed on the basis that the evidence relied upon from Mr Patrick Foster, the relevant journalist, 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.”

As the story was eventually published the day after the court handed down judgment, this can only mean that The Times knew their defence was factually incorrect while the litigation was live or during the period the paper was waiting for the judge to deliver the judgment.

Further, the management team appear to have withheld knowledge of a crime being committed from the directors of parent company, News Corp. In his evidence of 10th November 2011 – one month after Mr Mockridge admitted knowledge of email hacking to a judge, Mr James Murdoch denied knowledge of it to Parliament. In answer to a question Mr Murdoch Jnr said: “I am not aware of any of the computer hacking that you have talked about in the past”.

It is clear that a crime has been committed – illicit hacking of personal emails. It is almost certain that a judge was misled. In turn, James Murdoch has misled a parliamentary inquiry into where Parliament had been previously misled by executives of News International.

A journalist and unnamed managers failed to report the crime to their proprietor or the police. This runs counter to the assurances of Rupert Murdoch that News International takes a “zero tolerance approach to wrongdoing.”

I must ask that you investigate computer hacking at The Times. In so doing you will also be able to establish whether perjury and a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice have also occurred.

In light of the seriousness of these allegations, I am copying this letter to the Attorney General.

At the recent News Corp AGM in Los Angles, Mr Viet Dinh, the director of News Corp responsible for good corporate governance, gave me his assurance that he would get to the bottom of all allegations of computer hacking. Out of courtesy, I am also copying this letter to him.

Thank you in advance for your assistance. I look forward to hearing from you.

Timeline to a scandal: David Allen Green, The Daily Telegraph and Paul Waugh begin to uncover computer hacking at News Internatioanal

First alerted by Press Gazette story on 10 January 2012

Followed up by David Allen Green at Jack of Kent on 16 January 2012

Paul Waugh makes possible link with NightJack case

Noticed by Fleet Street Blues

David Allen Green asks at New Statesman whether this used in a published story

A source tells David Leigh that it was the NightJack case

David Allen Green raises serious questions based on this revelation

The Telegraph news story identifies the dramatic significance of the admission

The Times admission (see below)

David Allen Green’s post establishing that senior managers knew but did not tell High court

The High Court judgment – crucial paragraph is 3

The Telegraph report that John Whittingdale does not rule out bringing back James Murdoch to the DCMS Select Committee

Times admission in full:

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.”

Statement on Michael Gove’s proposal for a Royal Yacht

The Guardian have a story about Michael Gove proposing a new Royal yacht. Here’s my comment:

“We’re all looking forward to the Diamond jubilee. The significance of the occasion should be celebrated across the country.

“But Michael Gove has shown he is out of touch with this proposal. When school budgets are being slashed, parents will be wondering how Gove came even to suggest this idea. This is not the time to spend £60 million on a yacht.”