Murdoch’s News Group admits benefiting from hacking of army officer's emails

Publisher to pay damages to Ian Hurst after admitting ‘vicarious liability’ as Labour calls for case to be taken into account in assessing Murdoch bid to buy Sky

Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the Sun and the now-closed News of the World, has apologised in court and agreed to pay damages to a former army intelligence officer whose computer and emails were hacked.

In a hearing at the high court on Friday, News Group admitted that a private investigations firm had hacked the computer of Ian Hurst and that its boss, Jonathan Rees, had then sent intercepted information to the newspaper publisher.

Lawyers for News Group said the company offered its “sincerest and unreserved apologies” to Hurst and his family and accepted “vicarious liability” for the hacking. News Group will pay “substantial” damages to Hurst and cover his legal costs.

Hurst used to serve in the Intelligence Corps and the Force Research Unit in Northern Ireland and his emails included correspondence with members of the Irish republican movement, people in the security services, members of the Northern Irish police and former members of the armed forces who had infiltrated the IRA.

News Group has already settled phone-hacking cases with more than 1,000 people. These were related to the News of the World, which was closed in 2011 at the height of the hacking scandal.

However, Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, said the settlement with Hurst regarding computer hacking was “a dramatic new revelation in the saga of criminality in Murdoch’s media empire” and called for the Competition and Markets Authority to consider it as evidence as it assesses whether 21st Century Fox, which is controlled by the Murdochs, should be allowed to buy Sky.

“We can now add computer hacking to the long list of criminal activities undertaken by Murdoch’s operatives,” Watson said. “We know from experience of phone hacking that there won’t just be a single victim. So my question to Rupert Murdoch and his subordinates is this: who else was hacked?

“This is yet more evidence that part two of the Leveson inquiry must go ahead to discover the full truth of illegality and cover-ups like this. And it’s vital that the CMA is able to take this new evidence of criminality and corporate failure into account as it assesses the Murdochs’ bid to take over Sky.”

Jeremy Reed, Hurst’s counsel, said in court that his client was “increasingly shocked and appalled as he began to discover the extent of the unlawful activity against him” and “genuinely feared for the safety of many of the people with whom he had been in contact”. Hurst was also “furious that personal correspondence and private family information had been compromised”.

The court heard that Rees had instructed Philip Smith, who was known for his expertise in computer hacking, to target Hurst. Smith used spyware called eBlaster to infiltrate Hurst’s computer and allow him to monitor information and correspondence.

Reed said the reason that Hurst had been targeted was “likely to have been because a then, but now former, employee of News Group Newspapers Limited wished to locate the whereabouts of Freddie Scappaticci, the former head of the IRA security division”.

Hurst was told by the Metropolitan police that eBlaster was operational on his computer from May to October 2006, but Smith had also obtained some of his account passwords, meaning he could have been monitored for longer, the court was told.

Hurst only found out about the hacking when he was contacted in 2011 by BBC Panorama, which was investigating the activities of Southern Investigations, the firm run by Rees.

Anthony Hudson QC, for News Group, said: “News Group Newspapers accepts that such activity happened, accepts that it should never have happened, and has undertaken to the court that it will never happen again.”

The case was between Hurst and News Group, Rees, Smith and Alex Marunchak, a former executive editor of the New of the World. Rees, Smith and Marunchak did not oppose the statement made in court regarding the settlement.


Graham Ruddick Media editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
News of the World: 10 years since phone-hacking scandal brought down tabloid
On the anniversary of the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s final issue, journalists reflect on the Guardian expose that sealed its fate

Jim Waterson

10, Jul, 2021 @6:00 AM

Leveson resumes: much ado about rather a lot | Editorial

Editorial: As the inquiry moves into its second phase, both the police and News International have much explaining to do


27, Feb, 2012 @9:50 PM

Article image
Heather Mills receives apology and payout in phone-hacking case
Ex-model receives ‘substantial’ payout as she settles case against News of the World

Jim Waterson Media editor

08, Jul, 2019 @11:34 AM

Article image
The great survivor: Rupert Murdoch is back to business as usual
Media mogul is home free once again now that News UK will face no further legal action over phone hacking

Roy Greenslade

11, Dec, 2015 @3:17 PM

Article image
Phone-hacking victims expected to challenge CPS decision to end inquiry
Lawyers intend to exercise victims’ right to review after chief prosecutor ruled no further action would be taken against Mirror journalists or News UK

Mark Sweney and Josh Halliday

11, Dec, 2015 @8:23 PM

Article image
Phone hacking: Cherie Blair to sue News International
Tony Blair's wife to take action against Glenn Mulcaire and NI over the alleged hacking of her phone by News of the World. By Josh Halliday

Josh Halliday

22, Feb, 2012 @5:56 PM

Article image
Leveson inquiry: police bribery probe expanded after Sun arrests
Sue Akers, head of Operation Elveden, says there is 'very legitimate public interest' in investigating leaks to journalists. By Dan Sabbagh

Dan Sabbagh

06, Feb, 2012 @11:54 AM

Article image
Phone hacking: Senior Met officers dined with News of the World editors
New list shows Scotland Yard officers and editors met for private dinners during the phone-hacking inquiry
• List of meetings

Nick Davies

22, Feb, 2011 @4:52 PM

Article image
Internal inquiry launched into News of the World phone hacking
Suspended assistant editor Ian Edmondson's computer seized as News International begins investigation

James Robinson

13, Jan, 2011 @7:57 PM

Article image
Phone hacking: show of unity can't hide cracks in News Corp
Tensions simmer as 'frustrated' Rupert Murdoch flies in to face phone-hacking affair, Andy Gray row and troubled Sky bid

Dan Sabbagh

28, Jan, 2011 @8:26 PM