Sunday Times insiders have said the Metropolitan Police undermined the paper’s exposure of crime boss David Hunt by suing the paper and launching a huge internal mole hunt.
Earlier this month the paper won a three-year libel battle prompted by its 2010 story alleging David ‘the Long Fella’ Hunt had used organised violence and intimidation to help secure a lucrative East London land deal.
The story was based largely on leaked documents from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the Met Police. The Sunday Times relied on these documents in its dispute with Hunt.
When The Sunday Times sought advice from the Met on what sections of the documents should be redacted in order not to compromise its investigations, the police force responded by suing the paper.
It sought delivery of the documents and an order banning their publication. It also started a huge, ultimately fruitless, internal investigation to find the police sources who had leaked the documents to the paper.
Last week a Sunday Times front-page story alleged that Hunt used a network of corrupt police officers to help him intimidate witnesses and evade justice for three decades.
One well-placed Sunday Times source told Press Gazette that the police legal action hampered the paper’s defence. The Sunday Times won its legal fight against the Met police force in November 2011 and was able to make limited use of the leaked documents.
A source at the paper told Press Gazette: “There’s a warning there for journalists in terms of what documents you show to the subject of stories.
“The Met tried to over-redact things and it was a huge waste of public money. A lot of the stuff they tried to stop us using related to their own failings.”
A libel judgment in favour of The Sunday Times last detailed Hunt’s history of violence and criminality.
It revealed an allegation that in 1992 he headbutted a journalist who doorstepped him to ask about two murders.
During the newspaper’s libel trial security guards hired by The Sunday Times walked off the job after being approached in a pub.