Former News of the World executive editor Alex Marunchak has robustly denied allegations made by BBC Panorama that he paid a private detective for hacked email computer records.
Panorama this week reported evidence that Marunchak paid for the hacked emails of a former British army intelligence operative working in Northern Ireland, who it named as Ian Hurst.
And it showed secretly filmed footage in which Hurst met with another former agent who claimed that he had illegally hacked his emails under instruction from Marunchak.
Panorama reported that the hacked emails were sent by fax to the Dublin offices of the News of the World in July 2006 – and it showed the transcripts to Hurst who verified that they were his private emails.
Marunchak was executive editor of the News of the World in charge of the Irish edition until 2006. He now works as a freelance journalist.
When Press Gazette called him up he spoke freely about the Panorama allegations, saying that they were untrue.
He said that he had met the man who he was alleged to have instructed to hack emails – but only as a possible source (and he emphasised that he had a witness with him during the meeting which he said happened in Leeds).
Marunchak said: ‘He didn’t have anything new, so I gave him my card and said if you’ve got anything new please don’t hesitate to contact me – but I never heard anything from him ever againâ€¦
‘As an experienced journalist who used to run the newsdesk is it likely I am going to meet a complete stranger for the first time and say to him ‘why don’t you have a quick hack around and see what you can get for me? When you get it don’t worry about any secret meetings just fax it to me.’ Is that likely?”
He added: ‘I’m very, very annoyed that Panorama would fall for a con-man like XXXXXXX (Press Gazette has not published the name of the alleged email hacker for legal reasons)”.
According to Marunchak, the alleged hacker – who was not named by Panorama – is currently facing criminal charges for conspiracy to defraud.
Ahead of broadcast on Monday night, Marunchak answered a series of questions put to him by Panorama.
Here are the questions sent to Marunchak, and his replies – which he has supplied to Press Gazette and are published here in full for the first time:
Panorama: In May 1999 you paid the private detective agency ‘Southern Investigations’/ Law and Commercial SVCS Ltd for confidential police information relating to the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the murder of Jill Dando. This information enabled you to write an article entitled ‘I know who killed Jill Dando’that was published in the News of the World on 30th May 1999.
Marunchak: The News of the World has many informants. Some of the information supplied by them is accurate and some of it is not. Those who come forward are from many walks of life and include BBC employees. This was 12 years ago and was written as a result of an informant coming forward who had an insight into the Dando murder but was not a police officer. The story had absolutely nothing to do with whom you claim to be the sources.
Panorama: On 22 August 1999 an article written by you entitled ‘Crimewave fear as 25,000 pour in from Kosovo’was published by the News of the World. The basis for your article was a confidential police report that had been improperly obtained by Southern Investigations and passed to you.
Marunchak: I deny absolutely that I was passed any confidential police report about thousands of Kosovans pouring into the United Kingdom. This was almost 12 years ago and the story was written as a result of a diplomatic source supplying information to the newspaper.
Panorama: During the period you were employed by the News of the World you facilitated the payment of money to serving police officers on behalf of the News of the World for confidential information. And over a number of years you were responsible for payments of thousands of pounds to ‘Southern Investigations’for information which was often obtained improperly.
Marunchak: I deny ever facilitating the payment of any money to police officers. Newspapers have many sources and if readers, BBC employees, or members of the public, approach them with information which proves true and is exclusively published, then it is not unusual for those persons to be paid for their time and the story they provided. Newspapers and magazines openly advertise on their pages that cash is available for exclusive stories and urge readers to contact them with information.
Panorama: In 2006, whilst you were employed as a senior executive editor at the News of the World, you commissioned further research from Jonathan Rees (who had previously run ‘Southern Investigations”), notwithstanding the fact that he had recently been released from a seven-year prison sentence following his conviction for a serious criminal offence.
Marunchak: This is untrue. Information offered and brought in by sources of their own volition is not the same thing as being commissioned to obtain it in the first place. The conviction and sentence to which you refer, as I understand it, is currently being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was set up by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice to assess if convictions should be referred to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration on the grounds the original conviction was unsafe.
Panorama: Jonathan Rees facilitated a meeting between yourself and another private investigator (whose identity is known to us) who undertook to illegally hack into the computer of an individual to obtain his private emails. This private material, unlawfully obtained, was then faxed to you at the News of the World’s offices in Dublin.
Marunchak: Over the course of 25 years at the News of the World I met with numerous people. Many were delusional, others have been plain mad but some have also been liars. I have never met with a private investigator whom I asked to hack into computers to obtain confidential emails or other information. It is absolutely untrue any unlawfully obtained material was ever received by me at the News of the World’s offices in Dublin.