Former News of the World editor Colin Myler has admitted sanctioning the decision to encourage private investigator Derek Webb to become a member of the National Union of Journalists.
The news that a senior executive at the News of the World told Webb to “stop being a private detective and become a journalist” was first revealed by NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet at the Leveson Inquiry in November
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The claim was confirmed by Myler when he appeared at the inquiry this afternoon.
Last month it emerged that Webb had carried out surveillance on more than 100 celebrities, sports stars, politicians and royals for the NoW including Prince William, Simon Cowell, Gary Lineker, Paul McCartney and Boris Johnson, as well as two lawyers representing phone-hacking victims, Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris.
Myler told the inquiry today that the first he became aware of Webb was after he was arrested and charged as a join defendant in the 2008 Sally Murrer case, a local press journalist was charged – and later acquitted – of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.
“Once I was made aware of that I said he could no longer continue to work for us until the case was completed,’said Myler.
When the case eventually collapsed Myler was approached by the paper’s news editor, who he did not name, and was told that Webb was ‘excellent at what he did, he was a former police officer who was a particular expert in surveillance”.
The news editor, said Myler, then suggested that ‘because of my discomfort would I feel better if he became a member of the National Union of Journalists? I said, ‘Well yes’. That’s how I became aware of him.’
Lord Justice Leveson then asked Myler: ‘It didn’t make him a journalist did it?” To which Myler replied: ‘No, of course not. But it made him more aware of the responsibility of working for the News of the World.”
Counsel for the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, said this seemed ‘rather an odd thing”.
Myler responded: ‘It was a proposition that was put to me and I actually thought that it was something that was being thoughtful and sensible of the executive that thought of it. I certainly don’t think of it as being reckless.”
When Webb came back to work for the company in 2009 Myler said he was not aware of the work he did for the paper because ‘he was never on my radar.’
He also defended the use of private investigators, telling the inquiry: ‘Private investigators have been used by newspapers for many years. Banks, insurance companies, all use private investigators.”
Last month Stanistreet said that the NoW’s encouragement of Webb to become a member of the NUJ was a ‘breathtakingly cynical move’in view of News International‘s long-standing record of being “hostile” to the NUJ.