Reporter faced harassment claim for 'asking question'

Former News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck has revealed that a claim for harassment brought against him by phone-hacking victim Cornelia Crisan has been dropped following her settlement with News International yesterday.

He says he was subjected to a £50,000 damages claim after doing nothing more than asking her a question on the orders of the newsdesk.

Crisan is said to be a former lover of the actor Ralph Fiennes.

Writing about his involvement with Crisan on his blog, Thurlbeck said: 'In February, 2006, I was dispatched by a newsdesk executive to intercept Ms Crisan on a train and put to her an allegation that she had been conducting an affair with Fiennes.

'I did so, alighted then wrote a few pars of copy. From memory she refused to comment. That was my total and complete involvement.

'What I didn't know was that Ms Crisan was selling her story to the Sunday People and the Mail on Sunday through the publicist Max Clifford.

'And that the News of the World had hacked the phone of Max Clifford's assistant Nicola Phillips in order to steal her story."

According to Thurlbeck the executive who dispatched him on the story, who was apparently involved in the phone-hacking, hid from the legal fallout while he was subject to a High Court writ.

Thurlbeck said: 'I and a fellow reporter were accused of, ' intentional harassment of the claimant'....

'In plain language, the allegation was our boss at News International instructed us to ask Ms Crisan some questions in the course of gathering information for a story. And that this amounted to harassment.

'The financial claim was £25,000-£50,000. Plus eye watering costs which could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Plus the very expensive legal advice I needed right up to today's resolution."

According to Thurlbeck, News International refused to provide him with any legal assistance so he had to meet the cost of defending the action himself.

"It was all down to me. My legal costs, Crisan's legal costs if we fought it and lost. Then damages.

"And all simply because I asked a woman a question on a train, in the normal course of my work, on the instructions of my news desk.

"This will have dramatic implications for all staff at News International, especially reporters and photographers."

News International declined to comment.

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