Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre told MPs yesterday that he never “countenanced” hacking or blagging on his newspaper.
He was giving evidence yesterday to the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill which is examining plans to change defamation laws.
In response to a question from Labour peer Baroness Hayter, he said: “Have I ever countenanced hacking or blagging? No.”
He told the committee ‘questionable methods can be justified’if there is “a great public interest in revealing wrongdoing”, but added hacking and blagging were ‘criminal charges”.
Asked about the News of the World, which was closed last week as the hacking scandal gathered steam, Dacre said its closure had ‘diminished democracy in this country”.
But he added: “I personally wouldn’t have it in the house but I would die in a ditch to defend its right to publish.”
In 2006, the Information Commissioner published a report on data theft called ‘What price privacy now?’, which was written after the Operation Motorman investigation into private investigator Steve Whittamore.
After raiding Whittamore’s home police seized handwritten records documenting thousands of requests – both legal and illegal – for information from journalists.
The Daily Mail topped that list with a total of 952 requests made by 52 journalists, while its sister title the Mail on Sunday was in fourth place with 266 requests from 33 journalists.
According to a BBC report of Dacre’s comments yesterday, when asked if there was a temptation to use phone hacking or blagging to stand up evidence in a defamation case, Dacre replied: ‘Goodness me, I mean – deep waters.
‘I have considerable sympathy, I think it was advanced in the Sunday Times this weekend, that if there is a great public interest in revealing wrongdoing that those questionable methods could be justified.
‘Whether you can then use that material to defend yourself in a defamation case – well I suppose that goes into an area of [the legal defence] Reynolds doesn’t it?
“If you believed at that time you were acting in the public interest, then I suppose yes.”
He added: ‘Just to clarify my earlier thought, I don’t think we should ever use hacking or blagging as a defence clearly they are criminal charges but I’m with Matthew [Times journalist Matthew Parris] on this, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, if we get our facts wrong on an area of huge public interest – we can’t win.”