Metro’s political editor John Higginson has highlighted an article in The Guardian from 2006 in which the paper’s investigations executive editor David Leigh admitted to intercepting voicemails.
Leigh’s defence was that he used phone-hacking to expose ‘bribery and corruption’and not ‘witless tittle-tattle about the royal family”.
But unlike the Data Protection Act, there is no public interest defence against phone-hacking under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The offence is punishable by a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment.
In The Guardian article published on 4 December 2006, Leigh claimed ‘there is not a newspaper or TV channel in the country that has not, on occasion, got down in the gutter and used questionable methods”.
I’ve used some of those questionable methods myself over the years. I, too, once listened to the mobile phone messages of a corrupt arms company executive – the crime similar to that for which Goodman now faces the prospect of jail.
The trick was a simple one: the businessman in question had inadvertently left his pin code on a print-out and all that was needed was to dial straight into his voicemail. There is certainly a voyeuristic thrill in hearing another person’s private messages. But unlike Goodman, I was not interested in witless tittle-tattle about the royal family. I was looking for evidence of bribery and corruption.
And unlike the News of the World, I was not paying a private detective to routinely help me with circulation-boosting snippets. That is my defence, when I try to explain newspaper methods to my current university journalism students, and some of whom are rather shocked.
Leigh insisted that ‘deceptions, lies and stings should only be used as a last resort’but admitted that it was ‘hard to keep on the right side of legality on all occasions”.
A Guardian spokeswoman told The Metro that the paper ‘does not and has not authorised phone hacking”.