James Harding: We should have gone harder on hacking

Times editor James Harding said he turned down an opportunity to break the MPs’ expenses scandal because he did not want to pay for stolen goods.

The CD containing information on the widespread abuse of MPs’ allowances was eventually bought by The Daily Telegraph for £150,000 and led to a series of stories which won scoop of the year at the 2009 British Press Awards.

Asked why the paper turned down the story when he appeared at the Leveson Inquiry today, Harding said his paper had a general policy of not paying for stories and that ‘on this occasion we took the view that we shouldn’t be in the business of paying for stolen goods”.

There were also concerns that there ‘might not be necessarily’be a public interest defence for buying the information.

Harding said that ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’and that he now felt there would have been a public interest defence.

‘This is certainly the lesson that I draw – it was that you have to have a set of rules in a newsroom, you have to have a set of standards and a culture,” he said.

“But you also have to be willing to break them in the event that you are presented with a story that is overwhelmingly in the public interest.”

Several other national newspapers, including The Sun, were also offered the disk. Harding noted that the intermediary who was selling the disk was asking for money up front to view a sample of the information on it.

Phone-hacking should have been covered “harder, earlier”

Harding was also asked about his newspaper’s perceived failure to cover the phone-hacking scandal in adequate detail after it was broken by The Guardian in July 2009.

He said that the story was covered online the same day it appeared in The Guardian and also ran in the print edition the following day.

When revelations emerged that the News of the World had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler in July 2011, The Times’ approach to the story ‘fundamentally changed”, and it covered it on its front page for the best part of three weeks, he added.

It also ran leaders criticising News International and Rupert and James Murdoch for their ‘catastrophic handling’of the crisis.

‘I must say to the credit of the proprietors that they never raised a finger to stop us doing so,’he said.

“Looking back, I certainly wish that we had got on the story harder, earlier,’he went on.

“The reality, of course, is that both News International and the police poured cold water on it at the time, and we went to the sources that we had to try and chase it up, and ran off those.

“It was only later that we could fully get to grips with it, but of course it was and has proved a very important and significant story.”

Harding added that sources were also less likely to give information to his paper because it was owned by Rupert Murdoch.

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