NoW’s McGee worked undercover as a warder to expose failings at prison where Huntley was held
Furious News of the World executives have claimed that the arrest of reporter David McGee this week could have serious repercussions for investigative journalism.
McGee has been charged following a nine-month investigation into Woodhill maximum security prison which ended in June. He worked as a warder at the prison – where Soham murder defendant Ian Huntley was being held – and his exposÃ© of widespread security failings led directly to a report by minister Paul Goggins which improved prison security across the country.
McGee has been summoned to appear in court charged with bringing a camera into a prison, under Rule 70 of the Prisons Rules 1999. The maximum punishment is a £1,000 fine.
He told Press Gazette: “I think it’s incredibly petty. It’s a minor charge but it will set a dangerous precedent for other journalists. This was a story which had widespread consequences that went up to ministerial level.
“They want to make an example of me and don’t want other journalists looking into their business. This is not what journalists should be facing.”
He said having a criminal record could make it impossible for him to work undercover in future.
In May, Evening Standard reporter Wayne Veysey walked free from court after being charged with attempting to obtain pecuniary advantage after obtaining a job at Heathrow Airport to test security methods. The case was dismissed after a judge ruled that journalists were allowed to use subterfuge when it was in the public interest.
NoW editor Andy Coulson said: “This looks suspiciously like another example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. We can only assume the CPS is not aware of the Goggins report and its five or six key recommendations.
“I’m angry on behalf of the NoW and Dave McGee but we think this raises concerns for newspapers generally. There was a clear public interest being served with this investigation. Punishing the journalist responsible sends a dangerous signal in our view.
“This is a reporter who put himself on the line to test the system and the system failed on several counts. It is a pretty clear-cut attempt to scare us off from doing the job that is ours to do.”
NoW managing editor Stuart Kuttner said: “It’s a routine newspaper thing to send reporters into Heathrow or Gatwick to show how lax security is and that’s the end of the story. This is very different – a journalist getting a job that allows him access to some of the country’s maximum security prisoners, and no checks were made.
“This is one of the most irrational situations I have ever encountered. The Home Office goes to great lengths to act upon our findings and then the police turn round and arrest our reporter.”
A spokesman for the CPS said: “The evidence has been presented to us by the police, we’ve looked at it and decided there’s a case for prosecution.”
By Dominic Ponsford