A PRIVATE detective working for the News of the World hacked into the email account of a former British intelligence agent who claims to have run IRA informers in Londonderry throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Leveson inquiry into media ethics has accepted.
Equally, the report in considering the effects of inaccurate reporting on victims notes the distress caused to Pam Surphlis when her father who was murdered in Cookstown in 1992 was described as a ‘witchcraft clergyman’ by a newspaper.
In Chapter 6 of the Leveson report, which was finally published last week, the hacking of Ian Hurst’s email account was mentioned.
Mr Hurst, also known as Martin Ingram, a former member of British army intelligence operation, the Force Research Unit “told the Inquiry he was informed by a BBC journalist working for the Panorama programme that there was evidence that he had been targeted by a private investigator engaged by NoTW.”
The Leveson’s report says “that private investigator had then employed a private detective specialising in applying and controlling computer viruses to hack into his computer.
“He explained he was shown a fax which contained information from his emails, and an extract from specific emails copied into the fax which had been sent to the NoTW offices in Dublin during the time he was working in Northern Ireland in 2006.”
According to the report the basis for hacking into Mr Hurst’s email was designed to glean information about his “role in recruiting and running agents in Republican terrorist groups.”
“He further explained that hacking into emails was achieved through the use of a Trojan worm inserted into the computer hard drive, in this case by way of an email being sent and opened. This allowed the hacker to see all emails sent and received by Mr Hurst for a three month period.”
Leveson reported how Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch was told in “July 2011 that email communications and documents which had been sent by her to Mr Hurst had been illegally accessed, including attachments to emails of a confidential and sensitive nature.”
“The effect of the hacking was described as ‘chilling’ by Ms Winter because unauthorised access to material has the potential to compromise official investigations and the safety of individual.”
Elsewhere, the report also considers the traumatic effect of inaccurate reporting on individuals.
It heard from Pam Surphlis, the Director of Support After Murder and Manslaughter in Northern Ireland (SAMM NI), whose father and sister were murdered in Cookstown 20 years ago. Her father, who was a faith-healer, was described as a ‘witchcraft clergyman’ by one paper.
Leveson pointed out how evidence of factual misreporting does not merely relate to suicide but also to the reporting on cases of murder.
Ms Surphlis, described the routine inaccurate reporting by newspapers of murders committed in the province.
“These inaccuracies related to the family details, age and background of the victims, and overall sensationalising of the murders, with damaging consequences for the families of the victims.
“In her oral evidence Mrs Surphlis referred to the newspaper coverage of the murder of a 15 year old boy in which the victim was described as a heroin addict, when in fact he was diabetic,” the report notes.
But ironically, in a section related to the effects of inaccurate reprting on victims, Leveson inaccurately reports the year of Mrs Surphlis’ father and sisters’ murders as occuring in 1993, when in fact they were murdered in 1992.
“Mrs Surphlis also described the press coverage following the murder of her father and sister in 1993. Her father, who was a faith healer, was described as a ‘witchcraft clergyman’.
“Further, she gave the example of her sister, who in coverage of her death was always represented in a picture of her wedding dress even though she had endured years of marital abuse, notwithstanding that Mrs Surphlis had provided a different photograph,” the report says.