Byline Investigates Big News Part 16: News Group Newspapers Pays Out Over IRA Security Scandal – Infected Computers with Trojan Virus
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
RUPERT Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has admitted computer and e-mail hacking in an attempt to unmask Britain’s top informant within the IRA, Byline can reveal.
The illegal interceptions were allegedly commissioned by Alex Marunchak, a former right-hand-man of Rebekah Brooks, the controversial chief executive of Murdoch’s British publishing arm, according to court documents.
The High Court in London heard on Friday that Marunchak, while an editor at the defunct News of the World tabloid, ordered the interception of emails belonging to an ex-British Army intelligence officer and his family – putting his safety and that of a sensitive network of informants at risk.
It is the first time a Murdoch company has confessed to computer hacking in the United Kingdom – having admitted similar crimes in the US – although Maranchak has in the past denied his role in the serious allegation.
The revelations emerged during a case in which Ian Hurst, a former Intelligence Corps soldier in Northern Ireland, successfully sued News Group Newspapers, which has agreed to pay substantial undisclosed damages and costs.
Mr Hurst’s computers were targeted with a powerful piece of ‘trojan’ malware known as eBlaster which recorded their every keystroke and action.
The objective was to spy on Mr Hurst’s electronic communications and expose the identity of the man code-named ‘Stakeknife’ – the British intelligence service’s top informant within the IRA.
Mr Hurst’s counsel Jeremy Reed told the court of Mr Hurst’s disgust at being targeted by the paper, which shut down in disgrace in 2011 when it emerged it hacked the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Mr Reed said: “After the initial shock of being informed that he was a victim of computer hacking and e-mail interception, Mr Hurst became increasingly shocked and appalled as he began to discover the extent of the unlawful activity against him.
“He was horrified to see copies of actual emails which had been intercepted and genuinely feared for the safety of many of the people with whom he had been in contact.”
Court papers detailed how Marunchak was allegedly central to the hacking operation by hiring the private investigations company Southern Investigations to target Hurst’s computer.
The company provided a range of illegal services to newspapers, including phone hacking, blagging medical records and leaks obtained by bribing corrupt police officers.
In the Hurst case, Southern Investigations out-sourced the trojan attack to computer hacking specialist Phil Smith.
Anthony Hudson QC, for News Group Newspapers, accepted the company’s wrongdoing and offered its apologies to Mr Hurst.
He said: “(I can) confirm that News Group Newspapers… accepts vicarious liability for the wrongful acts of computer interception by Mr Smith.
“News Group Newspapers is here today through me to offer its sincerest and unreserved apologies to Mr Hurst, to Noreen Hurst and to Enya Hurst (wife and daughter) for the damage that this wrongdoing has caused to them.
“News Group Newspapers accepts that such activity happened, accepts that it should never have happened, and has undertaken to the Court that it will never happen again.
“Indeed, News Group Newspapers took steps several years ago to ensure that nothing like this could happen again. News Group Newspapers has also agreed to pay a substantial amount in damages to the Hurst family by way of compensation for these wrongful activities and to pay their legal costs.”
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