A DETECTIVE on Scotland Yard’s phone-hacking investigation has been arrested over allegations of leaking confidential information to The Guardian.
Police said the male detective constable, aged 51, attached to Operation Weeting, was arrested, interviewed and suspended from duty.
The officer was detained within hours of The Guardian website publishing an exclusive story naming James Desborough, a former News of the World reporter who had just been arrested for questioning over the interception of telephone voicemails.
The newspaper identified Mr Desborough, 38, and detailed the offences for which he was being questioned before an official Metropolitan Police press release, which did not identify the suspect, was issued.
Lawyers for Mr Desborough, who is protesting his innocence, complained furiously to the Metropolitan Police about the leaking of their client’s identity, The Times understands.
The Guardian, which exposed the scale and extent of phone hacking at the NoW, has been able to publish details of most of those arrested in the hacking inquiry before their arrests have been announced by police. It carried the news that the Prime Minister’s former spokesman Andy Coulson was to be arrested on its website the day before he was held.
The systematic leaking of material has become increasingly embarrassing for the Met because of the allegations the force has faced of improper relationships with the media, including payments to police officers for sensitive information on investigations.
Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Metropolitan Police Commissioner last month as Scotland Yard was engulfed by claims over its links to News International, publisher of the NoW and parent company of The Times. The Independent Police Complaints Commission this week cleared Sir Paul and three other former senior Met officers of any misconduct.
Operation Weeting, the hacking inquiry, is closely linked to another investigation, Operation Elveden, which is examining allegations that Met officers received payments from journalists in return for confidential information.
Scotland Yard said that officers from its anti-corruption unit arrested “a serving officer from Operation Weeting on suspicion of misconduct in a public office relating to unauthorised disclosure of information”. He was released on bail to return for further questioning in September.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who is in charge of Operation Weeting, said: “I made it very clear when I took on this investigation the need for operational and information security. It is hugely disappointing that this may not have been adhered to. The Met takes the unauthorised disclosure of information extremely seriously and has acted swiftly in making this arrest.”
A spokesman for The Guardian said that it was aware of the officer’s arrest. The spokesman said: “On the broader point raised by the arrest, journalists would no doubt be concerned if conversations between off-the-record sources and reporters came routinely to be regarded as criminal activity. In common with all news organisations we have no comment to make on the sources of our journalism.”
The newspaper has previously undertaken to explain to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics why one of its senior reporters, David Leigh, hacked the voicemails of a defence company executive. Mr Leigh has written of getting a “voyeuristic thrill” out of hacking the phone but defended his action saying that he was investigating corruption.
Julian Young, Mr Desborough’s solicitor, also declined to comment on the leak allegations but said that his client denied allegations of illegal activity.
Mr Young said: “He was interviewed for a number of hours and co-operated fully with the police in their investigations. He denied, and continues to deny, any conspiracy to unlawfully intercept voicemails or acting unlawfully in any way. He has been bailed by the police until a date in October.”
In a busy day for the hacking inquiry, Dan Evans, 35, a former NoW journalist, was also arrested over an allegation of conspiracy to intercept voicemails. Mr Evans, who was suspended from the newspaper last year, was interviewed and bailed to return for further questioning in October.