A former army intelligence officer has won damages after his computer was hacked by private detectives working for the defunct News of the World.
Ian Hurst was a “handler” in Northern Ireland – someone who deals with IRA informers for the British Army.
He began legal action following a BBC Panorama investigation in 2011 which showed his emails had been hacked.
In a hearing at the High Court, News Group Newspapers apologised and accepted the hacking happened.
NGN, the parent company that used to publish the News of the World before it was closed in 2011 in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, has paid Mr Hurst substantial undisclosed damages, as well as his legal fees and other costs.
Mr Hurst served in Northern Ireland in the Intelligence Corps and the Force Research Unit between 1980 and 1991.
His main role was to recruit and work with agents within Republican terror groups in order to gain intelligence.
In 2006, a virus was planted into his computer and his email passwords, and other information was obtained by two private detectives – Jonathan Rees and Philip Campbell Smith.
Five years later, a BBC Panorama investigation claimed that the two private investigators had been hired by the then editor of the News of the World Irish edition, Alex Marunchak.
Mr Marunchak has previously denied any involvement in the hacking of Mr Hurst’s computer, which also resulted in private information relating to his wife and daughter being obtained by Mr Rees and Mr Campbell Smith.
Panorama said the investigators were tasked with finding information about a notorious IRA member who had been the subject of a book written by Mr Hurst.
Mr Hurst was unaware of the hacking until 2011 when he was contacted by BBC Panorama. An investigation was then launched by the Metropolitan Police Service.
Mr Rees, Mr Campbell Smith and Mr Marunchak were all arrested but the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges under the Computer Misuse Act and all three men had their police bail “cancelled”.
‘Emails intercepted routinely’
The Met has since apologised to Mr Hurst for not telling him that his computer had been hacked when they were first made aware in 2006.
Mr Campbell Smith, a computer expert, had used a computer programme called e-Blaster to infiltrate Mr Hurst’s computer and harvest email passwords and other information.
Although the programme self-deleted after three months, anyone in possession of the passwords would still be able to gain access to Mr Hurst’s emails.
It is not known exactly how long Mr Hurst’s emails were hacked, but the court was told: “Mr Hurst’s emails were intercepted routinely and intensively over a period of several months during 2006.”
In a statement read in court on Friday, NGN said it accepted “vicarious liability” for the actions of the private detectives and Mr Marunchak.
Lawyers for NGN told the court the company offered “its sincerest and unreserved apologies” to Mr Hurst and his family for the “damage that this wrongdoing has caused to them”.
The statement added: “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.”