Lawyers have warned the presence of 20 Metropolitan Police detectives at News Corporation’s investigation into phone hacking puts press freedom at risk.
Detectives are working alongside News Corporation’s management standards committee and their lawyers Linklaters to investigate the phone hacking scandal.
They are based in a building adjacent to News International’s newspaper offices in Wapping. Up to 100 people, including lawyers and computer forensics experts, are involved in the probe.
Legal experts have said allowing such access is unprecedented. Normally, police need a court order to obtain journalistic material.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, a leading media lawyer, told the Guardian newspaper: “Media organisations have a duty to assist police, but they must take care to protect the rights of their employees, especially the rights of individual journalists – because news sources will not talk to journalists if they cannot trust their company to maintain confidentiality.
“The law gives special protection against police seizure of journalistic material and media corporations should always claim it when press freedom is at stake.
“The problem when a newspaper company invites the police into its premises is that they can then seize any journalistic material they find, without the public interest protection of having to obtain a court order,” he said.
Mark Stephens, a media solicitor, said: “I think any investigative journalists at News International if they have any documents and material which they would not want the police to come across inadvertently ought not to have it in their office or at home â€“ which is a highly unprecedented state of affairs.”
The MSC rejected the claims. It told the newspaper: “These comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of the MSC’s work. Great importance is put on the protection of legitimate journalistic privilege. All data is carefully sifted.”
The officers occupy a separate room within the same office block. Scotland Yard declined to comment.
Twenty police at News Corporation ‘a challenge to press freedom’, lawyers warn