Former U.K. tabloid editor defends hacking

Nov. 30, 2011 at 1:15 AM

LONDON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- A former editor at News of the World defended phone hacking and other intrusive techniques Tuesday before a panel investigating British media ethics.

Paul McMullan, a deputy features editor who left the now-closed tabloid in 2001, criticized his former employers for lacking "strength of conviction," The New York Times reported. He was especially harsh about Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, two former top News of the World editors who have denied knowing about phone hacking.

"They should have been the heroes of journalism, but they aren't," he said. "They are the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it."

The Leveson Inquiry, which is considering whether the news media need more regulation, has been hearing from celebrities and crime victims who have described the damaging effects of intrusive journalism on them and their families. Owner Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World this summer because of public outrage that a private detective working for the paper had hacked a missing schoolgirl's cellphone and deleted some of the messages, leading her parents to believe she was still alive.

McMullan detailed his own activities, including going through trash to find documents, paying police officers for information and posing as a teenage male prostitute to catch a pedophile priest. His work was often dangerous and unpleasant, he said, saying he escaped from the priest dressed only in underpants and was once forced at knifepoint to consume marijuana spiked with cocaine.

He suggested the alternative to a press free to stray into "gray areas" to get stories is a country where only the intelligence agencies are hacking phones.

"For a brief period of about 20 years, we have actually lived in a free society where we can hack back," McMullan said.

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