The prospect of Scotland Yard carrying out an investigation at the offices of The Times increased yesterday with the arrest of the newspaper's former media correspondent over suspected computer hacking.
Patrick Foster was arrested at his home in north London by officers investigating suspected offences under the Computer Misuse Act and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The arrest is in relation to the publication by The Times of the identification of Richard Horton as the author of an anonymous but award-winning police blog called NightJack. The paper unmasked Horton as a serving Lancashire detective in 2009, leading to his being disciplined by the force.
Mr Foster, who had offered to co-operate with any police inquiry, was questioned yesterday at a London police station but is understood not yet to have been charged with any offence. He was released on bail last night.
The development is worrying for the editor of The Times, James Harding, who in February apologised to a High Court judge for the paper's failure to disclose that a reporter had hacked into the email of the police blogger.
Mr Harding told Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards that he "sorely regrets the intrusion into Richard Horton's account by a journalist then in our newsroom". He added: "I am sure Mr Horton and many other people expect better of The Times and so do I. So on behalf of the paper, I apologise."
Mr Harding's handling of the NightJack story was described as "disappointing" by Rupert Murdoch during the media baron's own evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Murdoch, whose News Corp media empire owns The Times, told the inquiry he was "appalled" that the paper's legal team had misled a High Court hearing that was considering an attempt by the police officer to prevent publication of his identity. "I am appalled that the lawyer misled the court and disappointed that the editor published the story," he said. Mr Foster has not been asked to give evidence to Leveson.
Horton is suing Times Newspapers, citing breach of confidence, misuse of private information and deceit. He was unmasked in 2009 after winning the Orwell Prize for his evocative writing about the challenges and social conditions encountered by working police officers on the streets of Lancashire.
Mr Foster, 28, is the 11th person to be arrested as part of Scotland Yard's Operation Tuleta into computer hacking, which is running in parallel with Operation Weeting (into phone hacking) and Operation Elvedon (into corrupt payments to public officials). The journalist, who is the first person to be arrested in relation to the NightJack affair, is a former Times graduate trai- nee who after parting company with the paper went on to work extensively for The Guardian.
In their investigations police have previously visited the offices of The Sun and the defunct News of the World. News International declined to comment on Mr Foster's arrest.