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NOTW's Irish editor commissioned hacker to intercept emails - BBC

BBC’s Panorama show will tonight claim that Alex Marunchak, then editor of the Irish edition, commissioned an email hacker.

Alex Marunchak, the then-editor of the Irish News of the World, has denied the BBC's claims suggesting he employed a hacker to intercept emails.
Alex Marunchak, the then-editor of the Irish News of the World, has denied the BBC's claims suggesting he employed a hacker to intercept emails.
Image: BBC

Updated, 10.49

THE FORMER EDITOR of the Irish News of the World commissioned an email hacker to intercept emails about a leading suspected IRA informant, it will be claimed tonight.

The BBC’s Panorama documentary will allege that Alex Marunchak, who was the editor of the News of the World’s Irish Edition, asked a hacker to access the email account of Ian Hurst, a former army intelligence officer.

At the time, Hurst was writing a book about Freddie Scappaticci – a senior IRA figure who in 2003 had been accused of being a double agent, acting as an informant to the British security forces identified only as ‘Stakeknife’.

The BBC claims Marunchak had hired the hacker to access the account, and then to send copies of its emails to his Dublin office by fax in July 2006.

The Guardian explains that Panorama spoke to the email hacker in question – whose name cannot be released for legal reasons – who confirmed that he had accessed Hurst’s email account, forwarded them by fax to Marunchak’s office, and then programmed his own hard drive to delete any trace of the mails.

Access to the email account had been assured after the hacker sent Hurst an email message from a bogus email account, with a so-called ‘trojan horse’ application embedded in one attachment.

Panorama also approached Hurst, who confirmed that the messages presented to him were exact copies of conversations filed in his own email inbox.

Hurst and the hacker had previously served in the same undercover unit, the BBC said.

Embarrassment for Scotland Yard

Hurst’s book, ‘Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland’, was published under the pseudonym of Martin Ingram, and alleged that British intelligence were linked to assassinations in Northern Ireland.

Marunchak, who left the News International company in 2006, told the BBC he had “never met with a private investigator whom I asked to hack into computers.”

The BBC also claims, however, to have evidence that Marunchak also paid a firm called Southern Investigators for access to “exclusive” stories based on confidential police material while he was based in the paper’s London offices.

The revelation marks the first time in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal that email hacking is also alleged to have occurred.

The story is particularly striking, too, as Marunchak – who is also a former senior executive editor at the main London edition of the News of the World – is the most senior journalist so far to have been connected to the phone-tapping scandal.

It will also come as an embarrassment to Scotland Yard, which declined to investigate the scandal any further following the jailing of the paper’s former Royal correspondent Clive Goodman in 2007.

The News of the World insisted at the time that Goodman was the only journalist on its staff to have engaged in illegal methods of news gathering.

The scandal has already forced the editor of the London edition, Andy Coulson, to resign for his position at the paper – and, earlier this year, to step down as David Cameron’s press secretary as the controversy continued.

Coulson was the editor of the London edition at the time of Marunchak’s alleged activities.

The Irish offices of the News of the World could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. The Panorama show which makes the claims airs tonight at 8:30pm on BBC One.

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Gavan Reilly

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