In what the Guardian is calling an “unprecedented legal attack on journalists' sources,” Scotland Yard is seeking to use the Official Secrets Act to force the newspaper's reporters to disclose their confidential sources for articles related to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal
Scotland Yard is claiming that the act, which is usually applied in cases of suspected espionage, could have been breached in July when the newspaper’s reporters Nick Davies and Amelia Hill revealed that murder victim Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World.
The police are now demanding that information about the journalists’ sources be handed over. They claim that Hill may have caused investigators working on the hacking inquiry to leak information about Milly Dowler, as well as the identity of Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, and other News International executives, thus impeding the work of Scotland Yard.
The newspaper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, said today, “We shall resist this extraordinary demand to the utmost.”
Former Labour minister Tom Watson, who has played a major part in the recent anti-hacking efforts, threw his own support behind the Guardian. “It is an outrageous abuse and completely unacceptable that, having failed to investigate serious wrongdoing at the News of the World for more than a decade, the police should now be trying to move against the Guardian,” he said. “It was the Guardian who first exposed this scandal.”
According to the Guardian, the “obscure” clause of the Official Secrets Act being used by Scotland Yard is meant to allow the prosecution of individuals for passing on “damaging” information leaked to them by government officials, including police information “likely to impede… the prosecution of suspected offenders.”
Scotland Yard also said that it is investigating a police officer for breaching the Official Secrets Act, as well as alleged misconduct in public office, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.