It appears that we got caught out by a conman last year. The Times points out that Inspector Winter, the anonymous police blogger and Twitterer who made such a name for himself with his “front line” accounts of the London riots in the summer that he got commissioned by this newspaper for a first-person piece, is in fact not a policeman at all. He is a man called Ellis Ward, a 29-year-old fantasist and fraudster who is in jail for credit-card fraud and is under investigation for impersonating a police officer.
Embarrassing for us, of course. But funnily enough The Times finds no room to mention the last police blogger whose identity they revealed, NightJack. That was another triumph for the newspaper’s investigative team; the Orwell Prize-winning anonymous blogger was unmasked in 2009 after a reporter for The Times hacked into his email. Patrick Foster – without the newspaper’s sanction – clicked the “forgotten password” link on NightJack’s email and guessed the subsequent security question, to discover that he was really Detective Constable Richard Horton of Lancashire police.
But The Times was surprisingly coy about this clever piece of detective work. The paper’s legal manager Alastair Brett told Horton’s lawyer: “As regards the suggestion that Mr Foster might have accessed your client’s email address because he has a ‘history of making unauthorised access into email accounts’, I regard this as a baseless allegation with the sole purpose of prejudicing Times Newspapers’s defence of this action.” Instead Foster claimed that he had uncovered Horton’s identity through the information in the blog.
This daring undercover work led to The Times revealing the identity of a popular, informative blogger, making it impossible for him to continue writing, and earning Horton an official reprimand at work. It also led to The Times’s barristers, themselves unaware of the email hack, misleading the High Court. And Horton’s life, his planned book, and his work as a policeman, have been permanently damaged.
Anyway, as I say, strange they couldn’t find room for that in the piece.