The Metropolitan police has confirmed it did not apply for a court order to access the telephone records of The Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn during their enquiry into the “plebgate” scandal.
In the statement issued to The Drum, a police spokesman said that the data was requested under the provision of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which allows police to request records from telephone providers for the prevention and detection of crime. The Metropolitan police said that the request was “proportionate, legal and necessary” and was authorised by an officer “independent from the investigation team".
The case, which sparked a statement from the National Union of Journalists condemning the action as a “witch-hunt” and an “outrageous abuse of their position”, has also led to controversy on social media. However, leading legal writer David Allen Green disagreed that the move was unusual, tweeting:
People are astonished that Met got telecoms data without consent. In 2013: 514,608 such requests. Source: 4.14 http://t.co/RibrEzayD1
— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) September 2, 2014
Responding to developments, the Sun newspaper has said it will write to Interception of Communications Commissioner Lord Justice May to demand to know how often police had intercepted journalists phone records under RIPA.
A spokesman said: “News UK and The Sun were surprised and concerned to learn of this intrusion, which we understand was authorised by a police officer rather than a judge, for the apparent purpose of exposing a whistle-blower who was ultimately shown to have committed no criminal offence.
“We understand this was achieved, without our knowledge, by the use of police powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
"This circumvented the normal safeguards in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which was designed to give proper protection to journalists and their sources.
“We will be writing to Lord Justice May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, to ask him to examine how many times and with what justification these authorisations have been made against the media and whether he intends to issue any guidance on the media’s right to keep their phone records safe.”
In a series of judgements, British courts have previously ruled that journalists and their sources are protected under article 10 of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees freedom of expression and to "receive and impart information and ideas".