Tuesday 15 November 2011

Investigate how a NI private investigator became an NUJ member, the union's leadership is told

The NUJ leadership has been urged to hold an inquiry into how private investigator Derek Webb (top) , who says he was told by News International to spy on the solicitors acting for phone hacking victims, became a member of the union.

The call has come in a motion, proposed by former NUJ deputy general secretary Jake Ecclestone, and passed overwhelmingly by the union's London Freelance Branch last night.

It read: "London Freelance Branch notes that Derek Webb - the private detective used by News International to follow lawyers, MPs etc going about their lawful business - was admitted into membership of the NUJ.

"The branch calls on the the general secretary and NEC [National Executive Council] to conduct an urgent inquiry into whether Mr.Webb was qualified to join the NUJ, how he was able to join the NUJ and whether he is entitled to remain a member of the NUJ."

The union has said it cannot comment on whether or not Webb is an NUJ member because membership matters are covered by the Data Protection Act.

It has been claimed that Webb was told by News International managers to apply for an NUJ card as cover. The move has infuriated the union as NI derecognised the NUJ when it moved to Wapping 25 years ago. It is understood the incident has been included in the NUJ's submission to the Leveson Inquiry.

One of the solicitors put under surveillance by Webb, Mark Lewis (also pictured) who acts for Milly Dowler's family and was invited to speak at last night's meeting, was on hand to see the motion passed.

Asked about Webb's NUJ membership, Lewis replied: "I don't think it's an indictment of the NUJ. I didn't spot him so why should you?"

Lewis went on to back the NUJ's call to the Leveson Inquiry for a "conscience clause" to be included in journalists' contracts to protect them from being sacked if they refused to do unethical journalism.

Lewis said at the moment it would be difficult for a young, ambitious journalist on a Murdoch title given some celebrity tittle-tattle that had been obtained illegally to say "I can't do that". He said: "You would be out of a job and find it difficult to get another job."

The London Freelance Branch also heard that the cost of re-running the election for NUJ deputy general secretary due to a membership data error will be up to £20,000. The new election deadline is now January 5 next year.

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